The Heart of Mirkwood - A Siege of Mirkwood Q&A with Jeffrey Steefel
If you haven't heard about Lord
of the Rings Online's newest upcoming expansion, you've either
stumbled across this page by clicking an erroneous google search, or
you've been out to sea for months and have finally come back home. If
you're the latter, welcome home; great to have you back. If you're the
former, stick around and learn about Turbine's exciting new expansion,
Siege of Mirkwood.
Ten Ton Hammer Editor-in-Chief, Jeff "Ethec" Woleslagle has been
spending a lot of time with LotRO Executive Producer, Jeffrey Steefel
lately, so much in fact, they're both now named "Jeffrey." Throughout
their conversations together, Mr. Steefel has revealed, we dare say,
almost as much as there is to be known about the expansion. Now, we
bring those conversations to our readers in a huge all-encompassing style="font-style: italic;">Lord of the Rings Online: Siege of
Covered here are more details about the Skirmish System, General
Improvements, and the inside scoop on new Legendary Items and their
Upgrade Scrolls, Adventure Packs, Subscription Models, and so much
more. Read on!
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The Skirmish System
Ten Ton Hammer: We know that skirmishes are
instanced, highly customizable scenarios that players or groups of
players can instantly teleport into, and that you can even bring along
controllable minions to fill out your group. Two terms we've heard
thrown around in dev diaries and forum discussions are "tracking" and
"randomization." Could you give us a quick overview of how these
aspects of the skirmish system works?
Jeffrey Steefel: Sure, there are actually a couple
of things we have in place there. First, theres the tracking system
itself which is pretty in depth its tracking pretty much everything
that you do. How many kills you have, how many of the particular
instances youve defeated, how many lieutenants youve defeated or even
what party size you were in and what the difficulty level was. They
system puts all of that together in a huge leaderboard that lets you
see how your stats compare to other people who have tried a particular
instance at a particular level, or how do your personal stats add up in
terms of the number of overall kills youve had.
We have all of that data coming from the game to the web, but were
still figuring out exactly how much of it is going to really surface
there. In the game itself we surface just about everything in the
skirmish panel. There are achievements across lifetime, and then there
are achievements per instance. So every instance that youve
participated in has its own section in the skirmish panel, and it tells
you everything from how many skirmish points youve gotten from control
points, how many are from monster kills or even how many are from the
lieutenants youve killed. And this is all tracked for that once
instance which even tells you how many times youve done it solo or in
a small fellowship or even a raid.
Then for lifetime, its tracking your whole experience to date on
that server for that specific character. And that will tell you the
same kinds of things - where your skirmish points have come from, how
many kills youve had to date all that kind of stuff. We can surface
any of that on MyLotro but as I said were still putting the finishing
touches on which information will be there to start, and then we can
continue to grow that over time.
Ten Ton Hammer: How far would you say youll be
pushing the randomization aspects of skirmishes then? Or will a certain
amount of that fall under the parameters you set prior to entering
either solo or with a group?
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hspace="3" />Jeffrey Steefel: The random objectives work
regardless of what group size youre in. In other words those
objectives are taken into account by the skirmish system as well as the
critical path objective, but theyre not necessarily related to each
other. We want to make sure that that chance for randomization exists
regardless of what size party youre in. Then its just that the
challenge level of that secondary objective will be balanced against
the party size and difficulty level that youve chosen as the critical
Ten Ton Hammer: Skirmishes will come in solo, 3,
6 and 12 person team sizes. Its entirely possible to run a skirmish
sized larger than your group to get at the bigger encounters, but will
there be any kind of cap in place in terms of how far you can push
that? In other words, could a 3 person fellowship attempt a 12 person
skirmish if they wanted to?
Jeffrey Steefel: The system is very agnostic.
All it knows is that youve told it in advance what the size of your
party is, but it doesnt know whether youre telling the truth or not.
So were not actually trying to detect the actual numbers.
