The Road to Mordor: Class graduation

Amid all of the hubbabaloo of E3, Rise of Isengard reveals, and pre-order madness, something equally as significant has been taking place on the Lord of the Rings Online scene: proposed class changes.

Turbine's been fairly good giving each of the classes a pass over this last year, but it looks as though something even more significant is in the offering when the expansion hits this fall. As we all know, the level cap is going up to 75, virtues will increase to a new cap of 12, and stats will be expanded in several ways. But there's even more on top of that: Orion and Zombie Columbus have been posting a steady stream of proposed class changes on the forums.

These aren't all tiny tuning measures, either. In many cases, weak elements of classes and class builds will be radically revamped, and how you play these classes will change forever. As with any prospect of change, these proposed notes are both exciting and scary to behold. I felt it was high past time we at least chew on the reveals thus far and see how our classes will be graduating to the next level when Isengard arrives.

Of course, these are all proposed and highly subject to change between now and whenever they're implemented. As Orion said, "Blogs are coming out before the major changes so that we can get your feedback early, often and when we are still agile enough to respond to the valid reasoning behind concerns or true issues that are found." Read with a grain of salt (if you like, perch the salt on your shoulder so it can view the screen better).

Burglars: Riddle me this, bat-man!

Lowbie Burglars will come out of the gate strong, according to Orion, as the class will have medium armor and dual-wielding from the get-go instead of later down the line. As a previous Burglar myself, I'm glad to see that the class' main crowd control skill -- Riddle -- will be usable on any mob regardless of type (previously it just worked on humanoids). Go ahead and puzzle those demon goats to your heart's content!

One theme I'm noticing with many of these proposed class changes is that Turbine is consolidating and combining skills, which gets nothing but a hearty thumbs-up from me. Most classes' action bars are completely full and then some at this point (I think my Lore-master has four completely full bars), and with new skills on the way, it'll be nice to tidy up others. For example, the Burglar will see her Seize Initiative and Escape Clause rolled into one better ability.

Overall, Burglars will be getting better across the board, and I know that new players will really appreciate having two daggers at the start and increased survivability.

Wardens: Eh, you're fine. Suck it up.

If you're a Warden and looking for some major love... well, it's going to be a long wait. Right now, Turbine's just tagging the class for small fixes and improvements, but nothing significant. That isn't to say that Turbine's blowing off the class, however; there are a few cool changes like the addition of a new ability called Potency that helps fill your gambits plus a much-improved Never Surrender skill.

Wardens might not be perfect, but they're widely recognized as one of the most powerful (and self-sufficient) classes in the game, so I think that Turbine's fine with keeping them where they are.

Lore-masters: Burn it all, baby!

Like Burglars, Lore-masters are scheduled for skill consolidation, although on a much larger scale (all I can say to this is, "Thank goodness!"). I might actually be using Warding Knowledge now that all of the wards are being combined into one keystroke -- imagine that!

Orion also listed several new abilities that the class will get during its 66-75 leveling track. Many of these skills increase the LM's fire damage (such as Improved Staff-sweep and Improved Burning Embers), although I'm interested in the Aurochs pet (cow attack!) and overjoyed that Blinding Flash works on all mobs, just like the Burglar's Riddle.

Captains: Getting buff

Captains are treated to a huge array of proposed tweaks and new skills, and it's hard to know where to start. Some skills, like Time of Need, have had their cooldowns reduced, which is always a good thing, and others, like Heralds and In Defence of Middle-earth, will start scaling stat-wise according to level. All awesome.

It looks like Captain tanks will become more effective with an AoE taunt, which will certainly up their usefulness in group instances. As for new post-66 skills, I'm seeing that Turbine's trying to press the "-brother" mechanic further by adding two new varieties to help one's teammate: Song-brother and Blade-brother. These will let the Captain buff his friends the way he wants instead of just using the default Shield-brother mode.

Champions: Taking a stance

Orion says that Champions have become "increasingly single-purposed" by spending more time in Fervour than anything else, so Turbine wants to make the other stances more attractive. Glory will be tweaked to be the class tanking line (and Fervour will see a decreased amount of threat generation accordingly), while Ardour will be improved so that it can be the AoE soloing build. Orion followed up this original post with specific changes and skill additions.

I can see Champs going nuts that Fervour can't do everything, but then again, what class should have a single dominant trait line to the exclusion of the others? Class builds should be about hard choices and specific playstyles, so this is probably needed.

Guardians: Hold the line

Because of the addition of Finesse, which will let players and mobs hit harder if their target lacks good block, parry or evade ratings, Guardians and other tanks will see their survivability remain high while other classes and builds will be hurt more.

Like Wardens, Guardians are seen to be generally fine the way they are, which is why Turbine only has a number of smaller tweaks planned. I think the changes listed will increase the class' tanking abilities (especially being able to snare targets that don't stay locked onto the Guardian) and smooth out some of the rougher spots, but Guardians shouldn't expect much more at this point.

Hunters: Feeling it out

Zombie Columbus says that Hunter changes are still in the planning phase, although he gladly shares his thoughts on what he'd like to see happen. It looks like Turbine's continuing to stress viability of all types of play (stances) versus just one, so Strength Stance will probably get a change.

He's frustrated that the players haven't latched onto Hunters as a melee/ranged hybrid by and large, and he wonders whether there's something else the team could be doing to make it more attractive or useful.

Overall, we're still waiting to hear more specifics on what changes are in store for this class, so speculation and brainstorming are the order of the day.

Minstrels: Play that funky music white boy

If you're a Minstrel, prepare to have your world rocked, big-time. The cones are up, the construction workers are streaming in, and Turbine's redirecting traffic until the changes are made.

The biggest proposed change to the class is the addition and clarification of "compositions" (read: stances). Like other classes that switch between stances, Minstrels will now have three to choose from: Melody, the default stance (healing, self-buffing and group support), Dissonance (damage dealing, damage buffing and self-preservation), and Harmony (buffing, resource management and group healing). The trait lines will be rejiggered to support each of the three stances so that players can decide whether they're going to specialize in healing or damage or be a jack-of-all trades.

On top of this, ballads will last through all of combat, anthems will be strengthened, and codas will replace anthems as finishers. There's a truckload of skill changes and additions, but suffice it to say that the class will be a lot tighter and more focused come this fall.

Rune-keepers: [Crickets]

So far we've heard nothing about Rune-keepers in Isengard. Sorry!

Again, it's important to note that none of these changes is set in stone; this is just Turbine giving us a heads-up that some modifications are on the way while soliciting our feedback. I appreciate that, since all players -- included me -- get attached to and invested in specific character classes, and we hate to see those tinkered with if the end result makes us worse off. From the list so far, Minstrels, Burglars, Lore-masters and Captains seem to have the most changes in store, although we'll have to wait for the official dev diaries -- and get our hands on them in the beta -- to make a final call.

[Many thanks to my kinmates at A Casual Stroll to Mordor for helping me collect these links!]

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 justin@massively.com or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.
This article was originally published on Massively.