Riders of Rohan does that for me. For years now, we've seen Turbine make its biggest leaps forward with expansions. Sometimes this is in sheer size or new technologies or graphical improvements or storytelling or a combination of any of these. Lord of the Rings Online has come a long, long way from old Archet and the meandering paths of Volume 1, and this expansion actually makes it painful to return to the days and lands of yore.
I've found five frills that have charmed me in Riders of Rohan so far. Would you like to hear them? Good. While not all of the following features are brand-new to the game, they are certainly more noticeable than ever before and are used to greater effect.
It's been a while since I've seen the MMO community overly concerned about tapping mobs or kill stealing. It used to be a much bigger problem before games put systems in place to "save" a mob for a player. While that worked to a point, it created an anti-social wedge that reduced incentive to pitch in when a neighbor was fighting.
The trends these days are moving toward more games accepting what LotRO calls "open tapping" -- i.e., multiple players can attack the same mob and all get XP and rewards from it. It's the type of feature that should have been in all MMOs, everywhere, from day one, but I guess the evil Balance Goblin robbed us of that joy until now. Anyway, this one move has changed my perception of other players from competitors to collaborators, and it's a welcome difference. I just get in there and fight without worrying about etiquette.
After all, we're all on the same side, right?
2. Remote looting
This will be a compliment couched in a criticism. Loot in LotRO stinks. There's so little that drops these days that gets me excited because most of it is vendor trash, crafting crud, LIs that I'll break down, and the very rare piece of gear that won't be for my class. So I've grown bored with looting because there's never the promise of a fun surprise. It's just future gold in a larvae stage.
So remote looting? Heck yes. Just plop that future gold into my bags and save me the time of stopping to click on hard-to-see sparklies. Now if Turbine could make the loot actually interesting, this would be like icing on the top of the cake, but as it is, it's a nice convenience.
Also, applause for an overflow bag that we aren't charged to unlock.
If you've been in RoR for any length of time, you've undoubtedly been treated to LARGE RING popups on your UI informing you that a new quest is available. This is typically the "kill 10 rats" variety, but it's still exciting to me. Why? Two quick reasons.
The first is that it saves the developers time and us patience from having to create yet another banal quest-giver text box telling us why it's vital that we slaughter foozles. It makes more sense that we're just doing it when we see it out in the field. I'd rather have quest-givers load up on substantial fare and not piddly tasks.
The second reason is that it's a nice reward bonus for mobs you were probably going to kill anyway. I'm all for extra rewards.
Phasing isn't new, not in LotRO or elsewhere, but that doesn't mean I'm bored of it yet. I love that the world changes around me in response to my quests instead of making me travel elsewhere just to experience change. It gives a real, tangible sense of a progressing timeline and story, and it can make me wistful for how things used to be. Really, it just draws me into the world more than before because it ceases to be just a static backdrop.
5. Animated NPCs
This can be filed under "small but important details" in my book. As the expansions progress, Turbine's making its NPCs far more lifelike than most of the tin soldiers in Shadows of Angmar. Entering any town treats me to a visual array of minutiae, from kids playing to soldiers telling ribald jokes in taverns. The composite effect is a world that's alive and engaging, even if the NPCs are only on a slightly longer script than before.
And since we're talking about details: Have you looked up in some of the larger mead halls? I was astonished to see a well-rendered haze of smoke toward the ceiling, especially considering that most people never look up anyway.
Details matter. Details are important. And Riders of Rohan has them in spades.
What are your favorite frills from the expansion?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.