Thats something weve done in other cases, for example we have the
dynamic spawn generators on landscapes that will spawn things based on
the number of people in that particular radius. But were not literally
detecting the number of people that are in the skirmishes. The
complexity of doing that and the overhead that it puts on the game just
isnt worth it. Thats why we ask you when youre creating the instance
to choose whether its solo, small or large fellowship, or a raid and
then it just assumes that youre telling the truth.
Ten Ton Hammer: Does that just work in the one
direction scaling the difficulty up or does it work the other way
as well? In other words if you have a 6 person fellowship can you set
the instance for a 3 person fellowship and run it that way, or would
you have to split into two separate teams of 3 at that point?
Jeffrey Steefel: They can run that 3 person
instance, but because the skirmish points are being distributed based
on those settings, the rewards are going to be diminished. In other
words the effect is, sure I can go in and run a 3 person experience
with 12 people if I wanted to but its not going to be worth it. Its
going to be over very quickly and were not going to get much reward
Ten Ton Hammer: We know that the skirmishes are
created along the three axes: level, size and difficulty. Can players
adjust all three axes, and how does difficulty factor in?
Jeffrey Steefel: Yes they can adjust all three,
and then difficulty is like our easy mode, medium mode and hard mode.
So that gets layered on top of the level you choose as well as the
group size. Obviously different aspects of the skirmish experience will
then change based on changing each of those. For example changing the
group size is going to have a larger effect on the size of the mobs and
the frequency of them. Changing the difficulty level is probably going
to change the threat level of some of the monsters or how tough the
lieutenants are and then level is of course going to affect their
level. Thats very general; obviously theres a lot more to it than
that which I believe well be outlining in a future dev diary.
Ten Ton Hammer: Are there any kind of direct
correlations between the difficulty settings for example is an easy
small fellowship skirmish comparable to a hard solo skirmish?
Jeffrey Steefel: I havent really thought about
it that way, but I imagine our designers definitely have. So I dont
know if theres a literal mapping between them, but I imagine our
players will tell us what that mapping is over time as they experience
more of the system. *laughter*
Ten Ton Hammer: Do lieutenant tricks - special
boss abilities like feeding off the damage we do to minions - escalate
with size and difficulty, or are they a complete package each time you
create a skirmish with a certain set of parameters?
Jeffrey Steefel: My understanding is that
certainly the difficulty of what theyre doing changes at different
difficulty levels, but I dont think that the tactics are going to
change. But were also randomly swapping out lieutenants so you can go
into the same instance with the same size party with all the same
settings, but the lieutenants will change each time.
Legendary Items and General Improvements
Ten Ton Hammer: Legendary Items - weapons that
essentially grow in power as characters level - are a very unique and
interesting LotRO. Theyre also one of the most complex and
misunderstood aspects of the game. Could you explain why Turbine is
revisiting Legendary Items with Siege of Mirkwood and briefly outline
the changes youre making?
Jeffrey Steefel: Some of the reason for the
changes was to grant more extensibility - theres more opportunities
for advancement and it makes the whole thing feel a lot less grindy. I
know a lot of players are afraid of having to do the whole grind over
again, but that is not the intention. In a lot of cases, items are
going to gain addtional levels, because the legendary points are being
reset for all the items because of some rebalancing and releveling
weve done on all of them.
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align="right" />In most cases, that item is going to level up on
day one of
Mirkwood [the fix applies whether or not you purchase Siege of
Mirkwood]. If that experience causes you to gain some reforges,
thosell be saved. In other words, youll have those available at the
forgemaster even if youve leveled past the forge, and all of this has
to do with releveling and altering the way the tables work for
legendary items so that we can keep them moving for a long time to
We also felt the need to change how reforging works. One of the
biggest things, too, was to address the fact that identification and
reforging needed to change because you had so little information going
forward that you could get all the way to the end, having ground your
way there and deconstruct it and not get pretty much anything you
wanted. Which wasnt fun. So we still wanted to have a bunch of
randomization, but we changed it a little bit.
The initial legacies that you get at identification are only pulled
from the best legacies. We broke legacies into pools, we did a lot of
polling of players to figure out which were the legacies that were
really kind of useless and which were the most valuable, and were
making sure that the initial legacies that you get are pulled only from
the best legacies and you can make a good guess about where its
worthwhile to spend leveling.
