Riders of Rohan: Live or die on mounted combat

“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.


7 thoughts on “Riders of Rohan: Live or die on mounted combat

  1. Fredelas June 6, 2012 / 10:03 am

    I enjoy playing my minstrel. While every class has changed over the past five years, it’s still very much the same minstrel I started with.

    The addition of Legendary Items in Mines of Moria made my minstrel more minstrel-y by letting me choose to focus on certain skills. (Basically: class traits on a stick. Everything tastes better on a stick!) The addition of skirmish soldiers with Siege of Mirkwood allowed me to fill the gap with roles I myself wasn’t playing, allowing me to be the minstrel while my soldier tanked, healed, or DPSed. As you’ve often pointed out, Rise of Isengard didn’t feature any noteworthy new game systems, but I still enjoyed the limited, buggy content in that expansion, and minstrel-ed my way through it.

    However, with Riders of Rohan, it sounds like the featured content will require me to play about 80% horse and only 20% minstrel. I’m not really a minstrel on horseback, I’m a horse who happens to be saddled with a minstrel.

    If I wanted to play a horse, I would have bought My Little Pony Rainbow Island Adventure.

  2. James June 6, 2012 / 10:09 am

    And the cost….ick…my entire experience with swtor cost less than the expansion!

  3. Thorcar June 6, 2012 / 11:11 am

    I think is people have no interest in mounted combat, they will be able to skip the area much like other group zones such as Limlight Gorge, Dol Dinen, and Garth Agarwen.

  4. Aerynne June 6, 2012 / 12:26 pm

    Am I the only person in the world who liked the Argent Tournament? I do hope LotRO pulls off a more “realistic” version of mounted combat, but I have fond memories of my many defeats in the Tourney Ring!

  5. rowan June 6, 2012 / 5:26 pm

    You’re not alone, Aerynne. I think the people who didn’t like the Argent Tournament jousting didn’t ever “master” it. (Admittedly, that is most people.) But then I also like the apparently horrid space combat of SWTOR, so what do I know?

  6. GJ (@frozensoftserve) June 6, 2012 / 7:34 pm

    Well, to be fair you can buy all of that base stuff for $40. The extras aren’t really needed, although I won’t argue that they’re not over-priced.

    Sapience made some comment on the forums that included a note that the press is reacting well to demos of the mounted combat… Not many people reacted to that since most are wondering what the heck is up with the prices or the lack of mention of any sort of instance cluster (which has since been confirmed for a future update after ROR comes out, but they’ve yet to say if it’s included as part of the ROR expansion price or what).

    So I can only assume in a day or two some sites will be posting about this combat and that we’ll get more details… or so I hope

  7. Scott June 7, 2012 / 7:26 am

    I think the greatest strength of this expansion is the simple fact that they are returning to the places beloved by the books. It’s hard to believe that after five years, this next expansion is only now getting to Boromir’s death and the breaking of the Fellowship. LOTRO is a great game but it is aging, and to keep interest alive I think that we might be mostly done with the regions that play no significant part in the LOTR books. We will hopefully have a small detour to the Lonely Mountain, but other than that, the next expansions must focus on heading East towards Mordor. I think it would be a mistake if five years from now the game is taking us south to Harad or something. Would Harad be a cool “desert” zone? Yes, but I think LOTRO players are reaching the point where they’re saying “enough is enough, we want Shelob and Sauron.”

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