The determined defense of Lord of the Rings Online: Helm's Deep

The defense and delight of Lord of the Rings Online Helm's Deep
The veil of secrecy has been lifted, and the flood of details about Lord of the Rings Online: Helm's Deep is about to sweep you off your hairy Hobbit feet. The only question is... are you prepared? And are your mommy and daddy OK with your heading off to fight in a big war that will decide the fate of a nation?

Turbine sat down with us to give us a broad overview of LotRO's fifth expansion with a special emphasis on its much-vaunted epic battle system. Let's start with the bullet points: Helm's Deep (officially Update 12) will contain five new zones, three additional books for the epic story, 300 quests, a 10-level bump in the cap to 95, plenty of awesome new armor and cosmetic models, and a new crafting tier. It will not contain traditional instances or skirmishes (more on that later), the much-anticipated housing update, or more mounted skills.

But let's go beyond mere lists to take a closer look at an early view of the expansion and what it will hold when we finally move on to eastern Rohan.

The delight and defense of Lord of the Rings Online Helm's Deep
The expansion picks right up with the story of Rohan and the events players have been experiencing in the region since Isengard, so much so that it will represent an unbroken experience for players in the future. Turbine has a lot more of Rohan to show as players cross the Entwash into the new region.

The delight and defense of Lord of the Rings Online Helm's Deep
If you were frustrated by how little past zones and expansions interacted with the story and characters that you knew from the books, then you'll be happy to know that the devs are continuing to expand upon their efforts to intertwine the game and the main story. In other words, more Aragorn and less Falcon Clan (not that the Falcon Clan wasn't interesting).

The delight and defense of Lord of the Rings Online Helm's Deep
In fact, one of the first things you'll experience in the next book of the epic story is the arrival of Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, and Gandalf 2.0 in the Golden Hall. It's there that Gandalf will lay a magical smackdown on Wormtongue and release Théoden King from Saruman's influence. Things can only start looking up for the Rohirrim from here, yes?

The delight and defense of Lord of the Rings Online Helm's Deep
Remember the disastrous battle at the Ford of Isen? The developers have, and they'll make sure you'll return to see the horrific aftermath that continues to have repercussions all across the region.

The delight and defense of Lord of the Rings Online Helm's Deep
Turbine's continued dedication to paying attention to even the smallest detail from the books shows here in the kingly graves of Edoras. You might notice a certain flower growing around the tombs here that should put happiness in the hearts of lore fanatics.

The delight and defense of Lord of the Rings Online Helm's Deep
While you'll be able to go right up to the Dark Door, you won't be entering the Paths of the Dead... at least initially. You will be able to explore five fully fleshed-out zones, however: Broadacres, Kingstead, Eastfold, Westfold, and Stonedeans.


The determined defense of Lord of the Rings Online Helm's Deep
The class revamp is a major part of the expansion, and Turbine was happy to show us an early version of the new trait tree interface. The team had grown unhappy with two major observations regarding class development: that the early game was too unfocused and lacked choices when it came to class builds, and that the late game ended up featuring classes that were all good at more or less the same things. Hence the desire to give meaningful choices early on with an emphasis on creating memorable and focused builds.

The delight and defense of Lord of the Rings Online Helm's Deep
Many class skills will be overhauled for the expansion, with different animations, faster animations, and even some replacement skills. Here the Lore-master demonstrates the Keeper of the Animals trait capstone skill, Sic 'Em. Basically, it's a dogpile of animals on top of your enemy. We can get behind that!

Turbine said that the player council members were among the very first people to see the class trait revamps; they have provided invaluable feedback for tuning the new system.

The delight and defense of Lord of the Rings Online Helm's Deep
Of course, the main event of the expansion is the Helm's Deep epic battle system (also known as the "big battle" system). Starting at level 10, players can jump into the heroic defense of this iconic landmark, earning medals through a whole new advancement system. It's being called "the big bad brother of skirmishes" in the office, and Turbine expects that's how players will see epic battles. It's such a big system, in fact, that it'll be the new endgame, replacing the typical expansion addition of new skirmishes, instances, or raids.

The delight and defense of Lord of the Rings Online Helm's Deep
Turbine said that while Peter Jackson's vision of Helm's Deep made a serious impact on how fans saw the battle, "LotRO is the game of the books" and as such is striving to provide a more accurate representation of the conflict. So while there will be no Elves showing up or Gandalf charging in to save the day, we will experience many events of the books that didn't make it to film, such as clashes at the dike and the glittering caves.

The delight and defense of Lord of the Rings Online Helm's Deep
While we didn't get to see an epic battle in motion -- yet -- we were treated to a tour around the battlements of Helm's Deep while the devs described what we'll be encountering. The outcome of the battle is fixed in lore and won't be impacted by the player, but each player can make a difference in how she contributes to that victory through her efforts. Players will be seeing not idyllic fields but thousands and thousands of bloodthirsty Orcs charging in, all thanks to some technical trickery and tools that Turbine's been developing.

The delight and defense of Lord of the Rings Online Helm's Deep
Part of a player's contribution will depend on how his group coordinates (if he is in one) and what role he decides to pursue. There are three roles in the defense of Helm's Deep: vanguard, engineer, and officer. Vanguards are focused on wading into the battle and doing some personal damage, engineers fire siege weapons and interact with environmental objects, and officers give orders. Seems there's a little something there for all interests.

Obviously this was all just a very cursory overview of the expansion, and we left the session with plenty of questions bubbling up from within. However, Turbine said that it will be satisfying specific curiosities with an upcoming slate of developer diaries and more in-depth looks at this next chapter of LotRO.

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This article was originally published on Massively.