Shortly before a blizzard buried the northeast in snow last week and forced Turbine employees to seek shelter in caves I received a sneak peek of the upcoming content update for the Lord of the Rings Online. This update is the second half of the instance cluster that concludes update 10 Against the Shadow. Super Producer Hannah Foell (who I have it on good authority was hiding under a mountain of cats), along with public relations extraordinaire Leo Tan and art king Todd DeMelle were kind enough to act as my tour guides. While Leo spent most of his time running around and performing handstands, Hannah explained most of the encounters and Todd talked about the artwork in the different zones. This cluster consists of one 6 man instance and three 12 man raids. These all work together to tell one cohesive story, the story of why the Easterlings never made it to the battle for Rohan.
We started our adventure in the Bells of Dale. The Bells is a 6-man instance. At the beginning you are met by Dale’s king and asked to alert his people to an impending invasion. As it turns out the invasion has already started but the city is not yet completely under siege. As you make your way to the bell tower you will fights waves of Easterlings and Skrzig (He of the unpronounceable name). Beta being beta, we did get blocked after killing Skrzig and were not able to finish the Bells of Dale.
The next instance is a 12 man raid, Flight to the Lonely Mountain. This is Leo’s favorite instance in the cluster. Imagine a picturesque river flowing through a beautiful countryside. While you may want to float down that river on a raft with a cask of meade, none of that will be happening. Instead you will fight waves and waves of Easterlings and their animal companions. This instance has no real boss. The boss is the timer. You have to protect the river pass and keep it clear for 10 minutes so villagers can escape the ruined husk of Dale and make their way to the Lonely Mountain. This encounter has a few tricks up its sleeve. If you kill waves of enemies top fast, the rate at which the waves spawn will quicken. If you kill them to slow, you will have waves overlapping and the Easterlings will overrun you. The trick is to find a good pace. The challenge mode for this raid will be to kill 100 enemies in 10 minutes. Good luck!
The second raid is the Fires of Smaug. This is Todd’s favorite instance and mine as well. I enjoyed it for the deviousness of the Easterlings. They have created a furnace in the likeness of Smaug and are using it to smoke the dwarves out of the Lonely Mountain. There are a number of different mechanics going on in this encounter and I can see experienced parties taking a few tries before they get it down pat.
The third raid is the Battle for Erebor. This happens to be Hannah’s favorite raid of the three, she called it her, “jam.” At this point The Ring has been destroyed and Sauron has been defeated. The Easterlings at Erebor have come close to having their morale broken and our heros are going to finish the job and end the siege. The final encounter of this raid has 3 different challenge levels. There are six conditions you can set to the fight. Tier 1 you have to select two conditions, Tier 2 you have to select four, and for the challenge mode you have to chose all six. Honor Guard has the bosses start with eight extra Easterlings. Bloodbrother grants the bosses a 25% damage boost for every one percent of health that they differ from each other. Bloodrage gives the bosses a 100% damage boost for 20 seconds every 5% health they lose. During the second phase, reinforcements will release into the arena every 30 seconds. Catapults shell the arena floor with fire damage and stun you. Inferno sets the whole arena on fire in stage three and you lose 5% of your health every 30 seconds. These guys are not your friends.
In addition to the new raids the LotRO team has also changed the way area of effect spells are represented. New hot spots will appear on the ground to more accurately reflect what is going on. Red is helping the enemy or hurting you. White is helping you or hurting the enemy. They are very easy to see and should help people get out of the fire more quickly. Turbine was not able to say when exactly we could expect to see this new instance cluster hit the live servers. They did say it was soon though. And not soonTM, Hannah soon. I’m not 100% sure what “Hannah soon” is yet but we shall find out, well, soon.
Overall, I thought they were fun raids with interesting mechanics that will require teamwork to tackle. I also appreciate that Turbine is still taking the time to improve older systems like how AOE effects appear in game. What about you? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below. You can also find me on Twitter or friend me on Facebook.