Thursday, May 31, 2007

Artwork Styles of WoW and Lord of the Rings

I've been slowly exploring the Shire in the new Lord of the Rings MMO and getting familiar with what few differences it has from World of Warcraft. My first impression of the game is that only the graphical style of the artwork and the Tolkien storyline makes it stand apart from World of Warcraft. The artwork is amazing and at times has an almost photo realistic look to it. However, this works against the game in certain areas since gamers have been accustomed to the grand exaggerated style in World of Warcraft.

The one place where Lord of the Rings definitely beats WoW is in the rendering of landscapes. The water, grass, and trees all look much more impressive in the newer game and adds a nice layer of immersion. Part of this is due to the more advanced graphic engine but most of it probably lies in how the terrain artists took advantage of camera shots from the movies. Either way it makes traveling through the forests and mountains in Middle Earth more pleasant then in other MMOs.

Unfortunately the man made structures in the game don't seem to benefit from this artwork style as much as the landscapes. I guess because I've been playing World of Warcraft for so long I expect dungeons and buildings to portray a twisted and surreal feeling. Picture traveling through the Dark Portal into Outlands then compare it to any type of gateway in Lord of the Rings. When you compare structures between the two games you will almost always find Middle Earth more utilitarian and realistic while Azeroth seems to have a stronger sense of visual fantasy.

Which game has the better weapons and armor seems to come down to a matter of personal preference. Both games have a wide assortment of different models for both but I've notice a couple of things. One is that WoW weapons and armor are often too stylized to be believable as actual combat items. Just look at some of the end game weapons in the Burning Crusade. On the other hand Lord of the Rings sticks to more believable models but from what I've seen so far makes little use of exotic colors or particle effects. This has the result of LOTR items appealing more to realists but having less desirability as a trophy to other gamers. In simple terms it looks less cool.

Enemy models are similar to other MMOs that use a realistic artwork style. The early animals mobs (bears, wolves) that seem to be a requirement in the fantasy genre are definitely better portrayed by this style. However, the heavy use of weird color schemes and misshapen forms seems better at portraying actual fantasy creatures. For example just compare the murlocs in WoW with any of the low level humanoid mobs in LOTR. The bright colors and hunchback nature of the murlocs do a much better job of portraying a dangerous creature then the assorted goblinkin of Middle Earth.

The character creation screen is impressive in LOTR even if it is not quite up to par to City of Heroes. Still it offers many more selections for facial and body features then WoW players aren't used to having. Some people might be put off by the very human looking faces which brings up the uncanny valley problem of computer animation. Despite this risk most players are going to like that its almost impossible to make an ugly looking character in LOTR. One of the common complaints with WoW especially with women is how the entire horde side of the game comes off grotesque in nature. I think in general that those gamers who prefer playing the human race are going to like the character creation screen better in LOTR.

Graphic Style Rating

Landscapes: LOTR
Architecture: WoW
Items: WoW
Mobs: WoW
Characters (Avatars): Tie


HarLi said...

Goldbuying cheaters: WoW
Gameplay: LotRO

Relmstein said...

I expect Lord of the Rings to eventually produce its own gold selling problems as it popularity increases. Hopefully, it has built in controls into its chat/mail system to prevent spamming.

At the moment I'm enjoying the newness of Lord of the Rings but I'm not noticing any kind of difference or improvement in gameplay when compared to WoW except the deed system.

Anonymous said...

Pictures! Pictures! I want to see the portal differences you speak of, without having to uproot myself to try out LOTR myself! :)

WoWGrrl player blog

Hellfire said...

Interesting. I saw some basic screenshots and I might have gotten a completely different impression. Somehow it just didn't seem complete. As a matter of fact, looking through the screenshots, I got the impression that LOTR was going to be desolate. The world seemed as if would have one building or feature for every 300 thousand square miles. Im sure the UI has been quickly patched and not made to look "good". Although I admit that the rendering of close-up textures is much better.

Relmstein said...

Hmm wasn't expecting the request for screenshots but now with WoW screenshots automatically formatted in jpegs it shouldn't be a problem to illustrate my points.

yunk said...

Hellfire you might have gotten that impression due to everyone posting landscape pics because they look so great. It is pretty full, and depending on the time of day you may even have problems with crowding.

The characters look really good, but mainly at later levels when they get better looking armor and gear.

The things people don't like, I think, fall into the "Uncanny Valley". Landscape lookes beatiful, but moving animals and characters look "wrong" - their movement doesn't seem that natural. Buildings don't look quite realistic enough. Textures are just not fine enough. Getting too close to a wooden building and it just looks not real, which jars with the deeply textured character standing in front of it.

People might prefer more fantastic armor and weapons, I'm not sure how much that would work in LOTR. However, even with huge shoulderguards, I think the above problems would still exist. Since it's not the realism, but where the realism just fails, that bothers you.

My shots, the first 20 pics or so are on my new computer, the last half are on my old computer:

Relmstein said...

Thanks Yunk for providing clarification on what looked wrong with the architecture in LOTR when compared to WoW.

The landscapes and environments are deffinitely the big plus in LOTR. Also now having more experience in the game I can say the dungeon environments also look good. If you try LOTR out make sure to visit The Great Barrows in your mid twenties.