While May the Fourth might be considered a Star Wars holiday due to the pun (“May the Fourth be with you!”), it's also the day that Lord of the Rings Online publisher Turbine intends on launching Update 16, titled The Ashes of Osgiliath. In preparation of this launch, Community Manager Andy Cataldo facilitated a livestream preview for the public, showing off some of the new areas players will get to explore, give details on the new Legendary Item imbuing system. They also took time to answer questions from the regulars in Twitch chat.
Joining Andy were System Designer Trevor 'Jinjaah' McEwen, Senior Content Designer Jeff 'MadeofLions' Libby, and Senior Designer Ben 'DrOctothorpe' Schneider. Viewers were first treated to a new splash screen featuring an epic piece of art with Gimli, Aragorn, and Legolas fighting various orcs and wargs in the shattered remains of Osgiliath. What makes the Ashes of Osgiliath story cool is that the LotRO team has taken seemingly throwaway lines from Return of the King and the infamous Appendices and fleshed them out.
Tolkien certainly planted enough seeds for people to get a basic idea about these places like South Ithilien and Lossarnach, but it takes some hardcore lore enthusiasts poring over the source texts like Gandalf in the archives at Minas Tirith years ago to glean enough data to model an entire game update around it. Even the Peter Jackson movies didn't bother following this bit of the story because it was pretty glossed over in the main text. In that book, Aragorn walked the Paths of the Dead, he found and defeated the Corsairs, and the next time we see him on-camera, he's hopping off the ships and attacking Sauron's army camped on the Pelennor. Thus for me as a lore nerd, I like seeing folks filling in these gaps and extrapolating. From a design standpoint, we know what's going on with everyone else in the Fellowship, and it makes the most sense for players to be accompanying Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli rather than shadowing the Rohirrim or doing Session Plays to see what Frodo and Sam are up to.
As they were running through the new zones, we got a sneak preview of the Mûmakil, the elephant-like creatures Samwise called Oliphaunts. Then DrOctothorpe gave us a preview of the new Osgiliath instance cluster that Turbine has posted about, saying they'd heard players were interested in hard content. The instances involve the search for the missing Faramir, whom even his fellow Gondorians have no information on his whereabouts. In his dev diary also posted on Thursday, Schneider noted that there will be two 3-player instances (Sunken Labyrinth and the Ruined City) and one full-fellowship instance to take on a Nazgul in the Dome of Stars. They'll be available to players level 50 and above with two difficulties available, and level 100 players also have a challenge. He also warned players that Tier 2 will not be an easy ride. On the LotRO forums, players are noticeably concerned about the return to group looting due to the low drop rates for the best goodies, with some players doing estimates of how many times it would take a group to complete the content to give everyone in the fellowship the gear and drops they need. However, I can see the hardcore players being willing to do a bit of grinding to work their way to a 5-essence slot piece of level 100 gear due to the subsequent power increase for their character.
Their next topic was the new Imbuement system for Legendary Items, with Jinjaah taking the lead there. He spoke about their desire to create a new system that would make more thematic sense than the current LI system where you had to constantly reforge and deconstruct and recraft your weapon and class item repeatedly between level 50 and 100 to keep up with the times. With the Imbuement system, you can opt to convert your LI to this format and instead of having various Legacies to add points to, the item would automatically increase in power with whatever IXP you got. In the graphic they showed, each LI had a few different tiers of power, and only certain number of points within each tier were automatically unlocked. More could be opened by finding items in-game such as Crystals of Remembrance, or players could use Mithril Coins to unlock them.
Finally, the stream turned to a Q&A from the folks in the Twitch chat after a shout-out to LotRO community member KoolKKyle, who had recently concluded a 30-hour charity stream raising over $2100 for Extra Life. As usual, the team did not answer every question, either due to Twitch chat being very quick to scroll past or due to certain questions being overlooked in favor of ones they could answer. A full transcript of the Q&A is typically found on the LotRO forums, thanks to the tireless efforts of community members Eldalleth and Frickinmuck.
The first thing Jinjaah answered about Imbuement was that Legacy replacement scrolls would be available in-game, some tied to the Epic quest line. A significant improvement over the current system is that players would get to pick the Legacy they added to their item, rather than being stuck with whatever Legacy one of the old scrolls granted. Frelorn jumped in to answer the question about whether we'd see the Legacy change list updated before Monday, and he said he'd post it as soon as Jinjaah got it to him. One of the bigger and most frequently asked questions was regarding whether there would be an Osgiliath PvMP map update anytime soon, and Frelorn said it was still being looked into, but it would not be launching with Update 16. They're also looking into the notion of cosmetic weapons, another frequent request, but it's also not slated for this update.
Econ and Brand Manager QuartermasterU stream-bombed to answer the question regarding the price for Eastern Gondor. VIP and Lifetime members get it for free as usual, while everyone else will have to pay 795 Turbine Points for it. He also gave a sneaky 'mmmaybe!' when asked if there would be a Mithril Coin sale anytime soon. Another big question was about when we'd see episodic content as Turbine has said would be coming at some point, and MadeofLions said it would be after Update 16, but didn't specify a timeframe. Not surprisingly, there were a few questions about features players wanted that were being worked on but were not part of Update 16, so the standard answer would be simply after that time.
In all, there are still some concerns about certain fine-tuning details regarding Imbuement and instance loot in Update 16, but the overall update itself looks pretty solid. It's great to get to see places and story mentioned off-camera in the lore, so it certainly alleviates a lot of the 'been there, seen the movie' feeling that some of the earlier epic questlines might have given players. There's still lots of stuff mentioned in the most recent Producer's Letter earlier this year that will be released over the rest of the year, so there's plenty of reason to come hang out in Middle-Earth.