The Lord of the Rings Online: Riders of Rohan
Publisher: Turbine, Inc. and Midway Games
Developer: Turbine, Inc.
Genre: Fantasy MMO
Release Date: 10/15/2012
Living vicariously through the eyes of various fellowship members within the Lord of the Rings universe is something us fantasy nuts dream about from time to time, feeling the triumph or surge of adrenaline from an epic battle permeate straight into our very roots. It is an inescapable feeling, heightened only with the recent films enticing us with visual eye candy, a retreat we all spent hours enjoying, comparing the tales from the books to the movies of late. It inspires some to write, others to read, and even more of us to delve into the world via Lord of the Rings Online.
Turbine has struck gold again with the second expansion of the year to one of their titles, Riders of Rohan. As the Rise of Isengard was the last expansion this franchise has produced, Turbine needed to make things bigger, better and faster. A level increase from 75 to 85, true mounted combat and new landscapes that would have made Thomas Kinkade smile, this installment almost has it all. Now, before I get to the part that everyone is waiting for, (yes, mounted combat is coming, rest your pretty little heads) we first must visit the storyline.
I remember watching the first Lord of the Rings picture at the early morning premiere, seats packed to the brim with the musty smell of popcorn and spilled soda whilst half of the patrons arrived with unkempt hair and body odor so foul it made the orcs of Mordor seem all that more real. People sat on the stairs and in the aisles since they had oversold the seats and not one person could care less. But I digress. The purpose of my anecdote was the elation and excitement the crowd experienced in the final moments of the film… the battle at Amon Hen when the fellowship breaks, Frodo runs while Boromir tries to steal the ring, Gimli and Legolas start their tally contest, and Sam attempts to doggy paddle across a raging river. Most of all, during the final moments of the battle while Aragorn decapitates the orcish leader, a roaring standing ovation gripped the room, my eardrums erupting and a smile ripping across my face. Did I forget to add in a spoiler alert?
That feeling of ecstasy re-manifested itself upon the continuing storyline within Riders of Rohan. Visiting Amon Hen on your quest to Rohan, it is imperative you investigate clues that lead you to visions of the past, not only showing the events as they happened, but allowing you to reenact some of those situations. At one point you play as Boromir, defending Pippin and Merry as you slice your way through hordes of orcs as the meek little halflings cheer for you from behind. Later within the same vision, you play as the dim-witted Sam, testing your swimming skills as if you were in the Silly Olympiad. This segue is imperative, however, as you delve into the rich story behind Rohan, and the path the shattered fellowship takes.
The quest chain eventually brings you into the fringe of Rohan, where you complete more quests on your way to being trained to be a full-fledged rider. Nothing made me more excited than mounting my very first armored war horse, with its own melee and ranged skills that had my head spinning. The new system is amazingly complex in its own regard but simplified for as deep as it is. There are three categories of war horses, light for quick, agile combat for the left, and heavy for higher damage yet lower mobility on the right, with the middle being the more balanced of the two. On top of that, you can customize your steed with a plethora of abilities and talents, all on tiers unlockable with more experience. Higher defenses and resistances? Done. Increase your damage and critical chance while mounted? No problem. Have your horse grow a spiral horn from its forehead? Possibly. I didn’t have the opportunity to get that far.
You are also presented with stances that are linked to the horse that you choose: Red Dawn, Riddermark, or Rohirrim. Red Dawn focuses on dealing increased damage, Riddermark is all about crowd control while Rohirrim is a defensive stance. Someone who plays a healer as their main class could do some tanking by selecting the right mount and stance. With more customizable options, the new expansion is looking like Turbine has some serious content options on the horizon.
My first taste of riding on a Rohirrim mount took place within an arena, a training ground for the not-so-talented equestrians. Different from any other mounts in the game, the new war-steeds have an acceleration bar telling you how much juice your beast is putting out and how fast you will eventually go. At top speed, you’re expected to notice the changes in terrain as you must begin your turn well before you arrive (think NASCAR, and if you don’t have southern blood running through your veins, anything else that resembles racing). This made for many lost minutes of putting my horse in reverse as I navigated myself out from behind a bale of hay or the end of a fence. If my character had an All State agent, my premium would have been through the roof.
Once outside of the training arena, however, the land opens up. The serenity of the plains of Rohan speak volumes of the artistic craftsmanship Turbine really put forth. The land is colossal, larger than I could ever have imagined. Yellow grassy fields stretch as far as your graphics will allow, while the backdrop of crisp, white mountains border the horizon and crystal blue streams meander through the terrain, it really does become breathtaking. Hills pop up sporadically with various hamlets or towns belonging to the Rohirrim people, which occasionally becomes a letdown when a few of them are eventually overrun by the oncoming onslaught that are the Ringwraiths.
At first, static targets are your bread and butter, weaving large circles around your foes as they slowly try to catch up to you, swinging wildly as you travel just out of reach. I died three times attempting to kill a named salamander when I had first arrived in Rohan, only to decimate the bugger as soon as I got my mount. It never touched me that fourth attempt.
