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Gaze Into the Palantir: Some Predictions for LotRO in 2012

Posted Tue, Jan 03, 2012 by gunky

Gaze Into the Palantir: Some Predictions for LotRO in 2012

2011 was a pretty big year for the Lord of the Rings Online. The early months were spent riding the wave of 2010's highly-touted transition to Free-to-Play, making LotRO one of the go-to examples of F2P success among all the other titles that followed suit after. Seriously, every time another title announced that it was moving to a F2P model, game writers would say, "Hey, it worked for LotRO," and my Google Alerts would catch it and send me an email notification about it.

Spring saw the introduction of the Update 2: Echoes of the Dead instance cluster, the in-game celebration of LotRO's Fourth Anniversary, and Update 3: Lost Legends of Eriador. Spring also saw Turbine assume control over Codemaster's EU operations, and the creation of the unified "global service." Summer was largely a big ramp-up to the late-Fall launch of LotRO's 3rd expansion, Rise of Isengard, which has been their most successful expansion to date, and Winter gave us Update 5: Armies of Isengard.

As busy as it was, there were still a few things that didn't happen. Way back in 2010, when Turbine first announced Rise of Isengard, they mentioned a number of new elements they wanted to add with the next expansion, and some of these didn't make the cut - not in the initial release of the expansion, or in Update 5. During our last interview with Turbine devs (see LotRO's Update 5: An Interview with the Devs), Adam Mersky, Executive Director of Communications for Turbine, mentioned that the LotRO team would be following a faster schedule for releasing new content in 2012, and that they would have a big announcement coming up "probably sometime in January." While it is possibly irresponsible to speculate just yet on what this announcement might be, here's a few things that might come up based on previous discussions and semi-educated guesses.

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Officially Proposed But Never Added

These are the features that were officially announced for the Rise of Isengard expansion or the updates that came before it, but got dropped for whatever reason. It may have been time constraints, a shift of development focus, or systems being buggier than anticipated, but, for some reason, they were (at least temporarily) left on the cutting room floor.

New PvMP Zone

The addition of a new PvMP zone was discussed back in Fall 2010 (see our Rise of Isengard Expansion Reveal Interview) when Turbine first announced Rise of Isengard, and was met with great enthusiasm by the Player-versus-Monster-Player community. Later on, when it had to be dropped from the launch (revealed in our Update 3 Interview), a lot of these people were very vocally upset. Turbine opened PvMP up to the F2P crowd by allowing them to roll monster characters, but still restricted Free People play to subscribers, which was another point of contention for many. Expanding on the system by adding a new PvMP zone and/or opening freep-play to non-VIPs (even if it's an option they would have to purchase from the store) would be a major coup for Turbine and earn back a lot of lost faith. And probably lots of money.

Mounted Combat

It's getting very close to crunch-time for this feature. While it was never officially declared as a feature that would be added to Rise of Isengard, mounted combat has been under development for a long time. Rohan is literally just around the corner, and the Rohirrim are renowned for their skill at fighting from horseback. This was discussed way back in 2010 (see What Else Is Coming to LotRO in 2011) as a possibility for inclusion at some distant point, and during our Update 5 Play Session with the Devs, Aaron Campbell - Executive Producer for LotRO - jokingly referred to Rohirrim soldiers charging through combat on their steeds as a "teaser." Mounted combat is something the players want, and something the devs want to add. And Rohan is the place to do it.

Treasure Hunt

The Treasure Hunt was in the planning stages around the same time as Update 3: Lost Legends of Eriador, but never made it to live servers. We got a 2-hour sneak preview of this event on the launch-day of Update 5. Many European players were upset that they hadn't gotten an opportunity to try it out, owing to the time difference. A lot of players (myself included) were expecting to see the Treasure Hunt event added to the 2011 Yule Festival, but were disappointed when it was not. It stands to reason that we will see it sometime in 2012 - the framework is in place on live servers and for the most part it worked okay during the sneak preview. It would be somewhat reckless to speculate when we might see it again, but it seems safe to assume that we will.

Cosmetic Pets

Cosmetic pets for all classes are another little tidbit that got dropped from the Rise of Isengard release. This was mentioned during the initial announcement of Rise of Isengard (see What Else is Coming article), and it was a feature that I was personally quite excited about - I even made a jokey graphic with Paris Hilton carrying her tiny dog through Enedwaith to illustrate it, hating myself for doing so but loving the idea that inspired it. Even if my Hunter never does learn how to shoot his crossbow from horseback, if he can have a little dog running around after him while he explores and hunts on foot, I'll be satisfied.

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Wishlist of Rampant Speculation

There are some things we know are coming soon because they happened in the books. The timeline is important to the devs, and they have had to stretch certain events out longer than anticipated in order to fit them into the existing game in a way that worked more or less properly. In the coming months, there are a number of events we can reasonably expect to see and take part in. But there's also a slew of older content that begs to be reworked and renewed.

Fangorn Forest

We get our toes wet in the Fangorn's Edge small-fellowship instance, but the rest of the forest begs to be explored. We want to meet more of the storied ents, to attend the Entmoot (even if from a great distance) and to see the mighty tree-shepherds unleash their wrath on Isengard like a squadron of woody battle-mechs. Surely, this is not far off in terms of development, and it stands to reason that we can expect to see it happen sometime this year. The only real question is, how will this event be presented? Will it be a skirmish? An instance? A raid? An epic book?

