LotRO
Mounted combat's been on my mind a lot lately, particularly when I was galloping around Dunland and various clansmen knocked me off my horse. It was then that I wished I had a skill called "Trample to a Bloody Pulp -- For Rohan!" and that Turbine would finally earn that AO rating it's always craved. Barring that skill, I would just love a massive war horse that would send enemies fleeing from me instead of making a beeline for my knees (which are a prime target for arrows).

I'm both excited and nervous about the mounted combat system coming in Riders of Rohan. I'm excited that it will open up a new style of gameplay in this five-year-old game and nervous that it'll drag Lord of the Rings Online down if it's not done right. Whatever type of horseback combat we might envision will surely be different than the final product, and that uncertainty leaves me feeling in limbo.

More than anything else, Riders of Rohan is about mounted combat. Turbine's centering the expansion around it, dedicating an entire zone to it, and developing loads of assets and skills for it, and the company will undoubtedly be hyping it strongly over the course of the summer. It's a bold step to take but a necessary one as well, as the IP and nation of Rohan are steeped in mounted combat, and it's been a little weird that we've had to dismount to swing a sword ever since leaving the shire.

So will mounted combat prevail, fail, or muddle in the middle?

Steed of Night
What we know about mounted combat

Let's take a moment to list the facts of what we know about this new system, shall we?
  • Mounted combat will take place only (initially) in the East Plains zone of the expansion
  • It will feature both one-on-one fights and clashes with large (~50ish) Warbands
  • Enemy Warbands will roam the zone instead of staying put in one spot
  • The concept is for characters to charge, clash, and wheel around to gain a tactical advantage
  • We will have special skills that will be used solely in this system
  • Some, but not all, regular skills will be usable from horseback
  • One of those skills is called Trample
  • We'll have special, bigger horses that can be armored and customized
  • War steeds will have their own trait system
  • Mounts can be leveled
  • Players can be knocked (and knock others) off their mounts
  • Being mounted will offer combat superiority
  • Mounted combat is a necessary step on our way to the battle at Helm's Deep
  • Mounted combat represents a significant technical design challenge for Turbine
  • We don't know the cost for war steeds yet
That's what we know; everything else is speculation. Fortunately for me, I minored in Gamer Speculation in college.

Enedwaith
Mounted combat in other MMOs

LotRO is far from the first MMO to implement a mounted combat system. Age of Conan, Forsaken World, Tales of Fantasy, and Fallen Earth are some of the titles that have done so, although never to the extent of being a major selling point. Mounted combat's traditionally either been an extension of your normal combat (you use the same skills, just from horseback) or some sort of minigame.

Probably the most well-known of mounted combat systems is World of Warcraft's Argent Tournament jousting that came during the Wrath of the Lich King era. In the event, players were granted temporary mounts that had a handful of commands. Using these commands, players would either build up shields to keep from being knocked off or attack and reduce their opponents' shields. It was, to put it kindly, about as basic as it comes, and while I'm sure some liked it, I haven't met anyone who regarded it with fondness yet.

It's the worry that Riders of Rohan's mounted combat will be reduced to an annoying, repetitive feature that makes me toss and turn at night. Well, that and the bedbugs. Mounted combat is always one of those ideas that sounds so great but almost never is put into a game in a way that adds to the depth of the world or is so compelling that players want to do it over and over again.

But for mounted combat to work in LotRO, it's got to buck this trend and be something not just adequate but amazing.

Cave-claw horses
My little pony, did you know that friendship is magic?

Despite these few worries, I'm actually really excited about the system and give it my full thumbs-up of approval. Mounted combat doesn't just seem neat -- it makes sense. It's so ingrained into the culture of Rohan and such a crucial part of the epic battles in the books that to not have it would seem an abnormality. Plus, it addresses one of my major complaints about Rise of Isengard, which was a lack of a new gameplay system (and original music, which is something else that RoR is adding).

Why this system excites me is threefold. First, it's something we really haven't seen in-game before, unless you count knocking warg riders off their doggies from time to time. Second, it's part of a larger concept to have a dynamic zone where time isn't frozen still but is always on the move and always different. Third, it's basically introducing a whole new character development system, except that instead of upgrading yourself or your weapon, now you can upgrade your horse.

Players and mounts have a special relationship in LotRO. In a game where the type of mounts offered can be counted on two fingers (three, if you're counting "pony" as different than "horse"), players have shown a strong affinity to their horses' looks and styles. I can only imagine how this is going to be once we'll be able to slap armor or, say, paint on them. It's not just a cosmetic item but a practical one as well, and that's always welcome.

When Riders of Rohan hits, this may well be the new endgame for most of us non-dungeon-runners. I can see myself mounting up and trotting over the plains of Rohan as part of a small player army, engaging in skirmishes that are faster and more exciting than the tiffs I usually see. If the tech can make it happen, then it could be something to see.

My hope is that however Turbine designs your war steed's leveling system, it won't take a cue from the unintuitive and largely unfun legendary item interface. Give it some depth, sure, but not so much that we're sharding crap to make a better horse. We only want to spend so much time in the shop before we got to take this beast out for a drive, after all.

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.
World of Darkness presented at EVE Fanfest 2012