Warning: This article contains potential spoilers relating to the Riders of Rohan expansion.
I read the following quote over at the unofficial LOTRO forums and it got me thinking. “I knew more about Guild Wars 2 a year ago, than Riders of Rohan which is less that a month to release”. Has Turbine publicised and promoted the expansion and its core element, mounted combat sufficiently? Well I think they have. If you consider the information that has been put out into the public domain, we actually do have a pretty good idea of what to expect from Riders of Rohan. I would also point out that the above comment is a somewhat flawed comparison. Guild Wars 2 is a brand new product and therefore has to market every aspect of the game. Thus we have seen a continual flow of information over a lengthy period. Turbine on the other hand are selling an expansion. Expansions usually just have new content and possibly a new game mechanic. It is a far smaller sales pitch.
So with seventeen days before launch, perhaps now is a good time to try and collate what we know and what we can reasonably expect from Riders of Rohan. The latter is something that often alludes a great deal of the player base, leading to unrealistic expectations, which often cannot be blamed on Turbine. If you take the time and re-watch all the videos that featured on major gaming sites regarding mounted combat, you will learn a lot. The developers diaries are also a good source of information. There’s also word of mouth. Let’s not dance around the issue, people who are in the beta inevitably talk about it, regardless of rules and NDAs. Then there is You Tube and other sites where videos and screen captures have been published. If you weigh up all this data you end up with a pretty clear picture of what will be available on 5th September.
So first off let’s consider the obvious stuff, such as the raise in level cap. This means new legendary items, jewellery, armour, food, potions etc. This will come in the usual manner. Some quality items will be quest rewards and others will have to be crafted. That means a new crafting tier which will probably be gated behind faction rep. Its par for the course and something that Turbine always does. I see no reason why they should deviate from an established pattern at this point. They’ll probably be a specific quest round about level 80 that will be an obligatory gear check.
Of course the expansion will have the next instalment of the epic story line. This should offer quests that follow the breaking of the fellowship at Parth Galen. Chance Thomas himself stated in notes pertaining to his soundtrack that there’s an instance where you get to play as Boromir. We also get to visit Fangorn and meet Treebeard. The new area also showcases many iconic locations such as The Argonath, Amon Hen and Tol Brandir. The provisional map that was leaked a month or so ago showed locations such as “Pippin’s Broach”, “Hunters meet Eomer” and “Rohirrim slay orcs”. Once again Turbine seem to be doing a very good job of dovetailing major aspects of the books plot into the personal adventure of the player.
Mounted combat is the foundation of Riders of Rohan and forms a substantial amount of content. If you have seen any of the videos that showcase this new element, then you have pretty much seen what it has to offer. The storyline takes you through a prologue that sets up your character getting their war steed. After an tutorial, you receive your new horse and then it’s a question of levelling it up to gain new skills, that are purchasable from your class trainer. There’s also a skills tree to apply points to, so you can customise abilities. War Steeds also have a LI slot and of course can be cosmetically altered to your hearts content. Naturally, many of these new mechanics will be linked to the store which will offer enhancements. Once again this is Turbine simply following a standard methodology. Its works so why alter it?
It would be misleading to portray mounted combat as anything other than the sum of its parts. It is not as complex as some people thought it would be. When mounted the player gets a alternate skills bar. It features different stances, buffs and ranged and melee attacks. You certainly do not have the multitude of skills icons that you have when on foot. The determining factor of mounted combat is how well a player takes to it. The process of steering your war steed will require some getting use to. Hopefully Turbine will be wise enough to allow the various controls to be re-mapped, so players can set their keyboards and mice up to suit their own needs. This is a very different method of combat and it will require players to adapt. Some will take to it and others may not. However, once mastered the plains of Rohan await, with their roving warbands and elite mobs. No doubt future endgame content may be based around mounted combat.
Riders of Rohan also features some tweaks to game mechanics. We now have quests that dynamically appear when you are in the right area. You no longer have to worry about returning to a quest hub to turn them in. There’s also AoE looting for mounted combat. Turbine are also using their phasing and dynamic layering technology with a mini-game in which you slowly rebuild a small settlement in the West Emnet over time. It would seem that they have finally taken heed of what are standard mechanics in other games. The updating the game engine is a wise move as well. Aspects of LOTRO are beginning to look a little dated.
So there is a basic breakdown of what you will find in Riders of Rohan. Again all this information is out there in the public domain. I think if players focus on the fact that this is an expansion and not the re-invention of the wheel, then expectations can be met. It is also realistic to accept that there will be bugs and “known issues” on and after the launch. There has been talk of lag spikes and rubber banding in the mounted combat specific regions and there has also been cases of some players suffering motion sickness. These are potentially the biggest problems and hopefully Turbine will be addressing them. Despite the reality of the in-game store, there will no doubt be heated debates about new enhancements that will be available.
Once Riders of Rohan launches, it will be interesting to see if aspects of the expansion will be added to older content at a later date. The AoE looting and dynamic quests would be a god send. I have also seen screenshots of the war steeds being ridden in Bree, so it would seem that only their combat skills are prohibited. Not all previous expansions may lend themselves to mounted combat, but some would. Then of course there is the concept of war steed based skirmishes. The possibilities do become more varied the more you think about them.
So preparation for Riders or Rohan seems dependent on not just having a suitably equipped level 75 alt, but also adopting an appropriate mindset. Turbine did fumble the ball last year with the marketing and launch of Rise of Isengard, but I do believe that some effort has been made to try and avoid such matters this year. Communication is still far from perfect, but has improved and continues to do so. It ultimately comes down to whether mounted combat appeals to the player base and whether they can successfully adapt to the new mechanic. On September 5th you will be able to get on our horse and find out for ourself. The drinking of milk is optional.