Looking Ahead: What Else is Coming to the Lord of the Rings Online in 2011?
Last week, Ethec managed to hook me into an interview with Aaron Campbell, Producer for the Lord of the Rings Online, and Adam Mersky, Director of Communications for Turbine. Obviously, they wanted to talk about the upcoming November Update (detailed here) and the Rise of Isengard expansion coming in Fall 2011 (as outlined here). That was all well and good, and we certainly appreciated their willingness to share this information. But Fall 2011 is a long way off, and we wanted to know what was going to happen between now and then.
(A note of caution: since these are "future plans" and have no existing official artwork, I have had to rely on my own imagination for the illustrations.)
The Lighter Side
The first thing they revealed was the upcoming Yule Festival, coming sometime in December. This year will see a whole new area, called Winter-home, acceible by talking to seasonal stable-masters throughout Middle-Earth. This is a whole new region, separate from the rest of the world, with a variety of Yule-themed mini-games and quests, vying factions and colorful politics. Players can engage in snowball fights or take to the stage as a theatre actor, emoting for the audience. This is in addition to the regular Yule Festival events that occur every year, much the same as how the recent Harvestmath Festival incorporated the "standard" festival events and added the Haunted Burrow. This content will go live with the November Update, but will not be activated until the festival goes live in December.
Cosmetic pets (Artist's Conception)
With the Yule Festival comes a slew of new cosmetic items, but many players already have their outfit slots and wardrobe filled to bursting with the stuff that's available now. Well, this is something that Aaron and Adam felt needed to be addressed.
According to Aaron, "We're taking the outfit system and we're going to be adding new types of cosmetic items, adding new slots you can place them in [and] additional outfits you can hold with your character so you can hold even more different kinds of outfits and change into them as you need to, really giving yourself that personalized appearance and variety."
"On top of that," he went on, "we're also going to be introducing cosmetic pets. These are non-combat pets that you can kind of show off and coordinate with your outfits. They are purely cosmetic in that they run around and don't participate in combat, but they're really a lot of fun for players."
Endgame and Raids
2011 won't be all fluff, though. Expect brand-new group instances and raids. "And the raids are multiple," Aaron said. "More than one. We're going to have new content for endgame players, and we're also bringing in some mid-level content for players in the 30-40 range, somewhere in there."
Level 65 First Age LIs (Artist's Conception)
New endgame raids sounds promising enough, but it gets better: "With the new raids, we're unlocking First Age legendary weapons for level 65," Aaron informed us. "This has not been available since the launch of Mirkwood."
For those of us who remember the days just before Mirkwood, this news is welcome but not all that surprising. Just before Mirkwood launched, Turbine added the bounty quests in Esteldin, allowing players to collect massive amounts of item XP quickly. When Mirkwood launched, all of our maxed-out level 60 First Age weapons became obsolete, and the item XP runes were not usable on the legendary items for level 61 and up. More recently, level 65 Second Age weapons have become almost ridiculously easy to get, requiring just a few concerted runs of the Eregion 3-man instances or, for the more headstrong, the 6-man Great Barrows instances. The Symbol of Celebrimbor (the item needed to craft level 65 Second Age legendary items), which formerly sold for around 100 gold at auction, is currently selling for 12 - 15 gold. Now that these items are so easy to get, it's only a matter of time before they are replaced by something bigger and better and made obsolete. No surprise, really... but I am personally still looking forward to replacing my Second Age crossbow with a shiny new First Age.
More importantly, these new raids are very unlikely to be radiance-gated. Radiance is being pulled from the game entirely. "We created a system that was intended to provide both a soft-gating for spaces and to provide some distinction between raid gear from gear that was gained outside of raids," Adam explained. "And players came back to us and said 'Well, this is okay but it's not really fun,' and not being fun was not an outcome we could work with, so we're pulling it out." While the Hope/Dread mechanic will stay in place, radiance will no longer be a requirement for the more difficult endgame raids, almost certainly including the new ones that will be coming out next year.
Since updates are no longer coupled with the epic books, we can expect "micro-updates" more often - a package of new raids, instances and skirmishes, for example, or a new or upgraded system, or even a new chapter in the epic story. "The epic story continues," said Aaron, "but we want to get content and features out even faster than that. So we're going to be doing both updates that have specific feature sets in them, and we're still going to be releasing epic books as well."
How does one illustrate a change to the structure of forthcoming updates in a way that is both informative and entertaining?
"That way we won't have to make players wait for changes we're making," Adam clarified. "Feature changes, things that are [based on] feedback, we're not holding it all off until the whole epic story and everything else is done. They will come interspersed between each other."
Turbine has an ambitious update schedule for Dungeons & Dragons Online, with new stuff made available every 3 months, but LotRO is a different beast. "When you're talking about the world of Middle-Earth," Adam explained, "It's hard to say we'll do a lot of small updates, like 'You'll get Isengard Part 1 in the fall, and then parts 2, 3 and 4 of the region in 2012.' That's not how people want to experience Middle-Earth. When you get into a new region you want to really get into it and explore it, just like Moria and Mirkwood and et cetera. [...] Whereas DDO is instant dungeons and launching adventure packs in pieces like that, more frequently, is more fitting of that game than of LotRO. [...] Right now, we still think that the expansion pack is a vital part of how people want to experience Middle-Earth as it allows us to introduce big chunks of the landscape at once, in a way that makes sense with story and everyhing else."
So, in a nutshell: new small-scale content, feature sets and system tweaks and epic book packs will be added periodically throughout the year, but big multi-region, map-expanding areas will still be released in the more traditional expansions.
This is the definite stuff. We spoke more about some other future plans that are less immediate but absolutely in the works.
Mounted Combat ETA: T.B.D. (Artist's Conception)
When asked if mounted combat was coming, Aaron gave us a flat "Yes." Early release notes from the test server for the November Update indicated that characters would be able to block/parry/evade while mounted, but this has been shelved for the time being due to some bugs in the system that will prevent it from being ready in time for the November 29 release. However, this is a first step towards actual mounted combat. The plan is to make this available to all characters, not tying it to any particular class. Adam cautioned us, however, that the "when and where of it is T.B.D.," Keep in mind, though, that Mordor is also coming at some point, and the date for that is also T.B.D. - mounted combat may or may not be coming to the game in 2011, but it is in the works for some future point.
Updating the aging Rift off Nurz Ghashu to bring it in-line, challenge-wise, with the revamped Helegrod raid is a "top priority," but there are no certain dates for such a reworking just yet. While it would be nice for poor old Barz to proclaim that there is "no power stronger than Barz!" and really, truly mean it, he's going to have to "wait and see" like everyone else as to exactly when that will happen.
Anything discussed after this point fell into one of three areas: "that's not something we can really get into yet," "that's something we're looking into," and "no comment." Any further speculation would be irresponsible. In this article, anyway... that's what the forums are for.