This is, without any doubt, the finest PC game I own. Based on the books of J.R.R. Tolkien, it is set during the Third Age of Middle-Earth, during the quest of Frodo and the Fellowship of the Ring. You do not actually play as one of the Fellowship members, but you can get to meet them during your adventures.
Beginning as one of four races - Dwarf, Elf, Hobbit or Man - and seven character classes - Burglar, Captain, Champion, Guardian, Hunter, Lore-Master or Minstrel - you create a character to journey in Middle-Earth from as far west as the Elven kingdom of Ered Luin to as far east as the Misty Mountains (currently) with more maps appearing every so often as free content.
Where to begin? The game itself looks and sounds gorgeous, there are thousands of items and quests to find and complete, and an amazing Crafting system which allows you to forage or trade for materials to make weaponry, armour, jewellery, or even simple cooked items! Ten crafting professions are currently available, which allow for a variety of scope and invention.
Characters gain money and experience like in any other RPG, by questing and slaying monsters. Characters can progress as high as Level 50, but the Mines of Moria expansion pack due out in November will raise this cap to 60th Level. You can also perform Deeds by, say, slaying so many monsters of a certain type on a single map, or finding your way to a set number of related locations, and once completed a Deed will grant you a Trait, which is a permanent bonus of some sort. There are loads of Deeds and Traits available, and once earned Traits can be equipped in a skills bar - but you can only equip so many at any one time, so foresight and skill is required to figure out which ones work best together.
You can create up to 5 characters per account, and also buy a house in Middle-Earth for them to reside, once you have acquired the amount of in-game cash needed; you can even allow other players privileges to visit or even store items in any chests you keep there. And the game's first Hobby, fishing, was added a couple of months ago, and is proving to be immensely popular.
Characters can team up into temporary alliances called Fellowships, or join longer term Kinships (Guilds). The players themselves are in my experience co-operative, friendly and helpful, and I've had no bad experiences with anyone. It seems everybody is playing the game for one thing - to enjoy being part of the greatest fantasy world ever created.
(There is no Player-Verses-Player combat here though, unless you create a Monster for the PVP maps, which any standard character of level 40 or above can also enter, whenever they feel like it. Playing a monster is just as much fun as playing the main game, and proves that it is often good to be bad!)
I have been playing The Lord of the Rings Online virtually every day since I bought it over a year ago, and have still seen less than half the game's currently available content. New challenges like the Shire Summer Festival and the Elves' search for Lore Items appear every couple of months, and although they are time-limited to a couple of days or weeks, they are a novel offering and fun to do, as well as keeping the game fresh.
And with the Mines of Moria expansion pack being released in November, with a host of new features like a +10 Level Cap and the realms of Moria and Lothlorien to explore, Middle-Earth has never been a better place to be! The best MMO available will soon be even better...