Lord of the Rings Online: Book 12 Preview


Tomorrow, Turbine launches Book 12, the fourth free content update to Lord of the Rings Online since it launched last April. To date, each update has added a grab bag of new content and terrain, specific improvements to a couple classes and then a lot of love for one brand new game system. In Book 11, it was housing. In Book 12, Turbine turned all its attention towards character customization.

When MMOs were translated from pen-and-paper games and later MUDs (text-based forerunners to the MMO), the addition of graphical presentation created a new dilemma: how the character looks. To date, most games have ignored the problem and simply made graphical representations of each item the character wears. This means that players need to make a choice: do they want to look good or do they want to be good? Inevitably, looks lose to function, but that doesn’t mean people are happy about it. The initial launch of LotRO was no different.

In Book 12, Turbine addresses this problem with the Outfit System, which allows players to both maximize their stats and customize their look in a unique way. This system adds a second layer to the character sheet; on top of the page where players put on their gear, they also have a page where they can design what their player looks like. It is totally cosmetic, as it visually replaces what’s under it and creates a solid, if completely unrealistic compromise that allows players to both maximize their character’s stats and sex appeal.

“This is true in all games. Players are constantly torn between: do I get to wear the really, really fun goofy; or really, really elegant; or really, really flashy costume and get to look the way I want to look or do I get to have the armor stats that I need to go into combat?” Executive Producer Jeffrey Steefel asked rhetorically.

The outfit system is unlocked at level 20 and uses a combination of actual items and cosmetic items. Each player has a maximum of two outfits (essentially templates) to begin with, but unlike regular equipment, the actual item is no longer necessary once locked into an outfit. Say for example, a player finds a special robe they really love the look of, but it’s too expensive to just keep and not the right fit for their character. They can add it to an outfit, save that template, then sell or trade that robe to another player. As long as they don’t tinker with that outfit, they can show it off to the world long after the item is gone.

The Outfit System is not without limitations, either. It is purely cosmetic, and as such they have disabled it in the Ettenmoors. This is where Monster Play – LotRO’s answer to player vs. player combat – takes place, and they do not want players to be able to cheat by pretending to be one class to fool their enemies. Item restrictions also apply to outfits. The system allows players to wear any item they could be wearing as an outfit, but it does not let them equip items that their character simply could never wear and effectively go in disguise. The system also doesn’t extend to the weapons the player wields, so players won’t see guys swinging staves like swords.

“I think it hits a broader swath of the audience,” he added. “You can look pretty cool at a lower level.”


It is not exactly the most realistic approach, but rarely is entertainment, let alone fantasy, ever realistic. Xena’s armor wouldn’t have done much to help her and Conan ran around with no shirt on. The key is that players can dress heroically and in a way that represents their character without being at a disadvantage. This should make happier players and forever dispel the problem where players of the same class at the same level invariably wear the same clothes. So while it may not be realistic, it will create a more vibrant and believable world.

To further enhance customization, Book 12 introduces barbers into the game. These NPCs, for a price, allow players to revisit some of the basic choices they made above their character’s neck. This includes a bevy of new hairstyles, a change in color, extra facial hair and, in a particularly macabre twist, the barber will even give the player a scar or two for the right price. At launch, Turbine noted that there was a certain inequality between the races with regards to hair. Some race/gender combinations had dozens of styles, while others only had a few. The new solution balances that out and lets players mix and match for a nominal in-game fee.

“We can add new hairstyles to the game, but without the barber shop you’d have to go build a new [alternative character] to use it, this way you don’t have to,” pointed out Turbine Director of Communications Adam Mersky.

Book 11 was headlined by player housing and to fit with that theme, Book 12 also extends the level of customization available to house owners. We saw how they added lightable fireplaces and torches, the ability to tilt and rotate items within the house and loads of new items to decorate with.

LotRO has never taken itself too seriously – like chicken play – and as part of the new housing features, they added beer kegs. These come complete with permissions set by the owner of who can use them, but Turbine encouraged my character to partake in some spirits. Unfortunately, I over indulged, fell over and woke up in a random location chosen from a pre-defined list somewhere in Middle-earth. It’s hardly a functional feature, nor do I anticipate people doing it all the time, but it adds some fun and is a nice, low-cost touch for them to add.

