We have had Lord of the Rings Online available to the general public since the early April open beta, so anybody was keen enough on the game to get in early has had about five months to play.
Up until now, the action in LOTRO has been contained in Eriador, the land that lies between the two mountain ranges, the Blue Mountains (Ered Luin) and the Misty Mountains (Hithaeglir). These two ranges stand link parenthesis at either end of LOTRO content at the moment, the elf and dwarf starting areas at one end and Rivendell (Imladris) at the other.
We began talking on Skype the other night about where the game will expand. Our characters are only in the high 20s at this point and we are taking our time and seeing the sights of Middle Earth, so it seems a bit premature to wonder what will be added outside of Eriador. But with interest in the game and interest in the lore, it is fun to speculate on what may lie ahead.
Follow The Ring
The game is called “Lord of the Rings Online” and not “Middle Earth Online,” so it seems likely that the game will follow the progress of the members of the fellowship of the ring through the land. That means heading south into Eregion, a desolate place. That also brings us to the first tricky bit.
The fellowship ends up going through Moria to leave Eregion. As much as I would like to see Moria, I am not sure that the story line will allow it, at least not at this juncture. The Eregion side of Moria was guarded, hidden, and then pretty well closed off in the books, thus eliminating any chance of it becoming a “Mr. Durin’s Wild Ride” sort of attraction.
So, if we assume that players won’t be making the trek through Moria, they have to find another way to follow the fellowship. That means the Redhorn Gate, where the fellowship got snowed in, or a long trek around the south past Isengard and through Rohan.
Of the two, I favor the southern route, long though it may be. Isengard would be an attractive area around which to build a series of quests and Rohan would be the ideal place to get an upgraded horse. It also would put players in position to pick up and be a part of some of the adventures that come after the dispersing of the fellowship. And, finally, it avoids the Lorien question.
The Redhorn Gate path does put players near the eastern exit from Moria, but it has two problems in my view. First, if the powers controlling the weather worked hard to snow in the nine walkers of the fellowship, what will those powers do when a couple of hundred random adventurers show up?
Second, there is the problem of entry into Lorien. Here we have a place that is close to New Tunaria in its xenophobia, and the fellowship walks right in. We, however, cannot be expected to follow, at least not as a mass of unruly sight seers. Maybe an instanced encounter with Lorien could be managed, with players getting a glimpse of Galadriel and a quest to help out the fellowship that would have, no doubt, just left before we arrived. But Lorien as a place that players can visit at will is a non-starter in my opinion.
So the southern route to Rohan seems to be the way to go. A series of adventures can be had in Rohan that can keep players involved with the remains of the fellowship and the story while keeping them away from the huge events (sorry, no battle at Helm’s Deep). It also positions the players well to eventually arrive in Gondor and Minis Tirith, presumably after the lifting of the siege. (I foresee a series of “mopping up” quests in the Pelennor in that scenario.)
Diversionary Help With The War
There is another option. While the game is called “Lord of the Rings Online,” the case can be made that anything that involves the war of the ring is fair game. The books chronicle one part of the war, but makes clear than the war has engulfed all of Middle Earth.
With that in mind, there could be quite a viable series of adventures to be had going from Rivendell over the high pass. There are, of course, the goblins in Goblin-town along the way, at the lower levels of which Gollum used to reside, and not all that far from Rivendell. And atop the same set of mountains there is the aerie of the eagles of Gwaihir the Windlord. While there are no griffon mounts in LOTRO, maybe you could bum a ride on an eagle.
And just beyond that is Mirkwood, an area of rich potential. With the Beornings at one end and the realm of Thranduil at the other, there should be enough coverage for quest providers. And in between the two there is all of Mirkwood, including Dol Guldur, Sauron’s former vacation home in the woods, to explore.
And beyond Mirkwood you have Lake Town and the Lonely Mountain, which at least would finish off the tour of “The Hobbit.” And, as I said, we know that these areas as well are under attack from Mordor. The attacks are primarily to keep help from coming to Gondor, so they are not as heavy. This means that there is probably room to maneuver quests around the battles.
There are advantages to this route for Turbine. It is certainly an area that any Tolkien fan would like to see. It is also an area not well covered in “The Lord of the Rings,” so Turbine would have something of a somewhat free hand to develop some lore of its own. It would not be canon of course, but there is little to dispute anything they come up with.
The strikes against this path are pretty obvious though. The primary one is that it takes you away from the ring and the events of the books. Sure, I’d like to see Dol Guldur, but I just HAVE to see the Hornburg. In addition, if you end up at the Lonely Mountain, there is a long road between you and Minas Tirith where the action will have to focus at some point.
Of course, the paths I have speculated about are not the only options available. There are still quite a few points of interest that I did not cover, such as Fangorn. And who knows, maybe Turbine will have us spend some time with the wild men of the woods. There must be a “slay ten gorgun” quest in that.
So I look forward to see what path Turbine will choose. There is a lot of Middle-earth left to see.
[March 14, 2008 – Turbine announced Mines of Moria]