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 LOTR Online: Shadows Of Angmar
For entertainment in older, simpler times folk would settle down with a good book and let their imaginations run wild or if by some illiterate sorcery a book was not available they would probably bet on cockfights. One such popular book, or books, that have seemed to exist since the advent of time itself is Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings – an epic quest recently exposed to wowed cinema audiences by way of Peter Jackson, Elijah Wood and the gang.

The release of the Lord of the Rings movies not only set a new standard for cinema but also brought about renewed interest in Tolkien’s world and characters. The world was hungrier for Lord of the Rings now than a fat schoolboy on lunchtime detention. Book sales increased and toy licenses brought warm happiness to children and nerds everywhere – but this was not the end. It began with the development of video games. 7 were given to the Xbox - widest and heaviest console in all the land. 5 games came to the Playstation 2 - best seller and keeper of the largest console library. And 9 games were given to the GameBoy Advance gamers… who above all desired portability.

But they were all of them superseded, for another game was made. Deep in the development labs of Turbine, alongside Codemasters, executive producer Jeffrey Steefel set about crafting another game. A Lord of the Rings game to rule them all. Taking not from Jackson’s movie visions but instead the original Tolkien writings, Steefal and his team worked diligently for several years to bring the Lord of the Rings Online to PC gamers everywhere. On April 24th the journey to quell the dark shadows of Middle Earth begins in the first instalment of The Lord of the Rings Online - Shadows of Angmar.

But until then, sit back and enjoy a preview on the game here on Eurofusion.net from shortly ago when we were invited down to London to an exclusive play test of the latest build of the game.

My initial experience with The Lord of the Rings Online came with a short presentation from Mr. Steefel. Walking us through some key aspects of the game from starting races and classes to the various skills and traits they could possess to the range of the game’s first expansion on the Middle Earth map, he pretty much darn answered all the questions we had arranged to ask him.

It was impossible to be mad at the man for obliterating our interview plans however as he simply exuded love for the source material and for the product he has worked so hard alongside his team to craft. And this enthusiasm is not unwarranted as the Lord of the Rings Online quickly showed.

Presentation-wise it’s hard to imagine anyone being able to trump Turbine’s work. Everything looks sounds and feels just like it should in Middle Earth and capturing that is no small accomplishment. Of course taking no real influence from the movies, everything has been created from the ground up. From character designs and locations to audio everything in this game is an original work of Turbine’s talented artists.

Now you can’t honestly blame us for going in assuming Lord of the Rings Online would be a Tolkien-themed carbon copy of a certain other popular massively multiplayer title. This is certainly true in many of the game’s design choices and structure but not necessarily a bad thing. You’re still going to be running around doing quests assigned to you or your group and receiving various value items as rewards. You will still also be clicking your mouse like mad on enemies and hammering numerical keys for super charged attacks. This has become the norm for games of this nature in recent times and is unlikely to change. You’re even going to see a remarkably similar interface used, which should help ease the migration of players from one game to the other.

What’s nice is that Turbine hasn’t simply stopped in satisfaction to have created a Tolkien themed World of Warcraft. They have taken the elements of what makes World of Warcraft so enjoyable but also endeavoured to cram as many of their own Lord of the Rings inspired ideas into the game as possible, some quite brilliant. For example, players will be able to choose from four races at the start of the game with some or all classes available among them. Hobbits, Dwarves, Men and Elves are all available in this first release. “But what about the bad guys?” players will cry in agony to think their lust for terrorising the good guys will go unfulfilled. I’m pleased to say this is quite the opposite in The Lord of the Rings Online as a monster play mode is in place that will allow players to play as their own monster which levels much like a regular character does. These monsters are separate to main characters but it will be possible to pit your monsters against other human controlled players.

Another nice touch that stayed with me was the Fellowship grouping system. Although grouping is nothing new to the world of massively multiplayer online games, this can be used as a great example of how Turbine have really taken Tolkien’s work onboard and crafted an authentic experience. Fellowships will have access to special group attacks to help them on their quests.

What I also found to be quite impressive was how stories will intersect between characters. Players will certainly have dealings with characters from the books, including the Fellowship of the Ring and Tom Bombadil who was sadly omitted entirely from the movies but is available with player quests in abundance here.

The plan with the Lord of the Rings Online is to release expansions taking the explorable regions of Middle Earth further along the storyline we all know and love. The player, however, will not be directly involved in Frodo’s quest and will have their own objectives to be dealing with. So whilst Shadows of Angmar does occur simultaneous to the quest to destroy the One Ring, players will find themselves following their own journey crafted by Turbine to fit into the Lord of the Rings story.

The explorable region available in Shadows of Angmar is huge, but actually pales in comparison to Turbine’s plans to recreate the entirety of Middle Earth throughout the coming years. This is certainly an exciting prospect and will guarantee new content is always available to players.

One final delight for those accustomed to complaining about massively multiplayer game monthly fees is the introduction of two pricing options to play the game. A very cost-effective lifetime fee is planned for preorder customers and the monthly fee is at present set slightly lower than competitors. So if you want in on that cheap lifetime subscription you’d better get on down to your local game store and enquire about it soon.

With just a few short weeks to release, The Lord of the Rings Online is looking to be an early highlight of 2007 for fans of Tolkien’s epic work and massively multiplayer fans in general.

Eurofusion will see you in Middle Earth on April 24th.

Buy LOTR Online: Shadows Of Angmar now at Play.com
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