The other issue is that Turbine's abandoned the "[something] of [place]" title structure it's had ever since Shadows of Angmar. A vain, egocentric part of me thinks that this might've happened because a developer read my expansion prediction column and decided to spite me.
With that out of the way, let's digest the official announcement and see what we'll be doing this fall when LotRO's fifth expansion hits!
If the big selling point of Riders of Rohan was the mounted combat system, then it looks as though Helm's Deep will focus on the titular battle. There's little about this expansion that's a huge surprise, mostly because the developers have been quite forthright in talking about the game's direction. This includes a few mentions as how the team's been working on making this epic battle work within LotRO's technical limitations.
From the press release description, the Battle for Helm's Deep (also known as the Battle of the Hornburg) won't be a mere skirmish. For one thing, the studio says that we'll be able to enlist to fight in it at level 10, which is 10 levels before we get access to skirmishes. It could be a skirmish if Turbine's also lowering the entry point to these to level 10, but I don't think so. No, it really feels as if it's a separate system, especially when the release states that we'll be earning rewards based on contribution (win or lose).
So let's assume that this is repeatable, scalable content that may or may not have similarities with skirmishes. I really like the fact that it will be available to a majority of players, especially since the past few expansions have catered almost solely to high-level characters. My fingers are crossed for dynamic battles that start the same but could change based on player interaction.
Level cap increase
Ten more levels: I don't think anyone is surprised by this. With the exception of Siege of Mirkwood, all of LotRO's expansions have added 10 levels to the cap. I'm fine with that, mostly because LotRO's levels have represented a smooth, constant journey instead of how we sometimes see MMO developers thrashing about trying to get power levels and mudflation and inconsistent worlds under control when it's expansion time.
The question is what we'll be getting in these 10 levels. A few new skills, definitely. A mounted combat level increase, most surely. But the press release emphasizes "completely updated class specializations" as part of this, so let's assume that the coming class apocalypse is going to be a Big Deal indeed.
Rohan story conclusion
The way I see it, Rise of Isengard, Riders of Rohan, and Helm's Deep form an expansion trilogy that's set in The Two Towers. Isengard sets the stage by building up Saruman as a threat and a rising force in the region. Rohan is the dark middle chapter where the forces of good are being threatened by invaders while denied the chance to freely defend themselves. And from the sound of it, Helm's Deep is when the epic confrontation with Saruman's forces comes to a head and Rohan stirs itself into action.
Right now we -- as in players representing the Free People of Middle-earth -- need a win. Despite our best efforts to help out, it feels as if Saruman's been untouchable and kicking our butts all across the region. We've been betrayed, thrown in prison, seen allies slaughtered, been helpless to stop the wholesale destruction of towns, and been unable to attack Wormtongue when we saw him. It's time for payback. It's time to stop reacting and at least start waging war out in the open instead of in secret.
I loved the general storyline of Riders of Rohan. In my opinion, Turbine's storytelling has only gotten better over time, and I can't wait to see what this next chapter brings.
We've got a lot left to see in Rohan. Not only is there a new region coming in Update 11, but Helm's Deep promises a good amount of virgin territory to explore. The capital city of Edoras, seen only briefly in the epic story at this point, will probably become the new endgame gathering point for players. Dunharrow, the Rohirrim refuge, looks to be an interesting addition, especially if the developers allow us access to the Paths of the Dead nearby.
Helm's Deep itself is something many fans have been salivating over visiting ever since LotRO launched. I think it'll be interesting and have plenty of opportunities to tie in with the Fellowship, but I don't like the "dead end" nature of this fortress and associated tale. I'd rather keep moving south and east.
I had my initial doubts about Rohan's capability to arrest attention and remain interesting for a Man-centric country dominated by plains. It's certainly done so thus far, and I have no reason to believe it won't in the continuing saga this fall.
More epic story
I'm sure I'm not alone in feeling as though the epic story conclusion in Riders of Rohan was abrupt and unsatisfying. Perhaps that's how a good cliffhanger should be, and it did set the scene for adventures to come, but I didn't like having to pause in the middle of all of that. So bring on the next books, please!
The little pocket fellowship of NPCs accompianing us in the epic story is a source of fascination for me. It's something that I wish the game had introduced a long, long time ago, mostly because it makes us feel less lonely and gives us many more opportunities for dialogue and storytelling. Now if LotRO would only let me kick this Elf out of the group...
Ride for wrath!
There's only so much that you can wring out of a press statement. We're pretty used to Turbine's method of info releases by now, so I'm not surprised to see the "broad strokes" given and little details held back. The studio will be milking expansion news for press releases all summer, no doubt, but that's part of the fun of following these games.
So what do I think of all of this? Well, it's pretty much what was expected. There are no big surprises, but no huge disappointments either. It's more story, more regions, and a class system revamp. I can get on board with that. My biggest question is how the Helm's Deep battle system will work and how compelling it will prove to be, but that's not going to be answered today.
I'll open up the mic for any of you who want to come up and sound off. What do you think of the Helm's Deep announcement?
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.