The Bells of Dale
Instead of going to Dale of The Hobbit's era, players will actually travel to the future. The second half of Rohan's
instance cluster diverges from the current PvE storyline and takes place in the future to tell the Siege of Dale. This one-month siege begins around the time of the Battle of Pelennor Fields and ends shortly after the One Ring has been destroyed in the fires of Mt. Doom.
The Bells of Dale, the sole six-man instance from the cluster, shows the beginning of that siege. The instance is a madcap dash through the town of Dale (think Bree with more pine trees) as the players race to the bell tower to warn the inhabitants of the encroaching danger.
We didn't get to spend that much time in this instance compared to the raids, but it was pretty neat to see Dale up close and personal -- not to mention the looming Lonely Mountain butting up against it. It's the kind of setting that makes one long for Dale to become a PvE area in its own right.
Flight to the Lonely Mountain
The developers stated that one of their goals with the instance cluster was to bring back the tough-as-nails challenge that was present in the early days of the Watcher fight. So while the raids are decidedly shorter and lack boring trash mob pulls before throwing you against the key action, you'll need to bring your A game or else.
Flight to the Lonely Mountain progresses the story to where the residents of Dale are fleeing inside the giant mountain town to seal themselves in for safety. It's the job of you and your raid to hold the Easterling horde at bay to buy the refugees time. The entire raid takes place in and around a patch of river as you experience the most harrowing 10 minutes of your life.
That's the goal, really: to survive 10 minutes. It's not going to be easy, as wave after wave of Easterlings crash down upon you. These aren't toothless mobs, either; each soldier has his own special technique, from counters to auras to AoEs to heals. If your team isn't on top of things, you can get overrun quickly. The optional challenge is to forgo turtling and try to kill 100 mobs during that time span.
Turbine explained that while hotspots have traditionally been portrayed as circles, the game actually deals in squares. Because of this, the team has instituted a visual change to show clearly where beneficial effects (white) and harmful effects (red) are on the ground.
The Fires of Smaug
With this raid, the residents of Dale are safely inside the Lonely Mountain -- but not completely safe, it turns out. The Easterlings have devised a bit of chemical warfare by trapping a Fire Grim, slathering it with chemicals, and then pumping the harmful gas into vents to drive the people out.
But they didn't count on you and your 11 best friends, did they? Your team dashes out to put an end to this dastardly plan, and it's not going to be easy.
The devs explained that this fight will put the coordination skills of players to the test. To emerge victorious from the battle, players will need to defeat the Fire Grim while sending out teams to temporarily close the spouts venting the noxious gas. To make matters even more, heh heh, interesting, the Fire Grim is normally resistant to melee, but every time its health dips 25%, it will become resistant to tactical and ranged damage instead.
While normally the mountain can only take 200 units of gas, the challenge mode limits players to a mere 20. Time to get moving!
The Battle for Erebor
Now we've arrived at the end of the siege, when Sauron is defeated (spoilers, perhaps?) and the forces of the Enemy are starting to weaken in resolve. This is the perfect time for players to land a decisive blow to end the siege once and for all. To do so, you'll need to head out to the steps of the Lonely Mountain and taunt the Easterling's greatest twin warriors to a deadly showdown.
This is where the raid gets interesting. On Tiers 1 and 2, players have the option to choose from several battle effects -- in essence, to customize the boss battle to come. There are six options, from a fiery floor to constant reinforcements to the bosses getting huge damage boosts if their health differs by more than a percent. On Tier 3, well, you get all six factors. Good luck!
By using this customization system, Turbine's attempting to make a fight that will stack high on the replayability scale. It's a pretty brutal and straight-forward fight against two beefy bosses that will slam you into the dirt if you don't stay light on your feet.
Gimme the goods!
Of course, raiders will want to know what they're going to get for their trouble. Turbine's got a host of goodies in store for your effort, including a new raid set, class-specific items, and First Age legendaries. The team is also mulling over the option to barter for these goods with seals, although exact pricing hasn't been set. There's also the notion that the game might give a discount for players who have completed all of the new raids on Tier 1 or 2.
The devs informed me that once Update 10 hits, there will be a currency reset on seals to help fight inflation. All previous seals will be converted to medallions (20 medallions per seal) and seals will remain available through the normal avenues. It was either this, the devs explained, or insane prices on the new gear.
All things said and done, it looks as though the wait for this half of the instance cluster may have been worth it. We'll see how players react to it when Update 10 lands sometime this month.
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