Another thing is that Legendary Items are just going to level more
easily. For the first 30 levels, its going to be the same experience
table. After that, the item experience you need to level has changed.
This is dependent on the age of the Legendary Item. A Third Age takes
less experience per level, a Second Age takes a little bit more, and a
First Age takes the most.
Ten Ton Hammer: Youve also given players some
new options in terms of how those weapons can be upgraded, correct?
Jeffrey Steefel: Yep, weve added in the fourth
rune slot, and thats huge for a number of reasons. First, just having
that fourth slot is pretty huge. Secondly, this gives master crafters a
very important role in the legendary item system. This slot only takes
this new type of crafting relics. Unlike other relics, these can only
be made by crafters. You cant combine them and tier them up like other
relics. Every craft has the ability to make relics, and they give
bonuses to a particular stat or morale or power. And then there are
greater crafted relics that masters can craft.
Ten Ton Hammer: Reading through the forums some
players have expressed their concern that current legendary items will
essentially become obsolete with the release of Mirkwood, but those
items will still be viable, right?
Jeffrey Steefel: There are a couple of things
with that actually. First, if you deconstruct them youll get a certain
amount of item XP that you can apply to constructing newer weapons.
There are also the runes that youll be getting when you deconstruct
them in order to move them forward.
So you will be able to keep the items, but whats more likely is
that people are going to want to break them down and take the
components from those items and build them into more useful items
moving forward. The whole point though is that youre not taking that
item wholesale and throwing it out. The components that its comprised
of become the materials that youre using to continue to move forward.
Ten Ton Hammer: For
players that really dont
want to trash their Legendary Items, could you tell us how youre
expanding legendary item advancement via the scrolls that have been
mentioned in various Dev Diaries?
Jeffrey Steefel: The idea here is to let you
customize your items when theyre upgraded. Theres a whole new set of
item scrolls, and youll find them in loot and by deconstructing items.
These types of scrolls give you further upgrades to Legendary Items.
Legendary Item Upgrade Scrolls coming with Siege of
|What it is||What it does|
|Scrolls of Empowerment||Let you upgrade the tier of any legacy on one of your items.|
|Exchange Scrolls||Has a specific legacy on it that you can exchange for an
existing legacy on the item.
|Scrolls of Delving||These raise the max level of items from 60 to 70 for Legacy
Items of any Age. (At level 70, you get another reforge.)
|Scrolls of Renewal||Resets the legendary points youve spent to zero so you can
respend points however you like.
So basically were giving you a bunch of different mechanisms
through the scrolls to upgrade what you have and deliver on what we
talked about when we launched the system - we wanted you to feel like
there was the ability to not have to throw anything out that you worked
so hard on. Not necessarily that it takes no work whatsoever to bring
it to the next level, but you dont have the sense that, I just worked
so hard on this LI and now its trash.
Ten Ton Hammer: So it wont ever be necessary to
throw out any of your Legendary Items?
Jeffrey Steefel: Im nervous about saying any,
because Im sure therell be some exception that I missed. But
generally speaking, the intention is for you not to have to do that.
Ten Ton Hammer: A lot of players seem anxious
about how the DPS of their Legendary Items will change...
Jeffrey Steefel: And that gets into the fact that
weve made some pretty big changes to combat and made some pretty big
changes to stats in general. So I guess the question is: whats the
relationship between the DPS of these items as they advance and the
stat modifications that weve made in our combat and, boy, if I could
answer that question intelligently, Id be a designer. (laughter) Its
very complicated, and I think well hold off on that one a little bit
and see if we cant answer that one through the rest of beta and with
dev diaries, because its pretty complex.
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align="right" />Ten Ton Hammer: On the
subject of changes with
the launch of Mirkwood, there are also going to be some improvements to
mounts as well correct?
