It's a good week, therefore, to be thinking about the future. My mind never stops thinking about future possibilities for any franchise, and even if they never come to be, these speculations are a great pastime of any fan. I'm always wondering "What if?" as I play Lord of the Rings Online -- what if I could mug Frodo and become the Ring-bearer? What if those lazy bums finally finished the repairs to the tavern in Frogmorton? What if Elves could kill innocent woodland creatures and go to the dark side?
Playing "What if?" with LotRO is tougher than with other games because of the limitations imposed by the IP. Despite what some say, Turbine's struggled hard to stay within the boundaries of lore and setting, and while that's helped the company to be creative in ways that it might not have otherwise, it does present some unique obstacles that aren't present in competing MMOs.
So to celebrate PAX, LotRO, and the future, here's a column of "What ifs?" for your consumption!
Phew, this is a toughie to start with. Lord of the Rings revolves around the four "Free Peoples" races of Middle-earth -- Man, Elf, Dwarf and Hobbit -- and that's pretty much that. It's not like Gnomes popped up at the Battle of Pelennor Fields or a tribe of well-meaning Kobolds gave the Fellowship support during a critical hour.
So we're going to have to stretch here, and stretch we will. There are a few possibilities both within the books and also in the gameworld that Turbine's fleshed out, so it's not like it's impossible. The Earth-kin have always intrigued me, and they do fit within the parameters of what we need here: a generally "good" race that's intelligent, uses tools and weapons, and has a somewhat significant presence in the world.
Less thrilling to me, but also an option, is to present a racial crossbreed such as a Half-Elf. Mixed breeds are fairly common in other fantasy games and MMOs, and they're actually a significant part of Lord of the Rings. Elrond is Half-Elven, as was his brother (and Aragorn's father), and Aragorn and Arwen's child was obviously a half-breed as well. In an interesting twist, the Half-Elven of Middle-earth have to choose which race to belong to, after which they're considered a full-fledged Man or Elf.
Past this, we're left with either overpowered beings (the Valar) or ones that simply would not work for many reasons (the Eagles and Ents).
Some might say that Turbine's already shown us that its at the limits of its class-creation abilities by stretching the field with the Rune-keeper, but I do hope the future holds another profession or two for our stalwart heroes. Classes are a great way to extend interest in a game, and the devs' ability to come up with twists on traditional roles has me wondering what else could be.
I can see unique fighting styles by both the inhabitants of Gondor and Rohan come into play here, particularly since we're only starting to venture in those directions. Mounted combat is rumored to be coming to the game, and a class that specialized in such would be a natural addition to reflect Rohan's defining trait.
A shapeshifting class, drawing inspiration from Beorn, could be another possibility -- who wouldn't want to morph into a bear and swipe an Orc's face clean off?
Of course, fans have always been clamoring for two of the most popular options: wizards and Rangers. Wizards are right out, as they're limited by lore to extremely few numbers (and we don't want to pull a Star Wars Galaxies here with billions of Jedi running around), but Rangers? Yes, I can see it happening. After all, we already have the ability to play Rangers in several session play quests, and the skills we've seen them use are a fun twist on Hunter abilities.
We've seen the writing on the wall: The Fellowship and the players are heading south into Dunland, Rohan, Gondor and (eventually) Mordor. We've romped around Eriador for several years now, and the general feeling is that it's time to move forward.
However, I truly would like to see more zones added to this land, especially as we've been teased by sealed doors and mentions of other areas. It'd also be nice to have more alternative paths while leveling. The Grey Havens and Lindon would be a significant locale, especially as a sort-of epilogue to the Elf culture, although it's problematic from a design perspective considering that it's an extremely peaceful region.
The deforested plains of Minhiriath have yet to be explored, although there might not be much to differentiate it from Eregion and Enedwaith. The Far Downs, Southfarthing, Baraid Hills, Tower Hills and more have yet to be explored -- and I'm not the only player who'd love to see them!
Personally, I love goats and am apathetic about horses. I've always felt that having two (three if you want to put "ponies" in its own category) mount types was really restrictive, although there's that IP problem again. Considering that LotRO now has 1,412 varieties of horses, I think perhaps it's time to branch out to different mounts.
So what is there, really? I'm not even going to dignify flying eagle mounts with speculation, but I do hope we'll get to see something else in the future. The Lossoth use sleds and mammoths for locomotion, although those would look pretty odd in non-winter zones. Wargs? Considering that they're totally batting for Team Sauron, that's not going to work either. Oliphants may be far too big for this purpose.
Here's a thought: water mounts. There are plenty of rivers, streams and lakes in LotRO, and I'd absolutely love to be able to sail across them than swim. Boat mounts -- of which there could be infinite versions -- seem a logical and reasonable request. They would even add some strategy to the travel portion of the game, turning waterways into highways of sorts, safe passages from here to there.
I have plenty more "What Ifs?" left on my list, but I'm going to save them for a future date. So how would you answer the above questions? What races, classes, zones or mounts would you like to see added to the game?
When not enjoying second breakfast and a pint of ale, Justin "Syp" Olivetti jaws about hobbits in his Lord of the Rings Online column, The Road to Mordor. You can contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.