Late last week, I had the opportunity to sit down (well virtually anyway) with Turbine’s Linda Currie and Aaron Campbell, the Design Director and Producer respectively of Lord of the Rings Online. The topic of conversation (and playing via the test server Bullroarer) was none other than Update 3, which launches today for the NA crowd. Before we got started Aaron wanted to make sure we also mention the upcoming takeover by Turbine of the European servers for LotRO. He stated that this is scheduled to go down on June 1st and that when the servers come back up under Turbine’s control that’s when the EU folks will get Update 3 too. After that brief PSA though we moved onto the goods: content Update 3 for the free version of LotRO.
Aaron and Linda started by saying that this content update is something they really wanted to give players to help tide them over until the launch of Isengard later this year. For a long time during the switch from the subscription model to the freemium client, there was a feeling that Turbine was losing steam on its much-loved free updates but the team assured us that now that the F2P LotRO has established itself they can really get back to dishing out the content on the regular. Update three comes packed with a whole new series of quests to progress the story, but players will most likely be more interested in the two brand new skirmishes and three-person dungeons being added in this update (which each bring with them new items, deeds, and so forth).
First we started with the one of the game’s new skirmishes “The Icy Crevasse”. This one’s story is all about some nastiness that’s going to come pouring out of Forochel unless we Free People step in and intervene. It’s a more offensive Skirmish, so you move from point to point capturing posts and defending them from counterattacks. The coolest feature, besides’ LotRO’s excellent ice effects in DX11, are the steaming vents littered throughout the landscape. Basically, everyone in the skirmish receives a significant boost to their damage (including mobs). The cold is making them “hardy”. But if you step over the heat vents, the buff changes from one of damage to one of healing. So it’s up to the players to both use these themselves and to know when to drag the enemy’s agro over them or away from them based on the situation.
The whole thing culminates in one of the biggest mammoth fights I’ve seen in a game… and I don’t mean “mammoth” in terms of size, I mean you actually fight a mammoth. Again, there’s a lot of positional strategy in this fight, and even though Aaron and I had our developer “immortal buffs” I could tell that it’s going to be a challenge at any group size. We were set for a duo version, and I just can’t for the life of me figure out how two people would manage that fight.
The second skirmish is called “Attack at Dawn” and has players venturing back to Dol Dinen (yes that place which drove you crazy with orcs who killed you repeatedly). Your goal is to invade the camp and stop the orcs from spreading news of the location of a secret Ranger base. It’s another offensive (READ: fun) Skirmish, and the whole thing will have you dodging fire from catapults until you make your way up the mountain and disable them. Once you’ve done so comes the big boss fight inside of the head orc’s tent. Here you’ll be treated to a chorus of dancing sappers who constantly rain down bombs on your head that can kill you but not the orc chieftan. So while you’re fighting him to stop the spread of intel, you’ll be dodging tons of fireballs and occasionally changing targets to a scout who tries to leave the tent and deliver the intel to Saruman’s forces. The whole thing is a riotous and fiery affair, and probably one of the more fun boss fights I’ve seen in the skirmishes. It seems with each new release, the content team for LotRO is upping the ante, but that’s the idea right?
Finally we ended our Update 3 tour with a glimpse at one of the new three-person dungeons: Inn of the Forsaken. As you can probably guess, this takes place at the Forsaken Inn… or rather below it. Apparently the innkeeper is reporting that there’s some strange noises coming from below the inn and so he tells you to come back when it’s dark and try to see what’s shaking. You’ll make your way to the basement of the inn and find a secret passage that leads to a system of caves below the Forsaken Inn. There to meet you is a suspicious man who will interact with you throughout the adventure. You can stop and ask him questions about what he knows of this place, and depending on where you are he’ll give you different answers.
The whole instance is set up in a very intriguing fashion that will immediately remind a lot of people of the classic movie The Goonies. There are booby traps like spikes in the floor that you’ll want to find ways to disable or avoid, giant obelisks that stun the undead, and clues all over the place that fill in the back story of the place. There are riddle-protected doors throughout the dungeon which must have their questions answered correctly before you can move past them. In total there are 83 riddles the team wrote for this mechanic, and if you fail to answer each one three times a new one will be given to you. But basically you’ll be given a cryptic riddle that corresponds to one of LotRO’s many emotes, and using those emotes will be the key to unlocking the doors. It’s a very cool and refreshing addition to the standard dungeon crawl. And while eventually you’ll have seen all the riddles, it helps with the replayability to have so many available.
I won’t spoil anymore of the story, but suffice it to say The Inn of the Forsaken is likely going to be a very popular new dungeon for LotRO. The mix of clever puzzles and truly engaging and difficulty encounters is going to go a long way with players and I hope it’s a sign of more stuff to come from Turbine. In fact, it’s not at all unlike the design of dungeons for DDO, and I’m glad to see the same principles being instituted in Middle-earth. If this is a taste of the kind of compelling stuff to come with Isengard later in the year, count me in. We’re finally getting to the more dramatic parts of the books and it’s going to be interesting to see how all of us players factor into it all.