At the NY Comic Convention I was lucky enough to get some time with Turbine CEO Jeff Anderson. Jeff and I spoke in depth about the upcoming launch of Lord of the Rings Online and what he hoped that the game would deliver. My overall impression of Turbine's LOTRO has always been a good one; a quality game for players who are fans of the stories. After learning more about the game this past weekend, my expectations have certainly risen. Turbine has also proven to be a company that cares about their players is hoping to reward them with LOTRO.
Jeff was quick to talk about the Founder's System in LOTRO that is available for players. No, it is not a game mechanic; it is a way of paying for the game. Jeff told me that he really wanted a way to reward players who got into the game from the beginning. The Founder's System not only allows you to pay $9.99 a month, but it will also allow you to keep your characters after open beta and into launch with the only catch being that the transfer character level cap is fifteen. Turbine sees the pre-orders as a way to not only reward loyal players, but give them a leg up in the game. Their hope is that this will help to build a community. If a player can reach level fifteen in beta and transfer that character to launch, they will have an impact right away. It gives them the ability to help other lower level players and build community relationships faster.
The Founder's system also carries with it a lifetime membership for the price of $199. Again, this can be viewed as a thank-you for players who plan to spend a long time in the game (Anything above 20 months in-game is what makes this a bargain for Pre-Order players). There are no monthly fees at all in the lifetime membership. This also adds to something else Turbine is hoping for. Many players spend their time racing through games to get to the end content, to be the strongest character or top dog in endgame PvP. LOTRO is hoping that instead, players really enjoy the journey. They want the leveling experience in the game to feel more like playing through a storyline. Being that it is Lord of the Rings after all, that story line is found everywhere in the game.
Turbine's goal with LOTRO is to deliver a AAA MMORPG that really brings out the world of Tolkien. The storyline of LOTR is at the heart of the game, with players jumping in and out of the story during game play.
One of the features that have been added to the game is voice intros for different areas and Dramatic moments in the game. Basically, the goal here is to make the player feel like a part of the story. There are dozens of in game videos that carry the player throughout the story. A general example of this would be something that might be going on while the players are on their adventures. At a certain point, they may come up on a video of Gandalf trapped by Saruman realizing he won't get to meet the hobbits at the Prancing Pony Inn. The video goes on to say that he hopes Stryder will make it there to meet them. At that point, if the players go to the Prancing Pony, they will see Stryder there waiting for the Frodo and the crew to arrive. Running these story elements as a player levels up is something that Turbine is really trying to incorporate into as much of the game as possible.
When I brought up the word that most people shy away from...expansions, Jeff was excited to talk about what Turbine is planning. He said there are tons of opportunities for expansions. Words like Moria and Helms Deep were mentioned as ideas for upcoming areas and events for players to take part in. The biggest thing that Turbine is aiming for in the expansions is to bring more of the story to the players and allow them a more important part within them.
"It's entertainment after all." Jeff had mentioned he really wants the players and LOTR fans to have fun in the game. Turbine excels at creating timely expansions, and they are really hoping for a fast production of new content once the game is launched in April. According to Jeff, Turbine plans a strong commitment to content on a regular basis.
When I think of Turbine and their previous IP MMORPG, Dungeons & Dragons Online, I often go back to the lack of solo content in the game. Jeff was quick to point out that LOTRO will be playable on both a solo and group level. Players can accomplish a lot on their own and continue to level all the way to fifty if they choose to, without anyone's help. However, the Fellowship aspects of the game encourage group content and teamwork. Both Jeff as a developer and myself as a player would like to see the community working together and helping each other. If a player is struggling against a MOB in an open field and passerby players happens to throw in that extra heal so the player doesn't die, this is a great act among the community.
Speaking of community, LOTRO has many guild features in the game, but also shines when random members of the community commit acts of kindness. This idea of joining the fight is one that players can gain advantages in just by working together. The hope is that pick-up groups in LOTRO will be considered a good things and not something many players will shy away from. That being said, Player Guilds are in the game to allow friends to work together on quests and dungeons in their organized groups.
Just to drop some numbers, the game is expected to launch with over 10,000 pieces of loot for players. The emphasis here is on enhancement as well as style. Some of the higher level loot I was able to see looked fantastic and fits right into the LOTR themes we have come to know. The game will have 1,500 quests for players at launch, with many more expected in the expansions over the course of the next year.
I want to thank Jeff Anderson for taking time to talk with us again. The more that I spoke to him, the more excited I got about LOTRO and its potential. If you are a player who loves storylines, a fan of Tolkien or someone who really wants to become immersed in the world, this game is definitely for you. It offers players a great experience that follows in the LOTR tradition we have seen over the last fifty years. With mechanics like Monster Play and Group Attacks, LOTRO hopes to bring some features to the MMO world that have not been seen yet. More importantly though, they seem to be truly thinking of the players and what the expectations are on a game based on the most popular fantasy stories of the last three generations.
Both the game and the company seem to be on the right track for a launch in April. If you have not made your way into Beta, keeps your hopes up. More and more chances to get into LOTRO continue to come out as the game gets closer to launch. Also, you can pre-order, become a Founder, and join the open Beta then. Expect much more coverage on the game as Turbine gets closer to launch in April. Until then, read up on the stories so all the lore will be fresh in your head. This way when you meet Gandalf in game, you'll know what you are in for.