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Lord of the Rings Online's Update 11 brings on the cold factor

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Lord of the Rings Online is arguably one of the greatest MMOs to utilize the free-to-play model. Perhaps it has an unfair advantage over the other F2P MMOs out there, since LotRO has the beloved works of J.R.R. Tolkien for a backdrop, but it also boasts a supremely talented staff of creators determined to bring this word to life in a very enjoyable way.

Of course, not all of Middle-earth is represented yet, and, as a result, LotRO is constantly expanding. Those familiar with the game will know that Eastern Rohan was added in a brand new expansion last year, and at the end of 2013, we’re expecting to finally get to explore Helm’s Deep.

Tucked in between those two expansions, though, is a content update that adds a new landmass to the game. With Update 11 due to launch on Monday, I was invited to take a tour through some of the new content with a couple of the developers. Unfortunately, due to technical problems, I was unable to actually get in-game and see the content for myself. Nonetheless, I got to sit on a conference call with Hannah Foell, Associate Producer on LotRO, and Leo Tan, Digital Communications Manager, who explained to me what we can expect when the update goes live.

The new landmass we’ll get to explore is a mini-region called Wildermore, which is the northern part of Rohan, even extending into the northernmost portion of Fangorn Forest. The definitive feature of this landmass is that it’s covered in snow. However, this isn’t a naturally cold, snowy region; it’s a typically warmer region that’s been hit with wintery weather due to some mysterious magic. (It brings Narnia to mind, actually.) It’s up to you, the player, to figure it all out.

The first area you’ll encounter is a town called Scylfig, nestled in the Writhendowns, which quickly erupts into chaos upon the arrival of a stone giant called Núrzum. This isn’t your average, dumb-as-a-rock (yeah, it was a bad pun) sort of stone giant though. Núrzum has some measure of intelligence, being able to talk and all, and he glows with a magical radiance. He also, apparently, has this urge to hunt you down and murder you. So watch out.

The rest of your journey through the new area will be a sad one, as you encounter NPCs in various states of despair over the destruction left in Núrzum’s wake. In fact, I was told that one of these NPCs originally had nine children, and all but one were killed in the attack. He may be the saddest NPC in Wildemore.

Tan and Foell also talked to me a bit about the Balewood, another of Wildemore’s areas. This one takes place in the northern tip of Fangorn, so you can expect tons of trees. (The ents have mostly abandoned the now-frozen Balewood, though a few remain.) One of the cool features was a trail of broken-down trees that happened as a result of Núrzum’s careless tromping. Now, this is used as essentially an “orc highway.” It’s crawling with orcs, and there are fires of burning wood trolls lighting the way. It’s pretty bleak.

But that’s not to say it’s all gloom and doom throughout. With the surrounding chaos caused by the War of the Ring (which isn’t going so great for mankind at this point in the timeline), Turbine wanted to give at least a little glimmer of hope. In fact, there are some lighthearted minigames and things to be found in Wildemore. Perhaps the most exciting of all of these is a mounted fishing minigame, in which you cast nets into the water to catch fish while on horseback. It sounds cool.

The new area may be the focal point of Update 11, but it’s not the only thing worth getting excited about. For example, the mounted combat system has been revamped a bit. Originally, your war-steed had a three-branched skill tree that you could advance as it leveled up. One of those branches was all about speed. What Turbine discovered through talking to the community, as well as from data gathered from internal playtests, was that players overwhelmingly favored the speed branch of the skill tree, leaving the other two mostly ignored. The fix here was to roll the speed branch into the war steed’s base stats, then add a brand new skill tree branch to compensate for the loss of the speed branch.

This new branch is all about your class skills, as now each class will have unique abilities that can be used during mounted combat. For example, hunters can now use traps while mounted, and loremasters have a war-wolf companion.

Additionally, there are new bonuses to VIP players (or, players who are paying the monthly subscription fee). These are things like daily enhanced XP bonuses and Hobbit gifts bestowed to VIP players, which contain random items. I wasn’t told what those items were exactly, but we’ll find out when the update goes live.

All in all, LotRO's Update 11 brings a heap of new content, as well as some updates to mounted combat and some new rewards for VIP members. The content is completely free for VIP players, though free players will have to purchase Wildemere with Turbine Points (which can be earned in-game or purchased with real-world money).

As we head into summer, it’ll be nice to have some ice cold content to fiddle around with to remind us that winter is never far off.

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Josh Wirtanen
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Games: The Lord of the Rings Online

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