It's been an interesting year for
the Lord of the Rings Online, and it looks that trend will
continue all the way to 2013. The delayed release of the Riders
of Rohan expansion - scheduled for September but held back for
40 days for fine-tuning - caused a ripple effect throughout Turbine's
post-launch schedule. No doubt, this was further exacerbated by Hurricane
Sandy which wreaked havoc on the East Coast, where Turbine's head offices
As a result of these factors, the Riders of Rohan instance cluster had to
be broken into multiple chunks. Turbine wanted to honor the promises they
made and deliver something before the end of the year, but they couldn't
roll out the full suite of new instances and raids. Instead, with Update
9: Against the Shadow, they give us the 3-man instances, plus a
host of revamps and updates for the older content that should keep players
engaged all throughout the leveling spectrum.
We got a chance to look at and discuss some of these things with Turbine
staff in a play-session with Leo Tan (Digital Communications Manager), Aaron
Campbell (Producer for LotRO) and Hannah Foell (Associate Producer)
Probably one of the biggest and most obvious changes will be the massive
overhaul of Bree-town. Much of the town is being rebuilt and restructured. The
old streets are more or less the same, but the town feels larger and much more
alive. Big new "neighborhoods" are clustered around the various gates, lined
with great stone walls and tall peaked roofs. Explorers who have found every
conceivable rooftop will need to plot out entirely new routes to access their
favorite peaks across the city (hint: start at Combe Gate).
Moria has also seen some further refinement, with quest streamlining and some
graphical enhancements. This is the second part of the Moria revamp, intended
to help mid-level players move more easily through the depths of Khazad-dûm.
Further down the leveling trail, the Dol Guldur instance cluster in Mirkwood
has also seen some updating. All of the instances in that cluster - Warg Pens,
Sword Halls, Dungeons, Sammath Gul and the 12-man Barad Guldur raid - now
scale to level 85, with level-appropriate drops in each one and new level 85
armor sets available from the Classic skirmish vendor.
Rohan introduced two bits of tech that proved very popular among players:
open tapping and remote looting. These enhancements proved popular enough that
they are now standard across all of Middle-Earth, and will work the same in
all other areas as they do in Rohan. Remote looting is particularly
interesting here because it will be used for rolling on boss chest loot in the
new 3-man instances and the revamped Dol Guldur instance cluster.
In a nutshell, remote looting means that every character in the group rolls
separately, on their own loot table, for reward items from monster bodies and
chests. This means that, if a very rare item drops in a particular 6-man
dungeon, all 6 of the characters in the group have a small chance of getting
one, rather than only one of them winning a roll should the item drop.
Furthermore, each character will roll only for items usable by his class. For
example, if a boss loot chest in an instance spawns a particular Hunter item
and a particular Guardian item, only the Hunters will roll for the Hunter
items and only the Guardians will roll for the Guardian items.
This is going to change things up a bit for raid groups using DKP or similar
loot distribution systems - everyone now rolls on their own copy of
everything, but certain desirable items will be Bind On Equip rather than Bind
On Acquire. These items may still be purchased with DKP, but this new system
will rely rather more heavily on player honesty and integrity.
NEW INSTANCE CLUSTER
The biggest draw of Update 9 - and the real focus of the play session - is
arguably the new instance cluster. We get three new 3-man instances with this
update, and they coincide thematically with the Hobbit movie coming out soon,
visiting locations that were prominently figured in the book.
These instances are available starting at level 20, and scale up to level
cap. In terms of time-setting, they occur around the time that the Fellowship
of the Ring is staying in Rivendell. This is kind of awesome for lower-level
characters looking to run group content. It gives them something to do besides
countless repetitive Great Barrows runs.
Our first run was Iorbar's Peak, set in the Misty
Mountains. One of the Stone Giants living in the Misty Mountains has stolen an
egg from Gwaihir, one of the legendary giant eagles. The group is tasked with
finding it and preventing it from being eaten, and must battle their way
through Dourhands and Helegrod escapees to save it.
Tolkien made mention of the Stone Giants living in the Misty Mountains in the
Hobbit. Thorin and his crew of dwarves were wary of them, and the sound of
their boulder-tossing games made everyone uneasy. But they are never directly
encountered, and no physical description of them is given. LotRO's Stone
Giants have a more "elemental" look than the giants encountered in other areas
- they have rocky flesh and crude, stony features.
All throughout the instance, they can be found playing their boulder-tossing
games, but for the most part this is similar to the siege-engine mechanic in
the Attack At Dawn skirmish and elsewhere - the hurled boulders create "hot
spots" that must be avoided during fights, but they can also be used to weaken
enemies by careful leading and positioning.
The second run was Seat of the Great Goblin, set in the
bowels of Goblin-Town. Though this particular instance occurs 80-some years
after the events of the Hobbit, the goblins of Goblin-Town never fully
recovered from Gandalf's slaying of the Great Goblin. That event left a legacy
of intense power struggles that continue on through the generations.
It's rare that an instance could feel more disgusting, foul and polluted than
Skumfil in Moria, but somehow this instance manages to top it. The group
fights its way through the garbage-littered tunnels to the great throne room,
and is then dropped into the reeking trash pit in the center. This should be
familiar to players who have done the Throne Room instance in Goblin-Town,
where the goblin leader boots the White Hand emissaries into the very same pit
in a scene straight out of 300. Except this time, the group lives to see the
bottom of the trash pit - maybe the soft, gooey bodies of those emissaries
cushion the fall? Probably better not to think too hard about it.
Down in the pit, the group will fight a starving, emaciated troll boss.
According to Hannah Foell, initial designs of the troll didn't look quite
emaciated enough, so they sent him back to the art department to get him
looking gaunt and lean. He's still a troll, but he's a scrawny troll.
This instance finishes off with a strange power struggle - displacing one top
goblin from the seat of power opens up the way for others to move in, and they
are quick to take advantage of the opening. This is an interesting fight - the
participants are randomly selected, so the throne room battle can be different
The final, abbreviated run was Webs of the Scuttledells.
When Thorin and his dwarves march through Mirkwood on their way to the Lonely
Mountain, it is a more northerly part of that great forest than the southern
chunk we see in the game. The Scuttledells is one of the most northerly parts
of Southern Mirkwood, and it matches thematically with the dwarves' encounter
with the spiders in Northern Mirkwood.
We didn't get very far into this instance - time was limited and the Turbine
staff is busy getting this thing together - but we did get to explore a bit.
The first task given in the instance is to rescue a number of elves from
spider cocoons, but this is more challenging than it sounds. The cocoons
contain all manner of giant spider food - not just elves, but angry black
dogs, orcs and goblins and other beasties that react violently to being
rescued. There are also an awful lot of spiders here - enough to build
chasm-spanning web bridges sturdy enough to support a group of people fighting
their way across.
This is Part 1 of the Riders of Rohan instance cluster. Part 2 is currently
scheduled to launch in February, and will expand even further on the
Hobbit-specific locations. According to a forum
post by Sapience, this will include a 6-man instance taking place in
Dale and three 12-man raids evidently dealing with Smaug and the Lonely
Mountain. Three raids is going to be nice after this dry spell, but in the
meantime we get to rediscover good ol' BG.
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