More than horses for courses…
Seeing as Riders of Rohan, the next big expansion for Lord of the Rings Online, launches today we thought we’d publish our thoughts on what we think about the bulky piece of new content. Turbine were kind enough to give us a guided tour of East Rohan last week, and we were genuinely bowled over by what we saw. Here are the details…
It’s very rare, but occasionally developers allow us humble journalist folk to take GM accounts for a quick spin. Just think of it; infinite in-game gold, the ability to purchase anything from the cash store on a whim, instant teleportation to areas of the world you aren’t even supposed to go and our personal favourite the magic command to kill even the mightiest bosses in a few key strokes. I have indeed tasted the sublime admin nectar boys and girls and it was as sweet as I always imagined. Boasting aside, the reason we bring this up is that like GM powers, the promise of being part of a living, breathing recreation of Middle-earth is something millions of gamers from around the globe have craved for since LOTRO launched in 2007.
Since those illustrious days of big budget MMO triumphs, Turbine has been carefully laying the ground work to give players the kind of pay-off that they crave, painstakingly recreating the Mines of Moria, Mirkwood and even parts of Isengard itself, but now the subscription turned free-to-play MMORPG is tackling that moment in Tolkien’s fiction when Sean Be…sorry Boromir tries to take the ring from Frodo and the fellowship falls into disarray. As jumping off points go, this certainly is a great one, but Turbine aren’t relying solely on the story hooks to get players involved, instead they’ve recreated Eastern Rohan implementing an extraordinary level of detail, including a selection of the most beautiful meed halls you’ll ever see, and they’ve finally added mounted combat to appease the masses.
In geographical terms alone Riders of Rohan features an area twice as big as Mines of Moria, and it shows, as the wide open green flat spaces of the titular province allow lots of room for players to clippity clop around at their leisure, occasionally taking out any warbands they come across. Any attacks on horse back are queued so that as soon as targets come into range, they fire off. This is to eliminate misses due to player error.
That accessibility angle also extends to item harvesting, as any loot accumulated during mounted combat is automatically stored in a separate bag in the UI, meaning you don’t have to swing back and pick anything up. It isn’t all cake and ice cream though, as initially the new momentum system takes some getting used to, with attacks carried out at an all out gallop causing more damage than those at a canter, but steeds actually feel as though they have some weight and are fully customisable from head to tail with gear both earned and purchasable from the in-game store. The most expensive of which is the Reveller’s Gilded Bundle which comes in at an eye-watering 3495 gold points (around $28.99) and comes with an especially fast horsey with lots of HP and gear, but there are cheaper options, so don’t think Turbine are going all Bethesda on us.
Any equine enthusiasts will find that the horse animations are very convincing, and overall it’s just fun to see a part of Middle-earth which is quite pleasant. Like when we first stepped into The Shire only with acres of open spaces, rolling hills and subtly moving blue skies. Sure the roaming warbands of Saruman and Mordor are razing villages, marked by telltale smoke plooms which can be easily spotted in the distance, but that doesn’t make this expansion seem anywhere near as depressing as Mines of Moria, or worse yet Siege of Mirkwood.
The design aesthetic is certainly the reason for that, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t seeing really important things in the Epic Story. Key locations like Argonath, Fangorn Forest, Amon Hen and the seats of seeing and hearing all help to add gravitas to player adventures, and even as a passing fan of Tolkein’s fiction, I did feel the hairs slightly rise on my neck as I visited these places. It’s odd to say but these areas have a presence to them which is rarely felt in MMOs.
Turbine has also had a lot of fun with quest design too, with players tasked with tracking down Merry and Pippin in a instanced Epic Quest by tracking foot prints and the like, CSI Miami this ain’t, and a phased area where you restore a village so it’s fit for purpose after a devestating Orc attack. These are just a couple of highlights of the new quests available to players – there are dozens more.
Couple all this new content with beautifully designed mead halls which will surely become new social hubs and an increased level cap up to 85, Riders of Rohan is the kind of expansion that offers content for every kind of player; be they story hound, or beer-loving socialite.
That’s probably why Turbine are charging so much for this hefty slice of content, $39.99 with a host of bonuses, but then in our opinion there’s enough new gameplay, quests and world to explore to validate the asking price.
So the big question is, did Riders of Rohan meet my substantial expectations? The answer is a resounding yes. If anything stepping back into Middle-earth, if only for a guided tour, made me realise how much I’ve neglected my character in Lord of the Rings Online and Riders of Rohan gave me the thirst to jump back in and continue my adventures again.
It’s a shame I’ll have to jump through A LOT of hoops culminating in hundreds of hours, to get to a point where my character would even be eligible to ride around on a War Steed and take out roaming bands of enemies, but the calling of unique province’sthe rolling green hills just might make that substantial effort worthwhile. Who said it’s the journey not the destination, eh?
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