The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar Q&A - Monster Play and Player-Versus-Player Combat

We catch up with Turbine CEO and president Jeff Anderson to get the first details on the innovative new player-versus-player system that will let you play as Middle-earth monsters.


The Lord of the Rings Online

Fans of massively multiplayer online role-playing games know that there are hundreds of hours of adventure that can be found in them. Much of that is done in what is called player-versus-environment mode, where you and your friends can run around a virtual fantasy realm and battle all sorts of computer-controlled monsters in pursuit of quests. Another popular form of adventuring is player-versus-player mode, which lets you battle fellow players for supremacy or bragging rights. With The Lord of the Rings Online, Turbine has come up with an innovative new system that will combine PVP and PVE. More importantly, it will also let you play from the perspective of the monsters in the game. To learn more, we caught up with Turbine CEO and president Jeff Anderson. Turbine plans to release the game on April 24.

GameSpot: Could you give us an overview of monster play?

Jeff Anderson: When we started building Lord of the Rings, we asked ourselves a little bit about the fiction and the franchise. And we said clearly one of the goals of the franchise is to let you feel like you're part of Middle-earth, to feel like you're part of the War of the Ring. And those are two similar but dissimilar objectives. And in doing that, we wanted to make sure like you felt like you could play a hero, and your hero is a dwarf or an elf or a hobbit or a human. And you can build those characters up. But we also wanted to make sure that you felt that you could be part of the combat, the real struggle for good and evil within the epic franchise. And that struggle comes down to all the evil creatures that you're familiar with--the goblins and the trolls, the wargs, the orcs, and all the monsters that you're familiar with.

Monster play will put you in the boots of a monster and let you be as evil as you want to be.
Monster play will put you in the boots of a monster and let you be as evil as you want to be.

And as we really talked about that as designers, we asked ourselves whether or not PVP is something that should be a part of the game. And clearly we wanted to make it a big part of the War of the Ring, because it seemed like the natural logical progression from a design perspective.

So then we also took a look at, "Well, what do people like in PVP systems? What are exciting about PVP systems?" Obviously there are a lot of different kinds of PVP systems, but some common elements have emerged. And one of the challenges we also had with a PVP system is, well, how do people feel about the main heroes fighting each other? In most games you just let the main characters fight against each other, but for us we thought that it wouldn't be appropriate for hobbits to be killing hobbits, elves to be killing elves, or kind of any combination of those.

And it really drove us to a couple thoughts. One was, when we did market research around the topic, we found that a lot of people loved PVP, but it also intimidated a lot of players. They felt that the competition was exciting but scary. They felt that there was a lot at risk for their main character in PVP. They were embarrassed when they would lose or not play effectively or successfully. And they felt that it was in some ways maybe overpowering for them to be engaged in that. But for a lot of players, they love it and they really didn't mind those negatives at all. For them the thrill of competition was exactly what they wanted. They loved the adrenaline of being able to pit their character against another character and see if their choices were better or know if their design decisions around building their character were the right ones, the traits, the items and things.

So we started thinking about it. Could we create a system that allows us really to leverage the best of both worlds? A hybrid PVP system that allows us to capture everything from the fanaticism of the most serious PVP player to the, you know, the fun, quick-action combat that a PVE player would still enjoy? And we came up with the concept behind monster play. And maybe the big mission statement for monster play is it's an opportunity for you as a player to build your own army as part of the dark army of the Lord Sauron. And we settled on launching with four main monster races that you can play. So the first ones are the spider, the warg, the orc, and the Uruk-hai.

GS: So if you want to play as a monster, what do you need to do? Are there any prerequisites? Where do you need to go?

You can either adventure in the Entmoors as a high-level hero, or take control of a high-level monster.
You can either adventure in the Entmoors as a high-level hero, or take control of a high-level monster.

JA: When you go in as a player into the game, you create a character. And your character's just a hero. Let's say you pick a dwarf and you start playing. Once your character gets to about Level 10, you'll start finding that there are places that we have in the world called scrying pools. These scrying pools are basically portals that can take you to a region of the world called the Entmoors.

