Gamescom 2012 Hands on with LotRO's Riders of Rohan
In a small room at the center of WB Games' business headquarters at Gamescom, Lord of the Rings Online Live Producer Aaron Campbell is sitting with a broad smile behind his 27-inch screen. "I love those orange skies," he says, excited. "It's something new we've put in this expansion. It looks beautiful!" He takes visible pride in his work. It's a contagious cheerfulness that would dominate our entire Gamescom sit-down with Turbine this year as we took a look at LotRO's upcoming fourth expansion, Riders of Rohan.

A horse of my own

The most notable new feature introduced with Riders of Rohan is undoubtedly mounted combat. Players will have the opportunity to acquire a steed, customize it, and take it into battle. Turbine has put in a lot of effort into making the mechanic of riding a horse into combat more than just a gimmick. Campbell told us, "We've treated the introduction of mounted combat much like the introduction of a new class. Horses are fully customizable with talent trees that correspond with combat roles and feature a whole new resource mechanic."

Gamescom 2012 Hands on with LotRO's Riders of Rohan
The mechanic Campbell speaks of is Fury. How does Fury work? As you build up speed, you build up Fury, which is then spent on special attacks. It sounds easy enough, but the trick to successful mounted combat is to maintain speed and come back around time and time again. Horses don't turn instantly, so coming back around isn't something that is achieved with the flick of your hand. This became evident as soon as we tried our own luck at horse-handling. There was no way to instantly turn back after a successful charge, and in order to maintain speed (and thus Fury), we found looping back took up a lot of time and space. It's an atypical style of play that takes some getting used to, something Campbell acknowledges. "We found that experienced players, people who know our game well, need upward of a half an hour to actually feel comfortable with mounted combat. They need to learn to play the game again. That is a big step."

Turbine deliberately chose the hard way with this one in an attempt to set the game apart from the rest. It's a bold move, but one that really fits the expansion. It has vast, wide open spaces and broad horizons that are very suitable for this kind of gameplay. Therefore, mounted combat will (for the moment) be exclusive to Riders of Rohan content, so don't expect to prance around on your combat pony through the Shire just yet. "Making mounted combat available throughout the game would mean we'd have to go back and redo all the content. That was something we didn't find feasible or appropriate for that matter."

Gamescom 2012 Hands on with LotRO's Riders of Rohan
In terms of traits, horses can be specialized as light, medium, or heavy, depending on how you want to use them. These traits can be selected through special trees and offer passive and active bonuses to things like speed, movement, and armor. Which class you play has a decisive effect on how mounted combat plays out. Rangers will use their ranged weapon, and mounted skills will correspond to this. Wardens will use spears and shields and offer a fundamentally different experience to players.

Campbell also showed off some of the customization options for horses. You can select from a wide variety of customizable parts, such as saddles, tails, and armor. With the vast amount of unlockable content, it is entirely possible to give your horse a unique look. "We wanted to cater to all kinds of players. Roleplayers will have the possibility to give their horse a distinct elven look, for instance, or anything else that would suit their characters' backstories. And yes, stats are separate from appearance."

Quests were designed with mounted combat in mind as well. About fifty percent of RoR's quests will revolve around your horse and horse combat. Rewards will include customization options and armor. To ease questing with your horse, RoR introduces looting at a distance. You don't have to stand still next to corpses in order to loot them, nor do you have to loot them individually. Clicking on a corpse will open up loot possibilities for surrounding corpses as well. AoE-looting isn't unique to RoR in the MMO space, but it certainly features the most appropriate setting in which to do it.

Gamescom 2012 Hands on with LotRO's Riders of Rohan
The next chapter

One thing mounted combat has impacted greatly is the size of the expansion. Nearly three times as big as Mines of Moria, Riders of Rohan features wide open spaces to prance around in. It also opens up new landmarks that will be familiar to fans of the books and/or films. Prominently featured are the Argonath, the symbolic gateway to the second chapter in the saga. Other places of interest include Amon Hen, Boromir's Glade, and Fangorn Forest. These places and their inhabitants form the backbone of the narrative side of RoR, enabling players to advance their journey. Rohan itself is dotted with towns with stuff for players to do. And one of the key sources for questing in RoR is the thane who rules each of these towns.

Theoden King, obviously influenced by Grima Wormtounge, has outlawed attacking Orcs in Rohan and has therefore put frowns on the faces of the thanes. The thanes look to you to quell the Orc invasion and protect their towns while performing a variety of other tasks that townsfolk lay upon you. More than half of the quests you encounter involve mounted combat, so be ready to defend towns and territories while riding your steed.

In contrast to the wide open plains stands Fangorn Forest. It's a dark and gloomy place but very much alive. "We've learned a lot from creating forests in the past. Gone are the times of walls and endless identical trees. In Fangorn, NPCs make up part of the scenery," says Campbell. Just don't make the mistake in thinking that all trees are friendly: They are not!

Aaron Campbell's excitement revealed a certain level of confidence in the final product, and that certainly showed. The graphical changes look stunning, and the new additions looked and felt completely new. Just when we were about to leave, Campbell couldn't resist once again: "Would you look at that sky. Oh, it's so pretty!"

Lord of the Rings Online: Riders of Rohan will launch on September 5th of this year.

Every summer, the gaming industry descends on Cologne, Germany, for Gamescom, the world's largest trade fair for interactive games and entertainment. Massively's on the scene in 2012, bringing you all the best scoops, impressions, and interviews from the MMOs at the show!

This article was originally published on Massively.