Yesterday I read the first announcement in some time by Turbine about LOTRO’s next expansion, Helm’s Deep. My main character, whom I’ve been playing a bit after a long hiatus due to the Bounder’s Bounty event, is still only level 61 out of the current cap of 85. So unless I this brief visit to Middle Earth becomes a permanent fixture I doubt I’d be anywhere near that level in time for the expansion’s launch.
The expansion brings many of the expected features for the game:
five new zones, three additional books for the epic story, 300 quests, a 10-level bump in the cap to 95, plenty of awesome new armor and cosmetic models, and a new crafting tier
The stand-out point from the article is that there’s no traditional end-game in the form of dungeons and raids. Instead there’s the battle of Helm’s Deep itself. I couldn’t find any developer diaries about this so this Massively post and the comments is all I have to go on, but it appears the battle will actually be a series of skirmishes using an upgraded version of the skirmish system introduced in the Mirkwood expansion. The skirmishes will be for up to twelve players, so half the size of a raid. Skirmishes have a difficulty slider, you can set the effective level of the skirmish to make it easier or harder for the level of the characters in your party (fellowship in LOTRO-speak). As an evolution of this any character from level 10 will be able to take part in the battle’s skirmishes, so presumably they now have character auto-scaling like Guild Wars 2 has used for some of the more recent Living Story instances.
The other big piece of news I believe is the massive revamp to character customisation in the game. The trait system currently in the game is confusing and a bit grind-centric* but very, very flexible.
It doesn’t offer the ‘iconic’ specialisations that you see in other games, but it also gives a lot of subtlety to possible character builds. The class traits are already divided into three trait-lines; coloured red, green and yellow for each character class. So perhaps the game isn’t as far away from character trees as you might think.
However you are free to equip traits within each category as you wish based on the free trait slots your character has. According to the discussion of the Massively piece that’s one of the fears expressed by players over this – that talent trees and ‘memorable and focused builds’ might also equal restrictions of build flexibility and over-simplification of the system. The article also mentions that this revamp will include a reduction in the number of skills a given class has.
All in all I’m feeling neutral over this update. I don’t raid and am nowhere near the cap so perhaps I’d benefit from the Helm’s Deep battle content as it would be the first ‘endgame’ I have ever experienced in the game! But I still won’t be high enough to do the zones, quests or main storyline ‘book quests’ for the expansion. Given Turbine’s rather impressive storytelling record in this game I’d say I’d probably prefer to play through the zones and book quests to see the build-up to the actual battle before jumping into that. I just hope the changes to the character system do not rob this game of one of its defining characteristics.
*If you haven’t played LOTRO: you earn traits by accomplishing deeds, which usually means killing several hundred of the same creature in two tiers. Some deeds are exploration or quest based however.