The Lord of the Rings Online may never get another proper expansion pack, producer Aaron Campbell has told Eurogamer - the free-to-play relaunch has taught Turbine "a lot" about "pacing" of updates. But don't worry - next year's trip to Isengard will be just as good.
"Expansions classically have a few things tied to them," Campbell educated. "They have something along the lines of a new system; they typically have a level cap tied to them; and they have some epic piece of content or arc to hang their hat on - an important place in the world that people want to go to.
"What we're learning as we build free-to-play is that we can release parts of the world at a time. So our next major update - and we'll be talking more about this soon - starts to extend the world out for free-to-play players. They'll be able to get up to level 65 and see all the world that's available to them.
"Going into Isengard next year, that's going to be on the scale of an expansion," he revealed. "We're going to be giving players the option to buy that in the Store."
Isengard is where corrupted wizard Saruman lives - he's the one who beat-up Gandalf and condemned him to the top of his Orthanc tower.
Will we fight Saruman? "I think we can expect that, yes," answered Campbell.
And loot his staff? "Ha ha ha ha! Well nobody said you're going to be able to defeat Saruman," he said.
"There are a lot of story elements and lore elements we have to be sensitive to, we're looking at the right time-line and as you know there are many steps to Saruman's corruption and his fall. I'm not actually quite sure yet, but I know we're going to look at some really substantial encounters around the Tower of Orthanc; around The Gap of Rohan and to Isengard itself.
"I'm not sure precisely what form that will take yet."
For those less familiar with LOTR canon, Campbell said we're at the start of the second LOTR book, The Two Towers. "Saruman's going a bit mental, he's spreading his influence far and wide, he's building monstrous armies of orcs, and he's not yet had his reckoning," he surmised.
"There are plenty of things there; The fall of the tower, the fall of Saruman are things we'll see play out in the story."
Other areas of interest include the Paths of the Dead and the Misty Mountains.
"We're certainly going to see Book 3 in the early part of next year," added Campbell. "We're going to continue that epic line but things are going to be a little big different."
Lord of the Rings Online is currently on Volume III, which began with the Siege of Mirkwood expansion late last year. Mines of Moria, remember, kicked off Volume II. Campbell told Eurogamer that Volume III will span "somewhere in the range of 15 chapters".
So what's going to happen in Volume IV? "I'm not really sure about that actually," admitted Campbell. "I don't know that our designers are sure of that."
Another area earmarked for a revamp is Monster Play, which allows anyone over level 10 the chance to create a monster alter-ego to fight other high level characters with. They're automatically top level, but they lack the breadth of skills of the competing high-level goodies.
"We certainly have some important revisions coming for it early to mid next year," confirmed Campbell.
"We're looking at continuing to work on the class balance, we're looking at extending the viability of new Monster players, so getting you right into the fight, making sure you have all the key skills you need right away to make that compelling. And there are a lot of ideas around extending the system going into later next year. Right now we're making some of the key trade-offs for exactly what it is we want to build."
The Lord of the Rings Online turned free-to-play here in Europe at the start of November. In the US, Campbell said, the game doubled the money it made five or six weeks after the F2P relaunch.
The free-to-play model means you can download the game client and play in the world and not spend a penny. You can enhance your experience by buying items or game expansions or extra bank space, for example, or upgrade to a VIP account and get many of these perks as default - but for a traditional monthly subscription.
For Turbine, this is the beginning of a free-to-play future, and there are clear boundaries that the developer won't cross when it comes to the in-game store.
"There's definitely a line there. Some of the items you just suggested [gold, characters] are probably over it," said Campbell.
"Our goal with the game is to extend and expand the options for players. A lot of those choices are, 'What kind of content do I consume?' 'What do I play?' 'How do I get there?' How do I make the game more fun?' So, 'Do I want to buy a mount? Do I want to buy a new outfit? Do I want to be near where my friend is so we can play through this content together?' Those kind of things.
"In the future, 'Do I want to buy a new character class?'
"But buying in-game currency, for example, that's another direction that it's going... Certainly in terms of weapons and armour and such, there are possibilities there.
"But very much we want to make sure a certain amount of people play the game in order to get those rewards," Campbell added. "If you want to go and get a legendary item you're going to be playing through some high-end dungeons, some of that content that's built around awarding new items and experiences."
Head over to the Lord of the Rings Online website to get started.
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