This past week, I wrapped up my adventures through King’s Gondor in Lord of the Rings Online and found my appetite whetted for this fall’s expansion. Update 36 is both a transition into a new storytelling epoch for the game and a prologue of sorts for the adventures to come. By the end of its rather short run, we’re given several tantalizing tidbits that indicate where the storyline might be going when we head down south to Umbar.
LOTRO doesn’t always have the resources to create fully voiced quests, but on occasion it does put in the effort to do this, especially when the story beat is important. And I like that Update 36 ends (no specific spoilers, mind you!) with a nice twist that takes us away from an expected threat and toward one that we didn’t see coming. That deserves the full cinematic treatment indeed.
I think the storytelling challenge of this expansion is to make us genuinely care about the stakes and danger in a post-War of the Ring world. This continues to be a hurdle that the writing team has to overcome, since we as player characters still need to care and be invested. The good news is that there’s plenty of territory left in the world, plot threads that need resolving, and untouched story elements from Tolkien that can fuel more adventures.
We know from Tolkien’s writings that Umbar is a mighty Corsair nation that declared allegiance to Sauron and saw its fleet subsequently thrashed by Aragorn in a battle that predates the events of Fellowship of the Ring. We also know that this country will eventually be subdued — by force, diplomacy, or other — by Aragorn and Gondor, which I assume will be the outcome of the expansion. But within those boundaries is a lot of room for intrigue and interesting developments.
A love of the sea
Standing Stone Games gave us our first tease for this expansion by saying that it had something to do with the sea. Ever since then, the theme of Umbar continues to build upon that oceanic setting. And that’s smart, considering that LOTRO doesn’t feature a lot of seaside zones apart from Western Gondor. It’s a largely untapped biome and a rich field to till for ideas.
So I’m betting we’re going to see the studio go all-in on the sea theme for Umbar. We’ve got the Mariner class confirmed, for starters, and Corsairs as enemies. I’d expect to see a lot of piratey outfits, a new type of architecture that may harken to African cultures (if the two Umbar representatives in Update 36 are any indication), and something to do with boats. I think the studio ruled out naval combat, but I’m still pulling for smaller player boat mounts or even — think of the possibilities! — a houseboat neighborhood.
A new legendary server
I was glad to hear SSG’s Rob Ciccolini mention the possibility of new legendary servers come this fall because it really is high time to see fresh ones arrive. Apart from some sort of unknown mechanics that will feature into the ruleset, we don’t know what this type of server will look like.
Yet I will posit that having a new progression server come out around the same time that Umbar goes live will give it a boost. We’ll be in mind of expansions anyway, and a lot of previous people come back to the game when it’s getting buzz and promotion (which a big content drop like Umbar will do). Combine those together, and there could be the opportunity for some nice synergy.
But honestly, if LOTRO gives us a really fun new class and a whole lot of engaging story and zones with Umbar, I’ll be 100% satisfied. Anything above and beyond in terms of features is the icing on the cake. I’m really looking forward to sipping on some spiced cider this fall and taking my Captain further south than we’ve ever gone before.