The Road to Mordor: Test driving LotRO's Beorning class


November 18th, 2008. That is the last time that Turbine added a new class (in that case, two) to Lord of the Rings Online. The last time, that is, until now in late 2014.

The Beorning is coming in with a similar level of anticipation and controversy that swirled around the Rune-keeper. There are folks excited about the possibilities of playing a skin-changer, and there are those hotly debating its lore qualifications. And if I have to hear "Beornings are a race, not a class" one more time, then I'll... get a free toaster. It turns out that Turbine has a clever response to that, by the way.

I'm on the "anticipation" side of things if only because I've been championing the addition of new classes to LotRO for years now. With the Beorning hitting the Bullroarer test server this past weekend, I knew that I had to get in and give the new class a quick test drive. So what did I discover?

Character creation

The first thing that caught my eye is that the Beorning model is definely "thicker" than the standard Man ones, especially around the waist. The wasp-like waists of the male models in this game have always made me a little nuts. Even the female Beorning is a little curvier than her Man counterpart.

Oh, and it turns out the Beorning is both a race and a class. Only Beornings can be Beornings, and only Beornings can be Beornings.

For its racial traits, Beornings are treated to increased might, reduced fate, +1% poison resistance, and increased vitality. That's not a bad package overall, since it makes the character more durable. Turbine lists the class as advanced difficulty with its primary role as damage or support, although they can tank and heal too. They're as hybrid as can be, right up there with my favorite Captain.

As you probably expected, the Beorning will cost 1000 Turbine Points to unlock, at least on the test server. It's not a surprise, since Turbine still charges for the Warden and Rune-keeper, but I wanted to make sure that it's clear that Update 15 won't be handing bear-men out for free.

There are a few nifty options during the visual customization portion of the character creation. While the hair is still chunk-ugly and the heads are mostly the same, there are a few new hairstyles to play with. I appreciated the variety of eye color (ooh, red), tattoos, and tattoo colors as well.

Overall, I approve of the look of this class/race. The Beorning looks substantial and powerful without making the other races look too wimpy (other than them flower-pickin' Elves, of course). They are reminiscent of the tribal people in Middle-earth, most notably the Dunlendings.

Home in the Vales

Following character creation, my baby Beorning appeared in a brand-new tutorial zone, the Vales of Anduin. You are one of the "children or grandchildren" of Beorn, as seen in the Hobbit trilogy. Remember his four-minute cameo? Man, that was great. Anyway, time to ooh and ahh over a pretty little slice of the world we haven't seen before.

Before getting into the intro quests, I pored over the starting skill lineup. The skin-changing skill is first up; it'll transform me into a bear (which is, by the way, the only other form this class takes, so don't be thinking that you will have a wide variety like World of Warcraft's Druid). I actually couldn't use it right away; it requires one unit of Wrath (which is attained in battle) to activate and drains three Wrath per second while activated. There's also a thrash attack that's only usable as a bear. So it looks as if the bear form is for a temporary battle boost and not something that's sustained over the long haul. At least we won't be seeing a million bears stampeding all through Hobbiton come this patch.

Apart from bear mode, the Beorning starts out with a two-handed axe and a pair of strong attacks. I haven't played a character who uses axes in this game, so that has some appeal. It can also dual wield weapons, as I soon got a one-handed axe and dagger to use.

A wild wizard approaches!

As a member of this clan, I've been ordered to stay in the Vale most of my life. This all changes when the wizard Radagast appears. Or it would change things, except I'm a little cub on the totem pole and not invited to the meeting.

Instead, the tutorial sends me to do a variety of learn-your-class tasks, such as talking to cows in animal languages, sparring with a cousin, and smacking down those oversized Middle-earth mosquitoes. So how does the Beorning feel in combat? At least initially, it's a fairly standard melee attacker who has the special option to shift into bear mode for stronger attacks. The transition between forms is done with a fade-in, fade-out instead of any really cool transformation animation, but I wasn't expecting anything great in that regard. It is kind of fun to smack things down as a bear, although the always-ticking-down wrath bar keeps that fun on a time limit.

Very initial impressions of the combat style leave me wanting a lot more. The lack of a ranged pull means that every fight involves running up to the mob, after which I spam attack skills until I can go into Smokey mode and then spam the one skill I have there. Probably the biggest issue is Big Bear Butt Syndrome, in which your huge hiney obscures a lot of what's going on in the fight. The bear model isn't terrible, but it's not much better than bears already in the game. I would like to see customization options with bear mode to differentiate my hide and pattern from those of other players.

At level 6 I got a nice little heal skill that was the first inkling of the Beorning's potential as a battlefield medic. Since I was taking some serious damage in human form, it was definitely nice to have that as a safety net.

Soon enough, my family discovered that goblins are starting to cross over into the Vales, and Radagast says that he needs our help to spread the message of the impending doom that's settling over the world. That's as good a reason as any to leave home, so after barely 15 minutes, I'm given a pack of starter gear, promoted right from level 1 to level 5, and sent on a horse to post-burning Archet to find Aragorn for some extra help.

Getting your Beorning bearings

So let's break away from the hands-on to talk about the class as a whole. The Beorning can wear up to medium armor and wield (and dual-wield) daggers, axes, clubs, and spears. Looking down the full skill list, there are a few that stand out: throwing bees at your foe (Bee Swarm), a short-duration sprint (Rush), a bear roar that incites fear (Grisly Cry), and a channeled bear mauling (Relentless Maul).

As I mentioned previously, the Beorning is extraordinarily flexible in how you want to play it, either as pure DPS, healing, tanking, support, or some mix of the above. The Hide trait line is the Beorning's tanking build. It contains the up-armor boost that you'd expect, although it adds on enemy debuffs as well. I really like the Vexation trait, as it adds wrath just for getting hit. That would be invaluable if a player were looking to stay in bear form while tanking a boss.

The red line, The Claw, is DPS as you would expect. Lots of hard-hitting attacks and a lesser ability to gain wrath (this one through critical hits). Then there's the most interesting trait line (at least to me): The Roar. This contains healing and support options, such as buffs, heals, and singling out an ally for special treatment.

An in-game GM told me that the build I saw was in an "incomplete state" but that the functionality of the Beorning was there. I can attest to that; there were several placeholders in the tutorial and new builds were on the way even as I wrote this up.

Hopefully enough testing and polish will go into the Beorning to make it a worthy addition to the current class line-up. If so, then I have no doubt that bear puns will be upon us in full force come Update 15.

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 or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.