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Aside from customization, Turbine put a lot of time into the new monster vs. player PvP dungeon, Delving of Frór, an overhaul of Angmar and special tweaks to the Champion, Burglar and Guardian classes.

“The biggest piece of content is what we’re calling Delving of Frór,” said Steefel, “which is this big series of caverns, mines underneath the Ettenmoors, presumably were used in ancient times, by Sauron, Dwarves at one point were using it and now Angmar is basically been pushing the baddies in there to see if there is ways they can go and exploit it.”

Delving of Frór takes a page from “Darkness Falls” in Dark Age of Camelot, as it combines a player vs. environment epic dungeon, with a competitive player vs. player tug-o-war that can spill into actual combat inside the dungeon.

In the Ettenmoors, players can take their usual characters into PvP combat, or choose to play as a monster character. The competition is fierce, and Book 12 adds five control points to the battle. The side that controls the majority of these control points gains control of the Delving of Frór dungeon. The inside provides more than just fun gameplay; it opens up all sorts of chances for loot that can benefit the side that gets their players equipped. When the balance of power shifts, the other side gains access, but those already in the dungeon are not kicked out. This leads to some intense PvP, surrounded by high level monsters.

“The whole purpose of it is, though, an extension of something we started to do a little bit in Book 10,” said Steefel. “To give monster players in particular, but really anyone who is in the PvP environment on either side, more opportunity to get really cool stuff, to engage in with each other in different ways and to give [them] lots more replayability and variety in that experience.”

Gaergoth the Unbound

Gaergoth the Unbound

The dungeon itself has five epic encounters and will require a group of top end players to advance through. In our demonstration, we ran through (cheating enabled) and met up with Gaergoth the Unbound (pictured). To reach him, we had to fight our way through a number of regular enemies, a task that, if done without god powers, would have taken quite some time. He is just one of five major encounters, which made the scope more impressive. Despite being three completely tricked out high-end characters, we didn’t even make a dent in him without the aid of cheating.

The urban renewal of Angmar is a less publicized, but highly important, part of Book 12. As emphasized by the game’s title – Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar – this land houses important antagonists for players of LotRO, yet Turbine felt that its gameplay was not as structured as other parts of their world. As such, they overhauled the quest structure to provide better quests of a more consistent difficulty in a more organic way. We barely sampled the results during our demonstration, but Turbine appeared happy with the outcome.

Finally, Turbine continued their habit of class tweaks with Book 12 and looked at three classes.

The Burglar was tweaked to emphasize his trickiness and bring it back on par with his rogue elements. This mischief mode, which kicks in at level 20. “It’s basically a new play mode that emphasizes tricks and crowd control,” explained Steefel. Many players had expressed how much they enjoyed the non-traditional elements of the class that included riddles and the like as skills. In Book 12, there is much more of that available and creates a distinct line within the class between stealthy and tricky Burglars.

The Guardian had his Guardian-ness enhanced to make him more effective at what he is meant to do. The changes were not as dramatic; for example, they made two handed weapons a more viable route, which creates another fork in the road for a class who has been primarily focused as a defensive tank. “It’s really focusing on the Guardian’s DPS and giving him more reasons to use two-handed weapons,” he said. Now, with two-handed weapons, players are free to choose a more offensive route.

“One of the most talked about things was the repair costs for the Guardian,” Steefel added. They’ve addressed this through a combination of repair price cuts and some buffs that preserve their items a little more readily.

The Champion had already been the focus of revision shortly after launch, so its tweaks were less disruptive than its two previously unrevised brethren. “People were complaining about the cost skills and power and fervor has these huge penalties for the Champion, so Ardor gives you a little more punch basically,” noted Steefel. The Champion previously had two stances, the offensive Fervor and the defensive Glory. In Book 12, they get Ardor, a lower level stance that is a happy middle-ground between the two, a popular request among the players.

That Turbine has released four major content upgrades since launch just under 10 months ago is a major achievement. Fans still await the game’s first full expansion pack – rumored to be coming later this year – but in the meantime, they’ve been shown a tireless dedication to the live product, the results of which easily equal at least one traditional retail expansion free of charge.

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