Several months ago, we gave the
Lord of the Rings Online's newest expansion, Riders
of Rohan, an award for Best
Expansion of E3. This was back in June when the expansion was still
in early development. New systems were crudely implemented and
half-working. New art was still being crafted, and whole sections of Rohan
were barren and unfinished. But what we saw at the time still managed to impress us.
Still, that was long ago in game development time. In the ensuing months, Turbine has been hard at work
refining Riders of Rohan, even delaying its release by 40 days in order to
get everything right. In other words, they've had time to improve upon what
was already award-winning work.
Now that Riders of Rohan has gone live, it's time for everyone else to see
why we felt it earned that award in the first place. Now Ride! Ride to ruin and the
world's ending! Forth, Eorlingas!
Rohan is a rough-and-tumble region falling under the influence of two
powerful super-villains, and, as such, tends to be a violent place. This
expansion is no more violent than the rest of LotRO, really, but all MMOs
tend to focus a lot on killing things. Also be aware that the Rohirrim
like strong drink and congregate in mead halls, so the game depicts
alcohol use. And Hobbits still love their pipeweed, so the advisory label
cautions the player about depictions of tobacco use.
Gameplay - 95 / 100
First off, Riders of Rohan increases the level cap by 10, bringing the
new cap up to 85. This feels almost inconsequential - there are few new
skills to be learned between 75 and 85 (and the ones you do train are
mostly just improvements of existing skills), stat caps are no longer
increased and no more morale or power is gained. The three big new things
for this expansion are mounted combat, warbands and the Instanced Public
Questing Areas in Hytbold.
Mounted combat is pretty sweet... when it works, anyway. The system is big
and complex, and like all big, complex new systems it had a lot of
weird, unanticipated bugs during beta testing. This is likely one of the chief causes of the
40-day launch delay - a lot of strange bugs appeared in beta and
necessitated some heavy tweaking. It looks as though the delay was worth it; Turbine squashed the bugs and the system works well at launch.
Mounted combat is the
centerpiece of Riders of Rohan.
Players will find that mounted combat works better in some regions than in
others. Norcroft and Sutcroft, for example, are great for long, fast charges
and broad, arcing turns because there is a lot of land and widely-spaced
enemies. Fangorn, on the other hand, is not conducive to fighting from
horseback. Horses need open space, and there is practically none of that in
Fangorn. Mounted combat also doesn't work all that well in the Wold, where
enemy mobs are more densely packed on the landscape and standing near water,
and it doesn't work at all in enemy camps.
But when it does work, it works well. The war-steed allows players to handle
very challenging enemies without a big group backing them up. My Hunter, for
example, got himself geared up in the full purple armor set from the Ox Clan
Merchant Camp, and at level 78 he was fully capable of taking down a
110,000-morale troll warband boss by himself. Had he attempted the fight on
foot, he would have gotten trounced nearly instantly, but the charging horse
and the mounted attacks evened that playing field.
There is a concern floating around that, if players don't care for the whole
fighting-from-horseback thing, Riders of Rohan has little to offer. While
mounted combat is the clear centerpiece of this expansion, this concern
doesn't carry a lot of weight. It's a lot like Legendary Items were for Mines
of Moria - complex and interesting, but you can realistically get by without
it if you really want to. Every enemy can be fought on foot - though mounted
mobs charging around on horseback are much harder to hit unless you are also
riding. Mounted combat is a new way to experience the region, but the
old-fashioned ways work just as well.
That being said, a lot of Rohan is clearly designed around this new
centerpiece mechanic. Players who don't fall in love with the system may not
find the rest of Rohan as engaging as those who enjoy fighting from horseback.
There is still a lot of other stuff happening in this huge expansion, but some
of it just won't be as shiny and awesome if you don't like mounted combat.
You could fight them on foot
like a sucker, but it's way more fun on the back of your war-steed.
Warbands are one of the features clearly designed around mounted combat.
While there are many of them that can be fought by a solo player on foot
(especially early ones like Cinder, the salamander roaming around in the
Wold), the standard method of fighting warbands will be from horseback.
Typically, warbands consist of a strong "boss" with a clutch of weaker allies.
