Roadmap to Rohan - an Interview with LotRO's Devs

Our interview with Kate Paiz and Adam Mersky about the Riders of Rohan expansion this fall, and what else is in store for 2012.

Roadmap to Rohan - An Interview with the Devs

Last week, we had a look back at 2011 for the Lord of the Rings Online. It was a banner year for the game, its first full year of Free-to-play (f2p), and saw the very successful launch of Turbine's first paid expansion for a f2p title - Rise of Isengard. The expansion did better than they expected, and paved the path for much more to come in 2012. Our interview with Adam Mersky, Director of Communications for Turbine, and Kate Paiz, Executive Director of LotRO, gave us a good look at what's in store for this year.

A Change In Cadence

First up, Kate wanted to talk about the smaller things that will be coming over the year: content updates and patches. "We'll continue to do a couple of updates through the year," she said. "The first one will be coming out in the spring, and that will be a new region that we're adding to the game. It won't be instances or skirmishes, but it will be a landscape that stretches south from Lothlorien along the edge of the Misty Mountains and stops right north of Fangorn, where the Limlight River is."

Riders of Rohan - Great River update area

This update is tentatively titled "the Great River," and will expand further into Rhovanion along the west bank of the Anduin, down to the Field of Celebrant. It will almost certainly expand on endgame content for level 75 players, much as Enedwaith expanded on then-endgame content for the Siege of Mirkwood expansion. And it's likely going to be challenging.

"With the landscape, we're going to be doing a new feature of soldiers on landscape," Kate explained, "so your skirmish soldier, which right now can only be summoned within the skirmish system, is now going to be accessible on the landscape." In other words, players will be able to summon their skirmish soldiers to assist with general landscape questing instead of just skirmishes, essentially giving every class a valuable "combat pet" to help them out in difficult situations.

According to Kate, "It really addresses the question of, 'sometimes when I'm playing, I really need a helping hand. Unless it's a pet class (Captain or Lore-master), or I have a really robust social network, I can really get stuck."

Players will likely still need to level their soldiers the traditional way by running loads of skirmishes and buying/upgrading their skills, but the ability to use soldiers for landscape quests rather changes the dynamic for mostly-solo players. In most ways, they should fulfill the same function as Captain or Lore-master pets - an extra set of tools that will not affect group size (solo + soldier = solo), but will toss out heals or swing a sword according to its type. Skirmish soldiers will not be summonable in instances yet because of the way instances are set up, but this may be added at some point in the future. According to Kate, it "requires more testing."

Adam explained that patches would be coming at a much quicker pace. Turbine plans on releasing monthly or near-monthly "quality of life" patches to fix bugs, add new festival and store, and generally improve gameplay. He calls this a "change in our cadence," and notes that players won't need to wait months for new content updates or huge patches for a relatively-simple bug-fix.

Spring also marks the 5th anniversary of LotRO, and Adam noted that it will be "bigger than 2011."

Fall Expansion: Riders of Rohan

Riders of Rohan Interview - Logo

Of course, the big news of this interview was their plans for major new content, which they announced today (New LotRO Expansion Coming This Fall - Riders of Rohan).

"We're doing another expansion pack," Kate said. "Rise of Isengard was so successful, and players said, 'I really love the way you're bringing together these big Tolkein moments, these big awesome moments, and we want more of that.' We're going to be creating the Riders of Rohan, which will be launching in the fall."

Endgame players are already starting to sniff the air of Rohan with Rise of Isengard content. The final one-third of that expansion, from the Gravenwood to Orthanc, deals with Theodred's Riders, who have been sent to Dunland to fend off the Dunlending tribesmen and to deal with the threat of Saruman and his forces. We get to see the fabled horse-lords in action, charging into combat on their powerful steeds during the Volume III, Book 5 epic quests. This fall, we will see much more of that.

"Rohan brings to mind a couple of key things," Kate said. "First, a vast, rolling plains peopled with horses and riders racing around at high speed with very exciting combat, and we are absolutely committed to bringing that to life for our players as best we can. In the fall, we are going to be introducing the East Plains of Rohan. These are going to come down from the region of the Great River that we're introducing in the spring, and it's not going to be contiguous with the Gap of Rohan. There's going to be a space there because Rohan, as an entity, is just too big. If you look at the map, it's almost half the size of Eriador, so we're going to be breaking it into just the east section for now. It is the largest landscape we'll have ever released. It's twice the size of Moria in terms of area."

