Since The Lord of the Rings Online has gone to a Free-To-Play model, it has absolutely exploded. In fact, as of 2010, it is the third largest MMO. The expanded player base has dug into the fiction, giving the folks at Turbine plenty to do to expand it in new and exciting ways. After the Mines of Moria, Siege of Mirkwood, and Rise of Isengard expansions, and a whopping 15 free content updates, Turbine is bringing us their most ambitious project yet – The Riders of Rohan.
The Riders of Rohan expansion adds the regions of East Rohan, the Eaves of Fangorn Forest, and Amon Hen, but that isn’t the biggest feature. With a raised level cap of 85, the game will now feature a new mounted combat system. With every player receiving questlines that give you horses of Ameris – that is to say, decendents of Gandalf’s horse Shadowfax. That means we’ll likely see cousins to Arid, Brego, Firefoot, Roheryn, and Windfola for human-height players and relatives to Bill the Pony, Sharp-ears, Swish-tail, Wise-nose, and Fatty Lumpkin for Dwarves and Hobbits. Players will also receive quest lines specifically related to the horse’s lineage and individual story.
[singlepic id=7052 w=320 h=240 float=left]Kate Paiz and Rick Heaton gave us our first look at the game, starting off with the biggest draw – mounted combat. Mounting our horse, the hotbar immediately changes, giving steed-specific skills that are appropriate for the horse. Bite, kick, charge, as well as melee attacks, ranged skills like archery, and of course magic are all slotted for you. You’ll be able to define and save your pre-sets, so switching from mounted to on-foot is pain-free. The combat is fast and furious, showing the various engagement distances and how each class could take down their prey.
On the story side of things, the blend of on-foot and ground combat continues the fellowship story. Grima Wormtongue still has his hooks into Theodin, giving players a bevy of quests in towns all through the region to defeat enemies in support of freeing the King. Using the wealth of knowledge presented in the Lord of the Rings books, each of the towns has been customized using the original research that Tolkein collected to build this rich universe. This means you’ll visit iconic places like the The Eaves of Fangorn where you can meet up with Gandalph the White and interact with the Ents, the space in the forest where Boromir tried to take the ring from Frodo, and Mead Halls from each of the various Rohirrim Thanes of each region. In addition, we’ll see children roaming the cities now – a first for the series.
The upgrades to the game also come courtesy of upgrades to the engine. New lighting entities appear procedurally, and the game also has reactive geometry in the landscape. Grass and flowers react to the player as their feet swims through them. Tree branches and other foliage shifts in the wind, and warbands billow dust as their horses ride in from the distance. The best part is that this reactive geometry in the landscape, as well as the greater draw distance and foliage come with no bump for the minimum requirements.
[singlepic id=7045 w=320 h=240 float=right]Mechanically, the game has received a few more updates as well. While riding you’ll be able to use the new “move to” skill which allows you to target a mob and lets your horse figure out how to get there. This means your hands will be free to handle attacks rather than fighting with the controls. In addition, there are new daily quests that will occur in a blend of instances and world events. An example we were told about is that a town has been burned to the ground, and we’ll get daily quests to help rebuild and recreate it over time.
The game’s billing structure won’t change with this expansion pack. The epic story will still be free, but there will be upgrades that come with the Riders of Rohan. One of the trait lines will be free for everyone, but the others will be purchase to play – exactly as it is now. There is a large tech tree for your mount, giving you skills like speed burs, longer running distances, powerful kicks, biting, trampling, and more. Additionally you’ll be able to configure for light, medium, and heavy horse builds which can be saved for the various combat scenarios you might encounter. There will also be cosmetic customization as well – you should look awesome while you save Middle-earth.
The last upgrade is consistent with the epic and grand nature of this property – a new orchestral soundtrack. Chance Thomas, the person responsible for the soundtrack to Mines of Moria, Shadows of Angmar, Siege of Mirkwood, and Rise of Isengard expansions will be handling this expansion as well. As a major student of Tolkien, Thomas has researched what instruments each race would use, and has folded them into his orchestra to fill the soundtrack. If the previous expansions are any indicator, it’ll be as moving as ever.
This expansion is set to ship in September, but you’ll be able to pre-order today, complete with a bevy of bonuses for those who get their order in early. Look for more info as we gain access to the beta.