On January 3rd, 1892, J.R.R. Tolkien was born in Bloemfontein, South Africa. To commemorate this momentous occasion, fans from around the world raise their glasses "To the Professor" and drink a toast in his honor. The PC Gamer staff toasted with LotR-styled shot glasses in the office today, and I'm personally celebrating by going through the Ered Luin starter zone revamp in Lord of the Rings Online. This re-structuring of the zone has made some dramatic changes, and I was wonderfully surprised by the new pacing and major changes to the early dwarf area.
Giveaway Update: Closed! Thanks to everyone who entered and congratulations to winners Raliant, fest_freak, Jimangi, Malachi and Slie_amos!
After their initial starting zone (both brand new, with great tutorials for new players), elf and dwarf characters share an instanced zone, Ered Luin, for their early level questing. After they play for a few levels in the joint area,they're sent their different ways from Ered Luin to begin their quests in Middle Earth proper. Ered Luin's recently been updated, so I decided to revisit my old stomping grounds on a new character to see how new players are being introduced to the game nowadays.
Almost nothing has changed in the elves' first starting area--but it feels like everything's changed. My character was caught in the middle of an invasion of a dwarf clan, the Dourhand Dwarves, with an uber-dwarf Skorgrim leading the charge. The quests are practically the same mechanic-wise as they were before, only the goblins that I fought in my previous times playing through this tutorial have been morphed into dwarves. It's a small change, but it really helps tie the story that's told across the first few zones together, giving it the feel of an epic story--a feeling that's key to the game of LOTRO. It's good that the introductory areas introduce new players to that epic story style of questing early on. I won't spoil the ending of the zone, but it has a very dramatic, memorable climax that gives the player a great impression of the heroics going on in Middle Earth.
Next, I played through the dwarven new player tutorial, and was surprised to find that, once again, I was a part of a story revolving around the Dourhand Dwarves. I even witnessed Thorin departing for his trip with Gandalf, mentioning that Bilbo is a really strange name for a dwarf. As he left, Thorin handed over responsibility to Gormr, a descendant of Skorgrim, and leader of the Dourhand Dwarves. After helping Gimli rescue some dwarves in Silver Deep mine, with a timely rescue by Gandalf, I joined the Elves for the next section of the re-vamp.
The zone's had a bit of its own mini-cataclysm as well. I was pretty surprised when I walked to the west of the zone and found that the mountainside that'd been there forever had been ripped apart and replaced with the industrial machines and mines. It felt weird at first (as I'm sure it did for everyone the first time they walked into the new Orgrimmar or Stormwind), but this sort of terrain alteration was rare. For the most part, the changes are to the quests and the characters--not the world itself.
There are a lot of general gameplay improvements in these zones as well. The entire quest flow has been tightened up, requiring much less running back and forth than before. Although it's still there, the return-to-the-same-area-three-times-in-a-row quests are much less prevalent than they were in the past. I often found myself running from one small quest hub to the next, grabbing a couple of quick quests and finishing them within 5-10 minutes. Overall, all of the quests in Ered Luin are much more story-driven than they were in the past, emphasizing the destruction and chaos that had come from the Dourhand's rule of Thorin's Hall.
I was impressed with the revamp of this zone; it gives a much better representation of they type of MMO that LOTRO is to prospective players than the old zone did. This is, after all, the third time that Turbine has reworked Ered Luin in some way, so it's good to see that they're making steps in the right direction. It captured the feel of Tolkien's world very well, and I felt that it was a great way to celebrate the genius of J.R.R. Tolkien.
To the Professor!
Giveaway: Want to win some Turbine points to use in your adventures in Middle-Earth? Comment below with your own toast "To the Professor" to be entered to win one of 5 codes for 500 Turbine Points to use LOTRO Store in-game. We'll pick winners Tuesday afternoon.