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.


"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.

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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.

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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.

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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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