Previews

LOTRO: Volume II: Book 8: Scourge of Khazad-Dûm Preview

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A dungeon crawler's dream.

To keep your current customers happy, you've got to provide new content to them on a regular basis and few companies manage that task as well as Turbine, the company behind The Lord of the Rings Online. It seems like just a few months ago we were bringing you preview screens for Volume II: Book 7: Leaves of Lórien. Oh wait, that's because it *was* only a few months ago. Not content to sit around and make their players wait another six months for anything new, the team has been hard at work on Volume II: Book 8: Scourge of Khazad-Dûm.

Last week, Aaron Campbell, the Live Producer of LotRO was kind enough to give me a sneak peek at some of the things they've been cooking up: Two 3-man instances, one 6-man instance, and one 12-man instance. For most companies, that would be more than enough to justify a "release" but as I mentioned earlier, the folks at Turbine don't take on anything lightly. Not only did I see some of the new instances, but Aaron also told me how they'll be releasing a completely upgraded crafting system and giving some older areas in the game a bit of love as well.

With the release of Volume II: Book 8: Scourge of Khazad-Dûm, players will be introduced to a new mechanic in the instances I got to see. Every mob (not just bosses) has its own set of corruptions (or buffs). Some of these make them highly resistant to melee, ranged, or damage by magical means. While providing an added challenge, this new system should also make combat more interesting for players as well. Those "trash" mobs you were used to beating the snot out of with little thought on your way to a boss will now require a little more attention in terms of tactics.

The first instance Aaron brought us to was, a 3-man instance called The Mirror-halls of Lumul-nar. This isn't the first time the LotRO team has created an instance designed for a smaller number of players than most MMO veterans are used to. Since they've proven to be quite popular with their player base, the team decided to create a few more. It's another example of how a company can cater to the wants of its customers without losing that intense sense of adventure found in areas requiring larger groups. Not only does it take less time to gather a group of three players, but it also ensures that the entire group will be engaged with what's going on.

Harkening back to the dungeon crawls of old for Pen-and-Paper RPG players around the world, your party is going to have more than just the monsters of the Mirror-halls to worry about as you attempt to make your way through. Scattered throughout the dungeon are massive mirrors on rotating stands. You may not have to use *every* mirror in the halls, but you will be required to have that first beam of light you discover in the beginning travel the full extent of the Mirror-halls. Just as there should be with any puzzle of this nature, there are multiple ways to accomplish this goal. It should provide a good challenge for any group daring to risk its dusty hallways.

The next place we went was another 3-man instance, called The Water Wheels: Nalâ-dûm. Similar to The Mirror-halls of Lumul-nar, this is an area where players will have more to worry about than just keeping their hide in one piece. Along with the need to have the water flow through the entire instance (by the use of *huge* water wheels), players will also have to do a bit of jumping.

Why do I get the feeling this is going to hurt?


As someone who has spewed forth countless curses at that evil plumber, Mario, I can assure you that you do not need to be any kind of Nintendo master to accomplish this. While designed for players to generally be able to just walk off of an edge at a given point, there are plenty of opportunities to jump too far, or just fall off a walkway. Fighting on the edge of a 200-foot drop will make anyone pay more attention to his or her surroundings.

Speaking of paying attention to your surroundings, Aaron and I (with the help of some "you can't kill me powers") got to take on a boss within The Water Wheels: Nalâ-dûm called Caerlug. While he was more than dangerous enough by himself, we also had to contend with these enormous stones hanging from the ceiling that would randomly come crashing down. If you could simply stay in the middle while attempting to slap Caerlug around, this would not only be easy, but boring. Thankfully, Caerlug has a nasty habit of striking out and sometimes sending you flying backwards. You'd better be aware of your positioning and quick on your feet if you want to avoid getting smashed like a cupcake. It made for an engaging encounter while avoiding the need for the "everyone has to jump 36.7 seconds into combat to avoid uber-nuke X"-type of mechanic that seems to be so popular in the MMO genre today. It's a welcome change to be sure.

