This past week, I had the opportunity to jump onto Isengard, the test server for Turbine's Lord of the Rings Online. I wasn't there as a tester though, but as a journalist. Joined by a small army of developers (ok, it was four or five, tops), I was given a tour of some of the new features for the upcoming Book 13: Doom of the Last-king.
I think that the best place to start is probably by talking about the environment itself. This update will see the inclusion of a brand new area known as Forochel. Turns out (for all of you non-Tolkienites out there) that Forochel is a cold an unforgiving place, inhabited by new monsters, new dangers and a race of people known as the Lossoth.
The area itself is different from anything that players have encountered before in LotRO, both in terms of the look and in terms of some of the mechanics that come along with it. Part one of this article will talk about the look of Book 13, while part two will talk about some of those new features and mechanics.
Looks-wise, the design team has done a pretty stunning job of creating a harsh, northern wilderness without resorting to dumping a little bit of snow onto all of the same props that we`ve seen before. Instead, the land is much more desolate. While snow does cover the land, the trees that Middle-Earth residents are so used to seeing in the game are much fewer and further between. Instead, the land is peppered with more rocks and the like. There also appeared to be the occasional animal corpseine laying on the ground.
Aside from the bleak and the cold, there is another element coming in Book 13 that players haven`t seen before; the ocean.
Open water and swimming are nothing new to fans of the game. Quite honesltly there`s nothing quite so funny as a Dwarf doing the backstroke in a river near an elven city (I have a warped sense of humor). That being said, this is the first time that players will have the opportunity to take a dip in the ocean (Not a long one though, it literally will kill you but more on that in part two).
So, I suppose try to picture the coast of Alaska (or what you imagine it to look like), and add in a number of fantastical monsters, races, etc and you might have an idea of Forochel. Still, what northern locale would be complete without the Northern Lights? Apparently not this one, because the developers have added in a wonderful hue to the sky in some areas.
Earlier, I mentioned the Lossoth, the race that actually calls this region home. We got a look at their capital city and I wanted to take a minute to talk about their architecture. When people think cold and wild, they often think about the Inuit, living in ice homes with lots of furs and animal skins decorating (and insulating) their homes. The devs have done a great job of both meeting these expectations for the Lossoth (who had only a cursory mention in Tolkien's original work) while still making them feel like a people who exist inn a fantasy setting.
When talking about the visuals of Forochel, I think that I was most blown away by the blizzard that rolled in over our characters. Being from Nova Scotia Canada, we get our fair share of snowstorms in the winter (contrary to popular belief, it doesn't snow in the summer in most of Canada. It's warm and we go to the beach. It's true). The developers have done a really great job of capturing the feeling of a raging blizzard. It starts out with a bit of blurred vision as the wind starts to kick up some smaller flakes and then it gets worse and worse until you jjust can't see anything. Back home (and in most places, I would assume) they call it a white-out.
All in all, I was impressed with the look and feel of this area for characters of level 44-50. I think that when it launches, players are going to find an area that will really make them feel like they have stepped into a new, wild and unexplored land.