"I bet I know what you're here for. The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar? Right?"
She says it in that way that no one who knows what it is would say it. She sounds out the entire title carefully and even includes the subtitle. Who says 'Shadows of Angmar'?
"Yeah, how'd you know?" Trevor says, grinning.
"We got a lot of calls about that one. I said to Keisha, I said, 'I bet Trevor's going to come in for this one'. You can ask her. Hey Keisha, didn't I say Trevor was going to come in for The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar?" Monica calls over to another girl in a blue shirt and khaki pants. The other girl seems uninterested.
"Yep, that's what we're here for."
"Wait, you can't go in yet," Monica says. She takes a sticker from a roll. It's one of those stickers they put on something you're going to return so they know you didn't steal it. Trevor flinches a little as she reaches to his face. She laughs and puts the sticker on his glasses. "Okay, now you can go in."
"She's friendly," I note as we plunge into the depths of Best Buy, past the digital cameras, skirting the CDs, back beyond the printers, blank CDs, and Mac software. We're going deep. We're going where they keep the PC games.
"Yeah," Trevor says, peeling the sticker off his glasses. He smoothes it onto his chest at the place you'd wear a badge. "I come here a lot, on account of how much EB sucks."
After grabbing our copies of Lord of the Rings Online, we work our way down the aisle of games. We point and laugh and pick up boxes to show each other. Daemonica, Rogue Trooper, War Rock, the Vanguard Limited Edition, Eragon, Mage Knight: Apocalypse, War Front.
"Hey," I protest.
"War Front is good."
"It is?" he asks, looking at the box. "No way."
"Dude, you played it with me. You liked it."
"I did? Which one was it?" He's studying the back of the box now.
"The World War II one that was like Command & Conquer."
"Oh, yeah, I liked that one."
"That's what I'm saying."
"How come we don't play it anymore?"
"Well, Command & Conquer 3 came out."
"Oh yeah. Good point."
We observe a brief moment of silence for War Front, which was good.
"Check it out." Trevor holds up the box for Call of Duty: War Chest. "War Chest? Heh heh."
Now we've worked our way down to the shelf of Sims and Zoo Tycoons and Rollercoaster Tycoons and all the cheap knockoffs. But we've exhausted our capacity for ridicule and managed to depress ourselves instead. It's all come to this. Mall Tycoon 4.
And then a flash of movement at my side. "Holy crap, dude," Trevor blurts out, lunging past me at an Enemy Territory: Quake Wars box. Upon seizing it, he immediately realizes it's too light. "Aw, man, they got me again. Fucking pre-order boxes."
"I have to go get one of those armband things for my iPod," I tell him. "Want to come with me?"
"Naw, I'll be over by the console games."
When I come get him, he's on the Nintendo kiosk playing something pink and for kids.
"What's this?" I ask.
"I don't know, Kirby Air Ride or some shit."
"Why are you playing that?"
"Well, these fuckers aren't taking turns," he says loudly, gesturing at all the people on the other kiosks. Most of the folks are gathered around Guitar Hero on the Playstation 2 kiosk, where some kid is playing Sweet Child of Mine on easy. Lightweight. He even messes up a couple of times. The Playstation 3 kiosk is powered down and sullen.
We get home and install Lord of the Rings Online. We log onto the servers and activate our retail keys. Then we're at the character creation screen. We choose elves. Chicks, of course.
"I don't really care what I look like," Trevor says. He's rapidly clicking the random button. "Say when to stop."
He has a gold braided bun, a flat nose, and swarthy skin. He shrugs. "Okay, now for my name," he announces.
"Should I go make a sandwich?" I ask.
"Yeah, why don't you give me a second."
I come back shortly, sandwich in hand. "Still thinking?"
"Should I do something on the 360?"
"Yeah, why don't you play some Earth Defense Force or something. I'm almost ready."
I shoot about five hundred giant ants and a dozen or so enormous silver robots before he comes into the room and announces he's ready. "Lazara," he announces.
"That's your name?'
"Yep. Lazara. What name did you pick?"
"There isn't a four character minimum?"
"Sue is stupid."
"Well, I obviously didn't put as much thought into it as you put into Lazara. So, that's like 'Lazarus' but for a girl?"
