Part of that will come from the drama of Thrymm and his love Cyneberg, but there's a lot in store for level-capped players of LOTRO with this update. "We struggled with not making Wildermore not just about gloom and doom," she said. This is the point in the Lord of the Rings story in which things are not going so well for the Free Peoples of Middle-Earth. The Fellowship is broken, and the quest to destroy the One Ring walks along the edge of a knife, while the forces of Isengard and Mordor are building armies of incredible numbers. The Nazgul have been seen scouting the river Anduin - a full attack is imminent - so in part this gloom is intentional. In the spirit of Tolkien though, the LOTRO devs didn't just want the whole update to be full of sadness, so they struggled to instill a sense of hope in the ongoing story and definitely I appreciated the attempt. I look forward to learning more about the mysterious villain of Nurzum, and finding out who sent him. (Given the name of this update, I think Saruman is a safe bet, but we'll see.)
Mechanics and game design-wise, this update adds a bunch of features and fine-tunes others. The mounted combat was a really fun addition to last year's expansion, and it allowed players to fight from horseback against the roving orc warbands raiding the countryside. To support this kind of play, Turbine introduced three different skill trees you could specialize your mounts with that added traits and abilities that concentrated on defense or movement. "We had three trait trees you could advance your mount with," Foell said. "One of those trait trees being the movement tree. That tree gave you traits and skills that increased your speed and improved your turn rate. The thing we found is that players gravitated towards that almost exclusively. Those traits were really necessary to make mounted combat feel fun and fast and compelling.
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.
"It was a big signal to us that we hadn't made that system as deep and as full of interesting choices as we set out to do," she continued. For this update, the devs rolled up all of the movement traits into the base, and created a brand new third tree that gave the player options for class-based skills and traits. "Every class is different, and we added new skills for all the classes. You can use traps while mounted now if you're a hunter, loremasters have a war wolf companion and minstrels can use the Helm of the Hammerhand skill," she listed as some examples.
There's also a new mechanic used for one of the "end game" daily quests that shows some promise. Once you gain a level of reputation with the Rohirrim, you'll be given one of several random quests every day to complete in order to test your mettle. Most of these involve the normal types of killing and murder we as MMO players do every day, but one is a bit special: Mounted Fishing. You grab a net and are sent to an instance in which tons of fish have spawned on the snow, presumably left from some kind of snow tsunami or winter fish Armageddon. You have to mount up and toss a net on the ground to scoop up 30 fish in a certain amount of time. The three different net sizes have different cooldowns, so you'll be balancing net selection with aiming and turning your mount. It's a diversionary minigame, sure, but mounted fishing is an undeniably fun break from the norm. I don't know how true the task is to Tolkien's vision of the Rohirrim, but it's at least as campy as pipeweed and fireworks in the Shire.
Of course, one aspect of LOTRO I've always enjoyed is the scenery and this update is no different. From the attack on the village of Scylfig, to the eaves of Fangorn forest touched by Nurzum's passing to the mead hall of Forlaw on an island above a frozen lake, the world builders and artists at Turbine have continued displaying their mastery in Treachery of the White Hand. If nothing else, the new update gives a lot of gorgeous real estate to explore.
After my brief time exploring all the new update has to offer the online denizens of Middle-earth, I just want to go back.