This last weekend at PAX 2009 we had the opportunity to sit down with Lord of the Rings Online's executive producer Jeffrey Steefel. He gave us a sneak peek at some of the new zone and instanced content coming in Siege of Mirkwood, as well as many of the new features. So if you're skeptical or just plain curious, we think you'll be most intrigued to see what knowledge we've uncovered after venturing deep into Mirkwood and all the way into Sauron's fortress of Dol Guldur.
Every time they add a new region, it's important that it feels like a very different place to players. Thus, Mirkwood is a very dark and corrupt place and particularly moreso than any other forest featured in Lord of the Rings Online so far. It's very much a contrast of the hope-filled Elf city of Lothlorien.
So, let's take a quick and dirty look at what a player's 20 bucks gets them:
- Level cap raised to 65.
- New skills, titles, deeds and traits.
- Raised level of legendary items.
- Several new instances.
- Fourth crafting runic slot on legendary items for master crafters.
- New Skirmish system. (read below for more)
- Updated horse mechanics. (read below for more)
- Mirkwood zone, a dark and ominious forest unlike any other seen thus far, with Dol Guldur looming in the distance.
- Whole new reputation faction for the Elves of Mirkwood.
- Dol Guldur, the place where Sauron was a Necromancer 'back in the day' and Gollum was tortured, as a huge vertical instance. After battling their way up this Moria-tech built behemoth of a fortress, players eventually fight a Nazgul placed there by Sauron, who's riding his felbeast.
Turbine's goal was to take the concept of their story-based instances and improve their replay value. So these are more accessible randomized, repeatable and customizable instances for you and your friends with the same level of storytelling quality as any other LotRO instance.
Players can create a Skirmish directly from the user interface, invite their friends and all be in it almost immediately. Then, when it's over, the game will put everyone back where they were before. Upon creating your Skirmish you can choose its level, the degree of difficulty such as easy, medium or hard and also your party size of either three, six or 12. The game will then create an experience that's proper for the settings you give it.
What we found particularly cool was that each player can bring their own fully customizable soldier into a Skirmish. You can choose their role, which are fairly obvious analogs to classes and select their appearance just as if you were making a new character for yourself. They even have skills and ranks that you can improve as you use them in battle. Jeffrey was keen to point out that you don't have control of your soldier in battle, because Turbine felt it was just too much stuff to be doing at once. Instead, each battle you equip them with traits based on how you want them to act. We think it's a good decision, especially for the pet class players.
What this feature ultimately does is make a 12-man raid feel more like a 24-man in practice, since everyone can have one of these soldiers running around. It's obvious that this has been done to give the game a very epic feel, as many of the battles were in fact quite gigantic in size. Turbine is calling this a foundation for their Epic Battle System, which was something Jeffrey Steefel was keen to add a note on by mentioning that this system would be great for a battle where players controlled "both sides" of the action.