The Torches are Kindled: The Lord of the Rings Online Heads to Helm's Deep

Where in Middle-Earth will The Lord of the Rings Online's fifth expansion lead us? Kevin VanOrd takes a look.

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"What of the dawn?" they jeered. "We are the fighting Uruk-hai: we do not stop the fight for night or day, for fair weather or for storm. We come to kill, by sun or moon. What of the dawn?"

In Tolkien's Lord of the Rings universe, Helm's Deep was thought to be invulnerable. As Theoden says in The Two Towers, "Helm's Deep would never fall while men defended it." Saruman's trickery and the overwhelming forces of the Uruk-hai proved the King of Rohan incorrect, however, demolishing the fortress there in the Battle of the Hornburg. In the upcoming 5th expansion to The Lord of the Rings Online, Helm's Deep, you will get to experience the chaos of this battle for yourself, though of course you won't be able to affect its outcome. What you can do, however, is affect how much you contribute to the defense of the Hornburg.

I spoke with the development team at Turbine Entertainment about their plans for rendering a battle of this scale in their ever-evolving online role-playing game. The famed conflict will be part of an upcoming Epic Battle system, in which you will face what seems like ten thousand orcs descending upon the fortress. There won't be that many actual orcs displayed on screen, but the team has some visual trickery in store that creates a convincing illusion. Otherwise, you can count on the game's rendition of this battle to stick close to Tolkien's words, rather than Peter Jackson's cinematic interpretations. For example, don't expect to see an army of elves arriving to join the fracas as they did in the film version of the fantasy novel.

You can join the Battle of the Hornburg as early as level 10. Your level will automatically scale to the level cap (which is being raised to 95), and you choose from one of three roles: vanguard, a combat-driven role; officer, which has you issuing orders to troops; and engineer, which focuses on interactions with siege weapons like catapults and ballistas. Your choice of role, along with other decisions you make during the course of battle, affects how you view and influence the conflict, and your level of success determines the rewards doled out when the battle is complete. It isn't just the varied roles and decisions that should keep players returning to these epic battles, however; a separate trait system allows you to rank up within epic battles and earn persistent benefits.

Speaking of traits, The Lord of the Rings Online will boast a new class system for all players that includes a trait tree, which should more easily communicate the kinds of goals you can work toward, and give you meaningful specialization choices. You receive points to spend on this tree by leveling up and completing various deeds. I got to see one such specialization in action, a Lore-Master one called Keeper of Animals. The Keeper can summon not just one, but three companions to temporarily fight by his side, though you aren't limited to just following one specialization path. Instead, you can switch between them at will, as long as you aren't engaged in combat, so if you're intrigued by the possibilities in being a Master of Nature's Fury, there's no reason you shouldn't travel down that path.

The work of burial was then but beginning; and Theoden mourned for the loss of Hama, his captain, and cast the first earth upon his grave. "Great injury indeed has Saruman done to me and all this land," he said; "and I will remember it, when we meet."

Tolkien never elaborated on the circumstances of Hama's death, but Turbine will be telling the story of his heartbreaking defeat. It's doubtful you come to The Lord of the Rings Online for more information on this minor character, however, but for the central cast that have cemented their presence in pop culture. Expect to interact with old favorites like Gandalf, Erkenbrand, Eowyn, and more. In fact, one of your first sights is that of Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli in Edoras, where Theoden has finally been freed of Grima Wormtongue's thrall. Players have visited Edoras before, but only as in instanced region; in Helm's Deep, Edoras is now part of the landscape, though it certainly isn't the only new sight to drink in. Helm's Deep includes five new zones in total: Eastfold, Westfold, Broadacres, Stonedeans, and Kingstead.

I got a tour of several of these areas and their vital landmarks. The graves of the kings of Rohan were striking not only due to the equine statuaries that rose above them, but also due to the simbelmyne flowers that blanketed the earthen mounds. In the Fords of Isen, plumes of smoke rose from ground fires, a fiery reminder of the battle that raged there. The most memorable of the sights I saw, however, was the Dark Door under Dwimorberg. The door was covered in skull-and-bone carvings that clearly marked a path that no human would wish to travel, which is just as well, since Helm's Deep will not allow you to traverse the Paths of the Dead.

"Immeasurable halls, filled with an everlasting music of water that tinkles into pools, as fair as Kheled-Zaram in the starlight."

Turbine also told me of other landmarks that Helm's Deep will render, such as the Glittering Caves, which Gimli so eloquently describes in The Two Towers. Even if you don't have an emotional attachment to Tolkien's work, it's hard not to appreciate the lengths to which Turbine go to stay true to the source material. The Lord of the Rings Online continues to forge ahead, bringing players ever closer to the fires of Mount Doom. But as any Lord of the Rings fan knows, it's not about the destination, but rather, it's about the journey.

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GameSpot senior editor Kevin VanOrd has a cat named Ollie who refuses to play Rock Band because he always gets stuck pla

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Discussion

38 comments
NinjaGaz
NinjaGaz

Ah the loremaster - best MMO class EVER created!

