LotRO's Update 5: Armies of Isengard - a Play Session with the Devs

What's better than running an instance in the
Lord of the Rings Online
with the guys in charge of
designing it? How about running it with an indestructible GM avatar so
you can get juicy screenshots of Update 5: Armies of Isengard
content without dying? I had a chance to do just that on Monday, in a
play session with our old friends Adam Mersky (Director of
Communications for Turbine), Aaron Campbell (Senior
Producer for LotRO) and content designers Jeff
"MadeOfLions" Libby
and Robert "Maurath" Hess.
We had a chance to interview our old pals Adam and Aaron a couple of
weeks ago (see LotRO's
Update 5 - An Interview with the Devs
), but this gave us a
hands-on opportunity to see the content they talked about with the devs
that made it happen.

Volume III Book 5: The Prince of Rohan

Our first stop was the Rohirrim camp in Gravenwood, where Theodred
- the titular character of the latest epic chapter - bids us to say our
farewells to our old friends in the Grey Company. While this book seems
short in comparison to Book 4, it is a crucial turning point in the
timeline of the main story. The player parts ways with the Grey Company,
who have been involved in the epic storyline in one way or another since
the very beginning, as they veer further south to join Aragorn. The
players forge a new alliance with the riders of the Riddermark as their
journey takes them further east, but the transition is far from smooth.

LotRO Update 5 Play Session - Theodred and his riders

As the rangers fare thee well on your journeys, they impart their own
brand of fashion advice, and offer the player cosmetic versions of their
iconic ranger garb - either the classic white-and-green of the Volume I
days, or the dark greys of the Volume III era. You get the full set (or
you can mix and match), and you can go into battle at the Ford of Isen
dressed like a mighty Dunedain.

alt="LotRO Update 5 Play Session - Grey Company cosmetics" />

Jeff Libby was eager to show off some of the interesting stuff that
he's been working on for the epic story, particularly the updated art
and tech that has gone into the battle instances. Some of this was
mentioned in his Volume
III Book 5 Quest Notes Dev Diary
, but we looked at some of the
more detailed behind-the-scenes aspects in the play session. In order to
add a more "epic battle" sort of feel, the uruks kick up clouds of dust,
and there are plans to add circling crows flying overhead. This will
give it a more authentic-feeling battle-field vibe. Additionally, the
uruk soldiers have undergone a bit of a recolor so they are easier to
tell apart from the Rohirrim soldiers, making it look more like two
armies fighting one another.

LotRO Update 5 Play Session - Rohirrim vs Uruk

The tech that went into the battle instances - the combination of
hostiles and static non-hostiles - is a refinement of the tech that went
into the Wulf's Cleft instance. "Wulf's Cleft was version 1.0 of that;
this is version 1.5," Jeff explained. The idea is to keep developing
this battle-instance technology to accommodate battles that will be
growing larger and larger in scale - keep in mind, Helm's Deep is not
that far away in terms of story timeline.

The cut-scene movies between the battles are also fairly unique.
Instead of showing dramatic scenes with lots of camera zooming and
dollying efects, these new cinematics are more like a documentary about
the battle, with pieces moving on a map to show troop movements. Since
all of the instances take place over one long, bloody day and show
different stages of the battle, from the first volley of arrows to the
conclusion at the Ford of Isen, the cut scenes serve to make the player
feel more involved and personally invested in the outcome.

Isengard Instances: The Foundry and Dargnakh Unleashed

Next up was Bob Hess, who wanted to showcase the very engaging content
in the Foundry, the new 6-man Isengard instance. This
is a 3-boss instance - technically 5, but divided among 3 "boss rooms."
Each of the boss fights requires very different strategies, and the
entire instance is set around the idea that Saruman now fancies himself
a ring-maker. While most ring-makers use only small furnaces, molds and
various hand-tools for their craft, Saruman works on an entirely
different scale.

The Foundry is set somewhere within the guts of Orthanc - above the
pits where the uruks are forged into war-machines, but somewhere below
the rooms with the comfy sofas and fancy dining ware. Each of the "trash
pulls" leading up to the boss encounters will require some forethought
and planning - in the groups leading up to the first boss, there are
patrolling mobs reminiscent of the Pale-folk Hornblowers in Carn Dum,
who will scurry off to rouse their tougher buddies if they are not
handled in the proper manner. Fire plays a pretty big role in the
Foundry - all of the boss fights have some method of dealing massive
fire damage to the group.

LotRO Update 5 Play Session - Foundry - Dhar

The first boss, Dhar in the Smelting Room, calls for a lot of careful
kiting and positioning. He fights in a 9-square grid, where metal is
dropped down from the ceiling and melted into slag beneath the floors.
The tank will need to keep the boss occupied while the rest of the group
deals with adds and figures out which levers control which cranes. When
the boss reaches specific morale thresholds, he becomes invulnerable to
attacks, and the buff needs to be removed by moving him into the one of
the squares and pulling the lever to dump a bucket of scrap metal on his
head. This dispels the buff and summons an add for the group to fight.

