This latest stab at recreating the hallowed lands of Middle-earth doesn't mess around: from the very start you're dabbling in and around the much loved and extraordinarily well-known Fellowship storyline, spanning the lovingly recreated lands of Eriador. Be it clearing the path for Frodo and Sam with Boromir, or bumping into much-loved tree-hugger Tom Bombadil, you'll be thrust into your own personal story within the events of Middle-earth, without necessarily infringing on the adventures of certain furry-footed ring bearers.
While in Azeroth your beginnings are decidedly humble, your first minutes in Middle-earth thrust you into a fantasy romp of epic proportions. Even the hobbits get their fair share of scares from the start, watching as ring wraiths stare down their friends in search of the Baggins boys. Developer Turbine hasn't re-invented the wheel, but instead has tried to roll it in a Guild Wars-esque direction of having a gigantic, over-arching quest that affects everything you do. Not to say there aren't a bevy of side-quests, but there is an emphasis on putting you into a storyline as vast as Peter Jackson's pre-Atkins gut.
While it's hard to call it generic, what with the landmark source material, the starting races are exactly what you'd expect from a Lord Of The Rings game: dwarves, hobbits, elves and men, each with their own particular starting areas (though the dwarves and elves share theirs). Each race gets their own little aside that teaches you the controls and eases newbies into the gameplay, while at the same time setting the scene for the rest of the game.
Though training missions aren't anything new, they directly lead into the rest of the game's quests and are worth a once-through, even if you have to groan through the "press W to move forward!" prompts. Interestingly though, the developers want to start the game off on a good foot - you're a hero from the start. "You're not the shoe-maker of Middle-earth, but one of the adventurers - you're going to change the world," explains Turbine CEO Jeff Anderson as we take our first steps into the fray.