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By: Jeff "MadeOfLions" Libby
Welcome to another edition of Quest Notes! I like to take a few pages every so often to keep you all posted on the current state of the Epic Story in LOTRO and to provide some choice tidbits concerning the adventures on which your character soon will embark. This time, we’ll be talking about Epic Volume III, Book 10: Snows of Wildermore, and also catching up with some events in other lands of Middle-earth in the Epic Volume III Interlude. So let’s get started!
The Epic Story Returns!
The Story So Far
The Kingdom of Rohan faces a grave threat in the form of the treacherous Wizard Saruman and his armies of Uruk-hai, but the most immediate danger comes from within: the fears and squabbling of Rohan’s ruling lords put all at risk. Only by casting aside their selfish desires and coming together underneath the King’s banner can the Rohirrim hope to oppose Saruman’s hordes. During previous Books of the Epic Story, you confronted some of Rohan’s ruling class and spoke out against these squabbles, but the poison of hopelessness affects even Théoden King himself. Succumbing to the evil whisperings of Gríma Wormtongue, the King acts against the interest of his land and plays into the hands of Saruman: Théoden’s nephew Éomer is imprisoned in Edoras and you are exiled from the King’s presence and forbidden to cross the Entwash. Two who might endanger Saruman’s designs are rendered ineffectual.
Who can defend the people of Rohan if their king will not?
Saruman is awaiting word from the parties of Uruk-hai sent to seek the Ring, but he is not remaining idle. His assault upon the Ford of Isen that claimed the life of Théoden’s son Théodred was one prong of his pincer attack. The other threatens Rohan from a secret road and on an unexpected front: the region of Wildermore. Early on in Volume III, Book 10 you will learn that no messages have come out of Wildermore in many days, and riders sent by Aldor Harding into that land have not returned. So begins a fifteen-chapter adventure to learn what ails Wildermore and what happened to the missing riders.
Volume III, Book 10 begins at the crossing of the Entwash, in the Sutcrofts, where Book 9 concluded.
Book 10: ‘Snows of Wildermore’ begins at the Entwash Crossing, in the Sutcrofts
Of Optional Content and the Epic Story
As content developers for LOTRO, we make a lot of different kinds of content. Every new region gets a full set of landscape content, instance clusters come with quests and deeds to complete and bosses to defeat, new Books of the Epic Story get added in updates and expansions – there’s a lot of variety, and all this varied content gets played in different ways. Not every player is going to play every piece of content in the same way, and we honestly wouldn’t expect it of you! But it does mean that there are different expectations for each type of content.
The Epic Story is a type of content that we want as many people as possible to experience, and as a result it’s tuned to a much easier difficulty than the instance clusters. And since each Book of the Epic tells a linear story, it usually takes a similarly linear format: you start at Chapter 1 and progress through to the final Chapter. Every now and then we experiment with a different format, such as with the Volume II Epilogue, which takes the form of a deed that unlocks following completion of Volume II Book 9; its quests can be completed in any order.
A funny thing about that Epilogue, though. It was designed right around the time that the decision was made for the Epic Story to be entirely soloable, and the Epilogue was intended to be a compromise for players who enjoyed group content in the Epic. ‘Book 9 may be soloable,’ the thinking went, ‘but here are some group quests so the transition won’t feel so abrupt.’
Players who wanted the Epic to be soloable didn’t like it because they felt that this was a section of the Epic that wasn’t soloable. Players who preferred the original style where most Books ended with group content didn’t like it because it seemed to be happening after the real meat of that Volume was over. ‘Well, it’s optional!’ we said, pleasing no one. Similarly, during Volume III Book 4 we experimented with drawing landscape content into the Epic with quests that advise you to ‘help the people at this quest hub before meeting me at the next one!’ but this was met with confusion. ‘How do I know when it’s safe to move on?’ players asked. ‘Are these optional quests or required for me to progress?’
Even Nona’s not sure how much of this is optional
It taught us a valuable lesson about the meaning of ‘optional’ in the Epic Story: it’s really difficult to put optional content in a linear story. How do you tell the difference between optional content and required content anyway?
Meanwhile, Elsewhere in Middle-earth…
This is all a long-winded way of introducing the Volume III Interlude, a series of optional session-play instances that will slowly unlock as you play through Volume III Book 10. These are not mandatory, and are not required for you to advance through the Chapters of Book 10. These are intended to help flesh out the story, shedding light on events happening elsewhere in Middle-earth, especially as it concerns the Rangers of the Grey Company that you left behind. If you don’t enjoy sessionplay, you can completely ignore these and pretend they don’t exist. If you like, you can save them until the end of Book 10 and then play them all in sequence, or you can play them as they unlock. It’s up to you!
You will take on the role of seven different characters over the course of the Volume III Interlude, beginning with Halbarad, the leader of the Grey Company. From a development perspective, these Interludes posed some interesting challenges quite different than the ones posed by a traditional Epic quest line. Each chapter needed to be a self-contained experience and provide up front all the necessary information to tell you who you would be playing and why you should care. A number of skills already exist for Rangers, and these will be familiar, but some new ones will help to flesh out the abilities of characters you play for the first time.
Halbarad draws upon a mix of abilities, both old and new
After the Interludes had received a first pass in development, the QA team began to report a number of curious bugs: the NPCs in each space looked as they should, but some of the characters you played as seemed unnaturally… skinny. Look at this shot of Saeradan standing next to the newly-svelte Halbarad:
Favorite explanation: too much running around Eriador
The mystery of Skinny Halbarad stymied us for awhile, until the artists made a surprise discovery: the skeleton they had constructed for the sessionplay characters was affected by the Body Type slider in character creation… and its default value was ‘All the way to the left.’ After that it was an easy adjustment to restore Halbarad and the other characters to their usual appearances, but it was a funny reminder that even after many years of developing LOTRO, there are still surprises in store… even for the developers!
A Few Teases...
And now a few pretty pictures from both Book 10 and the Interlude to whet your appetite for the adventures ahead!