On the last day of E3 2007, I made my way to my appointment with the Lord of the Rings Online demo via Midway Games, going through several PR guard types: "Do you have an appointment? With whom?" I was flashing my media credentials and bleating Adam Mersky's (Director of Public Relations for Turbine) name like a mantra against the Witch-King himself. How many had tried to sneak in without an appointment? I wondered to myself as Adam came out to greet me then hung out with me to chat while Senior Designer Allan Maki completed a visit with another member of the media.
"We didn't expect to be here," Adam told me, "but Midway tells us, 'we'll save you a spot!' So here we are, and by the way... Housing is coming out in Book 11 in the Fall." He dropped that tidbit like it was an insignificant by and by. Where and how? I demanded of him. "Well, we can't have houses popping up in the shire!" was his response as he fielded my questions with aplomb at the same time, giving nothing away as they had yet to finalize the details. "Oh, and here's Allan to show you Chicken play!" Saved by the bell, as it were.
Chicken play? "Tolkien wrote of a fox commenting on how hard it was to see hobbits leaving the shire," said Adam as he seated me with Allan and introduced us. "Oh yes! Even you can be a free-range chicken!" Allan grinned as he showed off his t-shirt. It had three icons. They were labeled "Freeps, Creeps and Peeps." Choose wisely. It cautioned, alluding to playing characters, monster play and now... chicken play.
The quest to be a chicken - not rooster, chicken - is based in the Shire and hence available to everyone. Chickens can taunt using Threatening Cluck, have a skill called Bob and Weave which assists them in defense, and also Fowl Fleetness or Play Possum which will help them escape their enemies. You are a chicken. Not very many hit points, not very well armored, but you are not just any chicken, you are a free range chicken! You can go across the entire world as a chicken. Challenge a Nazgul if you wish (and die). They called it session play. Players get six hours to play as a chicken in a session, and there can only be 50 chickens in the world at any one time. If you die, you lose your session. Only chickens can talk to other chickens,by the way. It also costs destiny points to play, but anyone can do it. Providing they do the series of quests.
Chicken Play is quite amusing, and not without reward, as Allan modeled a fancy cloak with a chicken on it. What about Fox Play? I asked. Maybe some PvP between foxes and chickens in the future? Allan laughed, but Adam said seriously that they were considering more critter play in the future.
Now to the meat of the Book: Book 10 will introduce a hundred new quests across the world and more high-level content in the form of the city of Annuminas - which is the battlefield of Angmar vs. the Rangers of Rivendell. The city is under siege and Trolls are at the very gates. You can choose to assist the rangers or seek out Trolls further out in the battlefield. Book 10 also introduces the Barter System where you collect trophies and trade them with the NPCs in Annuminas to obtain new sets of armor. "This is the ranger stronghold," said Allan, "a safe zone." His words were belied in a minute as the Trolls pushed through and battle raged around the Barter NPCs. "They can't win, though!" He promised as he assisted the Rangers in repelling the invaders. There are three main control points in this new area and a palace in the far end. Players who gain the palace will find two instances opening up to them.
Book 10 also introduces a new reputation system that is accessible to all players. "Instead of blocking dungeons until you gain enough rep, you earn reputation and gain trophies as you complete quests and explore dungeons. Just playing in these dungeons will enhance your reputation." What can you do with enhanced reputation? "With enhanced reputation, you will have access to vendors that will sell you special weapons," explained Allan. "Previously, you had to have certain virtues to use certain weapons. Our new reputation system allows you to buy weapons with the virtue on the weapons themselves." The player will still be required to obtain the virtues to activate that of the weapon, but essentially, what this does is to allow players to get their hands on better weapons earlier.
Monster Play is also enhanced in Book 10. Depending on which side is winning, the Monsters or the Players, up to seven sessions will spawn that will allow players with enough destiny points to play a level 50 Troll or Ranger. At any time in the game, two sessions will be available for each side. Each type (Troll or Ranger) will have set skills, and unlike current Monster Play, players will not retain the character in their stable, nor will they gain skills. The Trolls had formidable AoE skills and the Rangers, I was told, will have a single target bow based skill. They also had NPC level hit points and armor. To allow many players to have a chance at playing a Troll or Ranger, each session will be limited to an hour. It will be interesting to see how that plays out. At the height of battle when your time runs out, will another player suddenly inhabit that character?
I was shown Thorin's Hall and the massiveness of the architecture and caverns, the Hall of the Dunnadine Kings where there would be puzzles and large instanced areas for you and your fellowship to play in. "This is a foretaste of what's to come," said Allan. "We want to show players what we can do, and what's to come. A foretaste of how vast the Mines of Moria can be." From what I could see at this preview, they would be of a grand scale indeed.