Battle of the Hornburg

Again, this one is just over the horizon. Theodred's fall at the Ford of Isen is the herald to some big-time drama in Edoras, and this will likely be the focus of the epic books. But the big show in Rohan is at Helm's Deep, and the fortress called the Hornburg. King Theoden commands roughly 1,000 Rohirric soldiers to hold this fort against Saruman's besieging force of around 10 times their number of orcs, uruk-hai and Dunlendings. They battle bravely, but the forces of Saruman are too many, and they are only saved in the eleventh hour by Gandalf, the remaining forces from the Fords of Isen, and an army of pissed-off trees. It will be really interesting to see how this battle is going to pan out - will it be an epic book, a battle instance or a raid? Anything else seems inappropriate.

Scaling the Rift of Nurz Ghashu

The Rift of Nurz Ghashu used to be awesome. Back in the day, before raid clusters got split into easily-digestible wings and when the level cap was still 50, the Rift could take several days to complete, and when you beat it, you were among the elite. Nowadays, it just seems long and rather pointless - the armor looks awesome but is difficult to get and you outgrow it almost immediately. It has a reputation faction that is unconnected to anything else in the game and offers no rewards beyond some potions and such that are no longer terribly useful. Scaling the Rift and breaking it into wings, like they did with Helegrod and the Great Barrow, would make this raid viable and awesome again, an endgame alternative to the current Isengard cluster.

Major New Mechanics

The Instance Finder that came with Update 5 is neat and all, but it doesn't hold a candle to the introduction of the Legendary Item system that shipped with Mines of Moria, or the Skirmish system that came with Siege of Mirkwood. Even with the upgrades that Turbine is proposing (e.g. the ability to pick specific instances), it's still kind of a "niche" thing, and you can still do without it if you want. LIs changed the game - old, static weapons and class items became obsolete when you were given items that grew with you and accentuated your particular play-style. The skirmish system changed the game - fast and fun new instances that you could start from anywhere, with any size group, and that scaled to your level. The Instance Finder doesn't replace anything, and for most players it doesn't change how the game is played. Pick-up groups are still organized through the traditional channels. How about a system similar to the LI system, but for armor? Or jewellery? Build the armor set you want instead of the cookie-cutter instance/raid sets that everyone else uses (and which you may not like anyway, but have to use because that's what's expected). And it "grows with you" in the same manner as your legendary sword or bow. That would be another game-changer, and a game that's nearly 5 years old kind of needs game-changers.

Updates to Aging Systems

The player housing system has remained unchanged for years. Turbine keeps adding new housing decorations, but no new hooks on which to hang them, and you can still only own one personal house per account (per server). The same goes for the Kinship system. It, too, has remained unchanged for years, while the gaming community as a whole has grown more sophisticated. Why can't wealthy characters buy "expansions" for their homes - extra rooms with more decoration hooks - like wealthy people do in the real world? Why can't very old and established kinships reorganize their rosters in a way that better suits the kinship's playing and social style? No need to reinvent the wheel - just add some kick-ass rims.

New Hobbies and Things

One of the awesome things about LotRO - indeed, one of the aspects that keeps this game going strong despite its age - is the inclusion of non-combat-oriented, social type of activities that follow the lore and give the game personality. Fishing, for example, is a total time-sink, but people do it anyway. For hours. Turbine has been teasing us with golf for a long while now - Enedwaith, in particular, came with golf emotes earned from deeds and reputation rewards, or purchased outright from the store. A golf hobby could be added to the game - woodworkers and metalsmiths could make clubs. Players could drop a cup on the ground and try to hit it from long range, or they could simply drive the ball and receive yardage feedback in the chat log. To keep things nice and lore-friendly, players could use goblin heads as golf balls.

The music system is another fun, non-essential element of the game, and there are no material rewards associated with it, but music-lovers will spend hours standing around in Bree or the Shire wailing away on their lutes and horns because it's fun and social. The addition of the pibgorn with Update 5 was awesome, but what about a squeezebox or fiddle? The squeezebox may be somewhat anachronistic and not entirely lore-friendly, but you can clearly hear a squeezebox in the background music for the Stoor village in Enedwaith. Fiddles were played by the dwarves when they showed up at Bilbo's house before setting out to the Lonely Mountain. Fiddles and dulcimers have been used as "musical cracker" event rewards for a long while - why not add playable fiddles and zithers? Or hurdy gurdies? No one is asking for grand pianos (though that would make for excellent housing items!), but there are any number of small, medieval-era European musical instruments that fit with the lore and the tone of the game and can be added to the repertoire.

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Even with monstrous competition from the incumbent-industry-standard World of Warcraft on one hand and the rockstar-IP Star Wars: The Old Republic on the other, 2012 is looking hopeful for the Lord of the Rings Online. Rise of Isengard was a very successful expansion, and the game continues to evolve. As it nears its 5th anniversary, it still shows signs of growth and prosperity. If you have predictions of your own, please share them in our forums!


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