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The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar

Now that the film trilogy has resurrected interest in Middle-earth, if you're a fan of Tolkien's world, you need something to do while you're waiting for Peter Jackson to stop messing around with big apes and get on with The Hobbit.

Until then, a useful stop-gap could be The Lord of the Rings Online (formally Middle-earth Online), which has been freshly plucked from the grasp of VU Games and is currently being developed and published by Turbine, the company behind the Asheron's Call titles.

NO MORE MR NASTY GUY
Although the developer apparently discussed the idea of being able to play the game as good versus evil, in the end it's decided to let you choose characters from the four free races of the world: men, elves, hobbits and dwarves. Unfortunately, you won't be able to tread the Middle-earth turf as an orc or a goblin.

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Nor will you actually be involved in the ring quest itself, because it's up to you to become a hero in your own right. However, as LOTRO's executive producer Jeffrey Steefel reveals: "You get to meet recognisable characters from the books, such as Galadriel and Aragorn. Some you meet by accident, others you might have to do a quest for."What's more, you also get to visit all the areas of Middle-earth as the game unfolds. When it launches, LOTRO will contain the areas in the first book such as Hobbiton, Bree and Rivendell. Rather like World Of Warcraft, each race has its own starting area in the world, although at the moment, only the race of man is fully implemented.

NOOB LOVIN'
That isn't the only way that The Lord Of The Rings Online has similarities to Blizzard's big online baby. Certainly, from first impressions the design and implementation of the newbie areas and the interface have a very WOW feel to them. "Although we've been working on LOTRO for a while, Blizzard has definitely opened up the MMO market to more casual gamers and this is something we want to take advantage of," explains Steefel.

That's certainly a wise idea, because the intellectual property (IP) itself is sure to draw a very wide audience that's likely to include a strong contingent from the non-MMO playing quarter.

But as far as the IP goes, Turbine has been very jolly about the support it's been given from Tolkien estate, although it can't be easy working on a game connected to such a whopping great big franchise with a fanbase breathing down your neck. "It's really an issue of trust. The more we demonstrate that we understand the world, the more trust we gain. We even have one member of our staff whose job it is to just work on Tolkien lore..."

Rest assured we'll be joining the ranks of heavy breathers as LOTRO gears up for release next year.

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