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LotRO: Helm's Deep Review

Posted Wed, Dec 04, 2013 by gunky

LotRO: Helm's Deep Review

West Rohan is a pretty swell place. Or it was before the orcs got there, anyway. As the landscape behind the Lord of the Rings Online's latest expansion, Helm's Deep, it provides a setting that is majestic, gritty and epic but also familiar.

Of course, the big story of Helm's Deep isn't the hills and trees and mead halls and such - it's the epic battles. The expansion is named after the area in the Westfold region, where the ancient Gondorian fotress called the Hornburg provides a last-ditch sanctuary for a great host of refugees. The epic battle there, between 2,000 or so Rohirrim defenders and a host of more than 10,000 White Hand attackers, is one of the most memorable in the series, and Turbine has put a lot of work into making them feel as epic in the game as they do in the books.

Cautions

Helm's Deep features heaps of fantasy violence. Literally heaps of it - particularly after the Battle of the Hornburg. It has a ESRB rating of "T for Teen."

Gameplay

95Outstanding

Helm's Deep makes a few changes to gameplay this time around.

First off is the new talent tree system, replacing the old class traits. This can have a rather profound effect on how a character is played. Old hybrid trait builds are no longer really viable, since buying traits outside of the specialization tree costs two times as much. Some players will find this a tough pill to swallow, particularly if they have been running hybrid for a very long time. Others may find that it makes their characters more focused and effective - though this might be a bit of an illusion based on the raising of certain stat caps and removal of diminishing returns.

LotRO Helm's Deep Review - Big Battle

There are also changes to the threat system, which can have a profound effect on group content. The new system is supposed to be simpler, but may not take into account how much threat an uncapped and incautious Hunter generates with his newly-supercharged attacks. Threat leeching skills - Whirling Retaliation for Guardians, for example - have had the threat leeching effect removed, but threat generation on tank-spec classes has been increased overall. The new system may take some getting used to for long-time players with set skill rotations. On the other hand, since players can now just swap specs on the fly, any time, for no cost, hybridization is much less important, and characters can afford to take a narrower approach to their tasks.

The Big Battles system (also called Epic Battles, but we'll stick with Big Battles to avoid confusion with the other "epic" things already in place) is something new altogether. The bastard offspring of skirmishes and session play, Big Battles put the character in the role of a defender at five key locations during the battle at Helm's Deep. This is not your average "kill all the trash mobs, then fight a boss" style of instanced space - most of the trash mobs are handled by the NPC soldiers, and there aren't really any named bosses. Instead, the player is tasked with manning siege  and anti-siege weapons - building, loading, aiming and firing catapults, for example, or loading and using rock traps to kill orcs trying to climb up the walls - ordering soldiers around by issuing commands to NPC captains, and completing random side objectives which actually do involve some proper fighting. 

Characters specializing in support roles will have a pretty easy time adapting to this new type of content, but front-line fighters, tanks and DPSers, will probably need to adjust their play style significantly. Except for the side-quests, attacking the invaders is kind of pointless. They usually charge straight towards their objectives and get handled by the Rohirrim soldiers - they don't respond to threat generation, but some can be pulled for a short time by using forced-attack taunts. In between side quests, the player should more likely be focusing on making sure everyone's combat orders are current, ensuring that battle standards and equipment are in good repair, and keeping soldiers healed up if possible.

Graphics

87Very Good

Let's be honest here - LotRO is six years old now. The graphics are good for what they are, and continue the tradition of lore-based excellence in design for which Turbine has become well-known - but they're not particularly cutting-edge or ground-breaking.  The designers have done a great job of working within the limitations of this older engine to produce some serious eye candy.

West Rohan is a very pretty region, and it is quite clear that a great deal of effort has gone into making everything look as good as or better than how it was described in the books. Meduseld, the mead hall in Edoras where King Theoden holds court, looks pretty amazing. I am particularly impressed by the visuals in Fenmarch, which sits on the boggy edge of the river separating the Westemnet from the Eastemnet - the willows drooping into still, silent, swan-filled pools.

LotRO Helm's Deep Review - Fenmarch

The designers have also done a great job of designing and decorating the Hornburg and its outbuildings. The ancient Gondorian architecture stands out strongly against the landscape, and the Rohirric additions of stables and lean-tos and market stalls inside the fortress walls make it look like a dashed-together military encampment.

Standing on top of the Deeping Wall and seeing the dense, screaming carpet of murderous orcs sheeting the valley below is an epic feeling. There are thousands of individuals on screen at once, and it truly feels like those far-away pixels are angrily clamoring for blood and for the extinction of mankind. The scale of the battle is somewhat reduced by the thin distance fog - it's a rainy, miserable night, and there are a lot of big fires kicking up a lot of acrid, hazy smoke, but you can see the entire White Hand army quite clearly, all the way to the back. This is not necessarily a bad thing, though, because that's a hell of a sight.

