A couple weeks ago when I wrote up my April Fools prank about the new class in the Lord of the Rings Online, I made a very deliberate decision. The gist of the gag was that Aaron Campbell was suffering from terrible IP confusion, and was sticking an inappropriate Dungeons & Dragons class into a Lord of the Rings game (and at the end, I went all in by adding DC comics characters from Infinite Crisis as well).
My initial inclination for that article was to name the Druid as the new class, and have Mr. Campbell justify it by making comparisons between the Druid's shapeshifting abilities and those of the Beornings. The deliberate decision I made was to reject that idea, in case they actually did go with shapeshifting Beornings. That's a class that makes sense - Beorn appeared in The Hobbit: the Desolation of Smaug, so it seems only natural to capitalize on the character's popularity. And the Beornings are a part of LotR lore that has been conspicuously absent from the game thus far. So if Turbine did go with Beornings as the new class, my gag article would have been seen as something other than what it was.
Turns out, I made the right call. Beornings are to be the next new class in the Lord of the Rings Online. According to Aaron Campbell's Producer's Letter,
Recently we confirmed that LOTRO will be releasing a new class this year. IÂm pleased to announce that this class is the Beorning! This will be LOTROÂs first class since the Mines of Moria expansion introduced the Warden and Rune-keeper.
Beornings are noted in The Lord of the Rings trilogy as a race of Man, with close origins to the Rohirrim and the Men of Dale. Most Men are not shape-changers, so we envision the Beorning as a light armor casting class with a focus on control of the battlefield. When a Beorning gathers sufficient rage, they may transform into a mighty bear.
WeÂll be sharing early class designs with the new Players Council. Expect more details later this year, as the class progresses through alpha and beta.
As he mentions, LotRO hasn't had a new class since Mines of Moria, the game's very first expansion. We've had four major expansions and dozens of updates since 2008, and we've seen the addition of the skirmish system, mounted combat and big battles, but we haven't had a new playable class to go with them.
You can't really fault the developers for that, though. Nine classes is lots, and already draws quite deeply from the somewhat shallow pool of playable classes allowed by the lore. Especially when you consider that magic is the province of god-like beings only - no mortals wield actual magic. Not in the books and not in the game. The "magic" wielded by Lore-masters, Rune-keepers and Minstrels is not proper magic, but rather earth-science, herbology, brilliant story-telling, pantomime and inspirational music, which affects the morale (not the actual health) of foes and allies. The only ones using magic in the mortal world are the five Istari, who are immortal beings of a somewhat lowly order, and Sauron, who is a god-like personification of evil. Even Galadriel, who appears to be very powerful, mostly relies on showmanship and the wisdom of her many, many years, and not on actual magic.
Nearly every other character in the books is more mundane, and those classes are already covered. Swords, bows, axes, spears, halberds and daggers - all taken care of. The game has been decently balanced since the addition of the Rune-keeper and the Warden - three armor types, three classes for each type. The skin-changer is going to demolish that beautiful 3-way symmetry.
So why a new class this late in the game? We're over halfway to Mordor now, and the level cap has nearly doubled since the game's launch (and will be doubled before the year is out - according to the producer's letter, the next update will include a 5-level increase, bumping us up to level 100, and the one after will add another 5).
Well, consider: last year around this time, they added the Erebor instance cluster, roughly coinciding with the home video release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug has just hit the BluRay shelf, so the timing of a new class announcement with ties to the movie is quite fitting. Though not mentioned in the producer's letter, I imagine early 2015 will have something related to the third Hobbit movie - maybe an Epic Battle re-enactment of the Battle of Five Armies, or a foray into Northern Mirkwood, or something to do with giant eagles.
It goes without saying that I'm going to be rolling a Beorning when the class becomes available. Gunkybear shall roam the wilds of Bree-land and beyond, battling the forces of shadow and fishing delicious salmon out of rivers. And I imagine there will be a lot of others doing the same.