The short answer: maybe, if it’s done with an eye toward modernizing the game and isn’t just the same game we’ve been playing for years, only on horses.
One could argue whether LOTRO needs “saving” in the first place. I know I’ve been down on it lately, as have several of my readers and, according to comments I read on LOTRO stories around the web, as have many others.
Of course, the complainers about any game are typically in the minority, and LOTRO‘s numbers still seem fairly strong. However, despite being #6 on the Buzz Index, the game is #47 in terms of new Facebook likes and #31 in new Twitter followers, in terms of percentage gain, since I started tracking in December. (This is something I’m going to examine in more detail in an upcoming post.) So that would seem to indicate that the game is, at best, stagnant and at worst, losing players.
In any case, I think it’s safe to say that a significant number of people would agree that LOTRO needs a (horse’s) kick in the pants to get going again, and mounted combat could be that kick. We got our first in-game look at mounted combat in a video released by Turbine this week:
The close-up bits of in-game action (at about 3:15 and 5:00) don’t show us a lot. For the most part, it just looks like… well, combat. With mounts. Some different skills, people move faster, but that’s about it.
And that simply won’t do.
Players have been looking forward to mounted combat for five years, but the MMO landscape has changed dramatically since 2007. Three or four years ago, we might have been satisfied with just “fighting on horses,” but I don’t think that’s the case any more. I think Turbine knows it’s going to have to knock people out of the park with Riders of Rohan, and to do so, they’ll have to radically alter gameplay to suit the modern MMO fan. They can’t change their core gameplay of leveling-instancing-raiding, but Riders of Rohan and mounted combat offer the perfect opportunity to take LOTRO into the new decade and to inject something unique to the game: dynamic events.
What we know about mounted combat is that it’ll take place in a huge special zone with an altered rules set to accommodate mounted skills. So right there, you have a segregated area where you can experiment with new things that won’t interfere with the game as a whole. What I’m suggesting is that this area be sprinkled liberally with villages, enemy camps, resource points, and so on. Bands of orcs, wargs, and whatever other nasties roam around, causing havoc, and it’s up to intrepid heroes to meet their challenges, save the people of Rohan, and, if possible, drive the beasts back to whatever hole they crawled out of. Think of it as being a single zone in Rift or Guild Wars 2, with invasions happening all the time and the desperate people struggling to hold back the tide of evil that threatens to engulf them all.
It would essentially be a brand new game, all functioning within the LOTRO system and yet being separate enough so as not to mess with the core experience or require a complete re-envisioning of the game. It would be a lot of work to implement, I’m sure, but there is at least a little of the framework already in place. Remember the Angmar battle instances? Those often involved bands of enemies attacking various points at semi-random intervals. Multiply the size of those areas by about a hundred and give them more detail, as well as reasons to fight (i.e., rewards), and you’ve got something.
I realize this is a lot of speculation, and we didn’t see anything remotely resembling it in the video dev diary, but if Turbine is working on something like this, I could see them keeping it under wraps a little while longer. If it, or something like it, is not what they’re working on, then it’s possible that they simply don’t understand what players want in an MMO any more, and that’s truly sad. Even if you’re not enthused by my ideas involving dynamic events, you have to admit that mounted combat needs to be something special, because “more of the same” just isn’t going to cut it anymore.