Due to the delay to Riders of Rohan and other factors such as the launch of Guild Wars 2, things are very quiet on the Gilrain server at present. A handful of hardcore players remain fine tuning their alts in preparation for October 15th. Others have dusted off their creeps and decamped to the Ettenmoors. The temporary drop in server population has had a big impact upon the games economy. Overall its somewhat sedate at present. So I rolled a new alt on the Bullroarer test server yesterday and spent a while there. As I was not in a hurry, having experienced previous beta builds, I spent a lot of time pondering on what the future holds for LOTRO beyond the release of Riders of Rohan. I thought it may be fun to shares those thoughts.
Firstly, the Bullroarer test server itself is a real eye opener. It requires a separate game client to be downloaded and installed. US players can then use an online facility to copy across a facsimile of a particular character. They can then simply log into the game and proceed straight to the new content. Unfortunately, this service does not work on former EU accounts. However, Turbine have the Eyes and Guard Tavern which allows players to fast path new characters to specific levels or level cap, depending on requirements. It really is an odd experience to be automatically given everything that usually takes you months to acquire. From armour to jewellery as well as all traits, skills and rep. You even get an allowance of Turbine Points and gold. It can take you an hour or so to fine tune your build and craft a few additional items, but it’s a small price to pay in return for a fully specified character.
Every time Turbine increases the level cap in the game, the gap between new players and veterans becomes increasingly wider. Although it is far easier to level theses days, it can still take a substantial amount of time to bring an alt to level cap. I have always thought that Turbine should monetise the facilities at The Eyes and Guard Tavern and feel that this is becoming increasingly relevant. Of course there will be those who will balk at such a concept, but I don’t think at this point in the games lifespan that such objections are invalid. It could prove to be quite lucrative for Turbine and would certainly allow those who are new to the game to participate with their friends immediately. Surely if it increased the customer base then that is a good thing?
Another thing that is always a source of food for thought is the in-game map. Once again it is being revised, reflecting the ongoing changes. The current version available in the latest beta build is a mixture of new and old artwork. It is interesting to note that certain locations have been removed since the last version which accompanied Update 6. The Brown Lands are no longer shown. Only a small percentage of that area was included in Shores of the Anduin. The Emyn Muil have also been deleted. Perhaps Turbine have no plans for that region. It is also curious to see such locations as Dagorlad, Rhun and the Northern Wilderness are still present. This would appear to tie in with Turbines long term road map and offer post “Return of the King” content. Such open landmasses would also lend themselves to mounted combat. It should also be noted that Gondor has never to my knowledge been a feature on the Rhovanion map. Does this mean a third map will be introduced in the future, assuming that the region will make it into the game?
Finally, the success of Riders of Rohan pretty much depends on players enjoyment of mounted combat. It is certainly not mandatory and you can easily progress through the quest content on foot if you prefer. In fact I have seen some player using traditional horses and then dismounting for combat. The benefit of this is that you then have access to a full range of skills. Crowd control on a war steed is mainly about debuffs that restrict or decelerate the target. However, the mounted combat has been developed by Turbine on the assumption that it would amuse and engage the player base. I would therefore surmise that they have gambled on its popularity to the extent that the next lot of raid content may be based around it. Again take a moment to reflect on the wide open spaces on the map reserved for future content. If mounted combat is not met with unanimous approval, what does it mean for the future of the game? Would it require a rethink of the overall game plan and are Turbine in a position to make such a change?
An MMO of LOTROs age has certain advantage as well as disadvantages with regard to its competitors. It is an established title with a fiercely loyal player base, but it also lacks a lot of the “bells and whistles” that newer title have. AoE looting, dynamic content, skills trees and such like are now coming to LOTRO, which I’m sure many will welcome. That helps narrow the gap between LOTRO and other new titles. However, it will take a while to retrofit these mechanics to the older existing content, if Turbine decides to do so. So for the meantime, all the new stuff is effectively going to be specific to Riders of Rohan. It is therefore imperative for Turbine that they get it right when the revised launch date comes around. I wish them luck, because the latest beta build is still work in progress. Mounted combat has certainly improved, but the lag issues, loading delays and screen freezes still need to be addressed. If for whatever reason, this expansion is not fit for purpose on October 15th, it may well prove to be the last. Let us hope that is not the case.