Beauty will be juxtaposed with the ravages of war as players begin by making their way through Kingstead. Everyone in the region is preparing or reacting to the news that war is coming, and you'll see a lot of the smaller settlements packing up and heading for protection. The danger here is two-fold: Saruman's forces and the emboldened Orcs of the White Mountain.
This is the town of Aldburg ("Old Fortress"), the former capital of Rohan. As such, it's got a combination of old architecture and overgrowth. In fact, the team has done a lot to put grass and bushes hedging in on roads, giving them a more organic look as if these paths had been made by foot and horses.
While you may not notice if you're running everywhere without stopping, there is an insane amount of detail that the team puts into each location. Not only are there ties to the books, such as a meticulously recreated tiny ford that the Fellowship crossed, but unique touches given to places you'll explore. Each mead hall is hand-designed to be different from each other in terms of layouts and tapestries, and even the door handles flap up when you open one.
Again the devs teased us with the approach to the Paths of the Dead without letting us go inside (the Paths won't be available when Helm's Deep
launches). Here are some uber-creepy Púkel-men statues on the approach. These were carved by the Men of the Second Age.
And here's an oh-so-cheery monolith with skulls and inscriptions that probably are not welcoming us to the area.
Nearby, Eowyn has set up camp with troops that are fleeing the Orcish advance. Such a pretty sky for a strategic retreat, don't you agree?
In the region of Stonedeans you'll encounter a rockier, greener landscape than elsewhere in Rohan. It's an area where the Rohirrim have, on occasion, intermarried with the Dunlandings, so expect to see a mixture of races and styles while you're here.
Refugees are often clogging the roads and entrances to the towns, as seen above.
Turbine wanted to include a lot of ambient storytelling with the expansion, so players will stumble upon burned down villages and other visual cues that won't be part of a specific questline. The team said that the story and setting of Helm's Deep
will be one of the darkest that the game's seen to date.
Here, a Rohirrim caravan is ambushed and the people slaughtered. Some of the Rohirrim underestimated the threat and speed of the invasion, unfortunately.
Outside of Edoras are the tombs of the kings. Each tomb will be unique and offer the sight-seer a historical rundown of the rulers of Rohan.
Turbine scoured the books for every detail it could get on the region, its people, and landmarks. This "horsesplosion" fountain in Edoras comes straight from the books. The developers said that when beta testing began, they saw many players seek this fountain out right away to see if it was there.
Here we are once again at Helm's Deep. To keep your terminology straight, Helm's Deep is the valley and Hornburg is the castle that was built to protect the Glittering Caves. The valley was designed to follow glacial action: an ancient glacier that was fed by the mountains you see above eventually retreated, leaving this hollowed-out valley and plenty of rocks to use in construction.
Hornburg was originally built by Gondor, so the architecture is reflected in that, although the interior decoration is definitely Rohirrim. The dev team actually mapped out the entire castle in the design phase -- including kitchens, dorm rooms, and even bathrooms -- but not every room will be accessible by players since it would have taken way too long to build. However, there's a lot of interior space to explore.
We were treated to our first-ever look at the Glittering Caves. This area won't be accessible on landscape, but will only be seen during the portion of the epic battle that takes place in here. Making this cave visually striking and unique took a lot of manipulation of the game's tech, but the end result is pretty impressive.
The women and children are sent to the caves for protection as the battle rages above. There's a lot of crying going on, although at least one kid has fallen asleep through it all.
When West Rohan is added to the game, it will form a complete nation that has a wide array of sights and character. It's a land that we've come to know, and now it's time to take up arms to defend it. The question is, what can one man, woman, or Hobbit do in the face of the Enemy's might?
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