|Pub: Warner Bros. Interactive|
|Release: October 15, 2012|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood and Gore, Use of Alcohol and Tobacco, Violence|
by Josh Wirtanen
The Lord of the Rings Online was in a precarious position for a bit there. You see, several big-name MMOs have come out in the five-plus years that LotRO’s been around, and the MMO landscape is changing, growing ever further from that Everquest/WoW formula of old.
So how does an aging MMO retain player interest in the current PC gaming climate? Well, LotRO’s newest expansion, Riders of Rohan, answers by changing everything.
We’ve come to an important part in the classic Lord of the Rings storyline: the Breaking of the Fellowship. As Tolkien fans know all too well, this is where the storyline takes a radical turn. In fact, those who’ve read The Two Towers and Return of the King will remember that the entire format of the books makes a radical shift at this point, splitting into two simultaneous storylines instead of focusing on just one. It’s perfectly fitting, then, that LotRO follows suit by drastically changing the feel of the game.
Now, when I say “drastically changing,” I don’t necessarily mean a Cataclysm-type rebuilding of the existing world. The old haunts you love—like Bree-land, the Shire, and Moria—remain relatively unchanged. But as soon as you cross over into Rohan, you’ll feel like you’ve all of a sudden started playing a completely brand new MMO.
The central thrust of the new changes is mounted combat. Yes, now you will be able to ride your glorious war-steed around the plains of Rohan, whacking orcs and goblins without ever having to dismount. The thing about this, though, is that the core mechanics of the game had to completely change in order for this to work. But Turbine was up to the challenge, rewriting the formula completely in order to get this just right. As soon as you mount your first war-steed, it becomes obvious just how much thought and care the developers must have put into this aspect of the game.
Some of these changes will be noticeable as soon as you install the expansion. For example, any mob you are currently targeting will show up as an icon on your minimap. This doesn’t affect low-level gameplay all that much (though it’s certainly nice to be able to keep track of that troublesome goblin that keeps running off), but its impact on mounted combat won’t go unnoticed. When you’re riding by mobs at high speed, it would have been quite difficult to keep track of them otherwise.
Also, the damage numbers that float over the enemies’ heads as you whittle their health bars down now show up on the enemies’ character portraits. So even if a mob is not onscreen, you can still see those lovely yellow numbers.
There are other changes, though, that you won’t notice until you enter the new areas. For example, in mounted combat areas (yes, you can only ride your war-steed in specially designated areas), there’s a new system in place that allows you to auto-loot your enemies, which means you won’t have to ever step off your horse between battles.
Another interesting change is that several quests will just pop up on your screen, where you can accept or decline them as you draw near to the area in which the objectives lie. This keeps your quest chains moving and your XP bar growing at a remarkable pace. Sure, you’ll be given a lot of the standard “Kill X amount of Y” quests, but killing things while mounted is so much fun that you probably won’t complain.
Even the fundamental controls of the horse itself had to change. Not only do you have an entirely separate UI that comes up when you’re on your war-steed (with its own toolbar filled with mounted-combat-only skills), but the way your horse handles is completely different than how a standard mount does. Instead of using W to move forward and S to move backward, W here causes your horse to accelerate and S causes it to decelerate. As you gain speed, you have a Fury bar that fills, and the fuller this bar the more damage your attacks will do. This is great when you are out battling monsters and brigands out in the open fields, but it does make riding in town more difficult. Then again, it should make riding in town more difficult. These are gallant beasts of war, not some standard everyday equines; their purpose is battle, not meandering around villages and chatting with the locals. Because of this, your war-steeds feel powerful and majestic, just as they should. I guess what I’m trying to say is that Turbine absolutely nailed the mounted combat controls.