While I've always thought that Turbine did an excellent job with LotRO's opening tutorial sequence, apparently Turbine thought it could be better. As a result, this fall's update will include a revamped new player experience that begins with the character customization screen (all the info is on one screen now, not spread out between several) and continues through the tutorial proper.
The UI, for example, has been favorably tweaked, including an easier-to-read experience bar at the bottom. Alongside the bag slots will be a new button that accesses the skirmish/instance interface (more on this later) as a way to encourage players to use this feature.
Tutorial pop-ups now include pictures, with sort of a "Frodo's Guide to Middle-earth" vibe. Oddly enough, the pictures go a long way to making these pop-ups more readable and friendly -- you no longer have to feel as though the game is winging paragraphs of new information at you from the start.
The team have also upgraded the beginning story for both hobbits and the race of man to bring it more in line with the storytelling advances they've incorporated over the years.
Instance interface and scaling
Next on the tour was a quick hop through the brand-new instance interface. Apparently, Turbine have come to the conclusion that their dungeons may be a little too inaccessible (and underplayed) by the general population and so have implemented an instant instance interface (say that three times fast!) to combat this. If you're like me and haven't run a lot of dungeons before, that might change come this fall. I was told that the praised skirmish interface was always seen as the first step in bringing this technology to instances. Both skirmishes and instances will be accessed through the same interface, which allows you and a team of friends to jump into the action right away, no matter where everyone is in the world.
Turbine are gradually working through the dungeons to not only make them scalable, but to also add new monsters, monster skills, polish and other general tweaks. Not all of the dungeons have received this treatment yet; as of right now, four hubs' worth of dungeons (Helegrod, Annúminas, Great Barrows and the Eregion group dungeons) are upgraded, with more to follow. There's been a little confusion as to how these instances scale -- Turbine clarified that while the instances and raids do not scale to group size, they will scale up to your level. For example, you can first access Great Barrows at level 20, and from then on scale it up so that you never out-level it.
Another cool change to these dungeons is that they're being chopped up into wings where appropriate so that players won't have to sit through a four-hour instance to finish the whole thing. You can jump into any of the four wings of Helegrod, for example, depending on how much time you have and where your interest lies. The team have also abolished raid locks and lowered the raid size (from 24 to 12) to make this raid more accessible.
When an instance is scaled up in levels, players receive proportionate rewards for the increased difficulty including marks and custom tokens. Similar to skirmish campaign marks, these instance marks are used as unique currency for gear and other items. Turbine are also making sure that these upgraded instances have a challenge mode, similar to what they started in the Mines of Moria
expansion, so that players willing to undergo a unique challenge will receive a superior token for their efforts.
You'll also have more to do in these upgraded dungeons. LotRO
will automatically hand you a number of quests for whatever dungeon you're running, on an average of five to six new quests, including a mission to slay the end boss. Additionally, there will be new deeds and daily dungeon quests available to prompt players to try a wide range of instances. Turbine's currently working on a dev diary to go into more details for this system.
I asked if Turbine had any plans to hook strangers up through the world join system, à la World of Warcraft's
dungeon finder. They said it was certainly something they'd considered, although the sheer difficulty in creating a balanced PUG means that if they did it wrong, it would be worse than if they never did it at all. So while it remains a possibility, it's not on the table for this fall.