Update 6 for LotRO is currently being advertised in e-mails and forum posts with everybody’s favorite release date: Coming soon. So sometime soon (meaning sometime between now and later) LotRO players will be able to explore the Great River Region - a part of the Upper Anduin, complete over 170 quests, complete new epic story content; receive an update for the Instance Finder, and with the introduction of the Soldier on the Landscape system, use their skirmish soldiers on the landscape.
The update sounds quite large, and is definitely one of the largest in recent memory with a plethora of new content. By quest number alone The Great River Region is comparable in size to Dunland (about 30-50 quests less), though depending on how close together the quest regions are, it may be larger or smaller in actual size. This update should round out Rise of Isengard giving it enough content and exploration to tide players over for a few months at least, especially if a few new instances appear in a future update.
The most interesting feature for the update is the introduction of the Soldier on Landscape system. This is a feature that was announced with Riders of Rohan and allows for players to bring their skirmish companions out into the landscape. It bears a striking resemblance to SWTOR’s companion system, though LotRO skirmish soldiers offer no known RPG elements, and are not allowed in instances. Still the system brings with it numerous pros and cons.
Pros of the Soldier on Landscape System
- Instant quest help: As a minstrel player, I have run into several quests over the course of my journey in Middle-Earth that have been labeled as solo quests, but for some reason (whether I suck as a player, my armor was low at the time, I just couldn’t heal myself fast enough, or some other circumstance) I just could not finish them at the time. No amount of asking for help in chat seemed to gather any volunteers to help in my plight. It will be nice to have a soldier always there to help if that ever crops up again.
- Enemies will go down faster: Less time whacking an NPC mole is typically not a bad thing, it will also hopefully make kill quests a little less of the time consuming grind that they can be. Perhaps even the groans from seeing a kill quest or two appear might even begin to die out.
- Leveling for new players: As I have kept up with level cap, it feels though with every expansion the time to get to cap takes longer and longer. I can only imagine how long and daunting the journey to 75 (soon enough to be 85) looks from level one. While many players may laugh at what is arguably a very quick and easy journey to level cap, the extra help from a soldier may make the journey just a little less daunting for new players just starting out on their adventures in Middle-Earth.
- More content: Soldiers are already a part of a small leveling grind where with the usage of skirmish tokens, players can add traits to their soldier to make them more powerful for later skirmishes. Now players have more of a reason to keep up to date soldiers. Turbine might even add more customization options for soldiers so players can differentiate themselves further. Of course, there is a possible negative here (number 4 in the cons section).
Cons of the Soldier on Landscape System
- Further alienation of the community: This is actually nothing new. In the post-WoW, solo till level cap as quickly as you can world of contemporary MMORPG’s that we now inhabit, the community has largely alienated itself just as much as the developers have created tools that alienate us. While solo content is a large part of LotRO, will Soldiers on Landscape only make soloing the only way to reach level cap? Could players ignore each other even more than they already do at times? The effects have yet to be seen, and while I doubt they will be drastic, the consequences of such a system are still something to consider.
- Will content become too easy?: LotRO has never really been a difficult game, most quests are easily done solo, and enemies in the main world are rarely difficult to defeat. LotRO has never been balanced with a constant group of two in mind, so while many enemies may have simply been easy before, they might be pitifully easy now. Content going forward could be balanced with this in mind, and thus only make the content from 1-75 that easy while new content could retain some challenge.
- Will soldiers actually add anything?: While having a companion who is always willing to help you is good, will soldiers actually add anything to the content? Soldiers on Landscape could go the way of the hobby system and while being a nice feature will unfortunately get no love and care until players stop even using it.
- Another grind: While many players might have perfectly traited soldiers, ready for the toughest challenges, many might not. Adding on to the legendary item grind and gear grind, the soldier could just become another grind for players to level traits up in order to complete content. This one is an iffy, and more of a matter of perspective. Soldiers are not terribly difficult to trait up, but if content becomes designed with soldiers in mind, some players may begin to view them as a grind.
Update 6 has some exciting content coming. The Anduin is a region I have personally been hoping to see for a long time now and it is finally arriving. It will be interesting to see what will appear in update 7 as players are pushed closer and closer to Rohan. Though no further landmass has been announced for updates leading up to Rohan, it is possible Turbine has a surprise or two up their sleeve.