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The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar

Lord of the Rings Online takes the world of the books - the books, yeah, not the movies - and brings it to life in the form of an MMO that looks much like any we've ever played before. After all, every fantasy epic created since J.R.R. Tolkien put pen to page has pretty much been a big LOTR rip-off. That said, what's actually going to drive people to play LOTR Online? If you want to catch up on the basics, by the way, hit our older coverage.

Sure, being able to make your very own Hobbit is a perk. At Midway's Las Vegas Gamers' Day, the company presented a lot of new details - and we got hands-on time with one of the game's new modes as well. This new info has swung our interest needle a little higher on this game.

News-wise, the big announcement is that Midway has decided to institute unusual pricing for gamers who preorder LOTR. The monthly fee will be $9.99, or you can opt for a lifetime fee of $199. If you pre-order, you'll also get access to the beta - and the ability to roll that beta character over into the live game once it launches. You'll also get some sort of yet unspecified bonus equipment.

More interesting is that the game is going to support extensive and complex community functions that twine with the actual gameplay. A Google Maps version of Middle-earth will be accessible to subscribers. Each character you create will get his or her own page on the game's official website, and you'll be able to blog it. Minigames on the website will affect your real progression in (currently unspecified) ways. The site will also feature an online Wiki encyclopedia of info about the LOTR Online universe. All in all, it sounds like a very robust package of community tools.

One interesting community aspect we were able to discuss with the developer we met was that on Bilbo's birthday players decided to celebrate. The developers decided to support the celebration by setting off fireworks. They seem very keen to see that kind of interaction with the community continue.

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