According to developer Turbine, The Lord of the Rings is on the rise. As reported by the NPD, LOTRO was the third most played massively multiplayer role-playing game last year, an upswing Turbine attributes to its successful free-to-play model. In the meanwhile, the game's European servers were all migrated to combine the different versions of the game into a single global service. But that's only a small part of the studio's continuing strategy for the popular massively multiplayer online game. On September 27, 2011, it plans to release another full expansion, Rise of Isengard. At E3 2011, we sat down with several members of the development team to find out what famous areas fantasy fans could expect to explore next.
Rise of Isengard will make several key additions to The Lord of the Rings Online. The expansion includes three new regions: Dunland, Gap of Rohan, and Isengard. In addition, the level cap will be raised to 75, a new 24-player raid dungeon will be added, and the player-versus-player monster play will be opened even to free-to-play subscribers. Other changes and additions will include new crafting tiers, various class revisions, stat adjustments, and item tweaks--many of them meant to give you more chances to make meaningful customization decisions. We didn't see much gameplay during our visit, but we did receive a guided tour of many of Rise of Isengard's new areas. First up was the Bonevales--a region of Dunland and one of ROI's two new starting areas. Your focus will be to learn of Dunland and its various peoples, many of which are succumbing to Saruman's subtle manipulations. In the Bonevales, for example, one tribe's chieftain has fallen victim to his darker side and is diminishing the morale of his followers, who are not native to the region.
Trum Dreng is the other starter area, and its agricultural ambience gives it a very different feel from that of the Bonevales. You will get a glimpse of the rich traditions and social interactions of the seemingly simple people that inhabit this place. Trum Dreng is far north of Isengard, so the area hasn't fallen yet, but the residents are suspicious. In these areas and others, Turbine will make plentiful use of phasing technology, which lets them change your surroundings based on your quest progression.
Next up on our tour was Dunland's main hub, Pren Gwyth. Here you will meet people from many different clans, all with their own unique rivalries and values. The environments we saw were beautiful; abodes with thatched roofs dotted the land, and towers crafted of both stone and wood rose above. In Pren Gwyth and elsewhere, global quest givers will keep the pace moving forward. Rather than giving you quests that force you to complete your tasks and then return for a reward, quest givers may accompany you or move to a new area so that you no longer need to backtrack. One clan you will meet in this area is the Falcon clan; its members do not support Saruman, and they are willing to fight him if necessary. Not every clan is so willing, however, and the Dunlendians are hardly unified in this regard. There is a lot of strife among the clans--and the seeds of mistrust have been planted by Saruman himself.
From here we moved to Dunbog, which, as you may have guessed by its name, was characterized by its murky swamps. The people here are secluded and mistrustful, and you must win their favor in order to discover their secrets. Eventually, you will learn that that were pushed from their home region by abominations created by Saruman, who needed a place to hide these remnants of experiments gone wrong. In this area you will also meet the Boar clan, which is resistant to Saruman, but not yet willing to take up arms. We next visited the Gap of Rohan, which boasted a great view from the hills above. We watched people in the settlement milling below, which made it feel very much alive. And then we visited Gravenwood, where you will begin to encounter Rohirrim scouts trying to minimize the developing strife among clans. They know that tensions are building--they just don't yet know that Saruman is the one inciting war. It's here that you may start glimpsing famed Lord of the Rings characters, such as Grimbold and, later, the Ent called Quickbeam.
Turbine's goal is to re-create the looks of these areas as described in the books, and if Isengard is any indication, they've done a bang-up job. Our last stop was the tower of Orthanc, which rose ominously into the treacherous sky. Here, strip-mining and deforestation have stripped away the beauty of the once-fertile plains. How fitting, considering the expansion's themes of treachery and corruption. In Rise of Isengard, no one will be as they seem, and it will be up to you to discover just what secrets its denizens are hiding. You won't need to wait long to delve into these mysterious lands: The Lord of the Rings: Rise of Isengard will be available September 27.