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Lord of the Rings Online: Riders of Rohan preview – Hands-on the mount and blade

Lord of the Rings Online's Middle Earth has grown and changed a lot since the MMO’s launch. Though it began as a typical subscription-based game, it has since evolved into a free-to-play powerhouse, with a clever mix of purchasable options and yearly expansions. This year, Turbine’s game adds one of the most requested features since launch: mounted combat.

And, of course, Rohan. Couldn't have an expansion built around mounted combat without adding Rohan, could they?

We had a chance to see both of these elements in action recently, going hands-on with the new mount system, which is a good deal different from the one players are used to now. Steeds are more important than they were before – they can be kitted out, upgraded and geared up to prepare for battle. Players can equip their mounts with different head, body, legs, tail, gear, and saddles, changing and augmenting their stats. Essentially, the horses are new characters that they ride, with their own skill trees and everything, letting players choose what kind of steeds they want to charge into battle. 

These choices are important, too, and can completely change the way encounters work. Horses have three trait trees for light, medium, and heavy steeds, each of which can be specialized to be offensive, support, and defensive. Turbine said that this customization allows players to essentially make up for their class’s weaknesses, letting classes with lighter armor have the potential to tank battles, and giving classes with heavier armor the chance to ride light horses for greater speed in battle.

Combat while on horseback is interesting and unique. You’re not simply trotting up and hitting enemies in Rohan’s mounted combat – the mounts have momentum, and can actually gain speed. The faster you go the more damage you do, but it comes at a cost: it’s harder to turn and slow down a mount in full-on gallop mode, just as it is in real life, adding a more tactile feel that other MMO combat lacks. We worried mounted battles would look silly, but they look and play like... mounted battles. Riding past enemies, attacking, turning, returning to the battle, and continuing to fight – it was awesome.

This new combat comes with new things to fight, too. Rohan is, geographically, 2-3x the size of Lord of the Rings Online: Mines of Moria (a previous expansion), with around 450 quests, but there’s also new, dynamic content in the open world. Warbands are essentially LotRO’s version of public quests, and take the form of wandering groups of enemies that can engage players at any time. They’ve no dynamic spawn points, and they won’t really travel along a specific path, so it’s random if you’ll see them. If you do you can engage them, even if others are already in battle, and everyone involved is rewarded for taking down these groups of mounted foes. 

And, of course, the expansion comes with plenty of new narrative to explore. Though the past few updates have veered away from the core Lord of the Rings story a bit, Rohan brings them right back into the path of the Fellowship... right as they’re shattered. You’ll meet Gandalf (the White, this time) as you dive into Rohan’s huge, varied geography, and witness the different members of the Fellowship going their separate ways. Though Turbine didn’t include all of Rohan because it’s way too big (seriously, the land-mass is massive), it attempted to include a nice swatch of land. Beyond massive fields to run around and hit stuff with, we also saw the Eaves of Fangorn, which was beautiful, especially for an MMO well past its graphical prime. Beams of light cast through the gaps in the trees were wonderful to look at, making the five-year-old MMO look young again.

This is, obviously, just a taste of what the Rohan expansion has to offer, but fans won't need to wait long to try it for themselves. Turbine expects the expansion to release in just over a month - falling into the laps of Lord of the Rings Online players on September 5. Stay tuned for more news as the release approaches, and prepare... to ride.

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