LotRO's Update 5 - An Interview with the Devs
The future of the Lord of the Rings Online is looking fairly busy. Rise of Isengard is only a few weeks old and Turbine is already hard at work putting together a big new update for December. We called up Adam Mersky, Executive Director of Communications for Turbine, and Aaron Campbell, Senior Producer for LotRO, to see what's coming with Update 5, and what Turbine has in store for 2012.
The first thing Aaron talked about was the continuation of the epic book. "This is a big one for us," he said. "This is 'the Prince of Rohan,' and it's gonna be a great story. It's focused around Theodred, and really it's the tale of your goodbye to the rangers." Characters will part ways with the Dunedain rangers of the Grey Company, who have been their go-to guys for the epic line for the past (almost) 5 years, and continue the march eastward with their new friends and allies from Rohan.
"The other big thing that I don't think we've really talked about before that's coming out with Update 5 is called the Instance Finder," Aaron continued. This will continue the ongoing evolution of instanced content. Way back when, everyone had to travel to the instance entrance to start it up. Later, mustering horns were added at many of the entrances, allowing groups to assemble faster and spend more time actually running the instances. The next step was the Instance Join panel, which allowed players to enter instanced spaces from anywhere in the world. The Instance Finder is the next step in this process.
"We're going to have a brand-new interface," Aaron said. It will allow players to queue up for instances, either individually or with a group. "Everyone who's opted in for that, everyone who's looking for a space right then, in your level band, et cetera, in the right roles, it will automatically match you and send you into the space."
Essentially, this is a fellowship finder that doesn't require the use of chat channels. This is new to LotRO, but the idea has been around for a while in World of Warcraft and EverQuest II. Theoretically, pick-up groups for instances can form faster, and casual players will be given more opportunity to run group content.
This new tech will come in handy for the new instance cluster, which will be centered around the Tower of Orthanc, the infamous lair of the central protagonist in Rise of Isengard, Saruman the Many-Coloured.
"We have three 3-person instances, a 6-person and a 12-person raid, and all of those are centered very much around Orthanc, and around Saruman himself," Aaron explained. "The theme is, really, challenging Saruman directly. We know that he has been forging these minor rings of power, and it's going to be your challenge to go forth and stop him, destroy these rings. Or, at least to some degree, his army, before he can begin to spread outward and threaten Rohan."
Aaron went on to describe some of the new instances coming in Update 5.
"One that's exciting to me is a 3-person called 'Fangorn's Edge.' Basically, you're going to be going in to the edges of Fangorn Forest for the first time, traveling through a really heavily-trafficked area full of orcs and trolls and other nasties who are working on burning down the forest, cutting down the edges of it. The trees, as you might expect - the huorns and the ents there - are not especially happy about intruders, and they don't really know friend from foe, so you're going to have both orcs and huorns as enemies to contend with, and different sort of bosses as you work through the space." This one ends with a big battle - "You've got these masses of orc lumberjacks coming in, the trees are threatened, the giant sawmills are going, and you're taking down the orc leaders there."
Another of the 3-person instances is called "Pits of Isengard," which takes place in the caverns and tunnels beneath Orthanc. The 6-person instance, called "The Foundry," also takes place in Isengard's depths, and requires the group to challenge Saruman's lieutenants more directly.
"You're in a space where he's building his weapons of war," Aaron explained. "You're going to be taking on some orcs and other creatures that have been enhanced well beyond their normal capabilities."
The raid, called "The Tower of Orthanc," should prove very challenging - "In that, you're going to fight your way through, ultimately challenging Saruman himself. You're actually going to face him in battle." Lore purists may have an issue with this - there is no official account of any force actually breaching the tower to confront Saruman directly, even during the uprising and assault by the enraged ents of Fangorn Forest - but it should prove very interesting to actually come face to face with such an iconic and powerful villain.
Of course, the challenge means little without a reward. The new raid comes with new armor sets and items - an instance set and a raid set. This new gear will not likely render existing endgame gear obsolete, since the level cap has not been raised, but will provide players with a broader array of options. These new items will be purchased with barter tokens, but, as Aaron explains, "We're actually going to be taking the step of consolidating some of our currencies as well, so we're going to have raid currencies and dungeon currencies. Basically, rather than looking at different kinds of tokens coming from each of the spaces you're in, we're going to do it more like a system where you have these new medallions or items coming from top-tier raids, and another set of tokens coming from dungeon spaces or other instances for 3 and 6 players. And then of course, skirmishes have their own currency, but there are a lot of them, so we want to make that process simpler."
So this is all scheduled for Update 5, coming in December, but what's in store for next year? Adam explained, "We're not really ready yet to talk about 2012, but I can tell you this: we're certainly very focused on Update 5 and getting that out... but there's going to be a lot more content in 2012 than there was in 2011. Isengard was our best-selling expansion ever, and we're definitely taking that and investing in the franchise next year, we have a lot of exciting things coming. There will be some big announcements coming probably in January."
If you want to check out the coming changes, scheduled for December, Update 5 will begin open beta testing on Bullroarer starting on Tuesday.