The Great River flows from the Misty Mountains down out to the Great Sea (lots of "greats" in Middle-earth, which is great), and it's on this waterway that the Fellowship of the Ring traveled from the solace of Lothlorien to the tragedy at Parth Galen. The river represents transition in many ways: from safety to peril, from unity to dissolution, from north to south, from The Fellowship of the Ring to The Two Towers.
For Lord of the Rings Online players, the Anduin will mark another transition: the bridge between Rise of Isengard and Riders of Rohan. Seeing as how we got a major taste of this brand-new zone this week, I thought we should take a gander at what The Great River will add to our journey toward Mordor.
The more time passes, the more a clear pattern emerges as to how Turbine's approaching the growth of the game and game world. I really think the studio's been working hard toward forming a pattern that will expedite this growth, and I can't blame the team for setting up a structured routine like this.
The pattern goes something like this: First, Turbine releases an "intro" zone that's meant both to tide over anxious players who are already bored at the level cap and to connect the previous expansion with the new one. Lothlorien is to Mirkwood as Enedwaith is to Dunland as The Great River is to Rohan. When the intro zone comes out, it's not necessarily helping with the XP process (as most people will be at the cap), but later on down the road it will transform into a helping step on the leveling journey.
Next up is the expansion proper, followed by a couple of updates that add another book or two to the epic storyline in the region (gotta mine those zones for all they're worth!). Rinse and repeat -- that's the expansion cycle as we know it. Maybe Turbine won't be sticking to this after Rohan, but I would bet good money that we'll be seeing the same when Glory of Gondor, Doom of Mordor, and Scouring of the Shire come out. What, I can't prognosticate?
I love maps. I really, really do. And I'm glad that whoever is working on LotRO's in-game maps has stepped it up as of late; they're quite nice to behold.
So let's take a look at The Great River's layout. We've got a rough north-to-south progression that links the golden forest of Lothlorien with the great plains of Rohan. Eight areas mark the landscape, with two of them -- Thinglad and Stangard -- looking to be settlements of some kind. There's a nice diversity of landscape and colors (note from west to east: green, gold, dark green, brown), and it's apparent that the easternmost section is not going to be as friendly or welcoming as the west.
It's hard to get a feel for how "great" this zone is, size-wise, although I get the feeling that it's pretty comparable to Enedwaith. Now, it's location is pretty bizarre, at least in relation to our own personal journeys. I mean, have you ever mapped out the crazy zig-zags the game asks us to go on all over this continent? Going south into Dunland and then west into Isengard made sense. Going from Isengard aaaaaall the way back to the north for Lothlorien -- then marching south -- is just weird. It's like backtracking in a dungeon taken to the nth degree.
I have to say that in a region dominated by a river, I'm disappointed that it doesn't look like we're doing much in terms of river-travel. I've been a big (and probably solo) proponent of player-operated boats -- boat mounts -- in the game, and this would've been a terrific zone to introduce such a feature.
Turbine released seven videos this past week to give a flyby overview of the region. I sat down with each and took a few notes on my impressions:
The Brown Lands: Probably the ugliest part of the zone, with plenty of brambles and grim landscapes that remind me of Isengard's backyard. Both the good and bad guys have forts set up, so it's not just evil's domain, but I definitely would not want to linger in this environment for very long.
Eorlsmead: The highlight here is a Rohirric settlement, and can I just say that I am absolutely loving the look and feel of Rohirric architecture, decorations, and life? It feels so refreshingly different -- and cooler -- than the Eriador's Man towns, and it makes me excited for the expansion. I particularly enjoyed the great hall. Horse vikings, ahoy!
Wailing Hills: This area is definitely more rugged and sparse than the others, although it's not completely barren. I'd rate it somewhat forgettable, at least at first glance.
Thinglad: Here we start out in the north with the leftovers of Lothlorien's forest and Elven civilization, and it looks scruptous. As with the waterways in Dunland, I like how the river isn't placid but fast-moving and powerful.
Rushgore: This is The Great River's swamp/bog region, and it actually does come across as different from the game's other bogs. That can't be easy. Rushgore actually looks kind of pretty (I like the Middle-earth-y cattails and the hazy water), so I won't be avoiding it in my adventures.
Parth Celebrant: These jagged rock formations seem to be an ongoing motif in the region. Apart from them, Parth Celebrant appears to be dominated by the ruins of a large city -- and the ghosts that still haunt it.
Limlight Gorge: OK, I keep wanting to write "limelight" instead of "limlight." That's my failing. This area, however, doesn't seem to be lacking; in fact, I'm getting a vibe from it that I don't usually get outside of the newbie areas, which is a sense of life and civilization. The watermill and cottage are a nice touch.
It was also good to get a solid dev diary this week on the area. Apart from the Rohirrim angle, The Great River doesn't seem to be anything really new or astonishing for the game, but it certainly is welcome. Two hundred more quests and ways to gear up a bit more before Riders of Rohan are nothing to be sniffed at in disdain.
Much like the other expansion "intro" zones, The Great River promises to be attractive and open in appearance instead of oppressive and restrictive. That makes me happy, and I can't wait to explore this region more closely.
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 email@example.com or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.