PAX 2010: Counting down to LotRO's relaunch with Turbine

With the launch of Lord of the Rings Online's biggest patch to date a scant few days away, we touched base with Turbine's Aaron Campbell, Brian Aloisio, and Bob Hess at PAX Prime to see how their nerves are holding up at this point. It is, as Aloisio laughed, akin to launching the game all over again, and LotRO is definitely under close scrutiny because of it.

Many players were surprised to hear that LotRO's free-to-play update was going live much sooner than anticipated, and we asked Campbell whether this was due to a preset schedule or better-than-anticipated beta feedback. He said that they weren't going to release it until it was ready, but by the team's reckoning, the beta process went so smoothly that there was no reason to delay any further.

Compared to the betas for Shadows of Angmar, Mines of Moria and Siege of Mirkwood, the F2P beta -- according to Campbell -- was the most upbeat Turbine's ever had, with far more positive feedback than negative. Hit the jump to hear more and see the latest screenshots and video from PAX.
A new look

The team was excited to show off LotRO's new Glamour Shots makeover, done with the help of DX11. With all of the visual options cranked to the max and with DX11 enabled, LotRO easily looked as good or better than upcoming MMORPGs. Not only were all of the graphics and shadows crisper, but DX11 effects such as water ripples and legendary weapon shimmers looked more realistic than ever. Even mundane armor, such as shoulder pads, reveal intricate details under DX11, with 3-D grooves and battle scars.

In short, if your machine can handle DX11, then you're in for a treat. If not, this may be an excellent excuse to upgrade your graphics card.



Return of "Month of the Class"

Back in the early days of LotRO's lifespan, the development team dedicated a month to each of the classes, giving them an in-depth overhaul and rebalancing pass. With the launch of this update, Turbine is bringing back the monthly love for specific classes, as evidenced by new skills and trait revamps given to captains and hunters. Lore-masters and rune-keepers are next up for this special attention.

This follows several weeks of community feedback threads, in which Turbine asked players to comment specifically on each class -- what worked, what didn't, and what should be added. With this massive number of player ideas and the devs' own notions, the team has begun to restructure and tweak classes to make them more exciting. In fact, if a class isn't as exciting when compared to others, the team definitely wants to rectify this imbalance.

The lore-masters, for example, will have their pet cosmetics (the ability to change the looks of their combat pets) connected to special skills, instead of their being tied to a necklace, and thus tying up an armor slot. And speaking of pets, we asked if there were plans to bring vanity pets to the rest of the playerbase. According to the devs, it's something that's been on their minds for a while, but it's a tech issue they're gradually working through.

We also tried to feel out whether Turbine is thinking of new classes for the day. While that was a strict "no comment," the team is always keeping an eye on roles that are underperforming or underrepresented in groups.

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Lessons from beta

Aloisio -- also known as "Zombie Columbus" on the forums -- was the most excited at the inclusion of the new scaled instances. Previously ignored by a good portion of the fast-leveling playerbase, the Great Barrows became a smash hit in beta due to the instant world join tool and the restructuring of the dungeon into multiple wings. The team hopes that additional quests and escorts in the area will raise the visibility of the dungeon and pull groups together earlier on in their individual journeys. The next instance up for a scaled revamp? The Rift, which the team hopes to separate into both a multi-winged and a "long hard slog" version.

Enedwaith has proved to be an enormously popular zone, and those who dismiss it as being a "mere" zone of additional content are doing the content team a disservice. Bob Hess estimates that the new area should keep players busy with 50 hours or more of fresh content, including the next book in the epic storyline, additional quests, reputation advancement and special instances.

While DDO launched its F2P version with only one new server, LotRO is adding four when it hits live next week. This number wasn't a wild guess for the team; Turbine's seen two-and-a-half to three times the interest and participation in the LotRO F2P beta as it saw in DDO's. In fact, over 100,000 players have poured into the beta over the past few months, testing every facet of this mammoth patch.

While the much-anticipated legendary item revamp won't be seen in this patch, the team is hard at work "making it gooder" after collecting metric tons of player feedback on the controversial feature. The goal of the updated LI system is to place an emphasis on accessibility over grind, more customization, and less clutter. Would Turbine allow for cosmetic weapons to replace the limited selection of LI swords, axes and staffs? Aloisio grinned and merely said, "That's GOOD feedback."

We noted that there seems to have been an uptick in voice acting as the game's progressed, and the devs confirmed this. "Everyone loves V.O.," Campbell said. Every time the team needs to add a new layer of voices, from quick quotes to lengthy monologues, it has to hire a professional to come in to the studio. Thus far, over 40 voice actors have contributed to LotRO.

The feedback from beta testers had a major impact on the dev team's focus, and likewise, what players enjoy and clamor for in upcoming weeks will be shaping the course of the game's future. We pressed Campbell for a hint as to the future of the game, and after a pause he smiled and said: "If this goes well -- your wildest dreams."

This article was originally published on Massively.