Since its change in September – a short span of time for any MMO – Lord of the Rings Online has thrived from its free-to-play transition, gaining more active players and subscribers as well as increasing revenue. With the initial hurdles of tweaking and making immediate adjustments after the free-to-play transition done, it's time Turbine looked to the future. This week, we spoke with Adam Mersky, Executive Director of Communications, and Aaron Campbell, Producer for The Lord of the Rings Online, at Turbine about what's in store for the remainder of the year, and beyond.
LOTRO fans are probably aware a new update is on the way this month. The November 2010 update, titled “Journey to Winter-home,” is the first major update since the free-to-play launch. The update is scheduled to launch on November 29th in North America, the Monday after Thanksgiving, and will be received on a later date in Europe.
The overall vision of this initial update is to take the feedback garnered since the free-to-play transition began, and implement that feedback in for players. In that sense, the most notable changes for Lord of the Rings Online in the update center around the free player experience and the LOTRO Store.
“With the free-to-play launch, you could walk right up to the gates of Moria,” Aaron explained. “With this update, we're extending that idea so that you can walk through Moria, into Mirkwood, basically across the world as it's built without ever buying anything or paying a dime. The world is open to you.” This means that free players will enjoy a fully extended level cap (up to 65), continue to complete the epic storyline, enjoy the skirmishes that are part of that storyline, and be capable of continuing to level in new areas without purchasing the expansion. Like their journeys through Eriador, free players will need to purchase the quest packs for these expansion areas separately.
For free players still in Eriador, hope comes in a new quest system called Tasks. These “simple little quests” are targeted to free players (but available to all), and found at various bulletin boards throughout the regions. These quests offer experience and reputation gains, and there are deeds and titles centered around them as well. While there is a cap to how many of these quests can be completed per day, the more tasks that are completed, the more a player can extend out that cap. The task system should introduce more ways for free players to progress without having to invest in quest packs along the way.
One other notable change included in the upcoming patch is a revision to the starting area for Dwarves and Elves. Players may recall that the Hobbit/Man starting area enjoyed a redesign at the launch of LOTRO's free-to-play version, and the elder races are now enjoying the same benefit. Aaron explained that the change “lets us focus the story, and explain why the Dourhands are bad, what kind of horrible things they've done to the land here, and do that visually as well as through the story.” I was able to explore these new changes on my own time, and the new design is brilliant. What was once loosely cohesive, with several quests seeming to lack any plot, has become streamlined. While the new quest lines are far more linear, they are also far more epic. Gone are the days of collecting fur and aurochs meat; players will instead be battling barghests and the undead in a much darker environment. The story now revolves around Skorgrím's defeat and resurrection, offering a more thoughtful illustration of the Dourhand, even granting Gormr his own starring role. While there is a strong thread of familiarity in the area and some of the quests, the changes overall are more drastic than those made in the Hobbit/Man starter area.
Naturally, the patch features many other changes too. “Journey to Winter-home” takes its name from the improvements being implemented to the Yule Festival, which will now get its own new mini-region, a holiday town called Winter-home, as well as new events and quests. The crafting UI has been revamped to simplify and streamline the process, and new ingredient packs will become available in the Store for those who want to save themselves the time it would take to gather necessary materials. The vault UI itself, in fact, has been tweaked to allow players to customize, categorize, rename, and sort their space. And there are many other changes, including Rune-keeper and Lore-master tweaks, barter wallets, and improvements to reputation mounts.
2011, however, holds a new path for Lord of the Rings Players: the release of the free digital expansion, the Rise of Isengard, scheduled for Fall of 2011.
While many details of the expansion are still in the works, the team explains that they want to be “transparent” about some of the features that are coming next year, many of which are based around priorities such as legendary items, radiance, and monster play.
The level cap will be raised to 70, and three new regions will be introduced: Dunland, the Gap of Rohan, and Isengard (including Saruman's dwelling, the Tower of Orthanc). New content will have a wide level range berth, adding new mid-level content as well as adding new high level areas. The team wouldn't divulge where players might see the new mid-level content, but hinted that new instances and skirmishes would be added to that level range, with Aaron adding, “You'll tend to come back to places you know already and know well.” The Rangers have moved on south, the team explains, and that means that “players are going to need to kind of step up, watch over, and take care of.” In addition to this, new First Age items “are coming,” giving high-end raiders something to look forward to.
The cosmetic system will be upgraded, with new slots to use new types of cosmetic items, the ability to carry more outfits, and the long-awaited addition of cosmetic pets. While the pets will not be interactive, they will be a “fun toy” to show off to your friends.
Monster Play will also be seeing some major changes in the Fall of Isengard, and will be expanded on significantly, adding new skill selections as well as new areas in the world for monsters and players to battle. The goal here is twofold, Aaron explains: in the short term, the team wants to make monster players feel effective and part of the battle immediately; going forward, they want to expand monster play to free players as an option (possibly purchased through the Store). Overall, the team wants the player to have an experience that is “exciting, powerful, and where you can progress your character significantly.”