LOTRO: Vales of Anduin Preview
Update 24: Vales of Anduin is currently available for preview along with an initial build of the new 64-Bit game client for LOTRO, on the Bullroarer test server. The new virtue configuration system is among the many revisions that are included in this forthcoming update. The following change also raised a wry smile. Renaming the "Laketown Outhouse" to the more era appropriate "Laketown Boghouse". As ever there are extensive patch notes available on the official forums and players are once again reminded that this is not the final version of the update and therefore everything can potentially change.
To enable the new 64-Bit game client, LOTRO players need to toggle the appropriate setting in the launcher “options”. The 64-Bit game client has a separate .ini file that maintains the graphics, sound settings, UI and input settings independently from the 32-Bit version. Note this does not include keymap preferences. I tested the new client by riding around Minas Tirith, an area of the game notorious for random crashes, hitching and animation stuttering. The results so far seem positive and the game appears to run smoother and with less juddering. However, to fully appraise the system a far more rigorous test is required. I also quickly checked out the new virtue UI and noticed that the cap had been raised to 60. However, this new way of presenting the data seems far more intuitive.
As for the new zone, the Vales of Anduin can be accessed via three existing zones. From the North High Pass in the Misty Mountains, near Goblin Town. Via the Forest Gate in Eryn Lasgalen and from North Eastern Lothlórien, along the shores of the Anduin. The region includes the Beorning Lands (and incorporates Grimbeorn’s house from the Beorning starter zone) the Gladden Fields and Rhosgobel, former residence of Radagast. Other iconic locations are The Carrock, which features an Eagle instead of a stable, which then takes you to Gwaihir’s eyrie on the Western shore. There are further Beorning settlements at Hultvis and Duskenvales. Overall the zone is green and verdant and matches the description of Tolkien’s original text. The Beorning settlements are suitable rustic and mossy, although some of the assets are obviously repurposed elements from Rohan.
As with previous zones that have lore references from The Hobbit, visiting certain locations will trigger an onscreen passage of text from that book. There are also some interesting embellishments in the Gladden Fields. There seems to be traces of abandoned dredging and mining equipment. There are also some Half Orc Dredgers in the vicinity. I wonder if this is a reference to Saruman’s search for The Ring in the area where Isildur died. It should also be noted that Rhosgobel is overgrown and abandoned, again as referenced in the source text. As ever with new zones, there are several routes that are currently blocked, indicating what may be coming in future content. There’s a road to the East that leads to Middle Mirkwood and a Northerly path that potentially goes to the Upper Anduin and possibly Mount Gundabad.
So far, the new zone looks aesthetically pleasing and is relatively light and colourful. There is at present a lot of fog as you travel from the Misty Mountains down into the river valley. As with parts of Western Gondor, much of the zone is contained by high cliffs and other natural obstacles, so despite the initial impression of size, it does feel once again that the player is being funnelled from quest hub to quest hub. However, as long as the Epic Story continues to maintain it’s ongoing high standard, none of these minor criticisms are a deal breaker. The success of the 64-Bit client is perhaps a bigger issue for the LOTRO community. Will it remedy the performance issues that impair the game? Or will it solve one problem but create another. Judging by the current timetable we’ll more than likely no sooner rather than later, as I wouldn’t be surprised if Update 24 is formerly launched by the end of May.