Jeffrey Steefel: The first time that you come into
the game after Mirkwood launches if you have a horse in your inventory
and you click on it, youll be prompted to convert it into a skill. So
you no longer have to use up inventory slots for horses theyll
become skills and will show up in your skills panel. You can have a
whole bunch of horses if you want since theyll just be skills and then
you can slot them on your quickslot bars and have access to all of your
horse appearances right there.
You can also name your horse now, but most importantly your horse
now behaves like an avatar. In other words I can emote on my horse or I
can interact with an NPC on my horse. I can go to vendors and buy or
sell things, or even go through a door or a portal on my horse and if I
end up in a place that allows it, I stay on my horse. Its much more
seamless interaction with the horses and the world now so thats huge.
Ten Ton Hammer: Will you be adding in any new
mounts that players can look forward to acquiring in Mirkwood?
Jeffrey Steefel: There is a new mount which is
actually a part of some of the offerings in the pre-order. Its a new
type of goat which is pretty cool. Its like those motorcycles that you
use to travel that have different luggage compartments or cup holders.
Hes got his own lamp, storage areas hes quite the goat! (laughter)
Ten Ton Hammer: Class balancing always seems to
top the list of player concerns just prior to the release of a new
expansion. Will we be seeing much in terms of a rebalancing to the
current classes in Mirkwood for example are there any nerfs so to
speak or can we put some of those fears to rest?
Jeffrey Steefel: I dont think that thats really
the issue. I think that weve been trying to make communication to
players about two things. One is that combat has had a lot of changes
under the hood and that may have some impact on certain classes in
terms of their combat. Overall it makes everyones combat much more
snappy and weve spent a lot of time in alpha and beta to try and
balance that out. But we want to make sure that people are aware of
And then the other thing is that from level 61 to 65 we added a lot
of higher order versions of the skills that players have. Weve added
variations on the skills that youve already had, but we havent added
a lot of brand new skills with completely different functions and that
was intentional so that we dont completely change the way one
particular class is working.
The only exception, at least in terms of legendary item changes, was
Champions. In particular it was felt, due to the data, the feedback,
and what weve seen and observed, there were too many Champion legacies
that were too specific in their application. Stance-based damage
legacies, for example. We tried to make a few things more skill based
just to balance things out so we didnt (as we have once before) make
the Champion stick out so fundamentally. Its not going to nerf a
Champion, its just not providing quite as many new extensions for
their Legendary Items.
Theres been quite a bit of communication to the players around all
of this stuff. In fact I was just having this conversation with my live
producer this morning that players are not going to be surprised as
much as they have been in the past, for example with the Minstrels in
Moria which felt like pretty significant changes that were somewhat out
of the blue. We dont think thats going to happen this time, but were
always anxious about it. Any time you add a level increase, or anytime
you make any changes whatsoever to combat or classes, something is
going to change for someone and change is good, yet scary no matter how
small it is.
Mirkwood and Beyond
Ten Ton Hammer: Just to clear up some confusion,
could you briefly explain the Adventures Pack and Siege of Mirkwood
Jeffrey Steefel: Basically what were doing is
were offering some promotional opportunities to the players before we
launch. So if you are an existing subscriber and you want to upgrade to
a multi-month plan youre going to get Mirkwood for free. If you are an
existing subscriber already on a multi-month plan or if you are a
lifetime subscriber and you buy the adventure pack youll get Mirkwood
The adventure pack is a set of two pretty big account wide
functionalities that were making available to players. One is two
extra character slots which is huge. We added two character slots
obviously when we added two new classes, but now you have the
opportunity to level up two more alts. And then the second thing is
shared storage which is very cool. At the account level you can share
things with all of your characters, the exceptions there being for
bound objects, only the character that created the item storage and
only the character that puts the item into shared storage can take it
Ten Ton Hammer: So players can almost use that as
overflow storage for bound items if they run out of space for an
Jeffrey Steefel: Yeah, but we dont want them to
use it sort of as the ultimate mule obviously.
