Bigger Picture

Oh, the places we'll go!

I was listening to the Return of the King score on my commute this morning (yes, I’m that kind of Tolkien fan…or maybe a Jackson fan?) and it got me excited for all of the things the future holds for LotRO. Let’s face it, there are just some experiences that Turbine cannot skip or ignore, so even though we have no idea of when they will come, we know that, at some point, they will come. Lately, I’ve been so mired in grinding through deeds that I think I’ve lost sight of the bigger picture. Assuming LotRO will carry through to Mordor (and beyond!), there’s so many amazing things we’ve yet to see!

Here’s a list of content to which I’m most looking forward, and how I would love to see them implemented (loosely in the order I think we will see them released).

ENTS!

This one is easy – you can’t do Isengard without Ents. And we should be seeing Isengard in 2011. While I’m excited for the expansion because of the level cap and continuation of the Epic Quests, I’m really just looking forward to meeting an Ent. Treebeard, and really all of the Ents, have always been a fascination for me and are by far one of my favorite parts of The Lord of the Rings. Seeing the march of the Ents and how they tore into Isengard was one of my favorite scenes from the movies. I’m hoping Turbine can deliver something superior.

How I’d Do It
I don’t think anyone doubts that Isengard (or more accurately Orthanc) is going to be a new PvMP area. The press release stated clearly – “Expanded Monster Play” – and while I think there are other areas related to Isengard that beg for Monster Play (Helm’s Deep), I think the best of those areas (Helm’s Deep) will be their own chunk of content (Helm’s Deep, anyone?).

With Orthanc as a more-or-less given, it would be an obvious choice for Turbine to allow us to play as Ents, similar to Ranger Play. I’m on the fence on this, to be honest. Yes, it would probably be great to play as an Ent for an hour or so. But a part of their appeal is their agelessness, their wisdom, and their immense power. Dropping any old player into their shoes to run around doing…whatever…just seems wrong. I’d almost rather see them as NPCs whom we fight alongside; moving objectives or points of refuge in the chaos of the assault.

Plus, The March of the Ents really needs to be an instance – albeit a PvMP instance. The assault on Orthanc is a single point in time of the overall story, and it has very distinct states that would probably need representation (before, during, and after the siege) as opposed to the Ettenmoors which is an ongoing struggle.

The Argonath

We bypassed this one somewhat in the shift from Mirkwood down into Enedwaith, but I still hold out hope. Hands down, the Gates of Argonath are one of my favorite landmarks of Middle Earth, and Jackson’s films only increased their wonder in my eyes.

How I’d Do It
This one is easy – just put me in a boat and float me down the river. I don’t need to wander around or explore (though that would be amazing!). I just REALLY want to see it, in the world, from my character’s perspective. So much of Middle Earth that Turbine has created is visually stunning. I want to see them tackle this landmark. I want to be awe-stricken. Come now, Turbine, break out some of that tech you used to make Moria so massive in size and give me The Pillar of Kings!

Riding through Rohan

I have a thing about mounts. They’re like Pokémon – I must have them all. I know, it’s a sickness, because I rarely use more than the one (Elf Ambassador’s Horse). But still.

One of the things I’ve loved about mounts is their variety, and the fact that Turbine has stuck with the lore and limited us to horses and goats. No Giant Eagles, etc. What I don’t like about mounts is that they’re really just a mirage; they’re a skill that changes the appearance of our characters and ups our run speed. They don’t serve any purpose beyond travel.

My hope is that this will change with the Rohan expansion; honestly, Turbine doesn’t have much of a choice – there’s either mounted combat or it’s not really Rohan.

How I’d Do It
Rohan should be massive. I want to just ride. Open, rolling plains and beautiful sunsets. Oh, and let me kill an orc or three – without getting off my horse. I want to ride them down like the vermin they are.

I would make mounted combat an “alternate advancement” mechanic, but have it be concurrent with whatever advancement the expansion is offering (not really “alternate” then, is it?). When we get on a horse, our skillbars should change to reflect what we’re now capable of doing while mounted. I don’t expect Turbine to double our available skills and give us a one-to-one translation from unmounted skills to mounted skills. But take the essence of each class and design a half-dozen mounted combat skills in addition to the standard unmounted combat maneuvers. As a Burglar, I don’t expect to go into Stealth on a horse, but there should be some tricks to let me dismount an opponent.

Along those lines, make rider-vs.-rider and rider-vs.-walker a part of the combat. Dismounting should put combatants at a disadvantage.

Oh, and let me “jack” a Warg. At least for long enough to kill it out from underneath me.

Henneth Annûn

This is another one of the landmarks I’d really love to see. Henneth Annûn and the Forbidden Pool, Faramir’s secret base of operations north of Minas Tirith, would be an obvious choice for a quest hub, and the possible side-stories and activities surrounding it could make for some amazing drama.

How I’d Do It
Faramir and his men operated out of Henneth Annûn secretly, and struck at the forces moving through Gondor to join with the armies of Sauron. Let the players do the same thing – strike at the enemy through ambush and diminish the forces of the Enemy before they can fully join him.

This wouldn’t necessarily require new mechanics or even a change to the overall game. Really its about how the overall story and quests are structured around this area. The key is stealth and ambush (I’m a Burglar…what do you expect?), and the goal is to prevent enemies from moving from point A (anywhere south) to point B (The Black Gate). It doesn’t even need to be instanced – just dynamically move small armies or groups of mobs through the zone, along different paths, and have Faramir’s men report back where they are. Players can deploy out of Henneth Annûn and intercept. Fun (of the “endless” variety)!

