Some two and a half years after the feature launched, I finally got to try Epic Battles in LOTRO last week. This feature was crafted by Turbine to add a “strategic mass combat” element to the game – the books feature several large-scale battles between armies. I have to belatedly applaud Turbine for their vision in adding systems to the game that I haven’t seen elsewhere – both the mounted combat and the Epic Battles give a rather unique edge to LOTRO.
The sense of scale of the first battle (Helm’s Dike) is certainly impressive, the futility of wadding into so many hundreds of orcs in melee is made clear as you play. The focus is on strategic actions – what can your character do, by following the tide of the battle and using ballista or catapult to strike key enemy troop concentrations.
There is a detailed tutorial on how to use these siege weapons before you enter the first battle. There are also instructions on what to do when shouted at you. A tip for anyone trying this for the first time is to explore the entire area before speaking to the NPC to start the actual battle scenario. Early on I missed a bonus goal because I simply didn’t know where something was happening. The siege weapons are slow to operate, and in some cases require construction to complete, if you need to use one and it’s not ready the scenario will not hang around while you dither back and forth!
The best part of the battle for me was a segment where I had to defend a statue of some hero-of-old. That was easily familiar – jump into combat with some nasty looking trolls and slay them before they can damage the statue.
The worst, other than the early bit I missed entirely, was a segment trying to stop orc bombers from destroying a gate. The mini-map wasn’t as clear about where I had to go, so in riding down a ramp to get to where I thought I should go I was suddenly “defeated” – i.e. my character was slain for leaving the scenario area. Some kind of warning about this would have been appreciated! Also it wasn’t clear that on releasing (to revive) that I could continue the battle where I left off, for a moment I was hesitant to click as I really didn’t want to start over from scratch…
After a couple of quests post-battle I had the next Epic Battle, the Deeping Wall, to complete as my next epic questline task. This second experience built on the experience above – a tighter play area this time but with more to do it seemed.
I ended up trying this battle two times in a row. Almost at the end the game crashed suddenly to desktop on the first attempt – very frustrating as the LOTRO client is very reliable for me in general. In the second attempt I had learned a few lessons however. The one available catapult seems to be key at two points since the enemy brings their own catapults to bear.
But unlike the first battle, this time I had more to do than seemed humanly possible. A clue perhaps is in ignoring my Champion’s first instinct, i.e. to charge into melee with the enemy. There are other goals that need to be achieved – preventing banners from being burned and giving new orders to the various commanders on the wall with me.
There are also two specific set-piece sub-encounters in the battle. One was easy enough, but the defense of the winch-room was a bit of a nightmare both times. Multiple goblin sappers spawn and proceed to run around causing havoc. They drop bombs and then cast a fire attack on any nearby target (supplies or the winch). The NPC soldiers in the room kill them quickly enough but not before they’ve done their double duty. Now my character, playing in solo mode, can either choose to disarm the bomb or to put out the two or three fires resulting from the goblins’ attacks. It seems a little unfair that so much is happening at once when every problem requires several seconds to resolve. I guess I’ll have to look at priority rankings for such things on the wiki at some point.
I’ve unlocked the third battle already in the epic questline so next session will be another Epic Battle it seems. There’s also the Promotions progression system to investigate further; I’m likely to go the Officer route on this character as the siege weaponry are painfully slow to operate. One obvious benefit to playing these battles is the experience reward. They each give a very hefty experience reward and I’ve also received some gear upgrades in the random reward boxes given for achieving bonus goals. On balance I’m neutral still as to what I think of the system overall.