alt="Echoes of the Dead: A Play Session with LotRO's Aaron Campbell"
On March 2nd, we were afforded a nice treat. Aaron Campbell,
Producer for the Lord of the Rings Online, and Adam Mersky, Director of
Communications for Turbine, gave us a guided tour of the new content
being delivered with Update 2: Echoes of the Dead, which is scheduled
to go live on March 21st.
Aaron acted as our tour guide, powering us through some of the
new instances and explaining some of the new features as we went. Our
first stop was the Glacier Fortress, a new instance set in Forochel.
THE NEW ENDGAME
To get there, head to Suri-Kyla and head west through town and
out the other side. There's a boat on the shore there, which ferries
you across the bay to the icy stronghold of Drugoth, one of the 5
Gaunt-lords, who are corrupted, evil spirits made by Sauron in mockery
of the Istari. Drugoth has assembled a terrifying army of undead
horrors of all sizes, from diminutive Hobbit-like Bugan wights to great
cadaverous giants. To make matters worse, he has corrupted the dead
bodies of former allies and acquaintances and twisted them to evil
purposes to fight against you. Imagine Superman's Fortress of Solitude
if it got invaded by zombies, giants, bears, giant zombies and giant
zombie bears, and you begin to get an idea of what this place is about.
The mechanics of the fights will be challenging even for
experienced endgame players... particularly on the Tier 2 difficulty
setting. All of the new instances are available in two difficulty
tiers: Tier 1 for the more casual player is quite challenging and
engaging, and Tier 2 is for the serious hardcore players who want to
really push themselves. At Tier 2, the 6-person Glacier Fortress is as
challenging as a serious raid. One member's lapse can spell doom for
the entire group, the margins for error are incredibly tight and
everyone will need to be working together and communicating effectively
to get through the thing alive.
And that won't be easy. The place is visually stunning, and
the pretty-pretty alone may be enough to distract some players from
alt="Inside Glacier Fortress"
To give you a sense of the scale of this picture, the slumping
figures at the back are giants and the tiny dark specksnear them are
man-sized wights. The fight in this room takes place in the big pit
beneath the swirling rush of soaring spirits.
Next we visited Ost Dunhoth, the 12-man raid in the Lich
Bluffs in Enedwaith. As a 2-man team, it was not possible to run the
entire thing (even as GM avatars; the mechanics of some of the areas
require 12 active participants), but we got to see enough for Aaron to
explain some of the more interesting new features and systems at work.
Some of these features are discussed by Joe "jwbarry" Barry in
the Ost Dunhoth Raid Developer Diary, but reading about them and
experiencing the first-hand are very different animals. For example, in
the dev diary, he still calls them "trash fights," but explains that
each "trash fight" is more like a mini-boss. This is absolutely true -
the encounters players will face before butting heads with the bosses
are not simple patrolling orcs easily dispatched by even the semi-est
of semi-skilled players. They are not just time-crunches thrown in to
build up to the fight in the big room at the end of the corridor. Each
encounter requires different strategy, planning and teamwork, and there
are no generic "trash mobs" in evidence.
These "trash fights" feature one of the new features that,
while kind of a little thing in and of itself, is kind of awesome:
automatic target marking. That's right, targets now come pre-marked.
For example, you enter a room with 2 huge bugs and 2 skull-faced
kergrim. Rather than waiting a few minutes for the raid leader to mark
them with a shield, skull, leaf and paw, those symbols are already
there, floating above the heads of the mobs as though the raid leader
had gone on ahead and done it all in advance. Now the group can begin
strategizing as soon as they approach the fight without mucking around
alt="Inside Ost Dunhoth"
Eventually, the players will get to the boss fights. There are
2 of these per wing before you can take on Gortheron, the mack daddy of
the Gaunt-lords and Sauron's answer to Gandalf the Grey. We never got
to meet Gortheron, but we did take on a couple of very nasty huorns and
a big, brutal giant in a pool of acid. These fights will require some
hard work and coordination to take down - for example, when fighting
the huorns, each tree has a different kind of debuff that it applies to
the group fighting it. The trees need to be taken down within seconds
of one another, but if a player switches from one tree to the other and
swaps the debuff, the challenge fails. Once you start, your group is
locked in on whichever tree has you tagged, and if someone on the other
team falls you can't switch over and help out.
