Lord of the Rings Online Mounted Combat Preview: Arise, Riders of Théoden!
Since its launch in April of 2007, The Lord of the Rings Online has taken players through the lands of Middle Earth. From The Shire to Bree, from Rivendell to Isengard, the heroes of Turbine’s game have asked one resounding question: “When will you add mounted combat?!?”
That question was answered early this year when Turbine announced that the Riders of Rohan expansion would include the long awaited feature. We’ve heard a lot of about it, but earlier this week I got the chance to actually play it. The build we got to try out was an alpha build, so many things could change between now and the launch of the expansion.
First off, let’s talk about how you gain the mounted combat ability. Once you hit level 75, you’ll acquire a medium War Steed. Everyone will have access to this, even players who aren’t VIPs. Purchase the expansion, and you’ll gain access to the light and heavy War Steeds as well.
As you might expect, the Medium steed offers a balance between speed and survivability. The Light steed prioritizes speed, and the Heavy steed offers greater stamina. Speed plays an important role in LotRO’s mounted combat. Speed builds rage, which translates into a passive bonus to damage and healing. That means the Light steed has the highest damage potential, while the Heavy steed will have the most health.
Besides the type of steed, each mount will also have a selection of traits that will allow you to customize it to fit your playstyle. You can put points into the Red Dawn tree if you prefer DPS, the Rohirrim tree if you prefer defense and healing, or the Riddermark tree if you’re the support type. No matter which tree you choose, you won’t be stuck with your choices. Turbine has built in the ability to save multiple trait configurations, which means you can change from a damaged-focused Light steed to a support-focused Medium steed without have to completely re-spec your mounts. Your mount will gain experience (just like your Legendary Items do), and that experience is what will be used to fill out your mount’s abilities.
You’ll also have access to a wide range of cosmetic options for your mount. Some will be purchased through the store, some will be earned through traits, and some will be crafted. There will be sets, unique looks, and I’m sure we can expect to see more mount cosmetics at every future festival.
Mechanically, mounted combat is actually quite easy to pick up. You target an enemy mob, click the skill you want to use, and then charge toward the target. As soon as you get in range, the skill fires off. If you’re quick, you can sometimes get a second attack off in a single pass. If you’re out of range when your auto-attack comes up, your character will whip out a bow and take a shot at the target. Turbine plans to implement tutorials to help players learn the mounted combat systems, and that’s good, because over half the quests in the Riders of Rohan expansion are mounted quests.
To make room for all of this mounted combat action, Turbine has made Rohan large. It’s simply enormous. The Eastern half of Rohan that will be added in the expansion is larger than all of Moria, and the mobs are spaced out 2-3 times farther than in previous expansions. The reason for this becomes readily apparent the first time you try mounted combat – it takes a lot of room to execute. If mobs weren’t further apart, you’d wind up with a pile of them chasing you every time you got into a fight.
Speaking of mobs, the Rohan expansion will bring an entirely new type of mob to LotRO: Warbands. ‘Warbands’ is a catch-all term for the new challenges Turbine is adding to the open word. They could be groups of mobs, or even a single elite mob. Some will be tuned for a single player, and some will require an entire group to defeat. As you approach a warband, you’ll automatically be granted the quest to defeat it. With these new challenges that require more people to defeat, Turbine is also introducing another new mechanic: Open Tapping.
Open Tapping is an interesting take on a classic MMO mechanic. In almost every MMO, you ‘tap’ a mob when you hit. Once the mob is tapped, you will get the loot and the experience for that mob, regardless of whether or not someone jumps in to help you finish it. Turbine’s Open Tapping will allow you to get credit for a mob that you jump in and help kill, even if someone else has already tapped it. This system is meant to encourage players to jump in and kill the aforementioned warbands, regardless of who may have already picked a fight.
Another handy system Turbine is introducing in the expansion is remote looting. Since mounted combat is so fast paced, they didn’t want players to have to dismount, loot, and then remount, especially if they were under attack from multiple mobs. Instead, loot from mobs you kill while on your War Steed will be placed into a pop-up window on your UI, and you can loot it at your leisure. While I didn’t get to see this in action, it sounds very similar to RIFT’s loot system for rift events.
There are still a number of things up in the air about mounted combat. Will there be mounted combat instances? Will we be able to spar other players on our War Steeds? Will the remote quest granting that mounted combat has inspired be more widely implemented? Turbine says these questions will be answered in the future, but even without those answers, LotRO’s mounted combat is shaping up to be a very interesting addition to one of the most popular free-to-play MMOs out there. It’s certainly enjoyable enough, even in its alpha state. After all, who doesn’t want to ride down their enemies in a storm of hooves and steel?