I’ve been pretty quiet lately (you can read more here) but specifically with regards to the upcoming Rohan expansion.  I have incredibly mixed feelings about this expansion, so much so that I haven’t purchased it yet and will most likely just buy it using my Turbine Points.  I will also admit that I’ve been in the Rohan beta since the first prop and have played some, but not a ton.  I’ve mainly been trying to get my arms around mounted combat and check out the zone.

Before I jump into my reactions of the expansion, I figured I’d give my opinion on the launch delay.  I’ve been quite critical of Turbine for launching content too early recently and not listening to the feedback of the beta community, so needless to say I was actually surprised they pushed it back.  However, I 100% agree that they absolutely HAD to push it back as the game just wasn’t ready.  This whole expansion revolves around mounted combat and I think it just took them longer then they expected to create a complex yet easy to use system that was actually fun to play.  Turbine has also done a much better job of communicating with the community for this expansion and it does seem like they’ve learned a couple of lessons from the Isengard launch.  While I would always prefer to have things earlier, this is a big deal for Turbine and they needed to take the extra time to make sure they got it right.

I’ll start with the positives before going all negative Smile  As many have seen, and as we’ve grown to expect, Rohan looks amazing.  I’m consistently impressed with how well Turbine nails these zones visually as they continue to set the bar for visual beauty.  For a 5 year old game, I’d still put LOTRO’s scenery up along any other MMO currently out there.  This zone also conveys the size of the region and feels as epic as I would expect from Rohan – I really don’t think there’s going to be a shortage of stuff to do.  The zone itself does feel like an expansion zone as I believe it is quite a bit larger then the Isengard landscape.

As for mounted combat, I actually really enjoy it.  It does take a bit of time getting used to it, but there’s a TON of flexibility in both how your horse behaves as well as how it looks.  I have a feeling the fashion blogs will be quite busy trying to match horses to outfits Winking smile  I’m a little concerned about how mounted combat will work as the game grows, but for this expansion it really works very well.  I honestly have no clue what kind of mount I’m going to end up riding, but I think that’s a sign of a good design in that it isn’t a clear cut path but one you can pick and choose as it matches your play-style.

As for the negatives, sadly there’s a lot of this expansion that feels very un-inspired.  It really feels like all their resources have gone into mounted combat and the landscape, with everything else being slapped together with whatever resources are left.

Outside of mounted combat, our characters are getting VERY little progression.  Most classes are only getting improved versions of skills not anything new.  We’re gaining 10 levels worth of experience, but we really aren’t growing in strength relative to that level cap.  Ever since Moria, it seems like our relative character strength is actually going down as we just don’t seem to be getting anything else.  Why not gives us additional virtue slots, class traits, legendary traits, etc to help us increase the strength and flexibility of our characters?  Think about it, what have our characters actually gotten since Moria?  Outside of revamps (which are always needed as games age, and don’t really count) there’s been almost no progression of our characters outside of gaining morale.  I really struggle with this as it seems like they’re just adding levels to add them.

In addition, this expansion to me really highlights many of the quite painful grinds currently in this game and instead of trying to do something different, Turbine has decided to just make them even worse.  We have not only another crafting tier, just like all the others, but also another tier of crafting reputation.  This system hasn’t been touched since launch and they’ve just slapped additional grinds with each expansion.  Not to mention they’ve made the system even harder by restricting many of the recipes to either reputation or drops.

Let’s talk about reputation, shall we?  Since the system was introduced, each update usually brought a new faction or perhaps 2 but this expansion gives us a whopping 4 factions (or at least that’s what is currently part of the Hytbold system) to grind.  I’m assuming each will have their own rewards and probably barter items (I haven’t seen this part in beta, so it is speculation) and their own quest lines.  This folds in with the system put in place for the “end-game,” the rebuilding of Hytbold.  I really like the concept of this system, but unless they’ve changed it (this is from the most recent build) you’re limited to a fixed number of quests per day and, again I’m assuming here, you will be grinding each day to slowly work your way up to kindred such that you have the option to barter for the armor pieces.  Each piece is tied to either a quest line, or is reputation gated at the kindred level.  This to me just feels like a system put in place to force the pace of progression and keep people busy until they can get out the next instance cluster.

All of this, plus the whole Legendary Item system we’ll have to re-do, means all sorts of new grinds that really don’t advance our character all that much.  Personally, I would rather have them left the cap at 75 and crafting tiers alone and just introduced the improved skills as skill replacements for the current versions.  Then this expansion would have been more of a horizontal one focusing on mounted combat and building up our horses.

The complexity of the Hytbold system also REALLY scares me since it has been through VERY limited testing.  In the current builds (this will change for live) the quest line has been gated by landscape content such that you’ve had to essentially see all the expansion content up to level 85 before getting a chance to try this new system.  Hopefully since they haven’t been wiping characters with each beta wave, some folks are actually getting a chance to poke around and test this content out.  Plus each build is actually changing, so there’s still time to make changes and improvements as players dive into it.

Overall, I am excited for this expansion but certain parts of it just fall really flat.  Couple that with the high cost of the pre-orders, and it just hasn’t left a great taste in my mouth.  It almost seems as though Turbine only has time to implement one system per update and everything else just gets a new grind attached to it.

For me, the story, which I’ve purposely not paid attention to as I can’t wait for what Turbine has in store, and mounted combat will be the stars of this expansion.  But all the other un-touched aspects will bring it down to just an average expansion and not up to the high bar set by Moria which was a very good and complete expansion.