Aaron had to leave before showing off the other 3 instances,
but there was so much more to see and he had gotten me all jazzed to
see and do more. So on Day 2, I logged my own toons and checked out
some of the other new content.
first attempt on Stoneheight, up the hill behind William Peake's farm
in the North Downs, didn't go terribly well. The first boss fight
against 3 wound-happy goblins is a nightmare to try to heal through,
and on Tier 2 the little adds tend
to go squirrely and tandem-attack at random. With a 3 man group
consisting of a Dwarf Guardian and Rune-keeper and a Hobbit Minstrel,
we finally managed to down the goblins after 6 wipes - without removing
any corruptions, and thus fulfilling the requirement for the challenge.
This is a hard fight. The method that finally scored us a victory was
having the Guardian Shield-wall the Runekeeper and the
Lyric of the Hammerhand, using store-bought heal- and power-over-time
potions and potting off wounds whenever possible, and then focusing
fire on one goblin at a time, saving the big one for last. There are
certainly other ways to go about this fight - having a Lore-master, for
example, to spam Leechcraft and keep the smaller goblins mezzed or
rooted would certainly help - but that's the method we used, and it
took 6 attempts to figure it out.
course, after that fight, there are 2 more bosses. And in this
instance, there are "trash fights" between the boss areas. Aaron talked
a bit about Stoneheight while running through the other instances, and
hinted that it might be best to "let sleeping dogs lie."But honestly,
what red-blooded adventure-seeker is going to pass up the opportunity
to fight 10 elite wolves at once? Besides which, we did try to sneak
past the sleeping dogs, and almost wiped from the attempt. I blame the
two Dwarves - my Hobbit was as quiet as a mouse peeing on a platter.
This is the Lost Temple, located at Ost Chall in the
Trollshaws. This place is governed by Ferndur the Virulent (not Mola
Ram or Belloq or Galadriel in a Russian uniform, as you may
expect from the high-adventure look of the place). This 6-man instance
features only 2 major boss fights - the first is a tag-team duo just
outside the temple entrance, the 2nd is Ferndur - but a string of
boss-like fights in the tunnels leading up to the final chamber. The
Tier 2 battle against the disease-ridden Gaunt-lord requires precise
coordination, and everyone in the group needs to know exactly what to
do when the time comes: where to stand, what mobs to kill, and how to
hold punches when the need arises.
THE NEW MIDGAME
After we checked out the endgame content, Aaron showed off
some of the new stuff being offered to mid-level players in Evendim.
For the most part, the landscape hasn't been changed there, but there
are over a hundred new quests for the level 35 - 40 range, and a new
quest hub in the form of a ranger camp underneath the giant statue
straddling the river, south of Tinnudir.
alt="New ranger camp in Evendim"
Speaking of Tinnudir, that town has also been upgraded, with
expanded town services and a lovely new boat service to quest areas on
the other side of Lake Everswim. You no longer need to dog-paddle for
10 minutes just to get to the quests in the Eavespires or Tyl
Ruinen. You do still need to travel a bit to get to Annuminas, the
sunken city along the south coast of the lake, but that area has also
seen some changes. It has been gentled somewhat to keep it in-line with
the rest of the region, ramped down to level 35 - 40 instead of level
50. This makes it an appropriate place for mid-level questing in
a level range where questing areas start to grow thin. 35 - 40
has historically been kind of a "hump zone," slow progress compared to
the lower levels that seem to rush by in a blur. The Evendim revamp
will certainly help to smooth out that curve.
THE NEW PHAT LEWTZ
It goes without saying that with a new raid comes new armor
sets, right? Turbine couldn't agree more, and this update adds 4 -
that's FOUR - new sets per class. Now, before you get too excited, it's
really just 2 sets (purple and teal) with 2 set-bonus variations each.
Have a look at the Hunter sets by way of example:
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Aaron explained that the reason there are 4 sets is to give
players more of a choice when it comes to building raids sets. Notice
that the set bonuses start at 2 pieces, similar to the Annuminas set -
this will allow the player to mix and match to get (and stack)
different set bonuses while still retaining the same set of legacy
bonuses from the individual pieces, so if you want the 3 piece bonus
from both sets, go ahead and mix it up.
