The Expansion of LOTRO

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.

Other Paths

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]

4 thoughts on “The Expansion of LOTRO

  1. tipa

    LotRO should get back to following the Ring and the Fellowship more. The game ISN’T “Keep the wild pig population in check while Frodo saves Middle Earth”. Well, it IS, or was before they screwed up my billing and cut me off.

    While I’m not saying we should be barrelling into Mordor ahead of the Dynamic Barefoot Duo, why *shouldn’t* we be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the good guys at Helms Deep? Joining the Gondorian Watch and wearing the black-and-silver?

    So much of the world is cut off PURELY because everyone has to gape and gaw about the Hobbits, so PC Hobbits have to follow behind the Fellowship.

    But we could be on their heels. I was in Rivendell with Frodo, Bilbo — all of them. It was never mentioned in the books that more humans, hobbits and dwarves showed up while the Fellowship was still there, but we’re there sure enough in the game, and I see no reason, given that for precedent, why PCs shouldn’t be at all the major events, through instances of course.

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  2. p@tsh@t

    Hmm. I’m really torn (and a bit confused). I’m not entirely sure what the scope of the license Turbine has from Saul Zaentz. It may be that unless they can prove up the commercial success of Shadows of Angmar that the rest of the universe may be unavailable.

    Regardless, both Tipa and Wil bring up good points. There is serious value in being able to be part of the main story. Turbine, however, may have the greatest opportunity to develop a game around the fringes where they have significantly more latitude in the lore department.

    As Wil pointed out, the war was throughout middle earth. Certainly not just the assault on Minas Tirith to be followed by the showdown outside the black gate and then poof! war over.

    RotK describes in general terms the scope of the war in the eastern lands (Mirkwood, the Long Lake and even Rhun). Likewise, Aragorn’s foray through the paths of the dead and ultimately his conflict with the Haradrim provide ample opportunity to “flesh out” areas merely touched on in the canon.

    Though I’d like to go on Durin’s Wild Ride as much as the next guy, I think the better immersive path is around the edges rather than through the center from an MMO perspective.

    Part of what makes an MMO experience meaningful IMHO is the exploration and discovery. Simply going to Moria or Isengard or Minas Tirith, while cool to see its representation in game, doesn’t have the same pop as covering truly new ground.

    Mirkwood and the area east and south are not more than letters on the maps in the books. Likewise the adventure down the Greenway from Bree across the Greyflood (or from Southfarthing) and into Rohan is terra incognita with the advantage that is also skirts the fellowships progression.

    Likewise, the Grey Havens and the area to the north of Ered Luin all the way to the Ice Bay of Forochel could be fair game, though probably not nearly near and dear enough to the fans….

    The notion that the Rangers were aware of the movement of the ringbearer (and then the fellowship) seems like it would provide ample lore-based opportunity for collateral support actions to try to insure the success of the nine walkers in their endeavor.

    I guess the gamer’s question is whether this content creep comes as free content updates or a new paid “expansion”. At what point will Turbine ask us to pony up again for the next reel?

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  3. Talyn

    I don’t have a link right now but I think Turbine said recently either that Goblin-town would be in Book 11, or simply that yes, they would get to Goblin-town. They have a projected schedule for content for the next 7 years.

    To assume the Fellowship is already at the gates of Mordor is pushing things. There’s so much of Middle Earth we still want to see, why assume that 5 months after release we’re almost to the end of the story? Just like Book 9 added the whole story behind the sword Aragorn got at Evendim (if I have that correctly?) … that was only mentioned in the books but never developed. Things like that give Turbine the perfect opportunity to expand the landmass in-game, and expand a little on the Lore while still sticking with it. We’re not the Fellowship, we’re not going to fight all the way up Mount Doom then sit idly by while Frodo fights Gollum then destroys the Ring. We’re doing our own parts sometimes, occasionally intersecting with the Fellowship, and that’s fine by me.

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  4. Gaff

    Why not have both? Moria could be a raid dungeon, so to speak. The balrog may have fallen with Gandalf, but the orcs were certainly not exterminated, nor were their troll allies. If the typical MMO format is followed, the lower level orcs and such would be on the outskirts of old Hollin, while the truly high level and epic mobs would be found inside the mines. If Turbin puts some of the realms to the east of Moria and its triple peaks into the game, perhaps lower level adventurers could bypass that dark route in favor of the pass–after all, Saruman was blocking the pass and he can’t be throwing weather every which way all the time–soon he will have ents to deal with.

    I like the idea of the lands south of Rivendell being flushed out, but you cannot leave out the possibility Mirkwood and the descendants of Beorn. All are fair game–as Potshot says, the War reached across all of Middle Earth. What if you could stand next to Dain as he fell defending the Lonely Mountain? Fought with the Rohirrim against the incursion of the White Hand? I think enough poetic license is already in place to allow the dev’s to implement the geography and its peoples, and let the adventurers create a parallel story line to that of the Fellowship.

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