PAX was pretty exciting this year. I got the chance to take a look at some of the new things in Lord of the Rings Online. Our host, Aaron Campbell of Turbine, took us through the basics of free to play and also showed us some of the new features in the game, including the Haunted Burrow, the most interesting online haunted house I’ve ever seen.
Turbine has been working hard converting LOTRO to free to play, and, if you’re like me, you probably either have some skepticism about the idea or simply don’t understand how it works. Aaron helped clear this up and even explained how a character doesn’t really have to pay a dime to enjoy time in Middle Earth.
Free To Play
Free to play means exactly that. When a player downloads the game, they do not have to pay anything. For new players to the game, the Shire, Eregion, and Bree-Land are accessible. This includes about 800 quests, including epic quests, taking the player up to about level 20. You get this without spending a dime. Players will also have access to all the initial classes, crafting, and in-game housing. Players can also earn points to spend later in the game.
As a new player, you might hit areas, like the Lone-Lands for instance, that are “locked”. To gain access to the quests in locked areas, you click any quest giver with the lock symbol over his head, and, instead of having the option to accept, you get an option to unlock. To unlock these areas you will be prompted to the in-game store where you can open all the quests in that area.
The primary interface for unlocking LOTRO’s free-to-play content is the in-game store. Here players use “Turbine Points” (virtual currency) to acquire content as they level up. In the store, you can pay to unlock quests and buy many other things, such as healing items, maps, mounts, and housing decorations to move you quicker through areas. You can also pay real money for more Turbine Points to buy even more stuff.
Now, if you don’t want to spend any money, you can earn Turbine Points in game, but this takes a while. It is possible, though, to play the game consistently for free. It just depends on how much time you want to spend grinding and crafting and doing other things in game to earn the points. Your options at the store generally just “save time”.
Aaron pointed out that players would not be able to get power advantages in the store, like wraith gear or buffs. The store is not going to make things “unfair” to non-paying players. If you don’t pay, it just going to take longer to level compared to paying players.
There is also still the subscription option, a monthly fee, that gives players 500 Turbine Points per month and VIP access to the game, including things like monster play and destiny points.
The new region is called Enedwaith, which is north of Dunland. One of the things players will see is Gondorian architecture for the first time. Aaron showed us a beautiful Gondorian watchtower that the rangers have reclaimed. Players will be traveling with the rangers of the Grey Company, helping them explore this unknown territory. It is a beautiful open area that I think will appeal to many players.
The Lord of the Rings is a linear story, and some areas and people are only briefly mentioned in the books, leaving the designers with a lot of freedom to interpret the classic text, while adding flavor. For example, developers have included daemon goats that only appear in flocks at night to frighten the local shepherds, and elder spirits that players can seek out, find, and bargain with.
We entered the Gloomglens (in north-west Enedwaith), where Aaron mentioned the Stoors reside. Stoors are the hobbits with facial hair, and the ones who pridefully wear boots. While here, Aaron mounted a new rare mount – a pony painted like a skeleton (which is a new drop from the Haunted Burrow). He was such a cute thing, black with bones decorating his body.
We then zipped back to the Harvest Festival in the Shire, where we were shown the Haunted Burrow. The story here is that Bilbo Baggins’ treasure is buried deep inside Bag End. The outside looks just like a normal hobbit hole, but inside, down in the cellar, it is full of tricks and haunts to protect his treasures. Players have to rescue scared hobbits while being surprised by ghosts and other scary things that jump out at you. The décor was just as you’d imagine, very Halloween-ey and haunted-house looking, with cobwebs, spooky chandeliers, and dark corners. I wished it hadn’t been so loud at the convention so that I could hear the spooky music. This content will be released in October to coincide with the Harvest Festival.
I love seeing new art in a game. While Aaron was riding around on his mount, he sprinted right into a small lake. As simple as it sounds, the ripples caught my attention and he noted that that was one of the art improvements that had been added to the game. These ripples were so realistic and smooth. He then went up high on a mountain to show me the sunbeams. These beams were picture perfect. It’s the little things like this that, I believe, truly help players become immersed.
The final thing Aaron wanted to note was that now all dungeons can be immediately accessed from anywhere in the world. Also, four of the dungeons have been scaled and revamped (The Great Barrows, The Library and School at Tham Mirdain, and Helegrod). Turbine fully intends to continue upgrading more dungeons.
I do understand how free to play might concern some, but it’s becoming the popular way to go. It looks like it might be worth giving LOTRO a try just to see some of the new content that Turbine is offering this fall.