Lord of the Rings Online is one of those games that, despite its "age", that of course being a relative term in the MMO genre, keeps a player's eye focused on the environment almost as much as on the story. The story writes itself to a large degree thanks to, you know, J.R.R. Tolkien. What Turbine has successfully accomplished over the years of LotRO's life is putting a 'face' to Middle Earth.
Earlier this week, Turbine hosted a quick tour of some of the locations in and around Western Rohan, a location that will be featured prominently in the upcoming Helm's Deep expansion. Producer Hannah Foell, Concept Artist Lucas Slominski, Community Manager Rick Heaton and Digital Communications Manager Leo Tan ran a live stream event to show off the Rohan environments and to talk a little bit about how lore is crucial to its creation.
Helm's Deep will see players journeying through Eastern and Western Rohan, each distinct in their look and feel. This particular tour focused on the five zones in Western Rohan: Kingstead, Broadacres, Westfold, Eastfold and Stonebeams. There is a distinct difference here, more wooded with rolling plains in between. Each village, if large enough, has its own meadhall, the first stop in each village we toured. Each has its own look, layout and tapestry. The buildings have been lovingly crafted and it shows. They are vibrant and alive with patrons wandering around and, of course, mead being consumed.
The tapestries came up more than once during the tour. As said, each village will have its own tapestry based on the local legends in the area. Some will be made available for housing decorations for players, others will simply be there for eye candy. All are very special and it's worth exploring the lore behind each one.
There is a definite feel of war in Western Rohan. Refugees clog the highways and byways as people flee Saruman's forces and the now active Orcs of the White Mountain. The Rohirrim are gathering their troops and encampments can be seen from the road and visited.
One of the things the team was eager to point out is that the focus of this expansion is to use "ambient storytelling" as much as to use active, vocalized (or textual) storytelling. Small and large touches bring this ambient story to life. For instance, in our travels, we came upon a caravan that had clearly been ambushed and all party members brutally slain and left there to rot. Other things like smoke billowing in the distance, towns and villages are utterly destroyed. All of this and more is included to give the story a visual twist.
Another small, but important, thing that players will notice is that the roads are less "road" and more path. Nature is encroaching in the form of grasses in the middle, flowers and trees right up to the edge. This is a deliberate decision by the design team to give the roadways a more organic feel as if created by horses.
Valleys have been created, not just to suit the world builder's style, but according to real world geologic surveys and glacial patterns in evidence in nature. Geographic realism is the goal.
Literary elements in the smallest detail are also brought into the game. For instance, one spot where the river is forded is an exact recreation of a single sentence from the books, designed to place players in the exact footsteps of the Fellowship.
The valley with the burial mounds of the Kings of Rohan is also prominently featured in Helm's Deep, another place Tolkien bibliophiles will recognize.
The bottom line is that the Lord of the Rings Online team is keenly aware of the story that Tolkien is telling and making sure that players are immersed in it visually as much as by reading or experiencing the story's battles, etc. While considered an "aging" title, LotRO still remains one of the most wonderfully crafted, exquisitely designed MMOs on the market today. Rohan will blow players away with its stunning beauty.
Do you still play LotRO? Are you planning to purchase the Helm's Deep expansion? Let us know in the comments!
Suzie Ford is the Associate Editor and News Manager at MMORPG.com. You can follow her on Twitter @MMORPGMom.