“They are proud and wilful, but they are true-hearted, generous in thought and deed; bold but not cruel; wise but unlearned, writing no books but singing many songs, after the manner of the children of Men before the Dark Years.” ~ Lord of the Rings on the Rohirrim
Lots of buzz this week in the LOTRO community concerning the expansion, and in particular the pre-purchase price points and bonuses. I’ll be dissecting all that in my Saturday column on Massively, but I wanted to share some of my feelings on the direction that this expansion is taking us.
Regarding the physical direction — i.e. taking players south to Rohan — I think this is an excellent move. For the longest time, the bulk of “civilization” in the game was in Eriador, and while not bad, it was just one piece of the larger Lord of the Rings tapestry. We’ve seen those lands and have gotten very, very used to the architecture, stylings, ruins, hats, and whatnot that existed there. Moria was a very strong first expansion pack and an easy place to pick for the game, while Mirkwood ultimately ended up being a dead end that led nowhere (so much so that Turbine’s even releveled Enedwaith so that players can bypass Mirkwood entirely if desired). Rise of Isengard certainly took us further south than ever before, but it was into lands only vaguely described by Tolkien’s writings and without much of a strong connection with fans (Orthanc excluded).
So while the past two expansions have been solid and interesting in their own right, Riders of Rohan has the potential to be something far, far better. We’re finally heading into one of the central regions of Man that received so much love in the second and third books, we’re physically closer to Mordor and Mt. Doom, we’re on the path of the fellowship instead of hundreds of miles away, and we’re returning to civilization after months in the wilds. Rohan might not be the cultural hotspot that Gondor is, but it is certainly quite populated and boasts a unique flavor. The Rohirrim are pretty dang popular with fans of both the books and movies, and they fill the role of ye old English calvary troops as well as that of horse-Vikings.
It feels like a fresh chapter is opening on the game, one that’s not tied to the elves or Rangers or the muddled mess of Angmar, and I’m excited for that. Even so, I recognize that this expansion will truly live or die on mounted combat. Turbine’s essentially said as much as well: Its “features” page for the expansion spends three out of six categories (mounted combat, warsteeds, roving warbands) jawing about it, and the expansion page’s FAQ is dominated by questions and answers about the combat.
Is mounted combat a good move for the game? Absolutely. It makes a lot of sense: Characters in the books often fought on horseback, and you can’t do Rohan without putting horses and mounted combat up front and center. You just can’t. Plus, it’s a brand-new system (something we didn’t get with Isengard) that offers us alternative ways of character development: new mounted combat skills, deeds, leveling war-steeds, and outfitting war-steeds. People in LOTRO love their horses to pieces, and I think it’s been many players’ dream to be able to customize their appearance. Finally, it presents a new type of combat — a much more fluid and fast-paced one — for players who have spent 75 levels engaging in the same-old, same-old fights.
But here’s the catch: Mounted combat will be a good move for the game if it’s done right. The huge question mark hovering in the air is everyone wondering if the game’s technology can handle fights between targets moving toward and away from each other at quick speeds. There’s so many ways I could foresee this as just not working (lag, lame animations, confusion, twitch skills) that I know how important it is that it’s done right. Many folks have brought up the incredibly lame Argent Tournament jousting from WoW, which simultaneously simplified mounted combat to a Fisher-Price level of goofiness while making it really not fun in the least. That’s a fear that I have with the expansion. If it’s not as engaging or more so than normal combat, then I don’t know why I’ll feel compelled to play it.
So more than anything, I want to see mounted combat in action. I’m hoping Turbine will show this at E3 this week, and if not, will make it a priority to do so soon. It really has to sell its fans on this system, particularly if it’s asking players to cough up $70 or what have you for the expansion.