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From warhorses to hobby horses: A ride through LotRO's Rohan

MJ Guthrie

I have to admit, every bit of news for Lord of the Rings Online: Riders of Rohan that has come out has been a little stab in my heart. Is the news that bad? On the contrary, it is too good! But because of my notorious uber-casual gaming style, I had little hope of seeing the content anytime before the 2016 presidential elections; stalled in my low 60s, I am ineligible to participate in LotRO's upcoming content. Suddenly, all of my time spent wandering the beauty of Middle-earth, playing music, visiting player-run events, and participating in festivals seemed a less-than-ideal way to spend my time.

But then fate intervened: I received an invitation to get a first-hand look at Riders of Rohan with a tour guided by Senior Designer Joe Barry and Senior Producer Aaron Campbell. Knowing that participating would be a double-edged sword (getting a taste only to know I couldn't have more), I still jumped at the chance. I'll just deal with the disappointment later, I thought. For a brief time, I got to immerse myself in Rohan and get a look at what awaits players when the expansion launches on October 15th. And between rebuilding an entire town, hobby horse races, and riding warsteeds, I am psyched-up to actually level and take part in all that RoR will offer.

Gallery: LotRO: Riders of Rohan | 245 Photos

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During my hands-on experience, Joe and Aaron took me to various areas throughout Rohan, both those open to current beta testers and those that were not. (Ahh, the glorious powers of devs!) Consequently, I was able to experience some of the upcoming new features in Riders of Rohan.

In explaining some of the methodology behind this expansion's offerings, Joe noted that Turbine is aiming for a different target experience for endgame content. He emphasized that the people who play hardcore in instances and raids are not the majority of LotRO players. Instead, more players solo or duo as they play, have shorter play session times, and are just generally more casual. Joe pointed to those players who simply want to be in Middle-earth, not necessarily grind out uber gear and "win" the game (that sure sounds familiar). As such, Riders of Rohan is meant to cater to this broader base of the player population. All you raider types will have your day, however -- just not today. Joe promised, "A classic MMO endgame is coming, but that's not now."

Taking full advantage of this hands-on experience, this casual player sunk her teeth into rebuilding a part of the decimated Rohirrim village, galloped about the open plains on a warsteed, and was the first non-dev to compete in a fantastic new quest: a race through the streets of one village on a... get this... hobby horse!

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Rebuilding Hytbold

The majority of my time was spent either in the burned-out town of Hytbold or doing a task in relation to its rebuilding. Here, the situation that Joe described in his dev diary came to life. To prove their worth to the inhabitants of Rohan, players will take this gutted shell of a town and turn it back into a bustling and vibrant outpost that will help defend the lands. Lest you worry that you will miss the rebuilding of the town because, like yours truly, you cannot get to Rohan quickly, know that the rebuilding is actually a solo endeavor. The state of the town is client-side, so you will see the town only at whatever stage you have gotten it to. That's a total plus in that no one will miss out on this content, but it's a negative in that friends invited to your new little village won't see what you do or be able to use your amenities.

LotRO screenshotThe town is slowly rebuilt as you complete quests for local folks. Completing quests awards you tokens that can then be spent on upgrades for each specific building. Some upgrades also require specific reputation with certain groups. The quests themselves are dailies. There are 50 different daily quests, and a random 16 of those 50 will be offered each day. Players can then choose to complete any five of those proffered 16. Some dailies do involve mounted combat, but not all. I actually gathered glowing mushrooms for one of mine.

With only a few dailies available per day, and the fact that each of the over two dozen buildings has a different number of upgrades (for instance, the Stable has seven, but the Mead Hall has 28) for a combined total of over 150, this rebuilding endeavor is something that will happen over time. At the completion of the restoration, players will have the opportunity to participate in the culmination of the Eastern Rohan storyline and be named an honorary noble of Rohan.

During reconstruction, different NPCs will become available to players, such as a stable-master for travel, quest givers, and merchants. One set of NPCs offer customized armor sets for each trait line for each class. Each piece of this gear is tied to an upgrade in the town and will be available only after the upgrade is completed. These armor sets include set bonuses and are actually raid-quality gear. That's right, folks: a solo path to obtaining raid-level gear! Joe also emphasized that all of the gear is bind to account, so once you rebuild the town on one character, you can buy the gear for alts and send it to them without rebuilding it on each character.