LotRO Update 5 Play Session - Foundry - Troll Boss

Boss number 2 is a big, molten-looking troll who lives inside what is
basically a giant toaster - the walls glow red with intense heat, and,
like most trolls in LotRO, he likes booting players around. This fight
requires very careful positioning and reliable interrupts, or players
will find themselves knocked back into the red-hot walls and flash-fried
into cinders. There are also steam vents shooting out of the walls,
which will knock players around and force them to keep moving.

LotRO Update 5 Play Session - Foundry - Ring-forge

The third boss fight in the Foundry is actually 3 bosses at once - a
melee guy (Ghashanuz, an Uruk), a ranged/caster guy (Penrith, a hooded
human) and a stationary ring-forge in the shape of a giant hand. This
one requires a lot of coordination, as there are a lot of moving parts
to contend with. The uruk and the caster have proximity-based buffs and
need to be kept apart, and the forge also needs to be destroyed. As the
fight progresses and the ring-forge takes more and more of a beating, it
becomes visibly damaged, with molten metal spilling blood-like from the
upturned palm and down the wrist. While you're fighting these three
guys, the floor is catching fire, rotating clockwise around the room,
and people are getting knocked over and/or marked with glaring purple
"eye" debuffs. Players marked with the purple eye need to keep moving
and stay away from the group, as they will be dropping fire puddles.

The Tier 2 challenge version of this fight requires the group to
destroy the ring-forge before killing the bosses. This is not an easy
task, and players who can accomplish it will really earn their Seals.
This instance has a lot of personality, and Bob was quick to point out
that the artists who designed the spaces went "above and beyond" to give
the place a unique and engaging feel.

Lastly, we had a look at the new 3-man instance, Dargnakh
, which is "not quite ready for prime time just
yet," according to Aaron. It was not available on Bullroarer during
Build 1 or Build 2 beta testing, but Aaron and Bob were happy to show it
off in its current, unfinished state.

Dargnakh is a big, ugly troll - ugly even by troll standards - that
Saruman's minions are unable to tame into submission. In the meantime,
they keep him in a big box - kinda like the Gimp - and when he breaks
out, players can seize the opportunity to cause a lot of havoc in
Saruman's facilities. When Dargnakh busts out of his box, he immediately
turns on his handlers and starts breakin' stuff, and players can direct
his berserker fury by shooting him with ballistae (kind of like using
plus-size elephant goads against the 2-million-morale titan) and blowing
up stacks of black-powder kegs. Players will need to track his movements
in the pit below and position themselves accordingly in order to push
him in the direction they want him to go.

LotRO Update 5 Play Session - Dargnakh Unleashed

The goal here is to steer the juggernaut from room to room, and
eventually out into the ring of Isengard to wreak destruction on
Saruman's war machine factories. Players don't fight Dargnakh directly
until he is softened up a bit by the orcs, ballistae and explosions. For
the most part, they will be fighting young, adolescent orcs (who haven't
yet undergone Saruman's rigorous boot-camp training) as they flee in
terror from the rampaging troll.

Other Details

While I was researching the article about the new Instance
(see LotRO's
Update 5 - the Instance Finder
), I had a rather unusual match-up
that grouped my Hunter (signed up as Damage) with a Minstrel (signed up
as Healer) and a Lore-master (signed up as Support) for a 3-man instance
that very clearly needed a tank. I asked about this, and Aaron assured
me that they were working on refining how groups get matched up for
Instance Finder content. Some of the instances are flagged as needing
either a tank or a healer, and they are listening to player feedback to
work out the bugs as they go along. The next step in this process is
allowing players to select specific instances instead of being shipped
off to a random one that falls within their selection parameters. This
won't be going live with Update 5, but is something we can reasonably
expect in a future update.

Of particular interest in the epic book: Theodred's riders are engaged
in mounted combat during the battle instances, charging their famed
steeds headlong into enemy lines. I pointed this out to Aaron and Jeff,
and they hinted that this was a "teaser" for things to come as the
players continue their eastward journey.

While they weren't quite ready yet to announce an official launch date
for Update 5, Aaron had a few nuggets related to the schedule. A newer
beta build may be going up on Bullroarer "maybe sometime next week," and
the Yule Festival will be returning "probably in January." Nothing is
definite yet, but they are in the final stages of bug-testing and an
official launch date will be coming through the pipes very soon.

To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our Lord of the Rings Online Game Page.

Last Updated: Mar 29, 2016