Equally important is HOW you get the pieces. There are 2
methods for earning the pieces, according to the tier. The purple (Tier
1) set can be purchased solely with Medallions of the North-men (which
will take a while to earn), or they can be purchased with a combination
of medallions plus special piece-specific tokens (similar to the
piece-specific tokens from Dar Narbugud or the Vile Maw) that drop in
the Ost Dunhoth raid on the Tier 1 setting. To earn the teal pieces,
you can either barter the Tier 2 piece-specific tokens plus medallions,
or you can trade up from the purple set pieces for a significant
discount (but you'll still need the Tier 2 tokens).
Note that the purple sets cannot, at present, be dyed. The
teal sets can be - dyeing teal pieces will recolor the blue elements.
Now, these are the things that you earn over time by putting
in the work. What about the stuff you get by winning a lucky roll when
you open a chest after a boss fight? They've thought of that, too. Here
are some loot drops from the Tier 1 versions of Lost Temple,
Stoneheight and North Cotton Farms:
Cosmetic appearance at right
This is just some of the purple stuff from Tier 1 instances.
Tier 2 instances have a higher yield of uber loot, and the Ost Dunhoth
raid has some monstrous gear.
And it's not just new armor sets and drool-worthy jewelry
making the game all sexy.
Legendary items, for instance, are becoming a whole lot legendary-er
with this update. The current system is not yet finalized, but the
basic mechanics are there, and they make LIs a while new game.
THE NEW LEGENDARY
Aaron indicated that the intention with the LI system revamp
was to make legendary items less of a grind for players, and to enable
them to build legendary items that better fit their individual style of
play without having to rely on chance. This has been accomplished in
To start with, there is really no such thing as a "trash" LI
anymore. Stories are told by embittered players who have crafted
numerous level 65 Second Age weapons only to be terribly disappointed
by the legacies when the thing was identified at a Foreg-master. If you
don't get at least a couple of the most desired legacies when first
IDing an item, chances are that item never saw use and was possibly
pawned off on the auction house to a less-discriminating buyer (read:
sucker). Or there's that odd time when the item IDs with only 2
legacies instead of the preferred 4.
Well, all that is a thing of the past. All new LIs will ID
with 3 legacies, no exceptions. And those three initial legacies are no
longer set in stone, make-it-or-break-it factors that will determine
the weapon's fate forevermore. With the new system, a legendary item
that is level 30 or higher can be deconstructed and give the player a
legacy scroll, which can be used on any other LI of the same type for
the same class. The player can choose any of the 6 legacies on the
deconstructed weapon, and that scroll will replace the undesirable
leagacy on the target item with the scroll legacy at Tier 2. The
legacies are now divided into Major and Minor; when you first ID an
item, it will have 3 Major legacies, and reforges will add Minor
legacies with a small chance for another Major. Major legacies from
scrolls can be used to overwrite Major legacies on other LIs. Minor
legacies from scrolls can overwrite Minor or Major legacies.
Also changed is the relic system. There are now fewer Tiers of
relics (6 instead of 9), and top-tier relics are much less of a grind
to earn. In the old system, a Tier 9 relic represents around 150,000
Tier 1 relics (not counting crits when combining them). In the new
system, a Tier 6 relic represents around 900 Tier 1 relics (also not
counting crits), which is still plenty but around 15 times less than
the old system. The old combination system is still in play, but
randomness is much less of an issue now, since players will be able to
build their own relics.
That's right. Build your own relics. Low-tier relics can be
combined at a Relic-master to make higher-tier relics, or smashed into
shards via the Refine panel, which can be used to make very powerful
relics through the Transmutation panel. These craftable relics have a
category all their own, outside of the "tier" sytem.
The other thing shards can be used for is making upgrade
scrolls. Crush enough Tier 1 relics, you can make yourself a Scroll of
Empowerment. These things aren't cheap, of course, but this option
provides one more way to get such items. And if you're replacing a lot
of crap legacies on an unfortunate legendary weapon, you're going to
need a few of them. Fortunately, upgrade scrolls and relics will be available through the LotRO Store.
This is really just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Or at
least it feels that way. Besides the flashy new raid and instance
content and the upgrades to aged and imperfect system, there are all
the "little" things going on: the character panel revamp, the juicy
class changes, additional outfit slots (one of my personal favourite
additions), some crazy updates to the PvMP side of things... To be
honest, it's almost hard to go back to live servers where these changes
are not yet in play. I'm just going to have to wait until March 21st
like everyone else for these changes to affect my mains and alts, and
hopefully I will have learned enough about the instances to run my
friends and kinsment through them. I know they're going to love them.
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