LotRO may be coasting into its middle-age years (in MMOs, every year in real life is like nine for the game), but it still has quite a bit of life -- and journey -- ahead of it. Unlike every other MMO out there, this title has a specific story it's following from beginning to end. Maybe we get off the beaten path of Tolkien's works now and then, but our fate as players is intertwined with the fates of Frodo and the One Ring. It gives us the advantage of knowing more about our future in the game than we would have otherwise.
So today I'm putting on my prognostication cap and giving you all the skinny on Lord of the Rings Online's next four expansions past Riders of Rohan. I have no insider knowledge, just a gut feeling and a time-traveling buddy named Soren from the year 2020.
Sometimes the best way to predict the future is to examine the past and look for trends. Since we have four expansions' worth of trends to look at for LotRO, I'm definitely going to use these as a launchpad for my predictions. Here are a few details that I think will play heavily into Turbine's future development of the game:
- Expansion titles follow the format of "[something] of [place]," such as Mines of Moria, Siege of Mirkwood, etc. This should be the case for future expansions as well.
- With the exception of Rise of Isengard, every expansion to date has included a major sub-system into the game: Moria's two classes and legendary items, Mirkwood's skirmishes, and Rohan's mounted combat. Turbine will need more of these to keep players interested past "more of the same" development. It'll be interesting to speculate as to what these will be.
- Right now we're on track for about one expansion a year, especially if you fudge a bit and call the free-to-play conversion (which had to be a significant amount of development) an expansion-sized project. So going forward, let's assume about an expansion a year from here on out.
- Expansions have proven to be top-heavy, mostly adding levels and content for players at the cap. I severely doubt Turbine will be moving backward to develop expansion content for middle- and low-level players (although I'm not ruling out updates that may do so).
- Finally, the expansions will follow the course of the books to their logical conclusion.
In next month's expansion, Turbine's split up Rohan to only give us the eastern half of it. The devs have strongly hinted (and outright said) that the timeline will progress in the future and that the Battle of Helm's Deep is the next step of the game. Unless Turbine really surprises us by throwing us a major mid-year update to include Western Rohan and that battle, I'm thinking that it's a pretty safe bet that Helm's Deep will be on the docket for expansion #5.
Considering that Helm's Deep is the part of the Two Towers that everyone remembers the most, I think it would be foolhardy not to milk this for all it's worth. The question is how Turbine will approach it. The studio has been experimenting with technology to show larger masses of NPCs on the screen for battles, but Helm's Deep is the first truly massive battle of the books.
The studio could break the battle into numerous skirmishes, perhaps leading players through the battle from multiple perspectives. I'd also say that the Ents and Fangorn forest will play a bigger role as well, and perhaps a final confrontation with Saruman will conclude his storyline.
Following two years in Rohan, Gondor has to follow. It's here that we'll dive into the heart of the most civilized territory of Man that Middle-earth has to offer and where the war with Sauron will be felt most heavily. It's also the point where we as players will be entering into the Return of the King material for the first time.
The title refers to the call that Gondor sends out for aid, and how the players will be part of the force from Rohan that comes to answer it.
There's a lot of ground to cover for this expansion, and I'm having an internal debate over whether Turbine will milk this country by splitting it into two expansions or not. I'm saying it will stick to one because by 2014 there will be a very real pressure for LotRO to make it to Mordor and keep players engaged.
Minas Tirith, Osgiliath, the Paths of the Dead, and the Battle of Pelennor Fields are all possibilities for this expansion, although I could see the studio holding off on the battle for now. That's more of an end-of-the-story event, and Turbine's going to want us jaunting all over Gondor instead of bunching up for a single huge melee.
I'm going to predict that it's in this sixth expansion that we'll finally see the first new class since the Rune-keeper and Warden and that it will have something to do with Gondor. Maybe a different type of tank. I don't know.
Mordor -- finally. I'm going with Fall of Mordor as a title to mirror Rise of Isengard, and also because we all know what's going to happen, so why pretend otherwise?
The journey through Mordor will be a much more intimate and somber one than what we've been experiencing in Rohan and Gondor. With a harsh environment and enemies all around, we'll be relying on stealth and tactics to make our way to Mount. Doom and accomplish our final missions to help Frodo and Sam.
Mordor will feature a modified form of monster play in which players may jump into the skin of enemy troops to hunt down the pesky Free Peoples. It's not quite PvMP as you don't get to keep or level up this character, but it will provide a much more unpredictable and exciting zone for the end of the game.
Mount Doom itself will be a massive instance cluster, and the Grey Company will rally around you as you journey within Doom's depths.
So if that's the end... what's next? I don't think Turbine's going to want to flip the switch on this game, and if LotRO is still profitable in 2016, then I think there's one expansion left.
LotRO's final expansion will conclude our great tour of Middle-earth by taking us as far from the safe lands of Eriador as possible: Rhun. Why Rhun? Why not just end the game or give us the Scouring of the Shire (which I think is going to be a skirmish)? Because the map, that's why.
If you look at the larger map of Middle-earth that's in the game, you can trace our gradual progress through the game as a sort of counter-clockwise path: Eriador down to Misty Mountains, Misty Mountains down to Dunland, Dunland over to Rohan, Rohan down to Gondor, Gondor over to Mordor, and then potentially Mordor up to Rhun.
Rhun is ripe for exploration, and three years after the final part of the Hobbit trilogy is in theaters, it will still be popular for Tolkien fans. It's just this huge chunk of land that has a lot of history to it, exciting places to visit, and potential for one last hurrah in Middle-earth before the game's shutdown in 2019.
Also, it's really either Rhun or nowhere. Apart from time travel to see how the world used to be or will develop following the events of the War of the Ring, there really isn't anywhere left to go within the scope of Tolkien's main novels.
So those are my predictions for the next four expansions. Do you agree, disagree, or have predictions of your own? I'd love to read them in the comments!
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.