Lord of the Rings Online takes the Hobbit craze virtual with a massive adventure containing all the familiar characters and locations
Middle Earth Online, or MEO, has several strong selling points to its credit, the most obvious being the amazing name recognition, but even players who have somehow missed the craze over all things Tolkien may find good reason to get involved. MEO will have features never before tried in a massive-scale game, such as a system for advancing characters over time despite being offline. Another interesting touch is the morality system: all characters will be judged by NPCs based on their previous exploits. Not to be left out, MEO also has features that other games currently in development are working on, like instanced quests and dungeons, as well as player houses in or near many recognizable cities and towns.
Middle-Earth is an enormous land, with thousands of locations in which adventures will and have happened. One of the reasons Tolkien's works are so loved is the deep lore and believable history behind every location and the developers have promised to bring forth this magical effect into a traversable world where new wars and cities will scour the face of Middle-Earth. The lands will be developed in their order of appearance in the novels, meaning from the Shire through dark Mordor. The initial release of the game is expected to include Eriador and "a bit more." Players will be able to earn housing in many familiar locations such as the Shire and Rivendell.
One of the most interesting features of Middle Earth Online is the out-of-game advancement. When a player is logged out, their characters are still going about normal daily life. The character won't go out and complete quests, but they will advance stats. Players can choose a stat or ability they wish to hone, and while they are unable to play their character will be gaining power as if he or she were functioning normally. If a player cannot log in for an extended period of time, they may even receive a bonus to help catch them up to their fellows who were able to play.
A common question about any MMORPG is "what can I play?". Middle Earth Online developers were quick to assure Men, Hobbits, Elves, and Dwarves that their personal favorite races were available. Few classes are yet announced, but the few that have been released are very intriguing. All classes start in a basic form, such as "Rogue". Players work as a Rogue for some time, working toward either good or evil. After a benchmark of achievement, Rogues move on to be either Burglars (good) or Backstabbers (evil). Hobbits are the only listed Rogues, though that could change. Elves have Scout listed as their class, and may move on to be Archers (good) or Avengers (evil). Dwarves may become Warriors and either Warlords (good) or Berserkers (evil). Finally, Men have Hunter, Sage, Soldier, and Squire available, each leading to their own good and evil variants. This variety of classes with alignment-based variants is very interesting, and sure to bring a great diversity to the game.
For those who know the story of the Lord of the Rings, the game will begin during the time period of the novels: just after the fellowship leaves the mines of Moria. This means that player actions can affect the fellowship's journey, though the fellowship itself will not be around to meet and interact in-game. Many characters from the novels will be about, however; Elrond himself will be an interactive NPC, and "many others" are expected.
The ability to traverse the lands of Middle-Earth with other adventurers toward the ultimate goal, be it to banish the dark one for good, or raise him to his rightful throne is a sure-seller alone. When you add the experienced developers and the features they have promised for this title, Middle-Earth Online is looking to be the next must-own game for RPG fans and Tolkien fans in general.