Last week, The Lord of the Rings Online showcased its upcoming Mariner class, coming with the Umbar expansion later this year. The new class is all about balance, going with the ebb and flow of combat to maximize its potential.
Steady As She Goes
Each class in The Lord of the Rings Online is inspired by a legendary figure from within Tolkien's world of Arda. The Mariner is inspired by Eärendil, the legendary Mariner who is also the father of both Elrond and Elros, the latter of which became the First High King of Numenor. Eärendil himself was half-elven, and during the First Age he sailed to the Undying West to beseech the Valar to come to the aid of the Children in Middle-earth and Beleriand, which was under siege by Morgoth, the dark enemy of the World.
The Mariner theme here also fits with the location the next expansion is taking place: Umbar. A coastal city known for its natural harbor and legendary Corsairs, the Mariner fits right in with where we are going next in the Lord of the Rings Online journey.
Mariners, as the name would suggest, spend much of their time at sea, and as such both the life of a Mariner and the way they might fight while aboard a vessel is represented in how the new class operates. Singing Sea Shanties to inspire allies and demoralize foes, while taking on a Fencing stance in how they fight really feel like a class at home on the Belegaer.
However, it's the Balance System where the Mariner really channels its nautical roots. The bar, which takes the form of the hull of a ship, represents the ebb and flow of the waves, and how those who fight on sea have always to keep balance, lest they fall overboard.
It feels a bit like the Rune Keeper's Attunement bar, where skills will either push the balance Fore-ward or Aft-ward, depending on the type of skill—maintaining that Fore-ward pressure while not losing balance is key to maximizing the Mariner in combat.
It feels a bit like a toned-down variant of the Warden's combo system, where each skill plays into the next. The Swordplay mechanic drives everything Fore-ward, where one sword skill will enhance the power of the next in its rotation. This can create powerful combos, though not in the same way as the Warden's, which always felt like playing 3D chess to me at times.
For instance, Riposte gives a damage increase to the skill Advance, which in turn boosts a Swordplay skill type called Finishers. Some Finishers can see the Mariner leap forward physically, closing the distance between them and the foe (I'm really curious as to whether this is going to see the same level of rubberbanding we see with mounted combat, personally). All of these skills drive the Balance gauge Fore-ward, and if you tip too far, the Mariner will become stunned. Thankfully, performing a Finisher opens up a new skill called Steady, which reset the Balance gauge itself. While Steadied, the Mariner's run speed is increased and they are immune to stuns, roots, and knockdowns.
As such, it's all about balance. While I didn't get too much time actually to try out the class in more difficult combat encounters, I did like how the rotation felt more like a rhythm rather than just a standard set of skills. But we'll have to see how well this holds up in some tougher encounters.
One aspect I'm not sure I like is the self-stun if you're not playing the class correctly. It feels bad to make a mistake in a rotation or to push a bit too far Fore-ward to try to finish off a foe, only to stun yourself. I get that it's trying to enforce that feeling of keeping on balance, but in a dire situation it could mean the difference between victory or pleading with the resident healer to pick you back up after a fight.
Mariner Trait Lines
The Lord of the Rings Online's Mariner has three trait lines like every other major class, and while I find myself drawn towards the DPS-oriented Duelist Red Line, the Blue line Shanty-Caller and the Yellow line Rover look to be incredibly interesting in their own rights.
The Mariner itself is a class with some utility that allows it to dip into some of the same class roles as the Captain with its Blue line, while the Yellow line shows flashes of Burglar and Loremaster in how it can crowd control and debuff enemies.
I didn't get a ton of time to play around with these three trait lines, so I'll withhold judgment personally with how they all play, but I'm curious to try out The Rover myself when the class comes to Bullroarer again. However, if you're interested in a deeper dive, check out Louey7's great breakdown video embedded below.
How Does It Fit Into Middle-earth?
If you've read The Lord of the Rings before, you likely remember the poem sung at the Hall of Fire in Rivendell, about the story of the great Mariner and his quest to seek the Valar's aid against Morgoth in the waning days of the First Age.
Mariners, and the Sea itself have a long and storied history with the denizens of Arda, with many of the greatest civilizations in Middle-earth being incredible Mariners themselves. The Falathrim were Elves who lived by the shore, Grey Elves in fact, who were mighty shipwrights, building mighty vessels that bore the Firstborn upon the waves. Cirdan, the lord of the Grey Havens, is the Lord of the Falathrim, and one of the Mighty among the Eldar. The Teleri were also renowned for their shipbuilding, creating the famed Swan Ships that the rebelling Noldor stole as part of the Kinslaying in the Elder Days.
It is weird, then, that a Sindar like Cirdan would not be considered a Mariner by the race restrictions put onto the Mariner in LotRO. Right now, only the High-Elf, River Hobbit, Man and Stout-axe Dwarves can be Mariners. It feels like a miss not to have all Elves, since the greatest sea-faring people of the Third Age are Cirdan's folk, the Falathrim. Hopefully, this gets rectified when the class goes live with Umbar.
Eärendil himself was a mighty sailor, voyaging in his boat made of Nimbrethil, journeying to the Undying Lands where no Mortal was permitted to go. Being half-elven, the choice was laid before him to choose which Kindred to belong - that of the Elves or of Men. Eärendil chose the former out of love for his wife, the Elf Elwing, but it's this choice that falls on his children: Elros and Elrond, and the latter's children in later days - namely Arwen Undomiel. Elros, the son of Eärendil, led possibly the greatest sea-faring civilization in the whole of The Lord of the Rings: the Numenoreans.
This call of the sea is engrained in the Elves as well. The Sea, and the shores of Elvenhome to the West is ever calling, and so I'm personally stoked to see this thematically realized in The Lord of the Rings Online, finally. We get a glimpse of it in the great city of Dol Amroth in Gondor, with the incredible ships in the harbor that evoke the Teleri's Swan Ships from Valinor.
It is a shame that it doesn't look like we're getting any naval battles of our own. I would love to see real sailing around Umbar and the Bay of Belfalas, but it makes sense that in the city dominated by the Corsairs, Mariners would find a way to trade their skills on foot. Keep in mind, too, that naval battles, especially in ancient and even Ship of the Line days, would often devolve into Mariners boarding vessels and turning ships into land battles thanks to fighting platforms.
I feel like the nautical feel is kept in this "ebb and flow" feel of the combat. From what I experienced, the Balance system really tries to emulate how you would need to keep your sea legs under you while fighting on the seas themselves. That would translate to fighting prowess on land, and while the Corsair stops short of being a pure pirate, I'm stoked that the legendary weapon is the type of Cutlass you might see in any high-seas fleet of the age.
We'll have to see how it all shakes out, as well as how the Mariner fits into the overall narrative of The Lord of the Rings Online's Umbar expansion, which is due out sometime this fall. I am stoked, though, to have a new class that feels unique enough to play, as well as channels this theme of the sea that runs all throughout Tolkien's lore.