For the most part, the allies are like the lettuce you get underneath your
restaurant hamburger and fries - annoying and not really a part of the meal.
They can pose a serious threat to solo players, but they don't need to be
killed in order to defeat the warband - just take down the boss and you can
ride away from the adds.
These fights showcase another gameplay-streaming mechanic: automatic quests.
Once you get near a warband, or kill a mob with a ring over its head, or enter
an area with quests associated with it, you'll get an automatic quest
notification. By default, this seems to appear underneath the quest log, but
it can be moved to somewhere less awkward, or the player has the option to
automatically accept all automatic quests. When the quest objectives have been
completed, you either click the auto-quest notification to close it out, or
hand it in at a quest-giver NPC.
Hytbold represents Riders of Rohan's endgame content. Instead of a
traditional instance cluster or raid, Hytbold uses phasing, random repeatable
quests and small instanced spaces that allow characters to rebuild the ruined
Hytbold before the crew of Flip
This Town shows up.
Players will be able to start the Hytbold quests as soon as they hit level
84, but in order to get the "feeling" of the place, it might be a good idea to
wait until you have completed all of the daisy-chain regional quests,
finishing up in Snowbourne. The Hytbold quests are all daily repeatables
picked up in surrounding towns rather than in the burned out ruins of Hytbold
itself. The dailies are randomly generated, and typically involve rebuilding
or upgrading one of the many buildings in town. Each building completed
unlocks a new endgame armor piece - so, for example, if you are a Hunter and
you rebuild the Cottage of the Norcrofts, it unlocks the Jacket of the Hytbold
Bowmaster, but if you want the Jacket of the Hytbold Huntsman instead, you
need to complete The Smithy: Superior Forge.
There are also reputation requirements for these unlocks. Players will need
to build their reputations with all of the Rohan factions to build the
complete armor set. Players can only completed a limited number of these
repeatables per day (the daily limit was 5 during beta testing), so it takes a
while to completely rebuild the town, be named Thane and collect the full
On the negative side, this grind for gear is a rather dissatisfying
substitute for new instances or skirmishes. It can seem like a time-sink of
repetitive busy-work and may not feel particularly "epic" to some players.
Rise of Isengard had a similar "wet firecracker" endgame issue at launch - the
quests in Isengard didn't add up to 10 full levels, and the last half-level or
so was gained by deeding, re-running old skirmishes or turning in trash loot
Personally, I feel the plus-side rather outweighs the grind here. Because
this content uses souped-up phasing and "Instanced Public Questing Areas," it
means that our hero characters can finally make observable, meaningful changes
to Middle-earth. Daily contributions have a measurable effect on the people
and the landscape. The hero's actions have consequences beyond Dunedain
rangers moving from one instanced room to the next. When you rebuild the mead
hall, it stays rebuilt. The people you convince to move into your town stay
there and render services.
Graphics - 87 / 100
Although graphics in a five year old game are bound to start showing their age, LotRO's have held up very well. But it's the art style that really makes them exceptional.
Riders of Rohan still looks like good ol' LotRO, only better. The visuals in
Rohan are as breathtaking as they should be - majestic, rolling hills and
wide-open plains in Rohan, claustrophobic forests scattered with sinister
glades and glens in Fangorn. Fangorn in particular has some excellent graphics
- the huorns are the Tim Burton version of the angry trees described in the
books, and encountering them by accident can be... rather startling.
This guy gives "tree-hugger" a
whole new meaning...
When I first read the books, I had a very clear image of the battle scene at
Fangorn's edge, where Pippin and Merry escaped from the orcs, and where the
orcs were slaughtered by Eomer's riders and their bodies burned. When I
encountered this spot, I recognized it instantly. I wasn't doing the epic
books, I was just exploring the area and happened across it, and knew exactly
what it was.
The Argonath, with giant
frickin' pine trees for scale.
