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Massively tours LotRO's upcoming three-man instances

MJ Guthrie

Although the canon Fellowship of the Ring was substantial when it set out from Rivendell in Tolkien's epic, the group's size diminished in time as members went their separate ways. So, too, can Lord of the Rings Online players split off into smaller groups for different adventures. Such is the case with the new Road to Erebor instances coming in Update 9, due to release some time in December. This trio of level-scaling instances lets a team of up to three dive into The Hobbit-inspired locales to do their part to prevent Mordor from gathering more and more power.

LotRO Senior Producer Aaron Campbell unlocked the secret back door and let Massively romp through the snowy hills, trash-strewn halls, and dark caverns of Iorbar's Peak, Seat of the Great Goblin, and Webs of the Scuttledells so Justin and I could share those experiences with you. We faced down massive stone giants, filthy goblins, and emaciated trolls so you'd know what to expect come release. And trust us when we say, there are a couple of hints you'll be glad to hear before tackling these new adventures.

Gallery: LotRO Road to Erebor instances | 35 Photos

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With the full release of The Hobbit movie right around the corner, it is understandable that folks have it on their minds. Who wouldn't want to step into that world? While not actively promoted as such, the three-man instances releasing this month are certainly inspired by the events and story of Bilbo's adventure. These new instances will allow LotRO players the opportunity to step into the realms that Bilbo trod some 83 years prior to the game's time period. From giants playing catch with boulders in the mountains to the streets of Goblin-Town, the ambiance will be familiar; the story, however, will be unique.

Players wishing to embark on these journeys will need to visit Gandalf at the Prancing Pony. He will explain his concern that the enemies of the past might be rousing to join Mordor, and he will ask you to investigate. Anyone level 20 through 85 can participate as the instances will scale to the level of the group. There are also different difficulty levels for each instance. Our group braved the higher difficulty of tier two. Are there more tiers of difficulty? I didn't dare ask because I didn't want to be shown; this level was tough enough.

Sounds like a fun adventure, right?

LotRO screenshotCatch!

Our first foray was into the snow-covered Misty Mountains, where our goal was to ultimately rescue a stolen Giant Eagle egg. Iorbar's Peak starts with a little dialogue between some Dourhand Dwarves that players can either interrupt or let play out in order to learn about the alliance between the stone giants and the dwarves. From there, it is a march up the slopes, dodging boulders tossed by stone giants while defeating more Dourhands and assorted mountain animals in a quest toward the egg. One new feature eagle-eyed folks may notice on their way to rescuing the egg is the new weather effects and the fact that brush will sway from the collision when run through.

The first of two bosses adventurers will face is Guthfinn, a Dourhand who ultimately convinces the nearby giants to change the rules of their rock-tossing game to include ways to hinder you. Dodge the boulders and giants while killing all of the attacking dwarves to move on. If you choose to play the instance at tier two difficulty, you will also have to dodge fiery exploding powder kegs.

The final boss is the stone giant Helf, who is guarding the stolen Giant Eagle egg. Here, adventurers actually have two separate objectives: to defeat Helf and to ensure that the egg takes no damage. Dourhands will sporadically run out with explosives to damage the egg, and the group must prevent them from reaching the egg. Complete both objectives and you get extra goodies. Fail at protecting the egg and it cracks. Luckily, we didn't experience what happens when the egg breaks open, and we weren't willing to purposely fail just to find out!

This fight was no walk in the snowy park. So as promised, here are a few words of warning for your adventure: When you see purple smoke, get out of it! Also, try to keep the Shadow Caller dwarves out of the black smoke. And while the giants might granny bowl by tossing all the boulders underhand, that doesn't lessen the impact if it lands on you. And finally, whatever you do, do not jump on the eagle egg at the end (even if it would make the perfect vantage point for a screenshot); you will crack it and nullify your chance to successfully complete the second objective.

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Giving Oscar the Grouch a run for his money

Our second adventure took place under the Misty Mountains, where we infiltrated Goblin-Town in order to prevent the uprising of a new Great Goblin. Our advice: Don't venture into Seat of the Great Goblin if you have a weak stomach. After the loss of the last great Goblin, the goblins really let the town go, and garbage is literally piled up everywhere. You can't take many steps without plunging your feet into rotten meat and piles of bones.

LotRO screenshotStill, that is nothing compared to when you approach the newest self-proclaimed Great Goblin, who summarily deposits you into the trash pit. There, you face down an emaciated troll while refuse rains down on your head. Once you defeat him, you get to move on to fight the Great Goblin himself. Defeat him and you win, right? Um, no...

It turns out that once you dethrone the first Great Goblin, another jumps up to take his place. Adventurers will find that each successive goblin (there are three total) will have more followers to come to his aid than the last. And while you may be fighting for your lives, try to keep up on the chatter of each great Goblin -- it makes for an amusing time.

One hint for this adventure: When you come to a rope to climb to the second level, don't try to click the one hanging overhead. Instead, click on the little one coiled on the ground at your feet.

The (not so) itsy-bitsy spider

Sadly, time was up before we could fully delve into the third and final three-man instance, Webs of the Scuttledells in the shadows of Mirkwood. Suffice it to say, if you are a fan of spiders, you are going to really like this one. Arachnophobic? Then not so much. My one bit of advice is beware of what you free from the cocoons -- it won't all be grateful elf scouts popping out to give you thanks! Word also has it the first boss is one of the new wights added in Riders of Rohan (a Draug) and that there is a secondary objective at the final boss Digelir.

Some of the experiences in these new instances will be across the board. All adventurers will notice new mechanics with buffs and debuffs. For instance, brawler mobs will take more damage from melee attacks, whereas healers will take more damage from ranged. Lower-level adventurers will notice that auto-looting is enabled in these zones, erasing the need to stop and pick things up. Loot scales with the group's level, and players may find epic-quality items in their loot bag after defeating the bosses.

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Although players will find their initial runs will take longer as they first experience the instances and learn the ins and outs, the overall time devs are expecting runs to take are 30 to 45 minutes. That can easily fit into even shorter play-time allotments. So be sure to grab a couple friends when these instances open to the public and jump on in.

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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