Can LotRO’s Helm’s Deep Bring Fresh Blood to the MMO?
The Lord of the Rings Online game devs at Turbine have been executing a careful balancing act as they have progressed through J. R. R. Tolkien’s epic story. Not only have they tried to be true to the books, but to also add memorable cinematic moments from the film trilogy as well.
And this has never been more evident than with their efforts to convey the enormity of the battle of Helm’s Deep with its 30,000 orcs, epic moments on the battlements and widely-known outcome as the centerpiece of it’s upcoming fifth expansion. But their work is threatened by the sheer weight of older progression features and now all new ones.
Yesterday, the LotRO devs gave me a tour of the massive battle systems they have created and how they have integrated the player who is clearly not the hero of the battle according to the source material. What I saw were new systems of progression, talent trees and item acquisition. There’s even a feature that allows players as low as level 10 to participate so new players have a reason to get in on this expansion.
Though I did not see them all, the expansion also introduces 5 new solo instances: Helm’s Dyke, Helm’s Coomb, Deeping Wall, Glittering Caves and the Hornburgh. Helm’s Dyke is also available as a 3-man instance, Glittering Caves as a 6-man and Deeping Wall as a 12-man.
After having seen what the expansion has to offer, it strikes me that all of these features share something in common: they are all Turbine’s attempt to keep its aging and complex game relevant in a crowded MMO market. This isn’t to say that Turbine hasn’t had a long history of making entry into the game smoother as time has gone on. From reworking the Epic quest lines to be soloable to revisiting the leveling paths to switching to a free-to-play model, the game developers have stayed nimble in keeping the game attractive to new players over the years.
But the new features in this expansion feel like the most blatant grab at new players. For example, not only can all this new content be accessed by level 10 players who get upscaled by the game, but it can all be completed solo. And who can blame Turbine for these decisions?
It’s been six years since the title’s launch, with its fifth expansions soon under its belt and countless competitors all vying for the limited playtime of MMO enthusiasts, Turbine needs to make moves to keep the game fresh and easy to get into. Which is why I’m surprised they are introducing yet even more systems into the game which already has (arguably) too many.