So I want to take some time to cover a few odds and ends that were sandwiched between those two mentions: the class revamp Q&A, the Bounder's Bounty event, and the leaked maps of Helm's Deep.
I'll admit that my interest in Lord of the Rings Online has been flagging a bit, especially after I trudged through Wildermore. I've been hoping that the news of the expansion would put some wind in my sails, especially after waiting for the better part of the summer to hear it. So what do I make of all of this?
Really, more than just about anything else, I've been waiting to hear about the revamps coming to classes. From the looks of it, this will be done in two parts: first by replacing class traits with trait trees and second by making changes to the classes themselves (presumably balance, skills, and the like).
The community Q&A session opened the door to a lot of information about what's to come, although it's by no means comprehensive. The way I understand it, you'll be given a choice of a specialization -- a focus -- shortly after the tutorial. This will give you specific bonuses but will by no means lock you down to one tree. Instead, you'll be encouraged to spend skill points across the three trees for your class as you see fit, earning a new point every other level as well as grabbing some additional ones from deeds.
As you invest in a trait tree, you'll earn passives and skills. Each class will be given a set number of skills automatically as they level and will unlock others via the trait tree. In the end, classes will be using around 20 main combat skills apiece (more or less), which will represent a trimming down of what we have now.
Legendary skills and bonuses will be unlocked through the trait trees and should be "more powerful" than what we see today. Players can have several builds to flip between (two are given for free with additional ones for purchase), and it costs just a bit of silver to erase the slate on a build and start over.
There's a lot to like here, I think. It tidies up a lot of messy aspects of the current class builds while hopefully making the system more intuitive for players to use. Just seeing the devs emphasize that they want all of the trait trees to feel different, good, and useful puts a warm feeling in my belly. Well, that and my coffee.
I can't remember the last time I changed anything about my Captain's build. Level 52, maybe? Simply having attractive choices and multiple builds fills my heads with thoughts of logging in and experimenting with how I play my character again. Fewer skills that are generally more useful? Switching builds on the fly? Yes, please! Of course, we've yet to see all of the specifics (and I imagine that this is going to take up a lot of discussion in the future), but I have hope after seeing how easy and attractive the war-steed trait UI was.
While it kind of came out of nowhere, I fully welcome the Bounder's Bounty. It's a pretty low-stress event that does a few things simultaneously: It rallies the server together, it gives us more loot for just playing the game, and it gets us anticipating Helm's Deep a bit more.
My only concern is that lower population servers might not be able to achieve the big unlock or might just fall behind everyone else and feel a bit discriminated against because of that. I was hoping that the event would scale to the server population, but I guess that was too much to ask.
Other than that, I think it's a great idea. It's not the biggest event in the world, but these sorts of server-wide activities do gel communities and add a bit of variety into the normal routine. CSTM has a nice list of the possible rewards.
The combo team of Contains Moderate Peril and LOTRO Players has been hard at work bringing us an early look at possible maps for the expansion. There is a pair of the standard hand-drawn maps for Kingstead and Westfold as well as a pieced-together map of the entirety of Rohan.
While we will have to wait for official confirmation that, yes, these are the actual maps, my gut says that there's little reason to distrust what we see here. Even if they end up being completely fake, it's fun to check them out and start thinking about what we'll be experiencing once we head into Eastern Rohan.
My initial thought is that Turbine is going to have to work even harder to make this area more interesting and diverse than what we've already seen in Rohan. If it's just "more of the same," then there's going to be a steep drop-off in interest for Helm's Deep early on. I found Western Rohan fascinating because it was a kingdom under assault, one whose defense was hamstrung by its very leaders. But Eastern Rohan, which is more protected from the Orcish/Easterling invasion, might not carry as much of the tension of impending doom and conflict.
The two areas that immediately caught my eye were, of course, Helm's Deep itself and the Paths of the Dead. Both are quite iconic and play into the larger narrative of the War of the Ring. In fact, I think that after Moria, Helm's Deep has always been the next huge tourist attraction for Tolkien fans.
Altogether, it looks as if there's a serious amount of land to cover. The map completionist part of me will be happy to see more of the in-game Middle-earth fleshed out. I'm up for another year or so in Rohan, but after that I think I'll be more than ready to move on. Gondor, anyone?
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.