The Road to Mordor: Horton hears a patch

Few things get me more excited than the promise of a big steak dinner and a big, beefy patch. Both get the mouth watering, the senses tingling, and the anticipation racing. However, the former comes and goes within minutes, while the latter is here to stay. I love devouring a good set of patch notes, chewing every morsel of information as my mind tries to picture it in action.

Mental note -- I should not be writing columns when I'm hungry.

I trust you were as pleased as I was when you woke up to the Lord of the Rings Online November update patch notes this past week (Standard Disclaimer: These are for the test server and are subject to change, void in Nevada). We knew that Turbine had a few substantial projects in the works for November, but this is far beyond what I'd speculated. It's one of those "There's something for everyone -- well, almost everyone" updates that has a little of everything, a buffet of sumptuous delights. Sure, it's not going to please folks looking for new dungeons, the promised LI and housing revamps, or the continuation of the epic storyline. That said, Turbine's first post-F2P patch is considerably bigger than anticipated, and if this is any indication of the course the company is setting with releases, I'm happy to be on board.

Let's break down this LotRO update after the jump, and see just who this patch is for and what it has to offer, shall we?
Something for free players

One of the aspects of Turbine's F2P model that I feel goes overlooked by those outside of the game is just how much the studio caters to the free players. Not the "free but they really have to spend money sometime" players, but the free-free folk. The people who won't spend a dime, but want to play anyway. You may not be able to get the entire game for nothing, but you do get a significant chunk of it -- and you can always earn more through in-game activities.

We're seeing a similar pattern between DDO's F2P fine-tuning and LotRO's. DDO relaunched with a few significant barriers for free players -- level caps that couldn't be overcome unless a sigil was found (or, better yet, purchased), and a total lack of content once players hit the teens. Instead of putting the thumbscrews to the free players and refusing to budge any further, DDO removed the leveling sigils and pumped out a couple free adventure packs to help bridge the content gap. Likewise, Turbine's opening up the game more for free players with three significant additions in this update.

The first is the task system, a series of repeatable quests that will utilize vendor trash drops -- and more importantly, provide new deeds and the (presumably) free Turbine Points that go with them. The second is the stunning lift of the expansion embargo, something I didn't see coming at all. Now free players can jog all the way up through the level cap without being restricted by zone, they can use Legendary Items, and even participate in the Book 2 and 3 storylines. Of course, there are still quest packs and dungeons to purchase, but I'm getting the feeling that these aren't the big moneymakers for Turbine anyway.

The final addition is a change in how swift travel works for free players. Previously, you couldn't permanently unlock swift travel as a free player (just for limited durations). Now, anyone who has subscribed for at least a month before can use swift travel with characters that existed during the subscription period. This is another great reason, along with being upgraded to a premium player, to at least pony up for a month worth of VIP play.

Something for outfitters and packrats

Inventory is always a pressing issue in LotRO, especially when you consider all of the dyes, crafting materials, outfits, armor sets, consumables, housing items and other nicknacks we accumulate. While I wasn't personally put off by the version of the vault that came in the free-to-play update, I can see why others were rankled with the inability to organize to their heart's content, which is why I think many folks are pretty jazzed about the new(er) vault feature. It looks a lot cleaner, allows you to sort and organize in a variety of ways, and even incorporates the shared storage and wardrobe into the same interface.

And while we're on the topic of the wardrobe, fashionable outfitters have a great reason to rejoice: New dye colors are on their way. Personally, I'm always fine-tuning how my characters' outfits look, and colors are a huge part of that. The new colors (Evendim Blue, Sea Blue, Forest Green, Ered Luin Blue, Purple, Rivendell Green, Rose, Crimson, Ranger Green, and Yellow) offer a greater spectrum of choices, and many of them are quite attractive. I'm definitely going to be snapping up a bunch of Evendim Blues for my Captain. You can check out how the new colors look here and here.

Also, can I get a hearty "AMEN!" from you in the audience regarding the spiffy barter wallet? I mean, it's about time that the dozens of skirmish token types vamoose from my backpack and into something more appropriate for their status as currency (after all, money doesn't take up inventory slots, so why should these?). I've been hoping we'd get one of these, and I'm glad Turbine's on the case.

