LOTRO's new Skirmishes mode detailed

Plus: Mirkwood expansion to cost $20.

Turbine has explained how Lord of the Rings Online's new Skirmishes mode will work when it's introduced as part of the Siege of Mirkwood digital expansion later this year.

The expansion, which was announced on Friday, will cost $20 and be distributed as a download, Turbine has said. We've contacted European operator Codemasters for more information on release plans for this side of the Atlantic.

Speaking to Massively at last weekend's Penny Arcade Expo, producer Jeff Steefel explained that the idea of Skirmishes was to improve the replay value and customisation of LOTRO's well-regarded, story-based multiplayer instances.

Skirmishes can be started, jumped into and friends invited from any location in the game, directly from the user interface. You can select the Skirmish's level, difficulty setting and a party size of three, six or 12.

Skirmishes will have story-led scenarios - a siege of the Prancing Pony at Bree, for example - but nine randomised secondary objectives, to vary the experience for multiple play-throughs. There will be loot drops, and a points system for purchasing further rewards.

Each player can bring one customisable AI solider with them into the Skirmish. You can select the solider's role, customise its appearance and rank up its skills in battle, but you won't control it directly.

The soliders are intended to lend Skirmishes a more "epic" feel, with 12-man raids actually being made of parties of 24 characters on screen. Steefel hinted that this system might be used for large-scale player-versus-player battles in the future.

Skirmishes sound like a very interesting blend of classic MMO instancing with recent developments in co-op game design from other genres - indeed, they're not unlike Halo 3: ODST's Firefight mode.

As well as adding Skirmishes, Siege of Mirkwood will raise LOTRO's level cap to 65, expand the Legendary Weapons system, add the Mirkwood zone and several major new dungeons in the fortress of Dol Goldur, update the combat to feel "snappier", introduce shared account storage for multiple characters on the same server and more. It's due for release in the autumn.

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