That's the nuts and bolts of it. But how did it play out? Touring through the blackened husks, I was impressed by an air of sadness for all of the destruction. Even decimated, the area had a beauty to it, but I was eager to see how the town would look once it started to spring back to life. Indulging me, the devs auto-completed a couple of quests, allowing me to add three different upgrades to the stable. The transformation was startling! The upgrades aren't minimal; they're obvious and expansive. Check out the before and after shots below:

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But just auto-finishing things didn't give me a taste of what quests were available, so we took a couple of quests and entered one of the new instanced public quest areas. To complete my fungus daily, I was ported into a cavern area, which is one of a dozen new dungeon interiors (of the 12 new interiors, only a random four will be available each day). However, unlike other quest instances in LotRO, these are not locked to a specific group. Likewise, mobs are no longer locked to a specific person or group here either; anyone present can help defeat encounters and share in the victory as well as the spoils. The idea is to foster more social play.

One of the greatest features ever was implemented here as well: remote looting. Pack-rats will be doubly overjoyed, as all of the loot from mobs in Eastern Rohan is automatically collected and actually goes into a special 50-slot pending loot pouch, not the regular inventory bags. The loot then stays in this pouch for one hour of played time before disappearing. Players can open the pouch anytime using the icon near the bottom right of their screens and pick and choose what items they want to actually withdraw from the pouch and keep. According to Joe, this was meant to improve the natural flow of adventuring by cutting down on trips to town due to full bags or having to decide what is worth keeping and what can be deleted. This feature will certainly save me time.

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At the races

As much as the other aspects of the expansion are cool, I have to give my MJ stamp of approval awesomeness to the most unique and fun experience I had during the tour: horse racing like you have never seen it. OMZG!!1! Seriously, a hobby horse race. If only I could have livestreamed that few minutes as Joe and I raced through the streets, slapping the invisible rumps of our hobby horses in an attempt to beat the timer and win the race. I tell you, I am going to level up my Minstrel just so I can go back and run that quest repeatedly!

Explaining the idea behind the new quests between my peels of laughter, Joe emphasized that the devs were really looking to make the quests more interesting and unique. I gotta say, they hit the nail on the head.

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Hi ho Silver, away!

No look at Riders of Rohan would be compete without, well... riding through Rohan. So for the tail end of my hands-on experience, I was ported to some open plains where I could mount up and gallop off. Let me just say that horseback riding in Rohan is nothing like riding mounts through the rest of Middle-earth. I didn't have time to participate in any mounted combat as I was first just getting used to the new style of movement.

Once you start moving on your warhorse, you are auto-running. Just releasing the movement key won't do anything to stop you (newbie error number one for me). To slow down, press the "s" key. After I'd run around for a bit, Joe gave me the hint to double tap the "s" to actually stop, and stop I did, literally right in my tracks.

Another great aspect, one that took some getting used to, is banking. No, I don't mean ATMs. When turning your horse, you'll find it isn't just a matter of turning on a dime. Instead, you have to allow for momentum. The faster you are traveling, the wider your turning arc. It was definitely more realistic and added to the feeling of being atop a horse, riding through the world.

Massively LotRO Exclusive From warhorses to hobby horses, a ride through Rohan
A few odds and ends

There really is so much to see in Rohan that I could hardly scratch the surface during my all-too-short time there. I was ported to the non-torched town of Floodwend, where townsfolk were dancing. I ventured through part of the realistically done Fangorn Forest that had me peeking around for danger. And I was taken to Edoras, where I was able to view the banners and tapestries throughout the hall that display lines from the poem sung by Aragorn about the horse and the rider. (I also sat in the throne, but shhh, that's not supposed to happen.) In the hall was also a foreshadowing of what is to come -- namely, Western Rohan.

LotRO ScreenshotAlthough I didn't experience them personally, Joe also told me about the new location-triggered quests throughout Rohan. As players get close to quest areas, they will get a pop-up for a nearby quest. See a band of bandits? It makes sense to just deal with them, not wander around looking for an NPC to give you the chore. Likewise, some quests will also complete in the field and not require adventurers to head back to town to turn them in. This was all done, as Joe stated, "to reduce downtime and improve the flow of gameplay."

All said, even though my time was too short, I enjoyed the chance to see Rohan. What I saw made me excited for the expansion, even if I cannot personally participate in it upon launch. Many thanks to Joe Barry and Aaron Campbell for sharing their time and expertise. It was obvious throughout the interview and tour that both these devs are very excited for the expansion and are proud of the content. As well they should be; it's going to be quite a ride!

Massively's not big on scored reviews -- what use are those to ever-changing MMOs? That's why we bring you first impressions, previews, hands-on experiences, and even follow-up impressions for nearly every game we stumble across. First impressions count for a lot, but games evolve, so why shouldn't our opinions?

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