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The Road to Mordor: Enedwaith Exploration Expo


E3 is always an exciting time full of announcements, reveals and hundreds of journalists attempting to leech every last drop of information from crafty studios. It's pretty much insane, and if your head isn't exploding from all of the news, trailers, screenshots and surprises, then I'm going to have to ask you to hand in your gamer card.

For Turbine, this year's E3 has been a crucial moment in the company's history. Not only are we seeing them under the Warner Bros. banner in public, but they had to step up and both defend and build off of the revelation of Lord of the Ring Online's new business model. They were smart not to save the announcement itself for E3, because the gaming public and the press needed a bit of time to both digest the news and get past the initial emotional reaction so they could bring the studio thoughtful questions. Turbine's undoubtedly enjoying its fair share of press coverage at E3 because of this, and that's saying something considering all of the other heavy-hitters like Star Wars: The Old Republic, Final Fantasy XIV and Warhammer 40K that are making appearances.

No matter what your feelings are on the F2P model, Turbine's got a lot more for LotRO gamers than just that -- in fact, they've been bombarding us with so much good new stuff that it's hard to know where to start. So let's take a quick tour through 10 exciting additions and updates to the game that they've revealed.

1. Enedwaith

Finally! Finally, we're turning away from eastward exploration and are going south again, paralleling the Fellowship's journey. Turbine's promoting Enedwaith as one of the two big jewels of the fall, a new zone that sits south of Eregion. Sure, it's not quite on the level of a Moria-sized expansion, or even a Mirkwood one, but fans always welcome virgin Middle-earth territory to explore and conquer. Enedwaith's map is, shall we say, colorful; in fact, my first reaction was, "Did someone at Turbine take a bet to use all of the primary colors in one map?"

Enedwaith doesn't get a lot of face time in the Lord of the Rings, as it's more or less a large, empty chunk of land that sits between Eregion to the north, Gondor to the south, and Rohan and Isengard to the East. This gives Turbine a lot of leeway to fill that zone with unexpected locales, stories and struggles, and similar to other Lord of the Rings-lite zones (such as Forochel), I trust they'll do a great job with that freedom.

2. Volume III Book 2

A huge pull for many LotRO players itching for something new at the level cap is the continuation of the epic storyline. We began Volume III earlier this past spring with the "Ranger round-up" as players recruited familiar Dúnedain faces to make a southward journey and assist in the upcoming War of the Ring. That effort should pay off in Volume III Book II, as players and the Rangers cross into Enedwaith, carrying a special Arwen-tastic banner to Aragorn while dealing with a land under siege from Saruman. We don't know much else about this new book, other than that it will use the same dramatic storytelling elements that Turbine's been perfecting over the years.

Interestingly enough, it appears that Turbine will keep the epic storyline quests open to F2P gamers, up to and including this zone.

3. Ranger session play

Session play is something Turbine's been dabbling with for a while now, giving players the opportunity to jump into the shoes (and role) of another character or creature. Ranger session play is now poised to enter the PvE side of the game (previously it was confined to PvMP), giving players the chance to go back in time and see a bit more of the backstory of this mysterious people. Session play is proving to be an invaluable tool for time travel in LotRO, and I really hope we see more of it (hint: The Hobbit).

4. Wardrobe

Lost in a lot of the F2P hoopla was the mention of a new "wardrobe" feature coming to players this fall. LotroLife did an excellent job summing up the salient details: The wardrobe will help free up inventory and bank space by providing storage slots for cosmetic items. It's expandable from 20 to 50 slots, comes standard for VIPs, and can be obtained account-wide with a one-time purchase from F2P and Premium players. The wardrobe looks to take the outfit system to the next level, and for Freeps who like to look their best, this is exciting stuff.

5. Improvements to Legendary Items and housing

These aren't necessarily coming with the fall patch, but Turbine's made a point of saying that improvements to these features are on the way, and that they should help shore up the weaker spots. Considering how irritable players have been over the "lottery" that LIs create, and the limitations of player housing, any work being done on them is welcome news indeed.

6. A new hobby

Okay, this is categorized under the "distant future" heading rather than "coming this fall" as well, but a new hobby? Yes, please, and keep them coming! The hobby system has been so underwhelming, with its one love-it-or-hate-it hobby of fishing, that it's been a little bit of an embarrassment to the game. We can only speculate at this point, although I think that gardening, fireworks and Dance Dance Hobbit Revolution are all viable contenders.

7. Instant, scalable instances

I don't know about you, but I'm still in love with the Skirmish feature in LotRO, particularly with how accessible it is, and how easy it can be to get friends together for a quick run. It's very good news, then, to hear that Turbine's taking this setup and applying it to instances and raid zones as well, allowing players to queue up for a run, scale it to their level and fellowship size, and jump into it from anywhere in the world. It's not quite as full-featured as World of Warcraft's Dungeon Finder, but it should go a long way to encouraging players to actually run this content outside of very dedicated kinships. Best yet is that you can use this new system to actually solo these instances (but not raids) if so desired, and collect some nice cosmetic armor in the process.

8. DX11

Hey, anything to make an already-gorgeous game look better is a no-brainer in my book. Visual junkies have been asking for and salivating over the prospect of DX11 effects in the game, and it appears that they'll get their wish come this fall.

9. The Store

Naturally, there's a tidal wave of raging curiosity when it comes to the new LotRO store. Everyone wants to know two things: what will be offered, and how much will it cost? We got a peek at a store mockup the other day, although Turbine's quick to point out that no items or prices are set in stone at this point. We do know that Free and Premium players can purchase quest packs by region, that cosmetic items will be in the store, that ports to zones are a possibility, and that Turbine's even mulling over potions that allow you to increase the rate that you accomplish a particular virtue deed.

10. We're heading to Isengard!

After what seems like a long wait in the north, both the Fellowship and players are set to plow through The Two Towers, and Turbine's stated that Isengard (and presumably Helm's Deep) are next on the tour. We should hit Isengard in 2011, although PC Gamer reports that Turbine is waiting to whether if it should be a full-blown expansion or part of a content pack.

11. Mounted combat

Who says we need to stick to a list of just 10 things? Let's crank this baby up to 11, and finish with a bit of news that should make all battle-happy equestrians delirious: TTH reports that mounted combat is still on the table for the eventual Rohan expansion. So saddle-up, my kinsmen and kinswomen, and let's ride to glory!

Weatherstock '10 Report

While unfortunately I was unable to attend last Saturday's battle of the bands on Landroval, by all reports Weatherstock '10 was a huge hit. You can relive the event through the following blogs:

Tavern Talk -- A look at what the LotRO community is talking about this week:

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