Posted on July 26, 2010, Ron Whitaker Behind the Scenes of the Lord of the Rings Online Free-to-Play Update
Turbine made news a couple of weeks before E3 this year when they announced that their Lord of the Rings Online MMORPG would be transitioning to a free-to-play model. We got our first look at some of the changes while we were at E3, and now Turbine has taken us on a guided tour of the new content as well.
Our tour was hosted by Aaron Campbell, one of the Producers for LotRO.
We logged into the beta, and we were immediately greeted with glorious views of the new zone, Enedwaith. Scaled for levels 62-65, Enedwaith is a gorgeous, bright outdoor zone, a sharp contrast to the darkness of the forest of Mirkwood. Campbell told us that the alternating of dark and light zones isn’t intentional, but it’s, “Where the story has taken us.”
Eredwaith contains a varied number of regions, each with a distinct character. The overall zone is dominated by Gondorian ruins, the largest of which is a massive watchtower that can be seen for large distances around the area. You can expect to see alpine regions, marshy areas, and even a scrubby wasteland populated by the dead.
One of the interesting things about Eredwaith is that it is the first zone that LotRO has added that is almost entirely filled with content that really doesn’t appear in any of Tolkien’s work. “This has really freed up our creators,” says Campbell. The variety of content seems to bear this out, as Eredwaith will contain over 100 new quests. It will also be home to a wide variety of NPCs, including Hobbits (who wear shoes, as Hobbits of the Stoor were wont to do), Dunlendings, Rangers, and Dwarves.
The main story thread running through the zone is the journey of the Grey Company to meet with Aragorn. While Turbine is still keeping the details of the story close to the vest, Campbell did tell us that there are more Rangers on the journey than make it to the rendezvous with Aragorn. As such, something has to happen to the extra Rangers. We’ll have to wait until the content is live to find out exactly what that something is.
The story will also give players a closer look at the history of the Rangers, and of Aragorn’s lineage. This will be done through session play, which has been used in the past to show story pieces such as the coming of the Balrog to Moria.
Besides the new zone, there are a number of new features coming with the free-to-play update. One that the development staff has put a lot of time into is scaling instances. This new system will allow you to scale any instance in the game to your level, as well as port yourself inside the entrance to that instance. All the drops in that instance will scale as well. You’ll still need an appropriate size group, but you can now get an instance of your level from anywhere in the game.
Turbine is also re-working the quest dialogue system. The new system is targeted at getting the vital information to the player first, with quest text and lore coming second. It’s not a major change, but it is one that you’ll immediately notice when you first take a quest.
Another major addition that is tied to the free-to-play update is the LotRO store. As we’ve reported before, the store will run on Turbine Points. I asked Campbell about some of the complaints that have arisen in the official forums over things like faction horses being available in the store, and he reminded me that the store is still in beta, and that some things currently in the store may not make it into the live version. Still, he seemed to think that there is a place for those sort of items, as some folks may choose to spend the money rather than the time to obtain them. Personally, I think he’s right.
One of my bigger questions concerning the store was whether or not Turbine had any plans to allow players to buy the right to purchase multiple houses in-game, or at least to allow the purchase of additional in-house storage. Campbell says that’s not in the works at this time, but that Turbine does listen to their players, and try to make them happy. He also said that access to housing was a big thing for the free-to-play portion of the game, as they had learned from the team that handles Dungeons and Dragons Online.
We got a quick look at the fall festival, and its new addition, the Haunted Burrow. Basically a basement to Bag End (for those of you who don’t read Tolkien, that’s Bilbo’s house, and shame on you!), the Haunted Burrow is similar to the Hedge Maze. It has a number of quests that reward you with tokens for entering what amounts to a hobbit haunted house. It’s actually quite amusing until you lose your way and start wandering around aimlessly.
I asked Campbell if there were any plans to make changes to the three big areas players of LotRO have complained about: Legendary Items, Monster Play, and Radiance. He replied, “Those are three big things we will be working on over the next year.” We also got a bit of a nod to future content, with a brief mention of mounted combat. “There are prototypes being worked on,” said Campbell.
All in all, the free-to-play update looks fantastic. The new zone is polished, pretty, and interesting. The changes to the instance system are welcome indeed, and the new business model seems destined to increase their playerbase. While there’s still no set release date, and the release could vary based on the feedback from the currently running beta test, Campbell says we can look for the update this fall.
Many thanks to Turbine for the tour. We’ll have more on the free-to-play update as it becomes available. In the meantime, here are a load of screens from the new zone to enjoy.