Personally, I am pretty excited about 2013 for the game. It feels as if the team isn't slacking at all, and while there are always my wish list items that go unfulfilled, often the devs add cool changes (like the Bree update) that are equally welcome.
So let's sift the wheat from the chaff and see what we come up with from these dev chats as well as the recent producer's letter!
As we speak, Update 10 is already on Bullroarer and should be headed our way soon. It was really gratifying to hear about the content coming, particularly the second half of the instance cluster. I'm not a huge dungeon-runner myself, but I know that new instanced challenges are incredibly important to those who are. I'm also glad that we can put the friction behind us that Rohan's delayed/split instance cluster caused (community grumpiness makes me weary after a while).
Taking away dread from dying out in the world is one of those quality-of-life improvements that I think is going to stack right up there with open tapping and remote looting. Nobody likes dread, especially while leveling or grinding out deeds, and this should help with the solo PvE game quite a lot.
However, I'm way more excited about Update 11 -- as you should be, too. It's shaping up to be a mini-expansion in and of itself, with both a "super-sized" addition to the epic story and a new region to explore: Wildermore. Let's assume that Update 11 comes to us in March or early April. That's a perfect time, about a half-year since Riders of Rohan, to deliver a good chunk of PvE content. I might not be all the way through the expansion yet, but I know lots of people are and are itching for new vistas to explore.
Kate Paiz did say that the rest of Rohan would be coming out in latter 2013, and considering the number of zones (and Helm's Deep battle) she lists, I've got to say that it sounds an awful lot like "expansion."
The Big Two: Housing and avatar revamps
Whether it's in interviews, dev chats, forum posts, or comments here on Massively, fans just won't stop clamoring for two major revamps to the game: player housing and avatar improvements. Both of these got asked during the dev chats with some surprising results.
I've sensed that while Turbine has wanted to update player housing, it's been too big a project to justify the expense of personnel and time. So we've seen a lot of hemming and hawing about it over the years, but we're finally starting to get word that the team is gearing up for some actual improvements.
The December dev chat said that the team's first priority for housing is to do something about the vacant neighborhoods, which I don't care about one whit. Seriously, who even looks around the neighborhood when you go to your house? I was quite frankly stunned to see a housing revamp listed in the producer's letter as a primary goal of 2013. Happily stunned, I might qualify.
That definitely sounds like progress is being made, not just talked about. Exciting times! Can I put in a request for the ability of individual characters having their own house? I hate sharing between my alts.
Avatar revamps, both in the visual fidelity and the animations, are less of a priority right now. Turbine acknowledged the desire to make characters look better but pointed out (rightly so) that it's risky because players get attached to looks and can revolt if an update disconnects how they feel about their character. This is in the "investigation" phase, so don't expect anything to be done about it in 2013.
OK, people panicked anyway. If you haven't heard, Turbine's gearing up for "big changes" to classes that'll take effect later this year. The team wasn't quite prepared to talk specifics, but we did find out that it's laying the groundwork now for the updates (such as with standardizing power pools between similar classes) and that players will have to make "difficult choices" when it comes to building their characters. Paiz indicated that the team will be paring down skills from your hotbar to simplify things somewhat.
Yeah. So. Hm. It's just enough news to get me a little excited and a little nervous, although I definitely have wanted to see changes made so that I have more room to grow my character and fiddle with my build. I'm going out on a limb to say that these class updates will be paired with a new (and so far, unmentioned) expansion, much the same way that previous sweeping class updates were done.
I love the fact that we now have horses that can be customized both visually and via traits, but the issue of where those cosmetics come from is a sore topic in the community. Many feel, perhaps rightly so, that there's too much emphasis on limiting most of the cosmetics to the store and not enough of them in the game.
The good news here is that Turbine has plans to add more non-store war-steed items. The bad news is that requests to give players visual options to match rep mounts is not up for discussion at the moment. I'm really disappointed in the latter, for a few reasons. First, Turbine made a conscious choice to offer the same visuals for store-exclusive steeds to war-steed owners, so it's not like it can't be done. Second, rep mounts take effort to get and are often pursued because of their looks -- looks that players would like to retain for war-steeds. Third, war-steeds have lessened the importance of standard mounts, and I hate that I have all of these cool-looking horses that I won't be riding into battle.
Odds and ends
I'm pleased to hear that kinships may -- may -- be receiving some love in the future, although this is further out than housing. I haven't really thought about the kinship offerings in this game (perhaps we'll talk about that in a future week), but as in most MMOs, it seems that the social tools lag far behind throwing in more raids, zones, and grinds.
The couple of mentions of mounted combat caught my eye as well. The new zone will include some measure of mounted combat, and the devs say that they have "a few tricks" in store for this fledgling system. As I mentioned last time, I think mounted combat is enjoyable for what it is and certainly has potential. I think Turbine agrees.
Forty questions is barely scratching the surface of what the community probably wants to ask, but it's certainly a good start. What did you think of the dev chats and what pleased and/or irritated you?
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.