Ratchet Up The Excitement!

No, this is not a post about SW:TOR. So far, I’ve been able to keep that particular affliction at bay despite the recent excitement surrounding pre-orders.

No, my hype-meter spiked today after seeing the new set of official screenshots for Rise of Isengard (I can’t seem to locate the official announcement, so I’ll just link to the CSTM post). And I have to say, I’m extremely impressed. I’ve always been a huge fan of LotRO‘s art style – in particular the racial architectures and outdoor environments (honestly, does anyone really like the character models?). But what really got me was this shot:

(click for full size)

I saw that at full size and literally said “Whoa!” (Keanu-style). If you haven’t already, take a look at the full-size version. Impressive, isn’t it?

As a photographer by training (though never by trade…how’s that for getting value from one’s education?), I can say the shot above is good, but nothing particularly impressive. Sure, the tower on the mountain is definitely intriguing and, as usual, the skybox lends significant impact to the environment. However, what it could indicate for the game is something entirely different. What got me the most excited was one detail, which I’m sincerely hoping I’m interpreting correctly. Here it is:

If I’m seeing what I think I’m seeing, those are people. A lot of people. This is the kind of settlement that I’ve always wished for in LotRO; I’m familiar enough with the lore to understand that many of the areas of Middle Earth through which we travel are supposed to be rather low in population. But I’ve always felt that too many of the areas seem downright sparse. Bree, for example, is appropriately sized for how I’d imagine it, but it never seems as if there are enough NPCs to account for the number of buildings.

The “camp” in that screenshot, however, is practically bursting with people. What that could mean about new technology behind the game, and it’s capabilities for presenting a “living world”, is very encouraging. Consider this – how many monsters do we see on screen at once, at most? One dozen? Maybe two? With those kinds of limits, how do you think Turbine will recreate something like the siege of Helm’s Deep? Or the battle at the Fields of Pelennor? With the Jackson films setting a high standard, it would be impossible for Turbine to recreate something even close. At which point we’d be left participating in sidelined skirmishes. Not exactly compelling.

Yes, I know they are just screenshots, and screenshots can be misleading. And even if they are accurate, there’s no promise that LotRO will suddenly be able to handle true crowds of NPCs and mobs. The proof will be in the seeing. But if they are representative of increased capacity, I think we’re seeing a nice incremental increase to what LotRO can deliver. We may never see a battle the size of Pelennor (which is more or less a needless desire, considering the only concern in a battle is likely what is immediately around you!), but it looks like we’re getting a step closer!

December may bring it’s requisite flurry of emotions and activity, but at this point, it’s September to which I am truly looking forward!


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