"Yeah, because she'll have to be rezzed a lot. Get it?"
"Ah, yeah, I see."
"Why did you pick Sue? Because of that song, 'A Boy Named Sue'?"
"I dunno. It's just the first thing I thought of."
"Man, you have it easy. I wish I could come up with a name that fast. I don't think Laraza was a good idea. Maybe I should redo my character."
"No, it's a fine name. You just have to get used to it. They never fit at first. You'll grow into it. You know how that goes."
"Yeah, I guess you're right," he admits. In World of Warcraft, his level 70 Tauren warrior is named Spuddle.
The first day of Lord of the Rings Online is chaotic. It's us newcomers with the beta testers who are running around with their 15th level characters. Apparently, they all got a head start before the game went live. The rest of us are left to our own devices, trying to figure out what's what. 'Where is the hunting lodge?' we ask in the Advice channel. 'Why can't I equip a bow?' 'What does +10% morale mean?' The OOC channel is clogged with 'Is this better than WoW?' every three minutes, which starts a recurring series of overlapping arguments, like choruses of 'Row, Row, Row Your Boat'.
Trevor and I decide we're going to work on farming until the first wave of players moves out into the world. But we end up doing quests for hobbit farmers around the fields of Staddle. The little gold rings floating over their heads call to us. These rings indicate quests. No one can resist a quest, even - especially! - when it's something simple like 'Go talk to Eldo Swatmidge'.
"Chatty fucking hobbits," Trevor says. "Would it kill them to go next door and talk to each other instead of asking us to do it?"
We're talking to Eldo Swatmidge and Falco Greenhand and Lily Underhill and Constable Bolger and there's something about a widower and his dog. "Is that the dog that got sick from drinking the poisoned water?"
"I have no idea," I say. "I'm not reading the quest text."
"You're missing out," Trevor says. "You don't even know your motivation. You don't know the lore."
We eventually smooth out the awkward social problems among Staddle's gossipy hobbits and join in with a bunch of other farmers who are actually farming. There's a mob of us clustered around the waist high Ponto Underhill, a farm provisioner hobbit. We're spraying seeds everywhere. It looks almost violent.
"Seed bukkake," Trevor chuckles. "How many pie crusts do you need?"
"I'm cool with pie crusts. I need some eggs and onions."
"No can do. I need a hunter to make a campfire first. How come no one's buying my yellow onions at the auction house? What the fuck?"
The next day, Trevor learns how to plant berries. I'm busy trying to explain aggro to Mike, who has joined us using Trevor's 10-day buddy key. Somehow he made it to level 11 without buying any new skills. Teaching him about aggro is like trying to explain astronomy to a cat.
"Sometimes you don't want to heal someone up all the way," I say. "Sometimes you want to use your weaker healing spell instead. Sometimes, you even want to let me take damage for a while, at least at first." Based on the look on Mike's face, I may as well have told him that Elvis Presley is alive and living in my pants.
The next day, we move on from farming. Now we're killing goblins in the Midgewater, because we don't have to rely too much on Mike's tenuous understanding of aggro. "Now? Do I heal you now?" he asks.
"So I'm minding my own business," Trevor is telling us, "growing Galenas like a farmer does, when some dude comes over and starts planting his Longbottom right next to me. He's overlapping our crops, which is confusing. And it's unsightly. And there's no need for it. You've seen the pipeweed field in front of Gammy Boggs house, right?"
"I guess so." I have no idea who Gammy Boggs is.
"You know how much room there is out there. Why is this dude all up in my Galenas? So what do you think I do?"
"Spam him with spar challenges?"
"No, but that's a good idea. What I do is summon my big ass bear and park its big ass right on his Longbottom leaf. That'll show him. You know what I'm saying?"
"I guess so. Good thinking."
"Fucking hobbits, think they own the place."
I can't wait to get this review done. Is getting to 11th level playing enough? But the problem with reviewing an MMO is that there's no such thing as playing enough.
To be continued...
Tom Chick has been writing about videogames for fifteen years. His work appears in Games for Windows Magazine, Yahoo, Gamespy, Sci-Fi, and Variety. He lives in Los Angeles. Shoot Club appears in this space every Thursday.