The water's-edge view of the Argonath is equally awesome - the statues of
Isildur and Anarion sternly and regally survey the Anduin as it courses its
way between, their left hands raised in a gesture of defiance to the enemies
Turbine occasionally makes a few tweaks here and there by adding some fancy
new DX lighting and shadow tricks or water movement or some other little gem,
but the real magic comes from new area, NPC, monster and outfit designs. The
Rohirrim outfit designs stay in-line with the visual themes introduced in the
Rise of Isengard expansion, with lots of olive-greens, smooth lines and
knotwork. Probably the most significant graphics update, though, is the
War-steeds are fully-customizable, and have an outfit system similar to the
ones used by characters. The war-steed system is a tad more Store-oriented,
however: most outfits and non-standard hide and gear dye colors are purchased
from the LotRO store. And instead of a wardrobe, all appearance options are
"stored" on the Mount Appearance panel - there is no item taking up vault or
wardrobe space. With all the unlockable cosmetic slots, players can dress
their war-steeds up to match all of their characters' outfits.
Sound - 95 / 100
For this expansion, Turbine brings back ace composer Chance Thomas to score
Rohan. Thomas is the guy that did the music for the original Shadows of Angmar
and the Mines of Moria expansion. This comes as good news for the players who
were unimpressed with the droning bassoons and reed organs of the Dunlendings.
Thomas's music is just what you would expect from badass quasi-Anglo-Saxon
horse-lords: bombastic viking shouts over orchestral pieces, with lots of
percussion for fight music. The Rohirrim are a people with a glorious past,
but a not-so-great present, and according to Thomas, "... Ive got to convey
an idea of faded glory, an idea of breadth, expanse, strength, and power."
How do you illustrate music? Well, Chance
Thomas's score for Riders of Rohan sounds like this picture.
There are different themes in the different regions of Rohan, each fitting
the unique climate of the map. Sutcroft has a gentler score - the war hasn't
really reached there yet. In Norcroft, it's a different story. Things are not
so rosy there, and the music conveys a sense of tension and anxiety. Getting
closer to Fangorn, in Entwash Vale, the score is more mysterious and
Thomas is a big Lord of the Rings fan, and his love of the lore comes through
loud and clear in the music.
Multiplayer - 95 / 100
Turbine is sticking with the theme of allowing solo players to go their own
way while group players go another, by following a middle path between the
two. Rohan - and Rohan only - features some excellent new ideas that will
allow players to experience the game however they want.
First up, Rohan features Open Tapping on every mob in the region. This allows
anyone to take part in monster fights and receive credit, regardless of
whether or not they are in the same group. Roaming warbands can't be
"ninja'ed" by sneaky players - anyone who hits it during the battle, or who
heals another character actively fighting the mob, receives full credit for
the kill, provided they are within range.
This goes for loot as well. Everyone who took part in the battle rolls for
their own loot when the body drops. For example, if a creature has a chance to
drop a hide, an item experience token and a trophy, each player who took part
in killing it rolls for their own copy of those items. In other words, if
three players kill a boar, that boar could theoretically generate three hides,
three item XP tokens and three trophies (one for each of the players).
There's another excellent loot innovation in Rohan: remote looting. You don't
need to run up and click on the enemies to receive their loot. If the player
has the "Always Loot All" option checked, all the loot is automatically placed
in the character's inventory. If the player doesn't have this option checked,
the loot goes into a "storage window," where the player can pick through it
and select only the items he wants. The items stack together in the "storage
window," and they stay there for an hour. Picking up another item refreshes
the timer on that stack.
Like Rise of Isengard, Riders of Rohan doesn't ship with an instance cluster
or a raid. These are slated to arrive sometime before the end of the year, but
in the meantime, players can earn their endgame armor by doing the Hytbold
The Ettenmoors has seen some major feng shui with this expansion. Key
locations have been moved and PvMP mechanics have been changed significantly.
Next on This Old Fortification,
Gurk offers tips for packing for a big move to TR rez! A hint: get an axe
and a torch...
Keep mechanics have changed to reflect the way players have been using and
abusing them. For example, the bridges at Tol Ascarnen are now linked to the
keep. Creeps can't go flip the bridge for a quick Marshall An pull - they have
to control TA now. Also, they would have to first head to the former location
of the Lugazug rez circle, where the Elf Camp is now situated. And even as
aggressive as Marshall An is, he's not likely to chase players from Lug rez
all the way to WTAB.
