The Return of the Raid
The Return of the Raid
Ryan “Pinion” Penk, Content Designer
The Battle of the Pelennor Fields drew to a close in Update 18, but a battle so large could not be contained by a single Update – or even two if you count Update 17! However, even with all the epic moments in which you joined the battle, we knew there was still a lot of story to tell, and many more foes to face down. And let’s be honest, we also really wanted to make a raid set during one of the greatest battles in Middle-earth’s history. So allow me to welcome you to Throne of the Dread Terror!
Chronologically, Throne of the Dread Terror takes place between the events of King’s End and Rider’s Stand. If you’ve played through Volume IV Book 6, Chapter 4: “The Foe Resurgent,” the raid takes place directly following the events in that Chapter, but before you reach the Hillock. Some of the foes you encountered in that quest are also present in the raid, but this time you’ll have the chance to take them on!
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Warning: I will be talking about current and past Epic content, so if you’re worried about spoilers you may want to come back to this once you’re caught up.
The story of how our newest raid came about actually begins back during early development of Update 17. We had mused on the idea of setting a raid within the walls of Minas Tirith during the “Darkest Timeline” (as we called the palantír-hallucination part of Volume IV Book 4,) but it became difficult to justify a raid that only existed in your character’s mind. All we knew at the time was that we wanted Gothmog to be the focal point… and that having a large Olog-hai around would be neat.
When it came time to craft Update 18, and we had finally arrived at using the war-walls as DrOctothorpe mentioned in our “Making of a Battle” dev diary, it became clear that we could (and should) set the raid on the field during the battle. With the help of a few lines of “The Return of the King”, it was very simple for us to decide where to set the raid in the timeline of the Battle of the Pelennor Fields.
“[Their Captain] now was destroyed; but Gothmog the lieutenant of Morgul had flung them into the fray...”
In the source material, Gothmog plays a very specific, one-sentence role in the battle following the death of the Witch-king. However, in recent Epic Books we have reconnected him to one of your character’s greatest foes: Mordirith, the False King of Angmar – who also happens to be the last King of Gondor, Eärnur. Not only does Gothmog have a vested interest in crushing the defenders of Gondor, disputing Aragorn’s claim, and taking back his crown, but he also has a personal connection with your character – and there is a lot of unfinished business between you.
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Re-inventing the Raid
The Lord of the Rings Online has not featured new raid content in almost 3 years. We knew that when we made a new raid, we’d have to stick the landing. But with war-walls designed and implemented, building a battlefield raid would be easy to implement, right?
No, in case you’re keeping score at home.
After we finalized our plans to go forward with developing the raid, the team convened often for lengthy discussions about our best routes to take for art, world design, content high-points, and ultimately, what the final product might look like.
First we decided on the shape of the space and boss fight locations. Next came the many art requests and broad plans of each boss encounter, and finally we arrived at the true meat of the Update – making the mechanics and skills across the entire space.
This phase wasn’t easy! I had a lot of meetings with artists/designers in which I had to pantomime mechanics and say things like “Now just imagine he does this…” or “That skill isn’t ready yet, but it’ll be like this.…” Bit by bit, we saw the raid take shape. Storyboards became gameplay and concepts became reality as the bosses and their new models/textures/fx were completed.
I’ve jokingly referred to building a raid as “death by a million cuts”, and to a certain extent, it’s true. Between trash monsters, boss monsters, statting, boss drama, trash drama, tons of scripting, VO and sound hook-up, reset mechanics, challenge mechanics, patrols, randomization, creating skills and then having said skills actually working, and making sure players aren’t accidentally teleported to Archet, there are a massive amount of things to keep track of when making a raid.
In addition to all that, I helped the systems designers name some of the new raid rewards they created, so we could avoid a situation where we gave out “Awesome Boots of the Raid” and “Pretty Cool Ring of the Third Boss”.
All that said, one of the biggest challenges we faced was making the space and the story it tells satisfying. To send twelve people against an entire army and have them do something that unequivocally feels like “winning” proved to be difficult. It definitely plays to the difficulty of a raid, and makes it feel like you’re swimming against the tide, but it became problematic for one specific case – Gothmog. The battle with the Dread Terror himself demanded a loss, especially given that the later events of Book 6 have not yet occurred in the timeline of the raid. The question became: How can you lose and still feel satisfied with an ending? I guess you’ll just have to see for yourself!
Between a return to the multi-boss style, new accessibility changes below, and satisfying complexity of the new boss encounters, we hope Throne of the Dread Terror excites raiders new and old alike.
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In creating the raid, I felt strongly about building a new multi-boss experience – a “classic” raid. With that decision, another followed – what do we do about raid locks?
The first part of that decision was simple: we set the raid to only be playable at the current level cap.
The second part was not.
Who would have guessed that a giant, floating padlock could cause so much trouble?
Accessibility was one of our main goals for this raid – not in simplicity of design, but for making it easy for many people to play the raid and try it out with friends and new acquaintances alike.
To that end, we have implemented new tech that allows us to determine which Tiers of a space both give and react to raid locks.
For Throne of the Dread Terror, Tier 1 has no locks, and thus, no progress-saving. However, that also means that you can run it as many times as you want in a week without the worry of being locked out. Tier 2, on the other hand, does use locks. Your progress will be saved during the course of the lock-cycle and you can only defeat each boss once per week.
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A Host of Foes and Mechanics
Early discussions about the raid centered on what sort of monsters the player might encounter, and the worry that it might begin to feel too familiar – especially with the Update 18 instance cluster.
Somewhere between the 20th and 50th coffee, our thoughts turned to Minas Morgul and soon a bunch of questions followed.
-What else could be in the Morgul-host?
-What sort of Men would live in Minas Morgul under the rule of the Witch-king and Gothmog?
-What would they do?
-What evils are locked away in Minas Morgul?
-What if evil Men tried to control another, more untamed evil?
-How far can we take sorcery in the Third Age?
After finding answers to all of those questions, we arrived at a varied set of monsters and six wildly different boss encounters. I don’t want to give too much away, but I will say that the depths of Moria are not the only place where nameless things dwell, and that it would be wise to reflect on your adventures in Eriador.
Each boss has their own style, both in appearance and mechanics. Tier 1 features fewer mechanics that are often more forgiving, while Tier 2 features most mechanics at their full potency. And for those that enjoy pushing the limits of their characters and raid groups, the Tier 2 Challenge mode should offer up an even more daunting set of mechanics and required coordination.
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Learning from the Past and Looking Forward
In creating Throne of the Dread Terror, I drew inspiration from some of my favorite storylines and locations in LotRO as well as my own experiences in raiding over the past decade. Fantastic encounters like The Rift of Nûrz Ghâshu, Ost Dunhoth, and the Tower of Orthanc inspired me to build something that would excite you all as much as it excites me.
On a personal note, it has been a dream of mine to design a raid, and to finally see that dream realized means more to me than I could possibly convey here in writing.
As with every raid before it, building Throne of the Dread Terror was a massive undertaking. A slew of artists, designers, engineers, and quality assurance testers all came together to build this raid alongside me, and I could not be more proud of what we have built together.
Ride onto the field anew when Update 18.2 launches, and take the fight to Gothmog!