So while Blizzard devs openly mock WoW players who love to collect and show off outfits, Turbine knows that there's a large segment of the playerbase who do just this, and are catering to their needs.

Something for Lore-masters, Rune-keepers and the rest of the class

I'm not quite sure what happened to the promised Rune-keeper overhaul -- I guess it's still in the works, but there isn't a lot of info in these notes. In any case, Lore-masters are getting a ton of love with this update, to the tune of two new skills, tweaked traits, pet cosmetics and even an improved Inner Flame. As a LM player myself, I'm really thrilled to see a second staff skill -- Staff Sweep -- and am intrigued at how Turbine's expanding the class to utilize more frost abilities. A frost LM? I may actually nibble on that!

It's not Lore-masters only in this patch, of course; every class is getting a few adjustments, and Wardens are even being treated to a brand-new skill: Never Surrender.

You'll also want to take note of a whole bunch of class consumables that are geared toward boosting your particular class' build (versus a generic buff that comes with rations and other foods) and giving you temporary abilities (such as a throwing hatchet for Burglars). Lotro Weekly has a great list of these consumables.

Something for rep grinders

As you may recall, one of the most contentious items in the F2P beta was the inclusion of reputation mounts in the LotRO store. While they were removed before launch, I figured it would only be a matter of time before they'd return in some way, shape or form. Mounts are definite money-makers.

What I didn't anticipate was Turbine finding a good middle ground between the players who put a lot of effort into acquiring reputation mounts and the desire to widen the array of mount choices in the store. The solution the company came up with was to turn rep mounts into super-mounts in terms of stats: Rep mounts will now have a huge amount of health (250), take less critical damage, and allow their riders to evade, parry and dodge -- all of which means that it will be much tougher to get knocked off a rep mount than a normal one. This then frees Turbine to offer cosmetic (but statistically inferior) versions of the mounts on the store, and hopefully everyone is happy. Plus, more rep mounts are on their way into the game -- I very much want the Mathom rep horse (gimme it, stupid Hobbits!).

I'm also glad to hear that Turbine's giving players a leg up with the difficult and time-consuming Moria rep grinds. Iron Garrison Guard and Miner reputation will be rewarded through more quests and epic book lines -- and will be awarded retroactively as well. Here's hoping I can finally get my goat! Rep is also being attached to several skirmishes, which should help those who are having trouble climbing the ladder to kindred.

Something for new players

Dwarf and Elf players may have felt a bit neglected in the previous update, as Hobbits and Men got treated to a streamlined introductory area that took a solid zone and improved it threefold. Cry not, Legolas and Gimli -- your time is almost here. Turbine is giving the Ered Luin intro zone the same revamp and polish, and from what I've heard, it looks to be a lot more thrilling than before. Roll One Hundred went on a screenshot-snappy frenzy as she tried this out on the test servers, and was generally pleased with what she discovered.

Something for crafters

About the only crafting I do these days is a half-hearted attempt at being scholarly, but I can appreciate the time, effort and -- most importantly -- the immense demand on inventory space that crafting demands. The November update won't see anything revolutionary in this department, although there are a couple notable changes in addition to new recipes. The first is that consignment quests are being taken out of the game, and "ingredient packs" that produce the same results with only one item are being implemented. Second, farming is now toned down a bit to be less insane with the number of seeds and other items it takes to produce crops.

Giving thanks? In November? Perish the thought!

While I think we're all hoping to see bigger chunks of playable content drop in these updates, I'm pretty pleased at the foundation that's being laid here. These sorts of things are never enough to make everyone giddy, but I'm a glass-half-full type of guy, and there's enough new and improved here to keep me fiddling with the game for weeks to come.

But more than anyone else, more than the crafters, the rep grinders, the freeps, the newbies and the pack rats, there's one crowd that has a lot to be thankful over this month:

"Two-handed weapons will now disappear while mounted instead of clipping into your mount. Horses (and Goats) rejoice!"

When not clawing his eyes out at the atrocious state of general chat channels, Justin "Syp" Olivetti jaws about hobbits in his Lord of the Rings Online column, The Road to Mordor. You can contact him via email at justin@massively.com or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.

This article was originally published on Massively.