October 24th is the date that will mark the release of the third major free expansion to Turbine’s Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar. Book 11 will add quite a bit to the Middle-Earth MMO, including 100+ new quests, new raid content, changes to a pair of the standard classes and a brand new housing system. Jeffrey Steefle, the Executive Producer of the game, took the time to talk with us and fill us in on the upcoming update.
We started the conversation by talking about Housing. Housing is one of those systems that isn’t necessary to the function of an MMO, but that adds a nice feeling of ownership in the game and gives the feeling that the game is more of a world. It’s also the feature that stands out most in the minds of current players looking forward to this update.
In LotRO, each race will have their own housing area, though you do have a choice, and your race doesn’t actually affect your housing. For example, an enterprising elf could prefer the laid-back nature of The Shire to their own homeland. Not a problem. Members of all races are welcome in any of the four homestead areas.
Housing areas are split up into neighborhoods. Each neighborhood is a “public instance” that contains a total of 30 houses. Four of those houses are kinship houses, and the remaining 26 are divided between standard and deluxe homes. Once all of these homes are full, you must move on to the next instanced neighborhood. Being the crack reporter that I am, I asked Steefle what would happen if I had a house in a neighborhood, but before my friend could buy his, the instance filled up (assuming we wanted to live in the same neighborhood). It turns out that there are a couple of options:
Players will be limited to one house per shard. Some reports and misunderstandings have led people (including myself before speaking to Jeff) into believing that players would only be allowed to have one house per account. Not so, and I am assured that it’s going to be one per account, per shard. I asked why they decided to put in any restrictions at all:
“We don’t want to tax the system too much,” he answered. “We want people to focus on their house and making it one per character could dilute this.”
So, why should players care that housing is going into the game? What possible benefits could home ownership provide? Well, fortunately for us, Steefle had an answer ready:
While we may have spent a good deal of our conversation talking about housing, there was still more to talk about in terms of additions in Book 11.
Book 11 will see changes made to two of the game’s core classes, The Minstrel and The Lore Master.
“For the Minstrel,” Steefle told us, “our main focus is to make them more soloable.”
Minstrels, the traditional healers in Lord of the Rings Online, will be given a new stance that decreases their healing but gives more credence to the class as a stand-alone attacker, making their attack skills more aggressive.
In fact, the solo-love doesn’t stop with the Minstrel.
“We’re adding a lot of soloable content to the high-end,” Steefle told us, “and we’ve gone back to re-tool the epic quests to be more soloable.”
As for the Lore-Master, the more wizard-like of the LotRO classes, their crowd-control abilities are going to be accentuated to “further define the Lore Master’s role”. For example:
Book 11 will see the addition of a brand-new 12-person raid called “The Rift”. The Rift is made up of three major components:
They are also adding 8 new bosses to the raid including Fire Giants. They start out on your side, but you know the old saying… “Never trust a Fire Giant”. Ok, it’s not an old saying and I made it up, but still, watch your back.
“It’s a full-on, challenging 12-man raid,” Steefle said. “Raids have become a new type of grind… and that gets a little old.”
In an effort to spice things up, The Rift will make use of intelligent AI so that player actions in one area will effect the AI reactions in another area. On top of this, 100 new items have been specifically created for this particular raid.
The Rift will also make use of a kind of barter system that will see tokens drop occasionally that can be collected and traded for raid items in an attempt to make sure that players don’t have to grind the same thing over and over to get the desired results, “Anywhere we can sand off some of the grind, that’s a good thing,” says Steefle.
Obviously, there’s a lot more going into this than what we covered above, but with limited time for an interview, it’s hard to get to everything. For example, we barely scratched the surface of the new areas that are being added to the game in the Misty Mountains (where you actually run into a snowstorm) and in the Trollshaws. We didn’t have too much opportunity to talk about the “epic story arc” that tells us more of the game’s story, and provides us with our first look at the wily Gollum, who Steefle describes as, “Much more animated than some of our NPCs”(in fact, we’re going to get to see his eyes change color based on whether he’s Smeagol or Gollum).
Whether or not you are a fan of this game, it’s nice to see a company continuously adding content to an MMORPG. In fact, Lord of the Rings Online has had their content grow 20% since launch.
“We’re trying,” he said, “to look at this as 'ongoing subscription entertainment.' It’s something that people are paying for every month and we want them to feel like they’re getting an evolving entertainment experience.”
So far, that experience has been free, but I felt the need to ask if players could expect to be paying for an expansion. While he was non-committal on any specifics, he did say that it was safe to assume that there would be an eventual paid expansion, but he was also quick to point out that such an expansion would be quite large. “With all that comes in the free updates, imagine what an expansion will look like from Turbine.”
With that said, we were also told that even if an expansion does come to be, that it won’t spell the end of the free updates that players have come to look forward to.