Fresh off the heals of the Lord of the Rings Online expansion that pit us against Saruman, Rise of Isengard, players will finally get to take their first step in the realm of Theoden himself, Rohan! I sat down with the game's executive producer, Kate Paiz, to hear all about the new content, gameplay mechanics and adventure coming to ring-chasers this Fall.
Before we get into the specific details of the expansion, let's focus on how players will get there.
The first update related to the Fall expansion is tentatively scheduled for this spring, and will return players to the footsteps of the fellowship by sending them to the Great River region. This area—south of Lothlorien and north of Fangorn—is the region that the fellowship traveled through before they were separated. The biggest new feature in this update will be the ability to summon Skirmish Soldiers (currently trapped inside the skirmish instances you run) in the general landscape. That's right, your trusty companion in those countless skirmishes will no longer be relegated to helping you wipe the floor with Sauron's minnions where only a few can bear witness, but will be free to help defend you as you travel all of Middle-Earth. While the exact mechanics aren't finalized yet, Paiz said that players shouldn't expect any major overhauls to combat mechanics of the soldier system.
I asked Paiz if my soldier would ever be able to join me in an instance if we're running one man short, and she stated that it's being looked at, but that she can't say anything definite at this point.
As Turbine moves players through this Lone-lands-sized region, getting ever closer to Rohan, they'll still release the usual near-monthly patches with quality-of-life fixes, bug fixes, and possibly a new festival as well. Paiz was light on details about the festival, but I'm excited to see what the next one will bring.
At some point in the Fall, the wait will be over, and Riders of Rohan will arrive like a thundering herd. The expansion will include the largest region LOTRO's ever seen. Rohan is a vast kingdom, allowing players to level to the new cap of 85 while exploring its expansive terrain. And this massive zone will only cover the East plains of Rohan, so you'll have to wait for the next expansion to visit the legendary Helm's Deep--which is located near the Western border of the region .
While a new, huge region is cool and all, what really made me excited about the expansion was that it will introduce of mounted combat to the game. The generically named War Steed will become player's newest ally in the fight again Sauron. These trusty companions will level with the players, and have upgradable armor to tweak their appearances and performance. This sounds like a great idea in theory, but I'm slightly worried that this might follow the path of Legendary Weapons, and become more headache and hassle for players to deal with than its worth.
Fighting on horseback will open up a whole new type of combat and leveling experience, Paiz explained to me. There will still be some traditional questing areas in the new zone, such as Amon Hen (where Boromir died and the fellowship split), but Paiz told me that the plains of Rohan will feature roving band of enemies that players will engage more fluidly. When you first spot the clouds of dust in the distance, you'll have to decide if you want to flee the incoming riders and run away, or charge into the battle on your War Steed, clashing with the enemy. This sounds like it could be an interesting twist on the traditional MMO quest grind setup, and I'm anxious to see how it's implemented.
I pressed Paiz hard to answer my two most-burning questions, but when I heard her saddening answers, I kind of wish I hadn't asked.
Do we have any chance of seeing the Battle of Helms Deep in this expansion? Negative.
Will Ent Session Play ever be a reality? Laughter that wasn't very reassuring.
Swallowing my crushing disapointment, I tried to bolster my excitement for mounted combat with the stirring quote from J.R.R. Tolkien's classic:
"Arise! Arise, Riders of Theoden! Spears shall be shaken, shields shall be splintered! A sword day... a red day... ere the sun rises!"