News Manager Keith Cross hasn’t had a vacation in over a year, and doesn’t plan on taking one any time soon. How does he stay sane? By touring the virtual vacation spots of MMORPGs. This week he was guided through scenic Eregion in Eriador, Middle Earth. While there he had the chance to experience upcoming game-play from Book 14: The Ring-forges of Eregion, the upcoming free content expansion for Lord of the Rings Online.
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to sit down with the folks at Turbine and play through a sampling of new content which will be released with Book 14: The Ring-Forges of Eregion. My guides for this expedition into the wilds of Middle Earth were Aaron Campbell, Live Producer for Lord of the Rings Online, and Brent Schmidt, lead content designer for Book 14. Our journey began in fair Eregion, home to one of the region’s most popular tourist attractions: the Ring Forges. Book 14 will only provide a small taste of this land, but the flavor of Eregion is robust, so a small taste is all you need for now.
The first character we met on tour was the local Town Crier, who had all the latest news and gossip from across the land. Although Town Criers have been in the game for a long time, I hadn’t yet met one that was this knowledgeable. That’s because the world is changing. The folks at Turbine have been talking enthusiastically for some time about their live event system, which will see the world changing more dynamically in this book and beyond. The live event system has been in the game since launch, festivals and other events are examples of its use, but it’s only now that the system will be involved in true world events. The Town Criers are one window on these events and they have been upgraded in their usefulness and functionality. Talking to one provides a menu of headlines that players can use to gain important information about current affairs in Middle Earth.
After a short jaunt down the street, we spoke to a chap whose information on world affairs was a little less current, but the old Sage’s knowledge of history was so vivid that it was like you were playing through the events yourself. Sages now offer a host of quest options, from repeatable quests, to new session play options, where you can play through portions of recent story arcs from the perspective of NPC allies and villains. I was told that the dev team has been working on upgrading several instances and encounters in Angmar and Annúminas just for this purpose. The Sage was also a source of items and equipment, and not just the regular stuff, but some of the good stuff too. What the Sage does is offer repeatable quests, which the players can complete to earn tokens to buy high end gear. The high end gear is equipment that has already been made available in the game, but players may have missed out on getting one piece of an armor set or another, and the sage offers another path to gaining that equipment. The items are on a monthly cooldown, because it’s difficult for a Sage to keep so many cool items in stock, and to keep the system balanced.
As mentioned earlier, the sage also offers a number of new session play options. Session play is where players shed the trappings of their character, and jump into the skin of another. Previous incarnations include the ability to take on the role of a Ranger of the Dúnedain, and the role of a hen in chicken play. After a few words to the Sage, I was in the body of a Bloodletter and given a brief quest to practice my new powers on some slugs before jumping into the action in an area that a player would have recently been to as their regular character. I was told that the quests in this session play instance were full of in-jokes, explaining why certain things in the area were the way they were when the players first came through. I haven’t played far enough in Lord of the Rings Online to really know the story this deep in, so unfortunately I didn’t get any of the in-jokes and explanations. Luckily that means that I’m also not capable of ruining any surprises for you.
After some villainous play, we moved on to some good guy session play. This time I was in the body of Laerdan, to find out the reasons behind some of the Elf’s actions. Laerdan has some pretty powerful abilities, and the instance I played was designed so that the player had ample opportunity to test out these new abilities and kick wave after wave of Angmarian ass. All in all a satisfying experience.
After some fun with session play we moved on to Rivendell, because book 14 marks the departure of the Fellowship of the Ring from that place. As the unsung heroes who have been aiding them on this quest, we stood and watched as the Fellowship discussed their quest and said their goodbyes. Strangely, if you go back to certain locations where you had met the heroes before, you’ll find them still there. The reason is because Turbine wants to make sure players can go back and experience previous content rather than blocking of portions of the world for continuities sake. Some might argue that this breaks immersion, but they explained that they were trying to make the game more like a book, giving you the equivalent of the ability to flip back to certain pages and reread them.
That’s one of the reasons that Book 14 is a bit of a departure from some of the previous book updates. Their focus this time was on story rather than adding new features and options like player housing or new customization choices of earlier updates. From the beginning, Turbine has put a focus on successfully implementing story in an MMO and when talking about live events and Book 14 they describe it as, “getting back to our DNA.” In terms of story their goal is to create a feeling for the player of not really knowing what is going to happen next, saying “We’re really trying to look at ways to push the envelope in terms of story.”
I hope that you enjoyed this small overview of the sights and features of this new update. MMORPG.com will continue to follow this book as it moves toward launch.