After weeks of teasing the Isengard players and later the Live forums, it is now known without a doubt that Forochel is the newest playable region for The Lord of the Rings OnlineTM: Shadows of AngmarTM. With the launch of Book 13: Doom of the Last-king, players will get the opportunity to explore this brand new region (aimed at level 44-50 characters) and earn the trust of the Lossoth - the native folk of the Northern Wastes.
Forochel is a region that many of us on the World and Content teams have been looking forward to for a long time now. It is off the beaten path of the Fellowship, which affords us a lot of flexibility in terms of design. This new landscape also gave us an opportunity to try out some new tools that were just recently developed for our upcoming expansion, Mines of MoriaTM!
World Design Goals
By the time we started development of Forochel, we were quite familiar with wintry landscapes. Between the Misty Mountains, the Coldfells, and portions of Ered Luin (and New England being what it is), we know snow! The trick with Forochel was coming up with a presentation of a snowy landscape that didn't look like our previous areas.
To achieve that biome difference, we hit the photo and film references. Like all of our regions, we called upon references from the real world to develop a set of textures and assets that would make Forochel stand out. During this process, we decided upon a distinct lack of trees across the majority of Forochel as being one of the region's distinguishing factors. The lack of trees led to some interesting challenges; trees add a lot to our landscape - they fill space, provide decoration, and easily break up sight-lines and can make an area feel more interesting and varied. We still used trees in some portions of Forochel (primarily as a way to introduce players to the region) but this goal forced us to think differently in how we decorated our landscape.
One of our chief goals for Forochel was to make it feel massive, and we were able to achieve this in two ways. Since the completion of Book 11: Defenders of Eriador, the World team has been working on Forochel. This allowed the World team plenty of time to develop and polish the landscape before heavy content development on the region occurred. This also allowed the Content team the time to fill the landscape with quests, and at the end of Forochel's development, we have a region that rivals the North Downs in size. In addition to the scope of the playable landscape, we wanted the region to feel expansive, so we used region-impassables that are much lower than those found in our other regions. This gave us the opportunity to develop forests and tundra beyond the playable areas, giving this already large area a much larger feel. This also provides an excellent opportunity to expand Forochel in the future if we so desire.
Another special addition to the landscape of Forochel is the introduction of some brand new landscape technology - Dual Heightmap Landscape. This feature allows us to develop more organic cave settings on the landscape (similar to the Dwarf neighborhood) without having to use large numbers of rocks to plug the ceiling. This tech offers some very exciting possibilities for the future and we‘re happy to introduce this feature to players in Forochel.
Oh the Things We've Learned!
We've spent a lot of time working on LOTRO now, and over the years, we've learned a number of lessons:
- We've learned that players like a healthy mix of monster moods on the landscape.
- We've learned that elite monsters within mixed spawns are a bad idea.
- We've learned that players aren't fans of roads with heavy monster patrols.
Is there a theme? Yes there is! Forochel is very much a culmination of all the lessons we've learned from the Beta Program and the areas of Evendim, Tâl Bruinen, High Pass, and Angmar. I can't say we've ironed out all the issues that annoy people (because some of those are by design, sorry!) but we did look very intently at the feedback we've received and put it into action in Forochel.
Travel was also a big component in the "Things We've Learned" category. Over the past few updates, you may have noticed more travel routes (particularly in Angmar and Evendim). For Book 13, Forochel will launch with a broad travel network across the region. This network will offer a variety of normal travel routes as well as Reputation-gate Swift Travel Routes.
The Environment Hates You! (and sometimes, it shows you a little love)
The concept of using the Environment as an enemy has been floating around the LOTRO Dev team for a long time now - as far back as the Lonelands development period. We toyed with this notion a little bit with Tâl Bruinen (brambles and rocks in the road) and the High Pass (rare monster-driven blizzards). In Forochel, we're taking that concept a few steps further.
The first reaction your avatar will have to the environment will show in its breath. Book 13 sees the introduction of the cosmetic temperature system. This system allows the environment to have various cosmetic influences on your character. In this case, when you enter Forochel, the Misty Mountains, the Coldfells, and portions of Ered Luin, you'll see your breath on the air. The deeper into wintry territory you trek, the greater the visual effect you'll see. This feature has no gameplay impact; it is purely an extra bit of immersion.
Blizzards are receiving a significant visual update for Book 13 and play a key part in Forochel, both as part of the normal weather system and as part of our Rare Monster System. Some blizzards have bitter winds that chill you to the bone, leaving you less able to combat the effects of cold. Don't worry though - you won't be defenseless against the bitter cold.
The Ice Bay of Forochel is the last bit in the "Environment Hates You" Department. This large bay opens to the northern seas and, much like the land around it, this water is cold! So cold, in fact, that staying in it can seriously impact your morale and can (in some locations) lead to incapacitation. Because of this, the water acts as a northern impassable for Forochel, barring passage beyond the bay.
Now, after all that hate - how about some love? With all the things the landscape of Forochel could do to you, we wanted to provide some things it could do for you. In order to combat the bitter winds and freezing waters of Forochel, players will be able to warm themselves in the villages and camps of the region, on the various geothermal vents scattered across the region and at campfires they themselves can make. Using these locations and/or items, players can strip the cold from themselves and, in some circumstances, provide themselves with defense against chilling environment.
Forochel is a region that we've spent two update cycles working on. We've taken the lessons learned from our previous landscape releases and have attempted to include the good, and skip the bad, for Forochel.
Personally, I am really happy to bring Forochel to LOTRO. It is an area I've wanted to see realized for a while now; it is a land of little lore, which gives us plenty of room to stretch creatively but just enough lore to have some very interesting hooks. Have fun exploring it!