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Lord of the Rings Online: Volume 2, Book 7 – Leaves of Lorien

Turbine’s Aaron Campbell, LotRO‘s Live Producer, was kind enough to walk me through the new content coming in Volume 2, Book 7: Leaves of Lorien.

Once I’d logged into the test server with Gilras, my level 60 Champion, Campbell opted to start off small, showing me some of the new lawn decorations available for player housing, including a (rather tasteful) lattice gate available through reputation with the Elves of Lothlorien. He also demonstrated two new items found in the new 12-man raid: a statue of Nimrodel, and “Nanu’s Hiding Place,” a small bush that when used spawns a small friendly turtle pet. Quite adorable.

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With the release of Mines of Moria, LotRO took players just east of Moria and the Misty Mountains to the border of the Golden Wood of Lothlorien. Book 7 opens up the entirety of Lorien, letting players venture into the Elven lands – though not right away. The Elves are notoriously reclusive and withdrawn from the world, and as Campbell explained, anyone who hadn’t gained their permission to enter would find themselves quickly meeting a barrage of arrows.

In order to increase one’s faction standing with the Galadrim, players will need to either complete the story of Volume 2, Book 6 culminating in a meeting with Galadriel herself, or complete a series of quests on Lorien’s western edge with Haldir, near where the Fellowship entered the wood. Campbell said that the developers had considered giving Elf player characters an inherent advantage, but decided to make all PCs equal for gameplay purposes.

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The space of Lorien is very different from much of the rest of the game, Campbell explained as he showed me around the forest. Since the Elves are so withdrawn and reclusive, the Golden Wood is a peaceful and otherworldly place. That’s driven most of the content in Book 7, he said, since they couldn’t do the standard sort of combat quests, like repelling enemy invaders and exterminating Orc camps. So the Turbine team took the opportunity to dig into the lore and connect players more with the members of the Fellowship as they rested in Lorien after the chaos and despair of Moria.

Nor do the Elves use money, so quest rewards will instead be barter tokens, which can be redeemed for different types of rewards like equipment and weapons – or, for instance, the aforementioned lawn decorations.

Speaking of the Fellowship, it wasn’t long before we ran into a certain pair of Hobbits – Sam and Frodo, fresh from Moria but not yet split from the Fellowship. Up high on one of the Elvish Flets, there are Legolas and Gimli – as one might expect, Gimli isn’t happy about being so far above the ground. “He’s making an effort,” laughs Campbell. In one of the Book 7 quests, players will get to accompany the pair on a more traditional combat quest hunting Orcs.

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As we moved on, Campbell elaborated that they didn’t want players to feel dated behind Book 7 if they hadn’t fully completed the storyline through Book 6 – while the team certainly wanted players to play through the content, it wouldn’t be a requirement. Furthermore, the introduction to the epic quest would be tuned mostly for solo players or small groups, to make it more accessible to everyone.

After touring the Banquet Lawn where Elves were getting their party lawn and the docks where the Fellowship would ultimately set out from Lorien (and falling in the water there), Campbell took me to Caras Galadhon, the capital of Lothlorien – city of eternal light bloom, one might call it.

The developers had intended to make this city nestled in the boughs of trees look as ethereal and otherworldly as possible – more so than the rest of Lorien – and it works rather well. Caras Galadhon was by far the coolest part of the play session, a vast-seeming network of connected platforms that went all over the place. Learning how to navigate the city might be a task in and of itself, but Campbell says that the team has implemented quests to do just that: “Hey, find this guy on that flet over there and give him something. Good luck!” Alas, if only the Elves had invented zip lines.

Like Moria, Caras Galadhon is a very vertical space, making use of the improvements in the game engine since its launch. Apparently the Dwarves and Elves have more in common than they’d like to think. Elsewhere in Lorien, I encountered one Peregrin “Pippin” Took fast asleep on a bench, with Aragorn nearby. Campbell took me down the hill to show me one of his favorite spots in the city – the Fountain of the Lady.

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Apparently, I was able to jump up into the fountain, something that would surely get me yelled at by the Elves if this were live. Nearby, I was able to accept a quest to bring some water from the fountain to some thirsty Elves, and Campbell used the opportunity to demonstrate the Quest Tracker, one of Book 7’s new features. An arrow on the minimap pointed me in the right direction, and when I went to the regular map, a blue X marked my destination. While some players who played LotRO really liked the lore and exploration and finding everything for themselves – and could turn the feature off – they’d found that some people wanted to just complete things, like logging on and getting some things done in limited time.

Of course, being the test realm, we discovered a bug where the Quest Tracker was telling me to go to the other side of Moria to deliver the water. That’s a bit of a trek. Campbell laughed, joking that “just because they aren’t combat quests doesn’t mean we can’t make them tough!”

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Another thing that they showed me was the new battle instance space, where players help the Elves prepare for war – the Fellowship’s passage through Moria stirred up the Orcs within, and they’re now storming out of the mines, intent on invading the Golden Wood.

The new instance works very much like the “battle spaces” in Angmar and Moria, centered around defending barricades with groups of defenders. Campbell pointed out that it was actually an area that players could visit outside of the instance to familiarize themselves with the territory before entering the fight. The goal of the battle is to hold three different barricades, each of which has four NPC Elf defenders – randomized between Warriors, Healers, and Rangers. Some barricades will have balanced groups, others will be more in need of aid – luckily, there are extra reinforcement NPCs that you can send to aid the defenses. Got a squad of three Healers and a Ranger? Send a warrior to back them up.

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Of course, players will have to aid them themselves – whether by splitting up or focusing one at a time, it’s their choice. If any one of the barricades fall, the battle is lost. There were further objectives, explained Campbell, that could be obtained once players had already completed it once – killing optional bosses that could spawn during the encounter, preventing your primary NPC from taking any damage, and so on.

Beyond defense, there will be the chance for players to go on the attack, taking Elf banners and pushing into the enemy lands to capture Idols of Sauron. Whichever player is carrying the banner will be the target for attack, so don’t hand it to your more fragile classes.

Finally, Campbell showed me the midpoint of the Book 7 epic quest, which has players returning to Moria at the request of an old dwarven friend to deal with the corruption coming from the depths that has been plaguing Dwarves and Elves alike. Deep within the Foundation of Stone, we fought a Caerog – another member of the Rog family, just made out of stone instead of smoke and fire, though Campbell didn’t want to show me too much, saying that he preferred for the big surprises – including an encounter with an “old archnemesis” – to stay surprises. The epic quest will be tuned for solo play or small groups as players explore the relationships between Elves and Dwarves.

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It isn’t just the epic quest that Turbine aimed to make less frustrating – they went back and retooled some of the beginner content as well, Campbell said. The new approach flows more quickly and smoothly, and has more direction to it – reflecting not only what they’ve learned since the game launched, but how the MMO genre has evolved since then. For instance, if you’re level 3 and a monster stuns you, that’s no fun, because you’re just learning the game – so they removed that sort of thing from the lower levels, regrouped quests so that there was a natural progression from one hub to the next instead of running back and forth between Point A and Point B, and in general aimed for it to be much less of a hassle for new players.

Leaves of Lorien will go live tomorrow, Tuesday the 16th. Check out our full gallery here!

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