Lord of the Rings Online Echoes of the Dead Preview

Since transitioning to a free-to-play model, Lord of the Rings Online has experienced a resurgence in popularity. They’ve also stepped up the frequency of their content updates. The next one of these updates is titled ‘Echoes of the Dead,’ and is scheduled to be released on March 21. We recently got the chance to sit down and chat with Aaron Campbell, producer for LotRO, about the update and what players can expect.

‘Echoes of the Dead’ is the next step in the inexorable progression of LotRO towards Mordor. We already know that the Rise of Isengard expansion is scheduled to release later this year (here’s a teaser trailer). Between now and then, we’ll see the Echoes of the Dead release, plus one more content pack that isn’t titled yet.

Our preview began in Evendim. If that sounds a little odd to you, you’re not alone. In fact, I was a bit disoriented until I got my bearings. We were there because Turbine has done a major revamp to the mid-level zone. Existing quests have been reworked, and new locations have been added that bring around 100 new quests to the zone. Evendim is now a 30-40 zone.

We got a chance to check out the new UI changes, specifically the new character panel. It’s been completely reworked to make stats and info easier to see, and it also includes a separate tab just for cosmetic outfits. This should be a boon for those of you with enormous wardrobes.

With the changes to the UI out of the way, we started talked about new content. First up were the new instances – all five of them. There are two 3-man instances, two 5-man instances, and one 12-man raid. All of these instances are based around the Gaunt Lords, who LotRO players have encountered throughout Middle Earth. Here’s a list of the five instances, where they are located, and a little bit about the two I got to see in my preview:

  • North Cotton Farm: Located in Oatbarton, North Cotton Farm is a deserted hobbit village that has a definite spider problem. The most memorable part of this instance was the second boss fight, which tasks you with defeating the boss (who’s cooking up some poisonous brew) while keeping the few remaining hobbits from wandering in and eating the poisoned pies. You stop these hobbits by – get this – slapping the hell out of them. Now that’s a job for me. This is a three person instance.
  • Stoneheight: Located in the North Downs. We didn’t have time to check this one out. This is a three person instance.
  • Glacier Fortress: Located in the center of Forochel Bay, this instance is a series of frozen caves and chambers, not unlike Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. We ran through this one on tier 2, and if you decide to do the same, make sure you bring your ‘A’ game. A new enemy appears that is basically a 15 foot tall zombie Viking with a major attitude problem. The instance winds up on a peak overlooking Forochel fighting an enemy who will turn your own party’s powers against you. Good luck. This is a 6 person instance.
  • Lost Temple: Located in Trollshaws. We didn’t have time to check this one out either. It’s a six person instance.
  • Ost Dunhoth: In the Lich Bluffs of Enedwaith. We didn’t get to see this raid, but we’ve stood outside the gates of this place enough in the live game to know we can’t wait to go. It’s a 12-man raid.

As far as new content goes, that’s about it for this update, but the changes to the game system are much more involved. First up is everyone’s favorite, the Radiance system.

Radiance is a much-maligned mechanic that even Turbine has said they are not happy with. As such, it wasn’t a huge surprise to me when they announced that they would be stripping the system completely out of LotRO. Gear that previously had Radiance on it will have that value removed. No other stats will be changed, but Campbell assured us that the gear would still be very desirable, as all encounters that previously required Radiance are being detuned so their difficulty levels will not change.

Another mechanic that players have said needs major changes is the Legendary Item system. As usual, Turbine has been attentive to calls for reform, and with this update are launching a complete revamp of Legendary Items.

First off, relics are now restricted to six tiers, instead of the previous nine. This means it is easier than ever to acquire top tier relics, and it will require a lot fewer relic combinations to get there. In addition to adding a new class of relics (called ‘Uniques’), Turbine is also offering players the change to exchange relics they don’t want.. Combine a relic that’s no good to your class with the new Relic Shard currency, and you can acquire a relic of the same tier that is useful to your class. Relic Shards can be acquired through deconstructing items or purchased in the store.

Another cool feature is the ability to choose a major legacy from a leveled Legendary Item that you’re deconstucting to keep. If you’re hanging onto a legendary weapon just because it has an awesome legacy on it, you can now receive that legacy as a scroll when you deconstruct it. That scroll can then be used to add that same legacy to another legendary weapon.

Besides the major changes to these systems, there’s one more bit of new info, and that’s the epic story. First off, the next book is included in Echoes of the Dead: Volume 3 Book 3. Focused around Isildur the hisitory of the Oath-Breakers, Book 3 will also show players that as the Rangers march to war, the players are the last defense of the peoples of Middle Earth from the encroaching darkness.

Also in this update, Turbine has retuned Book 2 so that a solo player cam complete all the quests on their own. While we didn’t see any of this content in our walkthrough, you can read more about it in this devloper diary.

If you frequent the LotRO store, you can expect to see some new items appear there as well. Besides Relic Shards, one specific item that was mentioned was a ‘Restoration Potion’ that will dispell three types of debuffs simultaneously.

Here’s a last little tidbit from our preview: Turbine plans to release another major update this summer, prior to the fall release of the Rise of Isengard expansion. No word yet on when this might happen, but we were promised plenty of new details at E3 in June.

If you’re wondering what sort of subscription you’ll need to access this content, Turbine says that the Volume 2 Epic content, including the newly reworked skirmishes, is free. The same goes for Volume 3, Book 3. The new instances we mentioned above will require that you have a VIP subscription, or that you own the Enedwaith quest pack.

All in all, Echoes of the Dead is exactly what we’ve come to expect from Turbine. It’s responsive to player concerns and contains a ton of new content. It advances the epic story, and takes the players another step towards the inevitable confrontation with the armies of Sauron. Plus, you get to slap hobbits. Anything that lets you slap a hobbit is just dandy in my book.

Is anyone else looking forward to March 21?

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5 Comments on Lord of the Rings Online Echoes of the Dead Preview

Treanjé

On March 15, 2011 at 10:31 pm

I will not be returning to this game. It feels more like a chore than a fun activity. The constant micro-transactions make everything feel dirty as well.

Sophia

On March 16, 2011 at 1:42 am

I love this game! it is so much fun, and especially interaction with other players and fellowships and teaming up with others make this game so much fun.

Deakul

On March 16, 2011 at 8:33 am

The microtransactions aren’t even necessary, you ponce.

Goreamir

On March 16, 2011 at 10:01 pm

I will be continuing to play this game. It feels more like a fun activity than a chore. The not so intrusive and unforced micro-transactions make everything remian clean as well.

stephanee

On March 28, 2011 at 10:55 pm

I too will be playing this game! I love it and I am not paid to post positive, supportive messages using a female personality! ^_^ hihi cu ig!