I don't think there has been anything else that comes close to the diversity of play and the utility in fights. It's the way it should be with a battle of wits in PvP and a constant string of attacks, defends and control in PvE. It's a shame that every MMO still boxes the same classes up in the same way time after time.

mrguy123
mrguy123

I am one who hates microtransactions, but I feel this is in no way as bad as most others. You can actually earn the points in-game to buy expansions, perks, etc. If you have multiple characters, you can farm deeds. My wife and I played the other night and ended up farming a total of 1000  points each, enough to buy a quest zone and a few other things. While there is much to spend on, it is no way required to advance until you get higher, at which point you can buy the fleshed-out expansions. We buy each other a turbine card (now on rollback at Walmart, by the way) as part of our anniversary gift, and other than a couple of those each, we've never spent a dime and both have multiple level 85 characters.

edinko
edinko

I reallike liked this game before it went tht disgusting F2p route. Now even if you pay a subscription you are still being money milked in the in game store and constantly spammed with microtransaction offers. ITs appaling and despicable

PacoTaco
PacoTaco

I think this is one of the better F2P games out there.  People always complain about "pay to win" because they want *everything* for free.  I am pretty sure it's hard to run servers and pay admins on unicorn wishes and good feelings.  They gotta make money somehow.  Quit crying if you have to shell out a couple bucks here and there.  Sure beats paying full monte and then $15 per month like poor child support.

Gruug
Gruug

LOTRO stopped being LOTR long ago. I stopped playing shortly after it went f2p.

SlaviksG
SlaviksG

is this game with hotkey combat?

tafusoy
tafusoy

I'm not quite sure why they're moving away from traditional instance clusters.. seems to me that's what Turbine did best with LOTRO.  The rest of the game, while beautiful to walk through at times(moria is spectacular), is a very generic MMORPG formula that you'll find in games spanning the last decade.

That aside, the constant level cap increases means it's that much harder for new players to get into.  It helps with giving progression oriented players something to do but it's only additional hurdles for a new player trying to reach level cap and participate in end game content.  There's also been a noticeable drop-off in the quality of new content since the release of Moria--presumably because Turbine has been on rocky ground, financially.

It's a bit cliche but I'd say there's a lot of wasted potential with this title and releasing a watered down expansion every year isn't helping.

travo0159
travo0159

Not sure how they are even generating revenue to support this game.

666NightsInHell
666NightsInHell

Generic very boring and not online game, 90% of time you playing alone also its a  pay to win crap, expansions will not help this dying game.

morderwrath
morderwrath

I had a monthly account also, which did not unlock all the content as promised either

morderwrath
morderwrath

sunk 100 dollars into it..At the time it was worth it, then the grinde set in and tou realize without all the unlocks your paying to win..

morderwrath
morderwrath

Great game til you find out wio microtransactions you get stuck at a certin point got to 45th level with my champion Dwarf and said to hell with it.

BoromiRwcgeorge
BoromiRwcgeorge

I was playing LOTRO from 2007 (its release) to 2009 (Moria), i'm always reading stuff about it though. Everything they add seems very good and made with good quality, especially concerning source material. I just dont play it cuz im afraid it will suck me in for years.
Yes, its that great.

berserker66666
berserker66666

MICROTRANSACTIONS........SHALL NOT.........PASS!!!!!!!!!

Moondrake
Moondrake

I've been playing LotRO for several years and think it is the best of the MMOs I've tried (the others being EVE, Rift, STO, and SWToR). Though there are certainly some trolls and other vermin doing their best to ruin the experience for everybody else, the community is also, by and large, the best I've encountered in any MMO.

Xpyder
Xpyder

Is this game any good? I've played some other turbine games and didn't really like any of them... 

StarsiderSajun
StarsiderSajun

@NinjaGaz Agreed.

Of course the downside of a class as versatile and fun to play as the Loremaster is that it rather overshadows a couple of the other classes in Lotro. I mean not everyone will agree obviously but after playing the Loremaster I find that most other classes feel rather underwhelming. Mainly things such as Hunter, Champion, and Guardian.

BDGilchrist
BDGilchrist

@PacoTacoI have no problem with them wanting to make a profit. It's when they build the game AROUND the store that I have a problem.

johnwck90
johnwck90

@tafusoy Indeed, it's a problem with well established MMOs.  In my experience you can never actually "catch up" because these games are played in lineages or cohorts of people who've moved through the game around the same time and who exist on the same level, like class systems within the game manifesting the incorporated effects of hours of labour.  I tried this and found it solitary and at the second night I found I could not log into my account and I gave up.

morderwrath
morderwrath

@BoromiRwcgeorge Well lets see ive played SWG,DDO, WOW, RIFT, SWTOR, LOTRO, DAOC,UO, AC2 and AC1, FF11 online, GW2, FW, TERA, EQ1 and 2, EQA, NWNO(what a fn letdown), Aion and Eve..

if they would combine the character customization of Aion, the Loot system of Wow, the Action of GW2 and cross it with Tera, Builda decent class system with multi classing and have PvE worth a crap to where you can solo or MP anytime, anywhere tht would be cool.