Ten Ton Hammer: You may have already seen it, but
theres actually a fairly amusing player created flow chart on the
forums currently that outlines the Mirkwood / Adventure pack purchase
options and sort of pokes fun at some of the complexity involved
Jeffrey Steefel: Yeah, marketing has been trying
really hard over the last couple of weeks, somewhat successfully, to
clarify things. Definitely the communication was a little unclear at
first which made something thats already a little bit complex even
harder to understand. The intent was basically to give people all kinds
of different opportunities for how to get the new content.
Ten Ton Hammer: With the interruptable
auto-attack that will soon enter the game, have you made any
concessions to players who are afraid that the feel of combat will
Jeffrey Steefel: A lot of what weve done is just
change how the animations play. The numbers that are happening
underneath are exactly the same. We havent really changed combat,
weve changed what you see. Its amazing though, because the
relationship between what you see and what youre doing on the keyboard
- were talking about milliseconds here - makes a big difference in how
Theres options in the options panel that go along with this change
where you can actually go into options and adjust how the animation is
playing. You can make it feel pretty much like it did before - it puts
in the players hands the balance between snappiness and fluidity.
Ten Ton Hammer: Maybe you can clear this up for
everyone - is Siege of Mirkwood an epilogue to Volume 2, or a prologue
to Volume 3?
Jeffrey Steefel: Hopefully if were writing our
story right its a little bit of both, but we are very much intending
for it to be the epilogue to Volume 2. Well start Volume 3 with Book 1
next year. Thats pretty much a 180 change from what weve been doing
to date, and theres a lot of reasons for that change. The biggest one
was that we felt like we were doing a TV series where the pilot was the
finale. It made more sense to pull things together or certainly end it
with an epic story in the expansion and then start fresh with the next
volume. So Volume 3, Book 1 - which will be early next year - will be
the kickoff for the story of Volume 3.
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hspace="3" />Ten Ton Hammer: So Volume 3, Book 1 will be
Jeffrey Steefel: Our intention is to do free Book
updates next year just like we did this year. I cant promise anything,
but thats absolutely the plan.
Ten Ton Hammer: Some sites refer to Siege of
Mirkwood as a "mini-expansion" - and it certainly seems like a retail
expansion without the retail availability. How do you size this one up?
Jeffrey Steefel: The thing you need to look at is
it all comes down to time and scope. By the time we were in alpha for
Mirkwood it had only been about eight or nine months since we launched
Moria. So we have a choice; we can either keep players waiting a lot
longer and launch a much larger in scope expansion, or we could do it
more frequently and have it be slightly smaller in scope but still have
it be much larger than a normal book update. Thats also why you see a
significantly reduced price point for Mirkwood, and we feel its
appropriate to the size and scope of the content that were providing.
We didnt really want to keep players waiting and it is better to get
them a little bit less content, but do that more frequently and be able
to charge less for it.
Ten Ton Hammer: Do you think that approach is
something youll look at doing more of for future content additions to
Jeffrey Steefel: The industry in general is going
through a lot of transition, so I think all of us are trying to figure
out if the way that we deliver content to players and what we charge
for it is exactly right, or is that something that needs to have
different choices in the future. Were playing around with all kinds of
things. The adventure pack is one experiment, and the digital only
upgrade for an expansion at a lower price point is another. There are a
lot of different things to try, the thing being making it as convenient
and accessible to players to get new content.
Ten Ton Hammer: Turbine has definitely been
pushing things in some interesting directions, for example the approach
you took with the relaunch of DDO as a free to play title with a
Jeffrey Steefel: The response to that has actually
been astounding. Its gone beyond our wildest expectations so far. And
that was even another kind of experiment where there are a lot of
people out there who enjoy playing certain games without having to pay
a subscription but end up participating just as much. These are all
certain tools and its just a matter of which product is the right
place to apply it.
Ten Ton Hammer: Even the content delivery for DDO
Unlimited was handled exceptionally well. At most it took about 10 or
15 minutes to get into the game after first clicking on the download
button which is a huge and awesome thing for an MMOG. Do you foresee
attempting to incorporate that same approach with LotRO at some point?
