The Road to Mordor: Just around the bend

It's been a few months since the November Update in Lord of the Rings Online, and the natives are restless -- as usual. Some folks are despairing the long wait until Rise of Isengard while others are itching for more challenges to their currently level-capped characters. Then there are the players who are hopelessly lost in Moria and would give their eye teeth for a flashlight.

Happily, a new update is just around the bend, code-named Echoes of the Dead. The actual name is Echoes of the Dead too, so I guess that's not such a great code. Over the past couple of weeks, we've started to get a feel for just how large this update is, and after reading through the Bullroarer test notes on Wednesday, I think we're in for a tsunami of a patch.

Of course, these patch notes come in the middle of Turbine's carefully spaced dev diaries dealing with each major change or addition, which means that we're a little in the dark as to the specifics of half of this update. That's not going to stop me -- or any of you -- from analyzing, speculating and gesturing excitedly to no one in particular.

So let's dig in to this hearty meal of mushrooms and patch notes to see just how deep LotRO's rabbit hole goes!

Class love

Just as Lore-masters and Rune-keepers enjoyed a big bear hug from Turbine in the previous update, Hunters, Burglars and Minstrels are in for developer snugglies this time around. Love! It's what makes February go around, or so the marketing legend goes.

Burglars should enjoy two new stances to complement the Quiet Knife and Gambler trait lines, and the addition of a Safe Fall skill is a nice, if situational, perk. It doesn't look as though Hunters are due for additional skills, but they have plenty of trait, skill and trait set changes to compensate. Minstrels probably come out the best in this update with the lion's share of changes, including a new level 28 anthem (which either boosts healing or call skill damage, depending on your stance), a reduction of several cooldowns, the ability to interrupt inductions with Piercing Cry, and a change to War Speech to allow you to continue to use War Speech skills during the 10 seconds it takes to disable the stance. High-level players of all three classes will also want to check out the legacy changes that are in store as well.

I'm glad that Turbine's been strongly tweaking (if not totally overhauling) all of the classes throughout these updates. You can update a game all you like, but if the classes feel stale or broken, then it affects everything.

Epic storyline

Two major changes are coming with Echoes of the Dead in relation to the epic storyline, and I'm pretty psyched about both. As it did with Volume I, Turbine is modifying the entirety of Volume II (minus the epilogues) to be soloable if one wishes. This might not make everyone happy, but as someone who's frustrated at the Volume II quests moldering in my quest log, I applaud the decision.

The epic storyline is really the crown jewel of LotRO's PvE experience, and Turbine knows this -- it's why the company made it free for everyone. With lots of XP, great rewards and a captivating tale, it's definitely worth your time to do at least once. I personally hated coming to a point in the story that stopped me cold until I could scrounge up a group of players who were either on the same exact step as I was or were willing to help me out just because. These storyline speed bumps are severe in Volume II, and I imagine that there are lots of level 65s out there who have yet to see the whole story.

The other change is the addition of a new book, Volume III: Book 3. While the patch notes lack specifics, Sapience teased us with this description: "The Epic story continues! What are the mysterious relics? Full details on the next Book in the Epic story will be revealed in an upcoming developer diary along with information on new instances and an all new 12-man raid."

If a raid, four more instances, and an epic book aren't welcome news to the players, I don't know what would be. The only complaint I can anticipate is that most of this patch seems geared toward the high-level players; if you're meandering in your 30s, these won't be impacting your gameplay any time soon.

Radiance and legendary items

Continuing with the "high-level" theme of the update, Turbine's bringing its guns to bear against two sore spots with the community: radiance and legendary items. Both have been mired in controversy since their inception, and I'm really glad we're going to be seeing these changes now rather than much later.

Radiance is, of course, getting the boot -- we've known this for some time now. For dungeon-runners, this should have nothing but a positive effect, allowing players to choose the armor best suited to their builds instead of being forced to wear radiance gear only (which sometimes had sub-par stats).

The legendary item situation is a bit more tricky, as Sapience lists some of the changes with the bright all-caps caveat that these notes are hard to interpret out of context (which should come soon[tm] in a dev diary). So I'm not going to go off the deep end theorizing what's going to take place. We do know that relics won't be able to be unslotted once placed and that LI's will show three legacies at identification. And it seems as though Turbine will allow for more legacy replacement than before. I'm definitely looking forward to the dev diary that clears this up.

Character panel

"Over the years it's turned into a bit of a rat's nest,"
Tim Lang said in a dev diary about the character panel, and I'd agree. There's a lot going on in this part of the UI, and it's great to see the team working to redesign it from the ground up. The test version looks loads cleaner and less cluttered, and I appreciate the changes to make it (as Lang said) "readable by humans."

On top of the redesign comes a welcome bit of news for us cosmetic lovers: It seems as though Turbine is expanding the system to allow us to have a total of five outfits (on top of the actual gear you're wearing). That's great, because I know I've been frustrated by the limitations of the two-outfit limit, as outfits are a great outlet for creativity. The only downside to this is that the additional outfits will cost Turbine Points, although it's not clear whether this applies to all characters or just F2P folks.

Grab bag

On top of these headline features coming with the update are a number of smaller yet still appreciated tweaks. In no particular order, here are five of my favorite:

  1. The monster play intro section has gotten a "face-lift" to aid new PvMP players with getting in the fight better and stronger than before. I've been eyeing PvMP as of late, and I know that this change will make me feel more comfortable dipping my toes into the fray.
  2. Damage over time effects caused by weapons will now reflect the weapon damage type instead of downgrading it to common damage. This is terrific as mobs often shrug off common damage and require unique damage types for maximum pain inflicted.
  3. Crafting quests that served to gate a player's progression are being removed, and this gets a thumbs-up from me. Crafting's already lengthy enough as it is without forcing my character to schlep all over Middle-earth just to get to the next tier.
  4. The map home item is now a skill, freeing up one more inventory slot. So... good? Good.
  5. Several Moria battle instances are being converted to skirmishes, which is awesome if you love skirmishes and want more options in the 50-60 level range.
As I said before, there are a lot of unanswered questions from these notes, and being on a test server means that these notes may be changed before going to live. Even so, I'm very much encouraged as to the immediate future of the game. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a few more outfits to go design!

When not enjoying second breakfast and a pint of ale, 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 or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.
This article was originally published on Massively.