Minas Tirith

I almost feel silly for mentioning this one; who doesn’t want to see Minas Tirith? Aside from it’s connection to the greatest battle of the War of the Ring, it’s an amazing city – perhaps the greatest of Middle Earth. And it’s filled with some amazing sights – The White Tree, The Citadel, and the Houses of the Dead, among others.

How I’d Do It
Make it big. Really BIG. You can’t do it any other way. It has to make players feel tiny. That’s a part of its appeal, and it makes the armies sent to conquer it that much more massive and intimidating. The scope of Minas Tirith is not only a testament to the power of Gondor and of humanity, but also provides context for the enormity of Sauron’s forces. To get either right, you have to get Minas Tirith right.

The Pelennor Fields

This is another one I feel a bit sheepish about mentioning, but there it is nonetheless. Honestly, I think more players of LotRO are looking forward to Pelennor than they are to anything in Mordor. This is the site of the greatest battle of Tolkien’s lore (aside from maybe The Battle of the Five Armies or The Last Alliance of Elves and Men) and encompasses some of the most wondrous sights – Minas Tirith and Osgiliath.

The problems with the Pelennor Fields, and specifically the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, are twofold. One, the scope is just outright beyond the capabilities of today’s technology; I can’t think of a single game, online or offline, that is capable of rendering the number of allies and enemies that would be necessary to do this battle justice. Even if you took the whole of Pelennor Fields and broke it into several zones, it would be nearly impossible. And two, how do you involve the players in a way that is fun, heroic, capable of conveying story, and “manageable” for them? Like Orthanc and Helm’s Deep, Pelennor almost needs to be instanced as it is a distinct event in the timeline. But making it instanced or zoned, whether its solo, fellowship, or raid, breaks it into pieces. And if we’re not caught in a swirling mass of enemies beyond our counting, it’s not really Pelennor, is it?

How I’d Do It
It would have to be done in two, distinct parts each with its own purpose. First is the story side; there are events that we want to see and live – the charge of the Rohirrim, The Dead of Dunharrow (though I think their participation in Pelennor is mostly from the movies), the death of Théoden and of the Witch-King of Angmar. But they have to be story instances. Not grindy instances we run over and over to attain some gear. Yes, let us run them more than once, but make that optional.

The second part is easy – cross-server PvMP. Of course, “easy” really only refers to the concept; for every region of the Real World (North America, Europe, etc.) join all servers together in one instanced (as in, instanced away from the flow of the story, like the Ettenmoors) PvMP zone. It’s the only way to guarantee Creep and Freep populations that would keep the battle massive enough to do it “right”. Also, extend the Skirmish mechanic of Soldiers to be Squads, or Battalions. Let both Creep and Freep players direct large groups of NPC soldiers against the other side.

I’m not referring to Battlegroups or Battlegrounds. This isn’t a Dungeon Finder. This is a single area where all players in a region come together to battle. It’s a digital Valhalla for as many players as there are available and willing.

Again, this is not technologically feasible with what we have today. My hope is that, by the time we get to this stage of the game, it will become possible.

Minas Morgul

I want to see the inside of Minas Morgul the same way I’ve wanted to get into Barad Gularan and Dol Guldur. It’s a stronghold of the Enemy that is both gorgeously rendered (in the movies – I can only imagine how much better Turbine will do it!) and fascinating in its potential for story and drama. The fact that we only get mere glimpses of it in both the movies and the books makes it that much more fascinating – what’s it like in there? And while I cringe a bit everytime Turbine “extends” Tolkien’s lore (sometimes it’s better not to know and let one’s imagination reign), my desire to see what they (Turbine) can do outweighs my hesitations.

It is also the site of the Stairs of Cirith Ungol, leading to Shelob, the last landmark on my list.

How I’d Do It
I don’t have much to add to the current trend of designing these strongholds as clusters of instanced fellowship/raid content. Just cut back on the grinding, please. I have a family.

Shelob’s Lair

Do I really need to elaborate? An ancient Giant Spider, spawn of one of the first evils to walk Middle Earth, and the last stop of The Ring before Mordor proper. How much more does one need? Not only is her lair a maze of tunnels laden with pitfalls and traps, there’s bound to be something in there for the players to tackle. Hopefully something other than more Giant Spiders.

How I’d Do It
Actually, it’s more how I wouldn’t do it. Don’t let the players kill Shelob. If Turbine follows their patterns, we’ll be fighting Shelob just like we fought the Watcher. But we shouldn’t be able to kill her, despite her wounding by Sam and our obvious roles as the unsung heroes of the War of the Ring. Let us drive her off, “defeating” her without actually killing her. There are some things better left to the imagination.


So that’s the list (for now!); I think it’s safe to say we have a few years of content ahead of us. And there are obviously a host of sights and events missing from what I’ve covered above. As always, Turbine will find ways to surprise us. I can’t wait!

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3 responses to “Bigger Picture

  1. I would feel like a giddy happy child to go through all those places in a game! One of the big draws about LOTRO is how unlimited the expansion potential is. An expansion of monster play might just draw me in for a sub…

    • Yeah, it makes me a little crazy to think about any of those places, plus all of the ones I’m sure I’m not remembering!

      Monster Play in particular is in need of some love, particularly with the move to F2P. If LotRO had really solid PvP, I think more people might give it a try. The recent Dev Diary on update to PvMP at least shows Turbine is thinking about it! Here’s to hoping!

  2. Pingback: If MMOs were Musicians | The 32nd Law

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