Lord of the Rings Online's autumn expansion Riders of Rohan was announced yesterday, and Eurogamer galloped after developer Turbine to find out more.
The headline feature of LOTRO's biggest ever expansion is mounted combat. Kate Paiz, the game's executive producer, told us more.
These War Steeds will only be available to buy and use in Rohan, and from character level 75. The price of a War Steed is TBD.
Paiz described War Steeds as a "high-speed mechanic" that make you more powerful than when you're on foot. "It's about bringing to bear against the forces of Saruman," she said. "He's sending out these packs of mounted orcs, 40 or 50 at a time, and they're devastating the town's people and the landscape of Rohan - as is written in the books.
"And you, as a player, are meeting that challenge with something equivalent. So you and your horse, which is a companion and has his own skills and fighting abilities in combat, are moving at a much faster pace than you as a non-mounted creature in other areas."
War Steeds will be "more beefy" than current mounts. They'll be "stronger", "sturdier" and "trained", Paiz explained - "so they come with skills and abilities, and you can customise them in a way you can't with our current mounts".
A War Steed's armour can be upgraded.
The only named mounted combat skill so far is Trample, which all classes can use. There's been no detailed description of what Trample does, beyond what it suggests. Paiz said there will be class-specific mounted combat skills, too.
Not all on-foot abilities will work on horseback. "There will be some classic skills that can apply to this experience, but there are certainly going to be skills that don't apply," Paiz said, "that make sense when you're standing there. Plinking at someone with your bow and arrow: when you're racing across the plains at high-speed you can no longer do focus elements like this."
"Players will find the mounted combat levelling experience sufficient and robust," Paiz added, "in that they will have opportunities to level their mount throughout the expansion pack and the live plan that we have coming.
"It is not our intention to have you [hit the] mount level-cap within the first three quests - obviously that would be a little bit silly.
"It is not our intention to have you [hit the] mount level-cap within the first three quests - obviously that would be a little bit silly."Kate Paiz, executive producer, LOTRO
"So we are building it in a way that allows it to be extensible over time."
There are "no plans at present" for mounted combat to spread beyond Rohan, or back to Turbine's existing Middle-Earth, but the nature of an MMO is such that you can never say never.
As Paiz pointed out: "We are going to be in Rohan for some time and expect to be spending lots of time advancing and deepening the mounted combat mechanic.
"When we have accomplished that, we will absolutely explore where we think it's appropriate.
"Everybody on my team asks me the same question, and the wonderful thing about having MMOs - this year we'll be turning five - is that we have years to come. All things are possible, and there is some clear enthusiasm around that."
Riders of Rohan raises the Lord of the Rings Online level-cap from 75 to 85. New character skills are "a piece" of this progression, Paiz remarked, but mechanics such as Deeds, crafting and Legendary items will also grow with your hero. Not to mention Traits and Virtues.
Paiz was under "strict orders" not to tell Eurogamer who the Riders of Rohan bosses will be. She hinted that Grima Wormtongue may more heavily feature at some point.
The region of Rohan makes up the final part of the new LOTRO expansion. It's nearly twice the size of Moria. You'll see Amon Hem, where Boromir is slain and where the Fellowship breaks up. You'll go into Fangorn Forest, and you'll go into Rohan and help defend the townspeople against Saruman's forces.
"This fall [autumn] is just the beginning of our Rohan adventures," Adam Mersky mentioned. "Seeing as we're bringing you just the eastern half, and we want to fill that up with rich content much like we have with the other Middle-Earth regions to date, we have a lot more Rohan to go to before we get to Gondor."
"As we get Aragorn south," Kate Paiz chimed in, "we're going to be ready to tell the next steps, both in the live plan for the end of this year/next year and of course any future major releases we'll be doing."
Did you say Helm's Deep?
"Helm's Deep is a big story, obviously. It's a huge challenge for an MMO technically to have - from the books, - 10,000 orcs cresting a hill, running towards the keep. That's a really robust effort from us and the investment is significant.
"Helm's Deep is a big story, obviously. It's a huge challenge for an MMO technically to have - from the books, - 10,000 orcs cresting a hill, running towards the keep ... The investment is significant."Kate Paiz
"So we need time to get that tech ready for launch so we can bring it to life in a way that players will find credible and in a way that will meet their expectations."
Paiz said Helm's Deep will "not be in the fall", meaning autumn. It will be after, she added.
Minas Tirith, the white-stoned and multi-tiered stronghold of Gondor, is also on the cards. Paiz described it as "huge": "There's a tremendous amount of white stone that has to be laid. They had thousands of years; I'm sure it won't take us anywhere near that long, but it is a significant undertaking!"
Helm's Deep and Minas Tirith are key parts of The Lord of the Rings story - a book that has an ending. And what happens when Frodo and his porky friend dump the One Ring in Mount Doom? Does LOTRO end?
"We talk about this over lunch a lot," Paiz revealed. "How interested is the community in hearing about the grandsons of Aragorn and Arwen? How much do they want to see the Gondorians clean up the rest of the Haradrim and the rest of the baddies - the pockets of orcs that exist? And what happens with Sharkey and The Shire?
"Those are all questions that we as storytellers have a rich desire to tell and to explore.
"For us," she said, "this IP is so deep and so rich, that we can continue to tell the story as long as players are sitting there listening to it. And as we always do, we will continue to derive our roadmap and our plans from what's working and what players are responding to and what they're eager for."