I recently had the chance to meet with several lovely people from Turbine* for a first-hand, walkthrough tour of the upcoming 5th expansion for the Lord of the Rings Online: Helm’s Deep. It was an interesting and informative tour.
Some of the basic additions that come along with the HD expansion are over 300 new quests, three epic books, a new crafting tier, five new zones (at least three of which will have mounted combat), and a level cap increased to 95.
For lore aficionados, this expansion more than any of the others meshes most closely with the storyline from the books, as well as fleshing out things only mentioned in passing by Tolkien. (e.g. an area in the west of Rohan where the peoples of that land and of Dunlendings mix more freely, and allegiances are less clear cut.) It also adds in some things that were left out of the Peter Jackson movies, for example, Helm’s Dike.
Players also get to witness the reclaiming of Théoden, arriving in Meduseld on the heels of Aragorn, Gandalf, Legolas and Gimli. There will plenty of interaction with Eowyn, (following her path in the books) both in Edoras and later on in Dunharrow. There will also be a whole host of minor canon characters brought to life (and sometimes killed) to play a role in your journeys through to Helm’s Deep, so lore fans keep an eye out.
Beyond original lore, there are plenty of new faces, new (shall we say, lore-adjacent) NPCs, including a new shield maiden character who was Éowyn’s role model while growing up. The amount of research and dedication to the source material here is truly breathtaking, even new characters fit as if they’ve always been there.
Both classes and combat are getting revamped. This is not only to fix the pace of character leveling, but to give characters clearer goals to strive for early on, and more distinction between the classes at higher levels.
There are lots of new animations and effects to look forward to, and many existing animations have been sped up just a bit (presumably to keep battle moving along, and from getting too bogged down in spectacle.) One popular addition in particular is a new Lore Master capstone skill called “Sic ‘em”. It allows Lore Masters to use ALL of their animals at once; a skill that in Beta, has proved to be an overwhelming success.
I don’t play LMs myself, but after a little gentle prodding (demanding, whining, whatever) I was told that Guardians will be getting something cool as well; maybe even “multiple somethings”.
By far the most dramatic development in this expansion is going to be the epic battles. Epic battles are not skirmishes, per se, but, that’s the closest comparison the game currently has. As Hanna put it, “Think of them as the big bad cousin of skirmishes.”
However, they really don’t function within the game the same way skirmishes do. They have their own system of play and advancement, and where skirmishes scale up as you choose a particular level, epic battles are all hand-built around the player-characters within them. They are custom built for you, (solo or duo play) or your group of three, six or twelve players.
Within each battle players can choose from three featured roles:
Vanguard: Hack and slash, mainly a traditional combat role. You’re in the thick of the fighting and engaging with enemies as they come over the wall.
Officer: Strategy and command, you’re issuing battle orders, healing and dealing with your troops.
Engineer: Interacting with the siege weapons in all the various ways possible, from loading and prepping them to fire, to repairing them when they break down.
These roles aren’t like character classes, but rather occupations for the duration of the fight. Each occupation determines how you will participate, but you can try something different the next time around. Choosing to be an officer in your first play-through doesn’t mean you have to be an officer every time after that, or ever again if you don’t care for it.
As each battle progresses, there will be advancement within the occupations, and you can choose traits from any of the three skill trees. So, Officers can potentially have Engineer skills, Vanguard can issue orders, etc.
In all the different epic battles in Helm’s Deep, you play as your own character, (rather than as canon character in a session-play flashback.) Thanks to level scaling, characters level 10 and up can participate. All player characters have their levels upscaled to 95 for the duration of the battle.
The expansion of Helm’s Deep includes the Battle for Helm’s Deep and will be a separate purchase from the previous Rohan expansion. There will, however, be some character class changes (cool things, I am assured) that will be implemented for all players alike.
The Battle for Helm’s Deep is the end game for the HD expansion, and will have its own raid-level equivalent loot. So far, the release date is said to be “soonerish”. Personally, I can’t wait to see it in all its finished glory.