We began our journey at a village in one of the starting destinations in Dunland. It's there, Turbine told us, that an army had recently pulled out to fight the Rohirrim, leaving so-called "Oathbreakers" behind for you to handle. Players are tasked with figuring out what's going on and how these left-behind invaders will fit in with the local populace.
The devs told us that one of the recurring themes of LotRO's latest expansion is the influence of others on the Dunlendings. With the war stirring across the world, suddenly this isolated area has become a major thoroughfare for enemies and good guys alike, and both sides are seeking to woo the Dunlending tribes. If you're thinking "tug o' war," you're not far off.
As with Enedwaith, Dunland gave Turbine a terrific opportunity to have fun creative a diverse biome within the expansion, including vistas we've never seen before. From the snow-capped mountains to murky swamps to the Fords of Isen, the new zones promise to add more of the captivating landscapes and locales for which LotRO is famous.
Unlike the residents of Bree and Moria, these locals are a fairly primitive people who haven't made the transition to great works of architecture, literature and philosophy. The distant threat of Isengard has made them feel uneasy, but mostly they are trying to continue to live life the way they've always known.
Of course, the Dunlendings aren't helpless waifs caught in the tides of the struggle -- as you'll soon find out. There's a great amount of interplay between the clans, and Producer Aaron Campbell says that players will discover that each have its own sense of identity and history. Some focus on agriculture, others on commerce, and still others on war.
Because you're an outsider, you'll have to (once again) prove your worth to these tribes by doing quests. Lots and lots of quests. But hey, that's what you signed up for, right?
Fortunately, for those who might be a little tired of typical questing, Turbine's experimenting heavily with phasing technology this time around. This means that the game world will begin to react to your actions, changing as you complete quests. Phasing isn't completely new to the game -- Turbine's already included it in past updates -- but the expansion will utilize it so much more than ever before.
"It pulls you more into the story; it makes you feel more immersed. It makes you feel that you're having more of an impact on Middle-earth," the devs said.
Another nifty new feature is what Turbine is calling "mobile questgivers." These are exactly what they sound like: questgivers who travel with you so that you can turn in and advance quest chains without having to stop the story to run all the way back to town.
The expansion is filled with dozens of small improvements as well. Classes will not only be expanded as players level to 75 but receive skill and trait overhauls as Turbine strives to give players "more meaningful choices" in how they build and play their roles. Scaling instances will have their caps raised to 75 and will stock their coffers with better and more shiny loot. Crafting will head into Tier 7 with plenty of new recipes to boot.
We also learned that the virtue cap will be raised from 10 to 12, giving players more ways to increase their character's stats.
For free players, Turbine's finally opening the doors of PvMP -- Monster Play -- to all, giving out the Reaver class to everyone and selling the others in the store. Speaking of the store, we learned that Creeps will be allowed to access it for the first time. This should make many players happy and give the Ettenmoors a boost in population.
The flow of quests in Dunland will eventually lead you to one of the biggest settlements in Dunland where the locals conduct trade and business -- and where you can find all of the trainers and services that you've come to expect from a major city hub. It has a big "melting pot" feel to it as you see the various clans mingle in the streets.
Ultimately, one of your primary missions in Dunland is to rally the tribes against Saruman. Some will eagerly jump on the Anti-White Wizard bandwagon, while others will need a fair bit of convincing. As you meet-'n'-greet with the various clans, you'll also uncover quite a few secrets that lurk beneath the surface of these settlements. Will the secrets help uncover Saruman's plots and unite the tribes? Our money is on "Yes indeedy."
Even though players won't initially see Saruman directly, they'll begin to learn in Dunland that this is one devious and intelligent evil genius. His plans aren't so obvious as they are subtle and elaborate, which makes exposing him as a liar and an enemy to the Dunlendings a difficult proposition. And what better way to combat the Free People of Middle-earth than to pit them against each other while presenting yourself as a "friend?"
This is why we'll see the tribes of Dunland taking up arms against the Rohirrim, all while Saruman marshals his forces as (ahem) Isengard rises into power. By giving you time to get to know these people and to understand the trouble they're in from multiple fronts, Turbine hopes that you'll find yourself desperate to save them and willing to go to great lengths to make it happen.
Unfortunately we weren't able to take pictures of these areas, as the zones aren't completely finished (all of the wildlife is represented by placeholder cows right now -- oh, yes, there is a secret cow level of sorts!). But what we can tell you is that it looks absolutely stunning, and we can't wait for September 27th to get here!
Massively's on the ground in Los Angeles during the week of June 6-9, bringing you all the best news from E3 2011. Whether you're dying to know more about Star Wars: The Old Republic, RIFT, or any MMO in between, you can bet we'll have it covered!