Jeffrey Steefel: Thats actually built on top of
technology that we had been working on for LotRO first. The thing with
LotRO is that its such a huge game. If you look at what it used to
take to get into the game two years ago you basically had only one
choice which was to download the whole client. If you download the free
trial version of LotRO through the Turbine Downloader that we have now
it actually does the same thing as the DDO client. Its just that the
chunks are a lot larger since LotRO is a much bigger game. Weve also
got peer to peer built into it so there are a lot of things that make
the experience much more efficient.
But yea, absolutely; thats one of the tenants at a corporate level
that were driving on here is how do we get people into the content
much more quickly. Its tough because these are big games. Thats the
other side of the experiment for Mirkwood instead of retail
distribution everyone has to download it, but its not small. On the
other hand when we did Moria we saw a large proportion of the people
who bought Moria did so digitally simply because they wanted to have it
right way. So again, its not about replacing one model with another,
its about just having more choices.
But to the earlier discussion, were learning how to get better at
communicating all of those multiple choices. Its a lot simpler to
basically say heres the deal; you buy a box, you bring it home and
then you pay us a monthly fee. Once you have all of these other little
things like the adventure pack it becomes a lot harder to communicate,
so were still trying to get better with how we do that.
Ten Ton Hammer: Turbine has definitely been
pushing a lot of those things into some interesting new directions that
go above and beyond what were seeing in other parts of the industry.
Jeffrey Steefel: Whats interesting is that its
starting to become something that lots of other people are looking at,
so were in a leadership position there which is great. In other media
its already happened. The way I watch movies or listen to music is
completely different than it was 4 years ago. Actually let me rephrase
that I was probably doing those things 4 years ago because Im a
digitalist nerd, but now normal people are doing it on a regular
I think well see some of these things change by necessity. I dont
think people will be able to compete in the old way anymore, and to a
certain degree were already seeing that now. Thats why its harder
for these games to succeed now because the market is way different than
it used to be.
Ten Ton Hammer: Absolutely. Even some of the
smaller independent studios are having a rough time trying to get shelf
space through the normal retail channels.
Jeffrey Steefel: Retail is tough in general. Its
been a crowded space for a long time and this is even harder because
youre competing against games on the shelf that are a much smaller
commitment from somebody when theyre buying it.
But I think competition, like always, will drive the industry to be
more and more friendly. I think thats one of the biggest transitions
in MMOs over the past 5 years. People look at them like other types of
content and technology now; its just supposed to work. Back in the day
when Turbine was launching Acherons Call and Sony was launching EQ it
was like it just needs to be really fun. It might be really hard and it
might break sometimes and it might take you three days to actually get
it working on your machine, but thats part of the fun right? Thats
not accepted at all now.
And its going to be the same thing; people paying for these games
in only one way is going to become archaic over time. Only being able
to play if you can play 40 hours a week is going to be an option for
some people but not required in the future. But these games are like
aircraft carriers; you cant turn them on a dime. You have to be very
careful, because weve seen games that try to change what the game is
and not succeed.
Ten Ton Hammer: That really hits the nail on the
head with what Turbine has done with DDO Unlimited. You havent
radically altered the core game, only the means of distribution and how
people are able to get into it much more quickly then when it first
Jeffrey Steefel: Whats also exciting is that its
brought a whole bunch of people back who may have given up on the game,
and are now realizing how much better the game is and realizing that if
you take it out of the subscription environment its really great and
fun. It was kind of a mismatch there between the kind of game DDO is
and having to pay a subscription. Although ironically a lot of people
are still paying a subscription. In fact we have more subscribers now
than we did in the past.
Part of that is just that its hard to make that kind of commitment
when you cant see a whole lot of what the game is about. Plus I think
theres just a lot of people out there who would rather be a la carte.
Plenty of people will still pay for HBO or pay a monthly subscription
to Rhapsody because its just too complicated or not fun to sift
through long lists to find what you want. Whereas a lot of other people
will think its fantastic to be able to get something thats exactly
what they want. As long as the goal is always to extend capabilities
and not to replace one with another, then were probably going to be on
the right track.