Sound

77Pretty Good

Unfortunately, Chance Thomas had to sit it out this time around, and the musical tone for West Rohan is very different from that of East Rohan. Helm's Deep's composer, Stephen Digregorio, has crafted a score for Western Rohan using a fairly obvious digital palette, as opposed to the more lavish and epic-sounding orchestral works of Thomas. While the themes of the soundtrack are sweeping and dramatic, they suffer from low-budget instrumentation. 

LotRO Helm's Deep Review - simbelmyne flowers growing on the barrows outside of Edoras

That being said, it's still an above-average score. A number of players have given voice to some very colourfully-worded objections to the music, but LotRO players have been spoiled for many years by an ace composer. The new guy clearly has some chops - his music is emotive and evocative, and adequately sets the mood and tone of the region - but he had some mighty big shoes to fill, and evidently a much tighter budget.

Not sure how the author came up with such a high score when this is probably the worst expansion since LOTRO came out.

Here's my take...

GAMEPLAY - 50/100

Quest lines are tied to the Epic Quests which are tied to the Epic Battles. You can't do one and not the other, you have to do them all if you want to do any at all.

Quests are still the same, tired old quests like killing boars and bears or carrying buckets of water. We're 85 now, we should be doing more than we did in the Shire at level 10.

And, aside from Helm's Deep, Western Rohan is pretty much a carbon copy of Eastern Rohan.

GRAPHICS - 60/100

While other games are updating their graphics or switching to newer engines, LOTRO is still using the same graphics and engine it did back in 2007. Rocks and mountains still have "stretched" textures on them and you can see patterns in everything everywhere you go, like someone just copied and pasted the last patch of ground they put down.

No updates to characters other than animations (some of which are broken). Characters and NPC's still have blank, dead faces that have no emotion whatsoever.

MULTIPLAYER - 0/100

I really don't feel that the Epic Battles fall under "Multiplayer". To me, multiplayer is PvP, which Helm's Deep gets a zero on because PvP is currently unplayable. Monster Players have 60+ percent defensive mitigations on attacks due to bugs, chests haven't been updated, the armor or jewelry hasn't been updated for the Freeps, cloaks are still level 40 and still have level 40 stats, Creeps have three to four times the morale than freeps do, there are tons of exploits on both sides (one-shotting Reavers, LM's that do massive damage while receiving massive heals, etc.). There's just too much to list here.

VALUE - 50/100

For what you're paying for and what you get, Helm's Deep is not worth it, IMHO. Epic Battles used to be free, so they cannot be included in the price. Nobody asked for the skill trees, so that can't really be included in the price. The only thing HD has going for it is the Epic Battles, which are an epic failure, and the lackluster content. Not really worth their asking price if you ask me.

LASTING IMPRESSION - 25/100

I've pretty much stopped playing LOTRO. I got one of my characters to 95, but I don't like the Epic Battles, PvP is FUBAR and I really don't have the desire to relearn all of the skills on all of my alts plus have to trudge my way through the long and boring content to get them to 95.

So, given the above ratings, LOTRO gets a 40/100 in my book.

I think the review is pretty spot on.

I know a lot of people have complained about having to relearn their character classes but coming from playing WoW and relearning every expansion, this ain't bad. I like the variety the hunter has now and the reduction in buttons is nice as well.

The Big Battles are fun and I agree they need more options for group size in them. I would think you could run Helms Dike as 3 man since it's doable as 6 man. Some of the encounters especially Glittering Caves are buggy but that's all supposed to be fixed in the next week or so.

So far I'm really enjoying the expansion and I'm getting ready to bring my next alt up to 95,

The selfish view of one of the classes that hasn't been totally destroyed. No surprise here.
Try play a champion or a warden.

Funny, being that the Alt that I'm getting ready to start leveling from 85 to 95 is a Warden. I have a Kinmate running a Champion and he's loving it as well.

I don't see how my opinion is selfish though. Maybe you just need a hug.

And maybe you're just a fanboy :)

No worries, I don't need hugs from the likes of you.

I completely disagree with that very optimistic review. It's in my opinion the worst LOTRO expansion to date.

Gameplay: 10/100 - they ruined most classes, among which my favorite, champion.

Graphics: 75/100 - the engine is aging, but it remains decent. Mountain sides are still as ugly as ever, and Helm's Deep looks lore like an orc keep than a good people bastion. Edoras and Meduseld look great though.

Sound: 50/100 - the music is terrible compared to the usual LOTRO music. This smells badly like heavy budget restrictions. Chance Thomas must have been too expensive for this expansion.

Multiplayer: 25/100 - "big battles" in no way replace dungeons and raids. LOTRO is more than ever a single player story driven game with multiplayer elements.

Value: 25/100 - expansions of other games, like WoW's Pandaria, have 10x the content for a similar price.

Lasting Appeal: 20/100: Once you've gone through it once, there's nothing new to look forward to, nothing to keep you playing. If you have the courage to go through once with your ruined class, that is.

Agree with Korrigan 100%

This review is obviously full of blatent bias, it has either been written after being paid for or written by someone who hasn't even played it yet, maybe even both.

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