With the recent reveal that the new Lord of the Rings: Riders of Rohan expansion will include mounted combat; many are very excited for the possibilities the expansion may bring. Mounted combat is a rare gift in the MMO world. Very few games include mounts as anything but a way to save money and time on travel. Age of Conan was one of the few AAA MMOs to include mounted combat and while it is interesting, it has never served much of a purpose beyond sieges. A few independent MMOs have included mounted combat as well, but in the popular, big budget realm it remains largely untested territory. Could LOTRO’s mounted combat be a force for change for both PVE and PVP content? Perhaps.
This is hypothetical: Turbine has already mentioned that mounted combat will only be featured in Eastern Rohan (for now) and has mentioned nothing about Monster Play. Monster Play has been sorely neglected the past few years and Riders of Rohan would be the perfect expansion to breath new life into the system. One can imagine the great lines of mounted free people staring down the Monster Player horde before charging and laying waste to their futile defenses. Even vice versa, with orc players charging and laying waster to horse after horse. There are several problems though that Turbine would have to overcome to make mounted monster player combat even viable in Monster Play.
First of all, what would Monster Players ride on? Orcs are hated by horses and far too big to mount a warg (as they are in game) or spider (unless the spider is huge). The only real race that could ride on a horse-sized animal is goblins, which are not even selectable right now, not to mention the fact that goblins are not a particularly tough race on the battlefield. They would seem perfect for small skirmishes or cannon fodder to rush in weaken the enemy until the big guys come in and smash the free peoples, but would more likely be crushed by the far larger war horses of the Rohirrim even on wargs. LotRO does have several other options though. One of which is the inclusion of Men from either Western Middle-Earth or even with inclusion of the Easterlings.
While it is fairly early in the LotRO timeline, the game is only just barely entering into the beginning of The Two Towers, the books speed up dramatically at this point. The final two books take place over a single month while The Fellowship of the Ring happens over several months. Starting from the breaking of the fellowship on February 25 through the big battles of movie and book fame, the story largely ends the war against Sauron when Frodo drops the ring into Mount Doom on March 25, only a month later! Technically, Sauruman is not killed till the Battle of Bywater on November 3rd but the months in between are filled with peaceful events like the crowning of Aragorn. Still a group of Easterlings could have reached large segments of Middle-earth by now and it would be conceivable that they could ride horses (though I believe the books never described them on horses, it would be within reason at least). With new races and classes, balance becomes an issue.
Turbine has rarely done any balancing that has ended well for Monster Play. Free players are balanced against the PVE content and Monster Players are balanced to some degree against those changes. The largest barrier is that Monster Play largely relies on numbers rather than fair one on one or equally matched teams. While I personally like this idea, I do realize the numbers are not always there nor does the idea mesh with many PVP and MMO players. The whole of LOTRO Monster Play could change for the better or worse depending if or how Turbine implements mounted combat. I do hope Turbine realizes the potential they have here and makes a system that is fair to some degree, but most of all fun for both sides. With all of these new abilities, models and animations will Turbine’s technology even be able to handle it?
Turbine’s servers already typically have a problem handling all the various armor pieces and character models running around in the Ettenmoors, especially when clumped up into large groups. Will horses only make things worse? Different colors, different sizes, and different types of horse armor could potentially cause more problems, especially when Turbine has already mentioned mounted combat may push the game engine to its limits if not beyond. Even with all these problems, there is a huge amount of potential for mounted combat.
It is possible that with a system of mounted combat, LotRO’s Monster Play could become a fantastic PVP option even for players who solely focus on PVP. Depending on new skills (quick mounting to escape when surrounded or whips for Monster Players to quickly dismount their opponents), new weapons (pikes, lances etc.) and the way horse HP will work, players could be able to use a plethora of options, skills and strategies, on and off mounts to defeat each other besides sending spies through Ventrillo.
There are a lot of ifs and maybes including how willingly players will use the new options at their disposal. Flanking and military tactics are largely unnecessary in MMO combat and while it would be wonderful to see in an MMO, LotRO has another barrier in that department. Combat is largely about standing still, though mounted combat could also change this and make the action more dynamic and motion-filled.
While I know little of the new system, I happily await its coming. I hope mounted combat, Rohan itself, and the epic story invite new and old players into the world of Middle-earth like never before. Turbine has a great year lined up for their top MMOs and with any luck the rest of the year will only bring more surprises.