Lord of the Rings Online executive producer Jeffrey Steefel, speaking to Eurogamer just after announcing this year's Mines of Moria expansion, said that being in Moria would be "very different from anything people have experienced before".
Moria, the ominous, deserted dwarven city which serves as the climax to the first book in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy, will be rendered as a single, continuous underground world for players to explore. It will offer players a chance to fight the Balrog demon that's defeated by Gandalf in the books. We asked Steefel if this would involve making significant changes to the continuity of Lord of the Rings lore.
"No," he said. "Well, not as much as you would think. We're not talking about how we're doing that yet, but it definitely took some thinking. But especially around something as important as that, we never want to do anything that's anachronistic to the lore."
He confessed that there were some things LOTRO players will never be able to accomplish or see in the game. "It's tricky, right, because there are things that people want to do. Everybody wants to go with Frodo to Mordor. It's just not going to happen. It doesn't make sense. There are single player games out there that are better suited to do that."
He also discussed Mines of Moria's interesting new Legendary items system. "There's a huge layer on top of the advancement system in the game," Steefel said. "In addition to growing my own character, now I have these weapons that I can create that are almost companions by my side, that have their own advancement path, their own XP, you can get traits for them. There's quest content that actually emanates from them, they're almost like a little mobile quest hub for you."
LOTRO developer Turbine has launched a website to promote The Mines of Moria, featuring minigames that will unlock deeds and items in the game itself, as well as revealing more preview content. Steefel said that Turbine was keen to expand the Lord of the Rings Online experience beyond the PC game itself in future, including, potentially, some mobile applications.
"We're already planning on doing that in the States, and it's something that we're hoping to expand and, we're talking to [European publisher] Codemasters about," he said.
"The overall philosophy is that the game is really Lord of the Rings, the content, the franchise. That's the meat of what's there. How you access it should be ubiquitous, eventually. Different platforms are better for different things. The PC 3D world is a platform, the PC application is a platform, web is a platform, console's a platform, mobile's a platform. We've all had these conversations - why can't I sit on the tube and manage my crafting or my inventory? The answer is, there's really no reason. We just have to build it so you can, and you will."
Although neither Turbine nor Codemasters will release figures, the consensus is that Lord of the Rings Online is the most successful MMO to launch after World of Warcraft. Asked why he thought that was, Steefel said it was Turbine's experience in the MMO field that had left it closer behind Blizzard than most.
"When World of Warcraft came out, the bar went from way down here to way up here. People ask what is the most innovative feature of World of Warcraft, and the answer is, at the time, it was the first MMO to launch that wasn't broken. Including some of our games. That was a huge innovation," he argued.
"We're going to have out 15th anniversary next year of making nothing but MMOs. So this is our fourth, and quite frankly we have lots of good scars, and we've learned. We were already on the path to meet that bar, I think everyone's struggling to catch up to that. And it's not easy, it's about the hardest thing there is today."