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
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.