When you think of The Lord of the Rings, or Middle-earth in general, certain iconic images come to mind. Gandalf facing the towering Balrog at the Bridge of Khazad-dum. The red, lidless Eye of Sauron, rimmed with fire--its narrow pupil opening on a pit, a window into nothing. The ghoulish Gollum, muttering while setting his pale eyes upon his "Precious."
You may also think of the Rohirrim armies, galloping on their war steeds toward the forces of Mordor as they battled for Minas Tirith. Indeed, horses were an important part of the lives of the people of Rohan, where the expansive plains offered plenty of grazing area for their steeds. As Aragorn once chanted:
Where now the horse and the rider? Where is the horn that was blowing?
Where is the helm and the hauberk, and the bright hair flowing?
Where is the hand on the harp-string, and the red fire glowing?
Where is the spring and the harvest and the tall corn growing?
In Update 6, all players will be able to summon skirmish soldiers in the main landscape.
And so Turbine is looking to the horse-lords as inspiration for its next expansion for The Lord of the Rings Online, called Riders of Rohan. Executive producer Kate Paiz gave us a few ideas of what the expansion--and the year of 2012--will bring to The Lord of the Rings Online. But before we discover where the game is going, perhaps we should look at where it's been, at least in 2011.
World Conquest: In 2010, The Lord of the Rings Online went free-to-play, and in 2011, the North American and European services were combined into one. The LOTRO community is now a global village.
Expanding and Exploding: For Turbine, The Rise of Isengard expansion brought the year to a close in fine fashion. Paiz and company weren't sure that players would embrace the idea of a full-fledged expansion for a free-to-play game. The positive response, however, was a fine reward for the risk involved.
All That Glitters Must Be Gold: That same expansion allowed players to explore several new regions, including Dunland, home to the distrustful Dunlendings, whom Saruman manipulated in an attempt to gain their support during the War of the Ring. Rise of Isengard included a new raid dungeon and new epic questing, among many other additions.
And so Turbine looks to 2010 with continued vigor, not just with the new expansion, but also with plans for updates major and minor alike. The game will celebrate its fifth anniversary this spring, though it's the players that shall receive the most important gift: Update 6. This extensive update will allow players to explore the Great River, also known as the Anduin, to the south of Lothlorien. The full extent of this new region is still unknown, though it's worth noting that the Great River was the longest river of the Third Age. It is on this river that the Argonath rises, those two imposing pillars that depict Elendil's sons, Isildur and Anarion. (Author's note: I don't know if The Pillars of the Kings will appear in the update--but it's a nice hope to have, nonetheless.)
Expect much of this content to be soloable. In Update 6, all players will be able to summon skirmish soldiers in the main landscape, though not in instanced dungeons--at least, not at the update's launch. Turbine continues to create larger updates, though smaller monthly updates will fix bugs and improve the overall quality of your virtual life.
The big news, of course, is the full expansion: The Lord of the Rings: Riders of Rohan. (It's coming in the fall of 2012. No date has yet been set.) The name conjures a sense of action. Imagine the armies of Rohan atop their steeds, defending Hornburg from the uruk-hai. Consider Theoden's war cry as he raised Eoden's sword above his head:
Arise now, arise, Riders of Theoden!
Dire deeds awake, dark is it eastward.
Let horse be bridled, horn be sounded!
…the expansion includes the largest explorable area yet in The Lord of the Rings Online.
So what would an expansion focused on Rohan be without mounted combat? Turbine's way ahead of you: every class will be given a separate set of skills and abilities meant for horseback combat. The idea: Give players a sense of galloping toward their enemies, swords and bows at the ready. Among those enemies will be roving bands of warg riders, scouting the plains. And those plains will surely be vast: Paiz says that the expansion includes the largest explorable area yet in The Lord of the Rings Online; the eastern plains of Rohan are even larger than Moria.
As before, Turbine looks to re-create the signature Middle-earth moments with Riders of Rohan. In the expansion, you can enter the Forest of Fangorn, where you can be befriend the giant tree-people known as ents. You'll also observe the dissolution of The Fellowship in Amon Hen, after Boromir's death. It's another iconic moment: Sam and Frodo continue their journey toward Mordor, while Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas chase after Merry and Pippin. Of course, in a massively multiplayer online role-playing game, it's not just about reliving the moments you know--it's about creating your own adventure. And with new combat skills, new areas to explore, and a new level cap (85), The Lord of the Rings Online: Riders of Rohan should let you do exactly that.