LOTRO continues its epic story with an update focused on narrative and a crazy stone giant named Nurzul.
Every time I jump into Lord of the Rings Online for a brief developer tour, I wish I had devoted much more of my gaming hourly budget to it. The game Turbine has lovingly crafted to match the works of Tolkien is full of life, and evocative of the author's works, even if it is nearly 90% invention at this point. The Riders of Rohan expansion from 2012 introduced the horse lords of the East Wold and extrapolated their ongoing plight against the Uruk-hai of Isengard, as well as adding special mounted combat skills for all classes. Update 11 to the LOTRO client - dubbed Treachery of the White Hand - brings a smaller story arc against a specific villain, Nurzum, a unique and possibly ensorcelled stone giant. The update is live today, but I got a chance to take in some of the sights and sounds of the troubled area of Wildermore last week in a tour presented by Turbine.
While Treachery of the White Hand has its fair share of bug fixes and balancing to mounted combat - I'll get to that later - the focus of this update is clearly on story. To the north of Rohan, near the northern edges of Fangorn forest, lies the region known as Wildermore. The whole area surrounding a lake is beset by an unnatural winter, with drifts of white snow piling where hay and horses should be, and the townsfolk are pinning all their hopes of defeating this winter on one man. "This is Thrymm Redbeard, a hero of the people, and he is the great hope of Wildermore," said Hannah Foell, an associate producer of Lord of the Rings Online at Turbine as she showed me around. "He's a great warrior, all around good guy."
Begin your own epic adventure as the Race of Man, Elf, Dwarf, or Hobbit. Based on the books written by J. R. R. Tolkien and not the movies, LOTRO is a closest thing you can get to strolling through Middle-Earth with a solid walking stick in your hand as the road goes ever on and on.
Thankfully, Thrymm Redbeard's visual appearance matches his name. "He does have a red beard," Foell said. "There was a bug early in one of our alpha builds in which he was blonde. Our QA testers kept sending us bug reports like 'Thrimm Redbeard doesn't have a red beard!' We fixed that pretty quick."
Redbeard, and you as the player, are on hand for a big setpiece moment for Treachery of the White Hand and the introduction of Nurzum as he blasts through gates of Wildermore as if they were paper. The tall, blue stone giant looks and acts like no other giant in Tolkien's lore - they typically act like the dumb brute you might remember from Peter Jackson's The Fellowship of the Ring. "Nurzum is a stone giant, but you can tell he's different," Foell said. "He's smarter, he's talking, he introduces himself. He's also glowing, with a stone in his back. Nurzum brings an intense winter with him. These ice shards rise out of the ground wherever he goes." Nurzum attacks the town of Scylfig, tossing aside veteran warriors of the Rohirrim and smashes the Thane, Cynegar, and Thrymm has a tender moment with his betrothed before going to fight the giant himself. He fails, of course, but instead of killing the young warrior and sacking the rest of the town, Nurzum departs after saying, "I've done what I came for." Why didn't he destroy more of these petty humans? Why does a simple stone giant bring the icy winter with his mere presence?
"One of the things we've done in this update that's differing from the things we've done in previous updates is that there's one long story arc, of which Nurzum is the central adversary," Foell said. "In the past, we've had each zone have their own story arc, and Wildermore has five zones so we might have had five different stories. Instead, we wanted to have a long story in which we get to know the characters and the mystery is deep and engaging."