As many of you who haven’t been living under a rock for the past few months probably know, today marks the official launch of Turbine’s first paid expansion for its hit game, Lord of the Rings Online. The expansion, dubbed, Mines of Moria, will allow players to delve deep into the heart of the ancient Dwarf stronghold that played such a pivotal role in the books that preceded the game.
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to sit down and have a conversation with Jeffrey Steefel about the launch and what players can expect from the expansion when it hits store shelves (and digital download) today:
The first question that I asked was simple: What does Mines of Moria add to Lord of the Rings Online. The answer, as you might imagine, was a little bit more complicated.
“What does it do for Lord of the Rings? What does it do for the world that we built?” Steefel responded. “It adds a lot of things, but most of all it adds Moria… We’re pretty sure it’s going to be an RPG experience for players in terms of being in a 3D environment that they have never had before.”
Clearly, Steefel and his team are excited about the size and scope of this new indoor environment and hope that their enthusiasm will carry on to players.
“In terms of the game itself,” he continued. “There are a lot of things in particular, obviously. 10 new levels, a whole bunch of new content, tiers of crafting, new tiers of mastery for crafting, the ability to specialize in a particular type of thing and join a crafting guild, whole new avenues of exploration for collecting Traits and Trait Sets, but most of all, it’s the legendary items system.”
Indeed, every time that we have spoken to Turbine about this expansion, someone has excitedly brought up this particular feature. Steefel went on to explain that part of the appeal is that players are going to be able to interact with their items (primarily weapons and class items right now, with more to come down the line) in a whole new way.
“This is a form of elder play mechanic,” Steefel said, “that is unlike anything that has been available in this kind of game before. It has some similarities, but it’s really in total something that is much deeper and much more robust than what players have had to do before. The idea that you can create these weapons or items that essentially become a member of your party, that travel with you through the world that advance in level with you through the world. During the entire advancement process of the items, you are customizing the direction that you want them to go.”
Steefel went on to talk about the fact that the system is great for players who are sick of simply “outgrowing” their items and having to junk them in favour of something new. This feature should provide players with a bit of a sense of ownership as they create and craft the exact weapon that they want to use. Through all of this, Turbine hopes to open up new avenues of what they call elder game play.
So, to clear things up, the Legendary Item system becomes available to all players at level 50 and not only allows them to build their own, special weapon, but also provides them with another goal for the endgame.
So, now that we had talked a little bit about what was going to be in the expansion for those later level players chomping at the bit to get their hands on the new addition, I wanted to talk a little bit about what was in it for players who may not have picked the game up the first time, or who may be more casual to the game and haven’t hit that max level just yet.
“The game that we have now,” Steefel answered, “is significantly better, deeper, larger, than the game that we originally shipped with in terms of content, functionality, balance and the way that the game works. In terms of Moria and what might make players look again if they looked at the box on the shelf before and didn’t buy it. There is new content that is in the actual Moria release that is available to players whether they have the expansion or not.”
I asked Steefel to go into more detail and he immediately pointed out the two new classes that will be available for players who purchase the expansion regardless of their level:
The Warden and the Rune-Keeper will both be making their first appearance in this expansion. Steefel spoke a little bit about the Rune-Keeeper and what it adds to the overall game, providing players with a more traditional nuker-caster type of character that the game was lacking before now.
Both classes, he went on to tell me, have their own unique elements that make them stand out from what is available in other games.
Along with the shiny new features, Steefel also points to a number of fixes, tweaks and the like that are not only coming from the expansion launch, but that, as a whole, have been added since the game’s original launch.
So, what do I get if I play the game, but don’t want to rush out and buy the expansion?
So, for those who buy the expansion, how many gameplay hours should players expect to gain?
In answer to this question, I was told that it’s a hard number to judge as everyone has a different style of play. The original game, I was told, ranged between 250 and 500 hours depending on style. As for the expansion, Steefel’s guess was about 100 new game hours.
In an interview that talks about the Mines of Moria launch, it would have been difficult to move on without talking about the Balrog that makes its appearance in the expansion. The Balrog, in terms of Tolkien’s lore was basically the baddest of the bad. It took all of the efforts of Gandalf himself to battle the beast. As powerful as they were, the others in the fellowship had to flee the monster. How then, would the Balrog be incorporated into the expansion?
The answer was rather ingenious. While players will eventually face off against the signature monster, their goal will not be to kill it. Instead, players will simply be asked to escape the beast. I asked Steefel why such a decision was made.
His answer was simple: It wouldn’t have made sense within the lore. “The Balrog was this thing that only Gandalf was able to defeat, and barely that. The more powerful characters described in the book apart from Gandalf flee from this thing… Making it possible for players to defeat him almost diminishes his power and it’s almost antithetical to what the lore says about this creature. We wanted to give you the opportunity to face off with him to see his power, to take your stab at him, but not to defeat him because it just wouldn’t make sense.”
After talking about the expansion itself, I wanted to end the interview by bringing up the timing of the expansion release. There are those who watch the industry who thought it was odd that Turbine would choose to release its expansion only days after the rush of Blizzard’s Wrath of the Lich King expansion.
In the end, I was told, Turbine decided that they didn’t want to create release dates based upon launches in other companies. I was told that to hold off on a release until say, 2009 would have only really served to punish those players who had been loyal to Turbine’s game and who were anxiously waiting for more content and the expansion itself.
It isn’t that Turbine, or indeed any other MMO company isn’t aware of Blizzard’s World of Warcraft and its staggering numbers. Instead, for Turbine, it seems to be more about concentrating on their own product and doing what they feel is best for both their own game and its players.