For players used to the more lush, wooded environments of Lord of the Rings Online, Book 13 may provide a rude awakening. The new zone, Forochel, lies further north than any of the previously accessible regions of Middle Earth, and it's every bit as hostile as you'd expect. Aaron Campbell, Live Producer for LotRO, was kind enough to guide me through the zone and showcase some of the highlights of Book 13 along the way. He explained that the harsh climate there wasn't just a product of its latitude. "[Forochel] is the remnants of the Great Cold that came out of Angmar and settled over the North, so there's a certain edge of corruption to it. It's not only cold, but an unnatural, supernatural cold."
Our tour of the icy wastes of Forochel began along the coast of the frigid Ice Bay. Not the best place for a dip, but the perfect opportunity for Campbell to point out the new environmental damage type that players will contend with as they travel throughout the zone. The cold not only lowers your morale, but places an additional debuff on you that grows more severe over time. This debuff makes it more difficult for you to resist future sources of cold damage, which many of the monsters around Forochel dish out. Fortunately, removing the debuff is as simple as finding a heat source, from a campfire to a nearby steam vent.
We traveled along the coastline until we reached a small fishing outpost controlled by a group of Gauredain. These lanky fellows weren't particularly keen on sharing their real estate with us, but after a few minutes of steel persuasion (aided by our crazy admin powers) we triumphantly reclaimed the hastily constructed hide canopies and bonfires for ourselves. But it was no use: before we could set up our hammocks and crack open a few brews, a group of nomadic Lossoth moved in and put us to work. The Lossoth are a hardy tribe of humans scattered across Forochel that aren't particularly friendly toward you when you first enter the zone. As you liberate their camps from hostile forces and complete quests for them, they gradually begin to realize that you're not there to kill them and entrust you with rare crafting recipes. My character, a Dwarf Guardian, was decked out in crafted Lossoth gear, a stylish Inuit-chic ensemble that grants some extra resistance to the cold.
One Lossoth fisherman politely requested that I do his work for him, and before I knew it I had my first fishing quest. Small problem: my inventory was so bloated with gear that a mere minnow could cause my pack to burst. Solution? Trash some rare and incomparable loot! Likely not a situation that players will encounter, but when you're already invincible, purples and blues lose some of their luster. With some extra space available, I moseyed over to the shoreline and made my first cast. The mechanics of fishing are simple: click the ability once to send out your line, wait for a nibble, then click the ability again to reel in your catch. My first victim was a rare giant goldfish, a modest haul but still rather satisfying for this novice angler.
Campbell took this fishing quest as an opportunity to point out some improvements to the quest interface. In Book 13, the quest log will feature easy-to-read visuals that indicate the status of your fellowship members on your current quests. Beyond that, it will be possible for players to look for a fellowship for a specific quest through the quest log itself which should make it even easier to find a group while questing.
With my fishing itch sufficiently scratched (it doesn't take much), Campbell took me to the Lossoth capital, a giant hide dome peppered with bonfires and vendors. Outside the front entrance were four banners corresponding to the four Lossoth outposts in Forochel that are constantly assailed by the expansionist Gauredain; each banner shows whether the corresponding camp is occupied by the Gauredain or the Lossoth. Inside, players who have achieved a certain level of standing with the Lossoth will be able to purchase items and recipes to make their stay in Forochel a little more comfortable.