Freeps will get access to new level 85 armor sets with this expansion, and
Creeps will find that skill and trait costs are reduced. And most Creep
classes will see a boost to their DPS and healing output to keep them in-line
with their Freep counterparts. Corruptions will be more potent and skills have
been outright boosted. Turbine dev Joe "JBarry" Barry calls this process
"swinging the pendulum" - they will have to see just how far it swings so they
can make adjustments to get it swinging back the other way.
Value - 77 / 100
Determining the value of Riders of Rohan is kind of tricky.
The pre-order came in three editions: Basic for $39.99 USD, Heroic for
$49.99, and Legendary for $69.99. These are fairly pricey for an expansion,
but you do get a lot of goodies with the pre-order. Even the Basic edition
comes bundled with a load of Turbine points, a level 75 cloak with very good
stats, a standard mount, an in-game title and a package of skirmish soldier
appearance traits to make your pet look like a Rohirrim.
Post-launch, the expansion is available through the web store for the same price as the pre-order bundles,
or players can buy it through the LotRO Store with Turbine Points.
The full expansion will cost around 4,300 TP through the in-game store, and the pre-order goodies
will be sold individually as well. That's 9 months' worth of VIP Turbine
It should be explicitly pointed out that buying the Rohan quest packs through
the LotRO Store with TP does not automatically entitle the player to the
instance cluster when it launches in a later update. The instance cluster must
be purchased separately. Players who bought the expansion (i.e. paid for the
product key through the web store, or bought the expansion through the LotRO Store with TP) will automatically get the instance
cluster, but purchasers of the Rohan quest pack bundle will not.
The epic storyline, which consists of Books 7, 8 and 9 of Volume III, will
remain free-to-play, and F2P players will be able to pick up a war-steed via
the epic quests. Free players will be limited to Medium mounts until they
unlock the Light and Heavy trait lines by buying them from the LotRO Store.
This is an enormous expansion. In terms of physical area, Eastemnet is around
twice the size of Mines of Moria. It is chopped into a handful of regions, but
each of these regions is quite large, and packed with detail and story.
However, Moria came bundled with two new classes and twice as many epic books.
So, taking all these factors into account:
- F2P players get the best deal of the bunch, since they get the epic story
and the centerpiece Mounted Combat system for free;
- players who buy the Basic Edition expansion or have the 4295 TP to buy the expansion through the in-game store are getting good value for their gaming dollar, and can buy all the other pre-order goodies later with TP;
- Legendary Edition buyers, or players buying the entire thing piecemeal through the store, might feel that the prices are steep.
Lasting Appeal - 95 / 100
Riders of Rohan will likely have a similar long-term impact to Rise of
Isengard. A number of players are going to criticize its lack of an instance
cluster at launch, but overall it sets up a strong framework for later
Mounted combat, like the Legendary Item system, is a game mechanic that will
certainly be subject to numerous tweaks and enhancements as the game continues
to progress. Now that the system is in place, it has the potential to be used
in different creative ways - competitive jousting festival events, mounted
PvMP, mounted skirmishes, etc. Not that any of these ideas is particularly
likely to make it into the game, but the potential is there. It's a system
that can be built-upon.
The same can be said for pretty much all of Rohan. There are so many
possibilities within its rolling hills and craggy borders. And Westemnet is
only a stone's throw away. The framework for Edoras and Helm's Deep is in
place. And if the current expansion is any indication, those updates are going
to be incredible.
Pros and Cons
Despite its relatively advanced age, the Lord of the Rings Online is still in
fighting form, and Riders of Rohan is its hard-hitting right cross. With twice
the size of its first expansion, double the level cap increase of the second
expansion, and orders of magnitude more endgame content and innovation than
the third (at launch), Riders of Rohan delivers on all fronts. And as a
platform for further development, it holds a lot of promise for future updates
and content. Fans and long-time players are going to love it. Spears will be
shaken, shields broken.
Fell deeds await! Now for wrath, now for ruin and the red dawn! Forth
Overall 92/100 - Outstanding
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