Lord of the Rings Online Riders of Rohan Preview: Ride or Die

 

It should come as no surprise that the beginning of Turbine’s “Riders of Rohan” presentation at E3 2012 was all about the horses. Rohan, site of Lord of the Rings Online’s 4th expansion, is the realm of horselords, and players will be furnished with a steed as soon as they arrive in the zone.

From that moment forward, Turbine hopes to cultivate a “friendship” between man and beast. Your horse will level and gain trait points that can be spent in long, complicated trees, different from character traits. A wide variety of cosmetic aspects can be customized — the mane, the color, the tail, the withers, and the saddle — and the developers are considering adding horse armor with stats at some later date. Dwarves and Hobbits will get special ponies to suit their small stature.

Mounted combat looks decent enough; Turbine representative Rick “Sapience” Heaton, at the controls of the demo, charged in at a endless variety of warg riders, or opted to pepper them with arrows from afar. Melee damage will take forward momentum into account, and horses are smart enough to try to close with a nearby target if you activate a melee skill. Certain iconic class abilities present design challenges — how do you hide on horseback? — but for the most part, I would expect LotRO players to enjoy the new gameplay immensely.

The developers have also made a number of technological changes to the game which will support the new setting. Draw distances, so crucial on Rohan’s wide-open plains, have been increased, there are more wildflowers and other flora on the ground, and a new, fast-acting, procedural tree-generating tool helped Turbine make the zone sufficiently massive — just the Eastern part of Rohan is twice the size of Moria.

 

This huge area is seeded with a variety of culturally distinct towns, each with their own heraldry and NPC uniforms. Population centers in the rough terrain of Northern Rohan evince the kind of Scandinavian-style architecture that typifies the area in the Lord of the Rings feature films. Each contains a mead hall, which acts as a social centers and a quest hub. Inside, Thanes and Reeves will give quests and provide immersive flavor. Outside, child NPC’s, horse NPC’s, and mounted NPC’s will further enhance the sense of place. A daily quest system will give raid-averse players the opportunity to protect innocents from the Uruk-Hai threat.

Southern Rohan is more influenced by Gondor — players will notice paved roads and monolithic architecture. A non-mounted combat area near Amon Hen will introduce players to the iconic Argonath statues, which have not yet been implemented. Though Sam and Frodo’s escape canoe was visible on the riverbank, the expansion’s main story will follow Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas, even into Fangorn forest, where players can expect tree enemies, a redesigned lighting engine, and “Big Tolkien Moments,” like the appearance of Gandalf the White.

Edoras, seat of King Theoden, will be locked to players — as Turbine explained, he’s still under the influence of Grima Wormtongue. Helm’s Deep is another area that has been delayed to 2013 — the developers need to create technology that can convincingly render an army of 10,000 Orcs bearing down on the ancient fortress.

Despite these disappointments, LotRO players should have plenty to sink their teeth into when the expansion releases September 5th — starting with a 10-level cap increase. Turbine promises a beta in late summer.

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