It’s finally time: We’re heading back to Rohan. On Lord of the Rings Online’s progression servers, at least — the live servers have hosted Riders of Rohan since October 2012. For some, it’s an exciting moment to revisit these lands; for others, the sheer size and quest density of Rohan make it an intimidating prospect.
It felt like a good time to revisit Riders of Rohan, looking back at what worked in it, what didn’t, and what hoofprint it left in the game. See what I did there? So much potential for horse puns here.
A new era of LOTRO
Consider just how drastically Riders of Rohan changed the landscape of Lord of the Rings Online. There was a lot of anticipation for this region after the build-up from the Great River region, but players didn’t know just what to expect. Previous settlements of Man were either somewhat primitive (Dunland) or generic (Bree-land). Rohan was to be the first taste of a concentrated kingdom of Man, with a national identity, unified architectural style, and a connected geography.
It certainly helped that Rohan became a fan favorite after the Peter Jackson films. Seeing cavalry wings sweep across the plains like a medieval tank blitz was a thrilling sight in the movies, and players were hoping to get a taste of that here. At first glance, it might seem weird that there was a whole kingdom that was crazy for horses, but considering the animals’ use in combat, transportation, and farming, it’s easy to see why a people might rally around them.
I particularly enjoyed seeing the new types of buildings and structures that clustered in the many settlements of Rohan. Compared to the clapboards of Bree, the Rohan houses had a more solid look of ski or hunting lodges, with ornately carved decorations, firepits in the middle of the rooms, and all sorts of cozy nooks and crannies. In fact, one of my absolute favorite elements of this expansion are all of the different types of tavern designs in the country.
Riding fast, riding free
Without a doubt, the headlining attraction of Riders of Rohan was the introduction of mounted combat. It was an auspicious feature, and one that fans were deeply curious if Turbine could pull off. So few MMORPGs even attempted mounted combat due to latency and space issues, after all.
Trying it made sense, if you think about it. Not having some sort of mounted combat would be a glaring omission for a whole region that boasts such prowess. But the problem was that the LOTRO engine wasn’t always, shall we say, smooth. Players were rubberbanding merely running around in 2012, and that’s before you factor in a mount that could run far, far faster than the steeds we already had.
Whatever the devs jury-rigged for this system worked, to a degree. I mean, mounted combat is functional. There are special skills (different for each class), three categories of mounts, and certainly plenty of space to maneuver and clash with enemy opponents. But the performance was… not great. It might be better with the 64-bit client, I haven’t tested that yet, but after a few engagements I knew that I wasn’t going to be falling in love with RoR’s mounted combat.
Beyond the stuttering framerate, fighting in this style took too long compared to normal combat and kept swinging the camera around wildly as one’s mount wheeled and galloped around enemies. Plus, there was the embarrassing situation of riding right off of cliffs in a few spots. I often found myself dismounting and fighting enemy mounted troops on foot, just because I knew my rotation better and wouldn’t have to fight the camera every step of the way.
After Riders of Rohan, I simply stopped with mounted combat — and I think I speak for a lot of other players with this. The war-steeds were fun to customize and useful for long-distance travel (although regular mounts were far easier to use, especially in cities), but fighting? No, thank you.
Pushing back against the darkness
While I understand how some players dislike just how many quests there are in Rohan — and to be fair, there are a lot — I found this region a delight for adventuring. For one thing, it was a sunny, pretty, wide-open country, and I wasn’t in a hurry to leave it. For another thing, the stories of each town were pretty interesting and took different approaches to the theme of fighting against the encroaching evil while Rohan’s leadership fell into disarray.
The storytelling was particularly good in spots, as you can see the developers experimenting with branching choices (alas, only in a couple of places), environmental tales, and smaller, more intimate moments. The more I adventured in Rohan, the more I came to love it in much the same way that I did the Shire and Bree-land way back when. I felt a purpose to my actions, to be a bulwark against enemies within and without.
Apart from the creaky mounted combat system, I simply don’t have any criticisms to levy against Riders of Rohan. The music, the sights, and the stories were top-notch and represented a high water mark in LOTRO’s development. I can’t wait to go through it again.