Now, as a regular dwarf, elf, hobbit, or human, at around Level 45 you can actually walk into the Entmoors directly. And the Entmoors is just a massive region, as big as any of the regions that we've got in the game, filled with all kinds of different quests and objectives with crafty nodes. All kinds of things in there--it's got your regular PVE system, but it's also the place where monster players reside. So when you're a Level 10 character, you can actually use the scrying pool to go to the character-creation screen for monster play, and you can pick the monster that you want to play as. Let's say in this case an Uruk-hai. The Uruk-hai then becomes your first monster in the Entmoors. You name the creature, you go in there.

But we wanted to make sure that monster play was a different feeling from just building another hero. We wanted to make it something that was quick, fun, action-oriented, easy to get into, yet with a lot of depth for the most hardcore player to master. So the system around which we built it was destiny points. Now, generally the destiny point system is driven off of killing other players. So I'm an orc, I go into the world, and there's a hero over there. I slay him, and I get points. And those points are going directly to my overall ranking in the world as a monster player, and it's also going to my overall rank as a monster.

Your monster characters are persistent and can be customized and upgraded.
Your monster characters are persistent and can be customized and upgraded.

Your monster starts out as a Level 50. And this is a big difference. I mean, by doing that we're giving you a fully tricked out, mean, powerful, fun-to-play monster, putting you into a cool high-level region and letting you immediately go into PVP with that monster.

GS: Is there going to be persistence?, So if you stop playing your monster and then you come back, you can take over that character again?

JA: That's correct. So let's say you name your Uruk-hai Thunk, because you're not very creative. Next time you come in, Thunk will still be there. You take Thunk back, you earn a bunch of destiny points from killing a bunch of players--and also, by the way, we've built a lot of PVE into the Entmoors so that monsters like Thunk can go out and just kill hobbit villages, burn towns, and more. They can go on monster missions and earn money, items, and destiny points for doing those activities, too.

So now you've got Thunk. He's done a bunch of stuff and he's earned some destiny points. What do you want to do with the destiny points? What do you do with the money you get? Well, with the money you get, you can actually turn them in for potions, things that cure your character. So you've got that. You can also take your destiny points and turn them in for upgrades to your monster. You can basically improve the stats of the monster, his health, or his armor settings. You can also give yourself new, powerful traits, or you can buy yourself new skills. And some of these are going to be rank restricted. I don't want to overlook that one. But you also can do other things with destiny points. So what's cool is that with monsters, unlike characters, you can actually upgrade the whole body, their look, or put war paint on your monster by buying them with destiny points.

GS: Do monsters then have any kind of, like, weapons and armor of their own, or is it all just going to be assigned through destiny points?

JA: That's a great question. One of the things we wanted to do to make this simpler for people was to strip out a lot of the more complicated inventory management aspects for this particular thing. So collecting items is all for the heroes. But for monsters we wanted to make it so it's kind of like preset equipment loadouts. So you want to buy the body, you buy the body. You want to buy a particular body that comes equipped with maybe a shield or an upgraded shield, or it's got a new weapon or it's got a new look or it's got a new armor setting. And so those things can all be kind of loaded out for your character. But you're not finding an axe and equipping the axe as an orc. GS: Are there any other plans for any kind of PVP modes, or is it going to be mainly monster play? Let's say you wanted some kind of arena somewhere...

The Lord of the Rings Online and its monster play will launch in April.
The Lord of the Rings Online and its monster play will launch in April.

JA: Yeah, so the first thing, let me talk a little bit more about Entmoors, and then we'll kind of give you direction from there. So you've got this massive space that you can adventure in. There is kind of in the northwest side, there is a monster citadel, which only monsters can be in. It's actually walled off. There's no way for a hero to get in there. Because it's a place where [you spawn], basically, right? And in the southeast side, there's a hero citadel. But between those two things, you have multiple keeps and castles for you to capture. And you or your group gets benefits from capturing those. You get destiny points. You get other benefits. And that really then propagates your group. So there are objectives like capture the flag within Entmoors to play for as well.

GS: And monster play is restricted to the Entmoors area?

JA: At launch.

GS: Is it big enough to have room for all the people playing as monsters and heroes? We imagine it could be very popular in there.

JA: Oh, easy. I mean, potentially hundreds and hundreds of people. It's a very, very large area. It's pretty much as big as any of the regions that we've got. And then in the future obviously we're talking about building out more kind of battle ground arenas so they can do special custom missions around that.

GS: Thanks very much, Jeff.

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