As I said before LOTRO was Awesome til the Pay to win requirements came in..As I mentioned also a pay monthly account didn't unlock all content like it was sppossed to either, MF'r....

Spyre1984
Spyre1984

@Moondrake It certainly was the most refreshing community I've seen in an MMO. Mostly friendly and helpful folks willing to provide input and guidance when needed.

GrahamZ
GrahamZ

@Xpyder I played it way back before it went F2P, and I liked it well enough that I bought a lifetime sub.  I haven't played it in a long time now, but  I'm thinking I may come back when Helm's Deep is released.

I will say that the game will get boring without  a decent guild with friendly like-minded people, so if you decide that you like it, your first goal should be to find a guild that fits your desired play style and temperament.  But the good news is that it's one of the better MMO communities around.  My guild may not be there any longer so I may end up having to find a new one myself.

twiglet015
twiglet015

@Xpyder I have played since day 1. Not continually, I will have a break for maybe a few months then feel the urge to get back into it. It is probably my no.1 game.

spikepigeo
spikepigeo

@Xpyder It's a great game if you like that kind of traditional MMO grind. Some people do. I happen to love this game just for the world and the lore. Middle Earth can't be beat in that sense.

The gameplay holds its own as well. Great, overall.

Kentelyoo
Kentelyoo

@Xpyder The great thing is you can try it for free. If you like exploration and lore, you'll appreciate its richness.

Sefrix
Sefrix moderator moderator

@Xpyder My wife and I loved it until we hit the pay wall.

orchidwile
orchidwile

@johnwck90 @tafusoy Well said about the "cohorts."  While this is true of any MMO, in my experience since playing Lotro before f2p, it is doubly so.  The people I started playing with are long gone, and I find level cap now to be intensely boring. Most ppl I meet now are ones which got to cap in like 2 weeks and did not share in the game experiences with others as I did. Hence I don't play much these days, and when I do it's usually just with alts to explore / do fluff with.

tafusoy
tafusoy

@johnwck90 @tafusoy It may be worth it to reach level cap and do a run-through of the instances.  Many of the instances are at least interesting if no longer a challenge.  They did attempt to scale several instance clusters but it was done hastily and the challenge simply isn't there anymore.  As I said, that's what Turbine did best with LOTRO but you will inevitably get bored.

arqe
arqe

@Lennotoecom WoW was good back than. Vanilla to end of Burning Crusade.Thats it.

GrahamZ
GrahamZ

@Lennotoecom @Moondrake Wow was more like Everquest than EQ 2 even tried to be (for both better and worse).  I played WoW for about 2 months and was satisfied that there was nothing else in it for me.  It's not the best MMO, it's not the worst (though the community does rank fairly low as MMO communities go).  But what it did was to make everything, from the graphics to the questing, to the combat simpler and more user-friendly, so that virtually anyone could play it.  But it succeeded mostly because it did not try to reinvent the wheel, in the way that EQ 2 did.  It stayed a lot closer to its roots.

Xpyder
Xpyder

@GrahamZ @Xpyder but how does it play? The exploration is seamless or is there loading screens? How does the payment system works?

johnwck90
johnwck90

@orchidwile I downloaded it again but this time couldn't even manage to log in.  It said that there was no subscription attached to my account.  I got to level 15 on one character before I found I could no longer log in to the account.  Very strange so I guess I'm not destined to play this one!  With Elder Scrolls on line coming out I guess people will transition to a new generation of MMOs, me included.  Eventually the multiplayer cooperative genre will get more defined and people will play each title less.  The days of everyone playing WoW to experience some kind of cooperative interaction will be long gone and the market will fragment further I suspect.  I know I now play between expansions across a number of MMOs.

tafusoy
tafusoy

@johnwck90 @tafusoy Yes but hardly anyone uses it.  Instead you'll find most playing partners at the relevant end game town and on global chat channels like GLFF.  Stick to the Brandywine server for the largest server pop.

johnwck90
johnwck90

@tafusoy @johnwck90 Do they have a look-for-group system?  I played once to level 15 but then got lost on the map and didn't know how to level and I couldn't whisper players unless I was on their friends list which meant I couldn't find things out and I gave up!

Armysniper89
Armysniper89

@Xpyder @GrahamZ its seemless until you get into a dungeon or house. But zone to zone for the most part it is seemless. Moria is a standalone zone with tons of zones in it so it has some loading. Lets say this, with the exception of Moria,  you can go from one end of Middle Earth to Rohan without loading screens. As far as payment goes, they use Turbine points. You can buy them at Best Buy or Walmart or online. I have been F2P for years now and I have not had to buy anything except for the expansions. I have not hit a "pay" wall but I play casual. I am a level 85 hunter. I come back to it and play and then leave it for a while when I hit a cap. I have loved it for years.