Summary: JCal interviews Turbine about their highly-anticipated Lord of the Rings Online MMO. Can it be a WoW killer? Get the scoop inside!
FiringSquad: First, Turbine has been working on this game for a while now. Overall, how do you feel the game is coming along at this point?
Jeffrey Steefel: The Beta Program is in full swing and the game is looking fabulous. Our team is busy at work updating and polishing the game based on feedback from Beta players. The response has been overwhelmingly positive and LOTRO is definitely shaping up to be an epic game that will satisfy hardcore and casual fans alike.
FiringSquad: Even though having the Lord of the Rings franchise for a MMORPG is a huge coup, some people will compare this game with others that have come before it. Besides having the Tolkien license to play with, what will make this game stand out from the crowd?
Jeffrey Steefel: There are millions of Tolkien fans around the world who have been waiting for the chance to wander the Shire or to conquer Weathertop since they first read the books or saw the movies. While many games have brought a piece of the experience to these fans, LOTRO represents the first time players can truly immerse themselves in Middle-earth to create their own story in Tolkien’s fabled universe.
LOTRO is the first MMO that has it all including an epic storyline that has served as the foundation for the entire genre of fantasy-based entertainment, a robust and immersive experience that is accessible by players of all levels and outstanding gameplay. So aside from the obvious benefits of the Tolkien license, what does this mean? In order for an MMO based on the Lord of the Rings to be successful, it has to be accessible to players of all levels. We have worked very hard to capitalize on the standard of accessibility that has been perfected by previous generations of MMOs to create a game that will appeal to both hardcore and casual gamers alike. For example, we have implemented a PvP system that we like to call monster play. Players can inhabit the evil creatures of Middle-earth and complete quests and battle other player characters. What makes this system so compelling is how it provides a great experience for all players. Hardcore gamers can participate in challenging “monster quests” to earn points that can be used to level-up their main character while casual players can engage in shorter play sessions and build their skills over time. We have taken this approach with each of the major game systems in LOTRO.
FiringSquad: How much license does Turbine have in making the game? Will it stick strictly with the Tolkien novels or will there be opportunities to expand on the events in the Tolkien books?
Jeffrey Steefel: Our goal is to create the most complete and authentic realization of Middle-earth. The books serve as our guide as we create this rich, immersive experience that allows players to experience life in the Third Age after Frodo leaves the Shire. While we are sticking very close to the books, the game isn’t about replaying the story, LOTRO is about creating your own adventure within the world that Tolkien created. Players will travel to many celebrated landmarks from the books including Rivendell, Weathertop and Bree, and interact with famous characters such as Gandalf, Gimli and Strider. In addition to the creatures and places in the books, we also have the ability to expand on these areas and create our own content. So you’ll not only fight Orcs and Trolls, but you’ll also encounter new creatures such as the dangerous Rogmul.
Jeffrey Steefel: There will be over 1200 quests in the game at launch. As the game progresses we will advance the storyline, but again the game is really about creating your own character’s story during the War of the Ring. We want players to feel they can go out and do their own things rather than follow a predetermined path. Many of the quests tie back to the main story in the books, but many of them allow players to live their own adventure too.
FiringSquad: How will the combat system be handled in the game and what can players expect to face in terms of creatures and enemies?
Jeffrey Steefel: The combat system is quite diverse in that players can immediately engage in battle using the Auto Attack feature or take things to the next level using skills that your earn as you advance through Middle-earth. These skills can be modified by using Traits that area acquired through accomplishments achieved throughout the game. LOTRO’s combat system also uses special events (determined by the player’s class) to open up abilities that make combat more interactive. One sample of this would be the Captain’s “Cry of Victory” that fires off whenever anyone in his fellowship defeats an enemy.
Conjunctions are another unique feature in LOTRO. They allow a party to apply their skills in combination during attack. A member of the party uses a skill to place the opponent in a vulnerable state (dazed, knocked back) and then icons appear immediately on the other party members’ screens. The players have seconds to select an icon, and the resulting combination of individual skills is combined into a “Group Skill” that results in a coordinated group attack. The system is designed to be useful even if you do not know it well, but even more effective for groups that know the unique combinations and their effects. This encourages group play, cooperation, and provides increasing complexity for advanced players who want it. At launch, LOTRO will have over 2200 unique and authentic monsters for players to challenge as they defend Middle-earth.
FiringSquad: What other gameplay elements do you think are important?
Jeffrey Steefel: The Accomplishments and Traits system in LOTRO is something that is quite unique and players will really enjoy. Players can advance their heroes in Middle-earth through combat AND exploration. As you discover new areas of the Middle-earth or complete a series of quests, your character will earn accomplishments that provide access to special “Traits”. These Traits enable special abilities for a period of time, regardless of class. For example, players who complete all of the quests in Bree-land can earn the “Empathy” trait. This trait gives the player +2 to their armor value while also increasing their resistance to fear attacks. Traits modify your skills, so you can alter your character’s abilities almost at will by visiting an NPC minstrel in any town.
FiringSquad: What is the current time-table for beta testing the game and for the final release?
Jeffrey Steefel: The game is currently in Beta and we expect to launch the game in the Spring of 2007. We will continue to invite more players into the Beta Program as we progress towards launch.
FiringSquad: Finally is there anything else you wish to say about the current status of Lord of the Rings Online?
Jeffrey Steefel: Absolutely! If you haven’t signed up for the Beta yet, now is a great time to do so. We’re inviting tons of players and the game is already receiving great reviews from players and press alike. It’s only going to get better from here! Players can sign up for the Beta by visiting: http://www.lotro.com/betasignup.
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