Once you move past the initial area, however, things became even more exciting, if at all possible. Mounted orcs upon wargs, packs of wolves that chase you down, even Eastern men ranging you with their crude bows and affinity for negotiations with Ringwraiths, the combat became endlessly awesome. I found myself testing the limitations of the abilities and moves, trying out different stances and familiarizing myself with the new layout. As great of a time as it was, however, the honeymoon fell short. As you do have melee abilities upon your war steed, they are hardly limited by distance. A combatant could be well out of my reach as a mighty dwarf, yet I could seamlessly strike it without much effort made by a basic melee attack.
With my excitement for combat teetering and nostalgia rising back up in my throat, the thirst for exploration continued and I ventured into the heart of the Fangorn Forest. Remember that time a few paragraphs above where I complained about running into fences and hay? Yeah, welcome to the disorganized goulash that is Fangorn. Riding became nearly impossible as roots and rocks invade your space and the bulky controls of the horse at full speed (at least with my heavy war horse) made it a hassle to traverse the terrain. However, I considered running on foot to be even more treacherous. The denizens of the forest were cleverly hidden and plentiful, making the experience dynamic at every turn.
The graphics are spectacular through and through, with the meticulous attention to detail made in good form. Not only were the fields of Rohan beautiful and breathtaking, but the eeriness of Fangorn came to life with a cloudy haze and dark, gritty colors and creature models that make your skin crawl. There is not much I could complain about, especially since the engine is passing its five year mark and has no chance at competing at the same level as Tera or Guild Wars 2.
The music score lends a hand to the quality of the expansion as well. Anyone who studies film will tell you that the sound effects and music attributed to a title can make or break the experience. Riders of Rohan delivers in fine fashion to this mark, bringing in the same orchestra that gave the rest of the game life. While not as addictive at humming as the Tetris theme song, the music blends into the background and would easily spur me on to continuing my hunt for blood.
The content is massive, with hundreds of quests added as the largest content update Turbine has ever done for this title. However, as a hardcore raider from other MMO’s, I personally felt dejected when I learned there are no group dungeons or raids as of yet. Due out after the expansion goes live, Turbine has promised a cluster of instances to be available to those of us itching patrons. With the changes in dynamics this content update provides, the level cap being raised another ten levels and the stats on gear astronomically increasing, I can only imagine the caliber of group content that is to come.
There are no obvious UI changes so far, apart from your mounts icon labeling its health and speed and an easy dismount button. When you get atop your war-steed, your skills automatically switch to the mounted combat abilities, saving you the trouble of binding more keys and deleting useless combinations. They also don’t intermingle combat moves with stances, keeping them at opposite ends of the quick bar.
As far as replayability is concerned, for me it seemed almost endless. I had about as much fun lobbing heads from mounted orcs and circle kiting creatures with no fear of reprisal than most anything I’ve ever done in my MMO career, and let me tell you, it’s a very long list. As great as it was to play through the story portion of the quest line, it’s a one and done situation. The mounted combat has a difficult time getting old, and since your foes have the same abilities as you do, and they attempt with great passion to corral you into traps along their path to maniacal doom, it stays dynamic and exciting through and through.
For anyone not familiar with the Lord of the Rings MMO, this expansion is a ways out of your league. The level cap is increased from 75 to 85, which is a far cry from Level 1, and mounted combat only begins after you’ve completed the story quest to gain entrance into Rohan. Unless you have a stockpile of Jolt in your mini, or a family of power-levelers waiting for your buck, test the waters with the free to play version of the game first. The basic package is $39.99 and includes the content update, a free war steed, a title and 1,000 turbine points to spend in their cash store. The heroic edition is the next step up at $49.99, and will also unlock all prior content updates, in case you missed one. The legendary edition is $69.99 and throws in another inventory bag, an additional upgrade slot on your legendary weapon, 2,000 turbine points and a quest line not available to anyone else (which in turn, completing such will give your mount a special skill). For the extra cost and familiarity with the franchise, the legendary edition is a slam dunk.
Now, as it was a beta, crashes were to be expected. I did find that in combat situations the game would have a split second hang-time, which effects gameplay astronomically. If you are in the middle of a mounted battle and you have the slightest lag, the momentum of your mount and seamless agility of your assailant goes out of whack, and you lose the advantage. There were many times within my experience that this happened, especially out in the open plains with my graphics turned up. There still is the issue of crashing when trying to log out as well, something they seemed to have never fixed from the old days.
However, I overlooked these factors for the greater good. It has been a while since I played LOTRO, and Riders of Rohan has made me reconsider returning to the franchise. Beyond the mounted combat and the rich storytelling, Riders offers something not many MMO’s can compete with; the epic feel. You have a vigorous surge burn through your veins as you ride into battle, making the hours tick by quick enough to realize you’re going to have a horrible and sleepless day at work the next day.
Graphics: Very Good
Sound: Very Good
Control and Gameplay: Great
Originality: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Incredible
FINAL SCORE: GREAT GAME
Short Attention Span Review: Riders of Rohan delivers in every way possible. The graphics are serene, music score melodious, and new mounted combat dynamic and exciting. The story continues along the path of the fellowship as they split, and the new installment of the Rohirrim are introduced. Even though there are no group dungeons or raids made available with this update, there is great potential that future content could bring stellar battles and memorable events, with the introduction of war-steeds as valiant companions in combat. For fans of the franchise, this is a must have, whereas those new to the title should test out the free to play version before committing the $39 to $69.