After a couple instance hops, it was time to check out the Dwarf races they have for an upcoming festival. In the past, players have only been able to get a festival mount by participating in the horse races. This time, the team has expanded the ways players can be granted such a mount of their very own. By playing in various games, players can earn tokens that can be turned in for a festival mount token. You'll still need to be level 35 to get the riding skill, just like you would for your normal mount, but adding multiple ways to complete objectives is something that’s welcome in my book any day.

The concept of the dwarven races is not only funny, but also more than a little fitting for such a prestigious race. Rather than making the event some mad dash to the finish line, the dwarves (which you get to pick one of to win) run to a number of different ale stations set out along the course. Completely by random, your dwarf's ale may invigorate him with a burst of speed, slow him down to the crawl of a new born babe (or a staggering drunk), or some speed in between. Needless to say, I think my buddy Lars kept drinking more than his fair share because he lost and lost badly. It was a fun event though and I'm looking forward to seeing some of the others that will be taking place.

After watching my dwarf Lars lose so horrifically, it was time to see what the team had been working on in Barrow Downs. Some of the mobs in the area have been made a little easier while others have had their challenge increased. Be aware that Fetid Rat that used to be little more than a nuisance may not be quite such a pushover the next time you set foot in there.

Aside from doing some revamp work with the local inhabitants there, the team has been creating new quests for the area as well. Unlike the majority of quests created for the adventurers we're all so familiar with, these quests are designed for the crafters in the game. Every crafter needs to have the ability to defend himself and help with culling the local inhabitants if the need arises right?

Won't you come in and join us?


There will be a number of bounty missions given in the Barrow Downs, completion of which will net the player a rare crafting recipe. Once again, it's about providing players with the ability to choose multiple ways to go about getting what they want. Aaron stated the effort in Barrow Downs is an experiment, but with any luck, the players will enjoy the new changes and thus will be able to see other areas receive a similar treatment in the future.

With a magic snap of his fingers (at least that how I imagined it happening), Aaron whisked us off to the Halls of Crafting, a 6-man instance. Any time I witness something in the game created by the dwarves, I'm always amazed at the job the art team has done. The size and scope of these places are absolutely massive and with their towering ceilings and creepy lighting, they *always* give me an instant sense of just how ancient the place I happen to be standing is. It's a testament to just how far a determined team can utilize size and space.

The Halls of Crafting are a perfect example of this. These are the ancient crafting halls of the dwarves where some of their greatest artifacts were created within the great bellows. The rooms are staggering in size, so be prepared to do some running. One of the bosses we battled, named Thaguzg, was one seriously ugly mob. Unfortunately this ugliness doesn't just stop with his looks. As his minions rush from all corners of the room to aid him, he gains more and more buffs. The more minions that make it to him, the more buffs that start to stack. Let’s just say it was really clear that you do *not* want to let all his friends get to him or you can kiss your sweet caboose goodbye in a hurry.

Lastly, we went down into the depths of Moria, in the Foundation of Stones zone to find the entrance to the new 12-man instance, Dâr Narbugud. The evils from the depths below are ready to reach out and take a greater role on the surface and it's up to you to stop them. Dâr Narbugud is the capstone to the entire plotline for this, so be prepared for a significant challenge.

The monsters within Dâr Narbugud were a treat to witness for sure. They may not have been utilizing a new engine in the instance (I had to ask), but the art team has been slaving over their desks and the results are obvious from the moment you enter Dâr Narbugud. With the use of some new textures, they've created some of the most interesting and detailed monsters I've seen in the game yet.

That may have concluded my tour of Dâr Narbugud but even all that didn't include everything you'll see with the upcoming release of Volume II: Book 8: Scourge of Khazad-Dûm. Thanks to Aaron and the team at Turbine for giving us a sneak peek. I for one can't wait for the new content to hit the live servers.

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