The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar Hands-On - Launch Date and Details

Midway and Turbine announce a release date for their anticipated Middle-earth role-playing game, as well as other new details.

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LAS VEGAS--For fans of hobbits and elves, the big news to come out of Midway's Gamers Day in Las Vegas is that the upcoming massively multiplayer role-playing game The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar has a release date: April 24. And Midway and Turbine announced some ambitious plans to reward beta testers of the game, including a plan to let you create a character based on one of the four good races of Middle-earth (human, elves, hobbits, and dwarves) and battle the forces of the evil during the period of the War of the Ring.

Turbine CEO Jeff Anderson also explained the incentives the company is offering to those who preorder the game, and they are impressive. Those who preorder The Lord of the Rings Online will be offered a chance to subscribe at a reduced rate of $9.99 per month once the game launches (the regular rate is $14.99 per month) or to purchase a lifetime subscription for $199. Not only that, but those who preorder will also be allowed into the upcoming open beta test, and characters created during the beta test will carry over into the live game once it officially launches. Traditionally, beta test characters are wiped out when a game goes live in order to start everyone on a level playing field. This is an addition to the regular preorder bonuses that are expected, such as access to rare items and weapons in the game.

Anderson also discussed some of the community aspects of the game, which sound like they're going to weave players together in cool ways. For instance, there will be text and voice chat in the game, but that's only the beginning. You'll also be able to post blogs in-game or export your character stats easily so you can post them on your own blog. There's also a wiki that users can contribute articles to. And he also hinted at some cool Google mapping features.

We had a chance to create a character and check out some of the opening-level content, and the first thing that stands out about The Lord of the Rings Online is its beautiful look. This is one of the prettiest massively multiplayer role-playing games that we've seen, and J.R.R. Tolkien's famous fantasy world looks exactly as you would imagine it. Human settlements are pastoral in appearance, while elven cities are majestic and soaring.

Character creation is going to be something you'll spend a lot of time in, judging from the many different customization options at your disposal. There are the four races, of course, but on top of that you can select gender (though only male dwarves are available), facial features, and even the character's homeland, which can help determine default coloring. After that, you can select one of seven different classes, though some races may have fewer class options. These include the burglar, which is sort of a thief class; the captain, which is basically a battlefield commander with leadership skills and a herald pet; the champion, which is a dual-weapon-wielding fighter; and the hunter, which is essentially an archer class.

Your starting area will depend on the race you select, but the idea behind all starting areas is the same. Not only will the starting area quickly walk you through the basics, but the hope is that you'll also be drawn more quickly into the game's lore and story. You won't spend hours killing low-level monsters trying to figure out what you're supposed to do, because you'll encounter key figures or characters from the novels. We saw that the starting areas featured a dreaded nazgul, the lieutenants of the evil lord Sauron, and terrifying trolls. Thankfully, in the case of the latter, the elf lord Elrond showed up to save the day.

After the starting level you'll be dropped into a beginning level for the first series of quests, many of which involve exploring the world, meeting new figures, and getting instructions from them. The quest system is designed so that you can easily figure out what you're supposed to do by glancing at the minimap--quest objectives are highlighted, as are quest givers. Before too long you'll level up, which means that you'll need to find an appropriate trainer to teach you new skills and abilities. However, this won't be cheap, and the more powerful the skill, the more money you'll need to learn it. Also, some skills will have level prerequisites attached to them.

The world you'll run around in is, in a word, scenic, and you'll spend much time standing there and soaking in your surroundings. You can also admire your character, because the customization options ensure that you can create a striking appearance for your avatar. Then there are the countless different weapon and equipment combinations that you can equip to really stand out. Between the attractive visuals, the detailed world, the rich mythology of the Tolkien universe, and some innovative new features (such as being able to play as monsters), The Lord of the Rings Online looks like it has a lot of promise and potential. The game will be released on April 24.

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