That's the basic setup for Update 11: Treachery of the White Hand. The update, which should be going live next week, is what I call the intermission zone: It's the region that Turbine adds between expansions to keep veteran players from bouncing off the walls due to boredom. Lothlorien, Enedwaith, and the Great River are past intermission zones, but Wildermore might be the most fascinating one yet.
Thanks to technical issues, I wasn't able to get a first-hand tour of the new region. Instead, I nabbed a heart-to-heart chat with the devs about the intricacies of Wildermore, the next step of the epic story, and plenty of assorted goodies coming with the update!
While you won't find Wildermore in Lord of the Rings, Turbine's appointed "keepers of the lore" have done everything in their power to keep this region honorable to the spirit of the books. That means that it's not a fantastic flight of fancy but an integrated part of Rohan and the continuing LotRO storyline.
Wildermore is part of the Wold and is divided into five areas. Players will traverse Writhendowns, The Fallows, Whitshaws, Balewood, and High Knolls in their new adventures. Along the way, they'll encounter a range of landscape features, from caves to rolling plains to a new part of Fangorn forest. Some of the areas are open to mounted combat, while others will require the player to dismount and explore on foot. And while a good portion of Wildermore will be quite snowy indeed, not all of it has come under the sway of the White Hand's influence.
With no raise to the level cap (or virtue cap, for that matter), Wildermore's presence for level 85s won't be about the mad expies. Instead, Turbine sees this zone as an opportunity to try something new: to craft a single story arc over the course of 150-odd quests. Everything the player will be encountering in Wildermore will have to do with the strange snowy weather and helping the Rohirrim that are suffering because of it.
Every good story has its heroes and villains. Players will be teaming up with Thrymm Red-Beard and Cyneberd the shield-maiden as they encounter the source of the region's woes, an ice-giant named Núrzum. Núrzum is a past ally of Saruman who's had his considerable strength boosted by the addition of an ancient relic. Now he's nigh-invincible and out to shatter the wills of the Free Peoples.
Without going into too much of spoiler territory, I can say that initially you'll be assisting Thrymm in scouting the source of the bad weather while helping him bolster Scylfig's defenses for an upcoming attack. Scylfig will utilize phasing technology to show the before, during, and after effects of the battle, so don't expect a static vista.
In addition to experiencing the zone-wide story arc of Wildmore, players will get to engage in the next book of their epic story: Volume III, Book 10. If you were dissatisfied at the cliffhanger at the end of Book 9, then rest assured that the plot gets moving again.
Your small fellowship will need to regroup and refocus after losing a member and being kicked out of Western Rohan by Wormtongue. Nona, who took off to who-knows-where, will be coming back, and the budding relationship between her and Horn will continue.
The epic story is intertwined with the events and characters of Wildermore, so expect to get some answers of your own while you search for those for the inhabitants of the area.
I talked with the developers about how I appreciate the focus on the mini-fellowship of four that's become the centerpiece of the epic story in Rohan. The devs lit up at this discussion, saying that they've loved doing it, as it allows for a lot more interaction with the player as well as an opportunity to show characters growing and changing. The player fellowship may not last forever, they warned, but it does seem to be something they're sticking with for the time being. After all, Lord of the Rings is a story about not a lone hero but a group of people who band together against a common foe.
Book 10 has a meaty 15 chapters to enjoy as well as a series of seven "interlude" quests that revolve around the Grey Company (or as I call them, the Red Shirts of Middle-earth). "You can't keep a good Ranger down," one of the devs said. "Yes you can!" I laughed. "You can put them down all the time. They die like flies!"
As usual when I get a chance to talk with Turbine, I asked a bunch of random questions (although I did try to stay on topic with Update 11).
- What will the new endgame look like? At the end of the Wildermore quest chain, there will be a series of daily quests that will unlock rewards to complement those obtained from Hytbold. It won't take as long to grind these out -- just 34 days this time around.
- What new rewards will we be seeing? Wildermore has plenty of themed cosmetics, handheld cosmetics, and war-steed cosmetics in addition to standard gear. Also, there was mention of "swamp cabbage," although I didn't press for more details about that.
- Will there be new deeds? Yes, Wildermore has a standard array of deeds, including explorer and slayer, although the virtue cap will remain at 16.
- Will there be new weather effects? There will be a few new effects, particularly when players near the ice giant. Keep an eye out for hard snow and swirling winds when this happens.
- Is there any new technology? Turbine said that it's created ground targeting for mounted combat, which will be featured in one of the endgame dailies where you'll be casting nets to catch fish flopping on the ground. No, I don't quite get it either, but it sounds amusing.
- How long will it take for players to go through the Wildermore story arc? The devs said that the average player should expect 10 to 15 hours of quest content, in addition to the dailies and epic story.
- Where does Turbine get the voice actors for the NPCs? The studio hires voice talent through a local acting agency, and while there are some regulars who come back for those snippets, the studio is bringing in new folks all the time.
- What's going on with the mounted combat changes? Turbine discovered that just about everyone was investing into the yellow (movement) tree, and so the devs have put movement into standard traits and turned the tree into a class-specific tree. Players will have new skills in this tree, such as Hunters being able to throw down traps while on a war-steed or Lore-masters summoning a war-wolf companion.
- What's Lalia's Market about? This new building in Bree will be a meeting place for cosmetic wardrobe fans who can gawk at an array of manniquins. While there won't be any brand-new cosmetics on display when Update 11 goes live, Turbine's not ruling out the possibility of this happening later.
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.