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The Road to Mordor: What could LotRO's new class be?

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Wow. A new class was at the very top of my wish list for 2014, but to be honest I never thought it would happen. However, last Friday Aaron Campbell confirmed on a livestream that the team is working on a 10th class to put into the game sometime this year. Instantly, speculation exploded among the Lord of the Rings Online community as to what the class could be and how it will fit into the game.

Campbell gave us a few clues to guide our speculation: The new class would be in accordance with the lore (Turbine talked to Tolkien Enterprises about it), it has been mentioned in the trilogy several times, and it will be a freep (PvE) class and not a creep class. He also thinks it's a "great fit" for the game.

I'm absolutely overjoyed that the game will finally be expanding its hero roster and giving us vets a good reason to go back through the entire journey, but I'll admit that I don't see a clear winner among the possible candidates. Let's hunker down together and look at the possibilities for this LotRO's newest class and see if we can sort out a lead candidate.

What roles are needed?

Granted, Turbine could be creating a class for the sake of doing so, but there is a good chance that it will intentionally fit a weaker spot in the game's roles. Looking at the Lotro-Wiki class page, I see there's a great breakdown of primary and secondary class roles, some which are more represented than not. Both tanks and healers have two primary classes and two secondary classes apiece, but we know that there's always a need for both in groups.

Ranged DPS has the fewest representatives, but that's offset greatly by the overpopulation of Hunters in the game. Buffers and debuffers are underrepresented, although many of LotRO's other classes have splashes of these skills in there. And I really can't see the game adding another pet class (or what that pet would be), even though there are only two classes that can lay claim to this role.

My gut tells me that instead of being a specialized class, it's going to be a mash-up of two roles that haven't been paired before. An AOE DPS debuffer? A crowd control tank? There aren't a lot of extra possibilities here. It could also be that the team has come up with a type of utility that fits a class well (perhaps a class that doesn't fight as well as others but can do a lot of other "extra" stuff to compensate).

What themes could be explored?

Many of the existing classes draw upon a theme from the books. Rune-keepers explore the power of words, Minstrels are all about the inspiring nature of music, Guardians focus on the protective nature of loyal friends, Burglars use trickery and clever thinking, and so on. Looking at untapped themes might be another path to pursue, although nothing specific comes to mind.

My session play theory

Players who have gone through the epic story are no doubt familiar with how the game occasionally thrusts you into the shoes of another adventurer (usually in the past) and how many of those characters have their own unique skills. Sure, they're mostly just a handful of overpowered skills, but if I were a thrifty developer, the notion of repurposing those skills, icons, or class setups might be tempting.

This is why I think that the Rangers (Dúnedain) are a strong possibility, despite being technically more of a race than a class. Call it a Dúnedain Adventurer if you like, but a class that plays a bit like the inverse of the Hunter: a smidge of ranged DPS with far more melee DPS and some self-healing.

Other possibilities

In addition to Rangers, there are a few common guesses that are floating around right now. These include skin-shifters (such as Beorning), Wraiths, Bounders, Riders, Knights of Dol Amroth, Sages, and Trackers.

Skin-shifters could be a really neat addition to the game as a class that can transform between tank (bear) and melee DPS (Man) at will. Sauron was another type of skin-changer; he changed into a werewolf (seriously). The big problem here is that unless Turbine's obtained special permission to access the Hobbit or other supplemental material, skin-changers weren't mentioned much in the trilogy proper (although there are a few off-hand references). Plus, this doesn't fit with Campbell's claim of "multiple mentions" in the text.

As much as I'd kind of like for there to be a more magical class, Wizards are far too rare and powerful to be handed over to players. Plus, the anti-Rune-keeper brigade would come out in force against them on principle.

One of my kinmates pointed out that Turbine might be creating a class to go with Gondor, as we're moving in that direction. What that might be, I have no idea, but it does make sense in a way.

Questions on my lips
  • Will this new class be more powerful than previous classes (such as a "hero class" in other games)?
  • Will the class be available to all four races or only a small subset of them?
  • Will Turbine be expanding our maximum character limit to adjust for the demand?
  • Will the studio charge for the class? More specifically, will the studio charge subscribers for the class?
  • Are the devs looking for a class to enhance mounted combat or big battles?
  • Will the new class have a leveling advantage if its being marketed to vets?
My guess and reaction

I think a tank healer could do very well in the game. For starters, it's a two-for-one deal, shoring up the two most needed roles in groups. Being able to heal your mates by attacking would be a low-stress way to go about assisting a fellowship, especially if you could do double duty by tanking that boss at the same time. It feels right to me, at least, although I wouldn't be too surprised if a skin-changer or Ranger stepped up to be the new superstar.

In any case, it's certainly going to make for a lot of discussion and debate. Many of us have gone through the leveling journey multiple times, and even a new class might not be a long-lasting incentive to do it again. That's why I think Turbine may take a page from DDO and give us a class that starts at a higher level (although I'm not for this on principle).

I'm really pumped up over this announcement. It's high time that LotRO added another class to the game, and I think that it will serve well to energize the playerbase and perhaps lure in a wave of new folks. But what do you think?

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 justin@massively.com or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.

This article was originally published on Massively.