Riders of Rohan - East Rohan, The Wold

And even though the East Plains are so massive, Turbine wants to give us more yet. "In addition to the East Plains," Kate added, "we're going to be creating the eave of Fangorn. As you now, Fangorn is a very dangerous place, and not one in which you would send your key people. You won't be able to go all the way in, but there will be an edge that will be explorable. I think players are going to have a really fun time seeing the ents and the moving trees that exist there.

"Likewise, we're going to have Amon Hen, which is the spot where the fellowship broke up and where Boromir was slain."

In theory, then, this expansion would cover the entirety of East Emnet, the region to the east of the Entwash river flowing out of Fangorn. It would extend from the Limlight River - the southern boundary of the spring update - through the Wold and covering the great expanse between the Entwash and the Anduin River. The lake Nen Hithoel, in the southeast corner and on the other side of the East Wall range of hills, is a likely natural "barrier" that would define the extent of the region. Amon Hen, the hill where Boromir was slain and the fellowship splintered, sits at the southwest of that lake just north of the marsh called Mouths of the Entwash. It stands to reason that players will enter this new region from Lothlorien in the north, rather than through the Gap of Rohan in the southwest.

Of course, Rohan brings one other thing to mind: mounted warriors fighting from horseback.

"Because mounted combat is such a ubiquitous thing about Rohan," Kate continued, "we're absolutely committed to doing it, and it's going to be awesome. The player is going to be able to have a war-steed, and the war-steed is going to be more robust than the mounts that are currently in-game. The war-steed will have its own set of attacks, so you'll be able to do things like trample your enemies. You'll be able to have custom mounted skills yourself, and we'll have a level-cap increase that goes with this region. Your Captain can have their mounted skills, and your Minstrel, and things like that."

In other words, there will be common mounted skill shared by all classes (for example, Trample), some skills that will be common across class types (for example, melee classes will likely have one or two common skills that tactical and ranged classes will not), and some skills unique to each class. And the war-steed will apparently be customizable, with the ability to upgrade its armor.

Mounted combat will not be available in all areas of the game - town spaces, for example, where a charging stallion riding at high speed is highly impractical, will use regular old on-foot combat, and likely most dungeons and instanced spaces where mounts are not allowed will also require the non-mounted standard version. There was no mention of whether or not mounted combat would be useable in PvMP.

Riders of Rohan - mounted combat

There was mention, however, of a new concept model for PvE mobs. "To go along with mounted combat and the war-steed, we'll have a new concept model of war-bands," Kate said. "War-bands are groups of warg-riders that have been sent out by Saruman and other baddies to do terrible things to the people of Rohan." In other words, you won't just be charging your horse at lone patrolling stragglers wandering around the rolling hills of Rohan, but at clustered groups of mounted mobs engaged in devious missions.

Kate explained, "Even though there is such a wide line of sight on these massive plains areas, I think it's going to be very awesome and fun to see the changes in that traditional MMO combat that we have, and to see players exploring that."

The Beginning of our Rohan Experience

Riders of Rohan has the potential to be bigger and better than Rise of Isengard. Compare the two:

  • Rise of Isengard brought a level-cap increase. Riders of Rohan will, too - the new cap will be 85.
  • Dunland, the Gap of Rohan and Isengard, altogether, were somewhere between Mirkwood and Moria in terms of area. East Rohan will be twice the size of Moria.
  • The Instance Finder is all well and good, but really didn't change the game all that much. Mounted combat absolutely will.

It is important to note that some of the more-anticipated, lore-important hot-spots - the Rohirric capital city of Edoras and the mountain valley of Helm's Deep - are situated in the west of Rohan, and we will not be seeing them at launch. "Because we're just getting into Rohan," Adam explained, "think of it more as the beginning of our Rohan Experience. There's going to be a lot more to come post-expansion pack."

When one considers what is confirmed with this expansion, the wait for West Rohan seems reasonable. "The new region is going to be epic," Adam said. "I think the mounted combat is really something that people have been waiting for and we've been prototyping for a long time. It's looking really good and players are really going to like it. It's going to be a whole new way to experience the game."

As for tie-ins with the Hobbit movie, coming this winter, Adam said, "While we are focused on our content - and it's different from the Hobbit content - I think the rising tide raises all boats, and I think there will be a nice renaissance for all things Tolkien starting at the end of the year." In other words, we're not likely to see Northern Mirkwood or the Lonely Mountain anytime in 2012, but the Hobbit movie is almost certain to get people thinking about and wanting to take part in the story of the One Ring again. If the movie is anywhere near as excellent as the trailer indicates (see it on YouTube), LotRO is bound to see a burst of growth at year's end.

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