First impressions: Update 17

Hot on the tail of Update 16.5, Bullroarer opened this weekend for early preview and testing of the long-awaited Update 17 in which players will finally traverse the steps of the great White City, Minas Tirith. In addition to the new region, there are two new epic battles, more tiers on imbued items and various other tweaks (bows for Beornings!). Keeping in mind that this is a very early build with bugs swarming like middle-aged bearded men to a meat-smoking competition and missing NPCs showing up on milk cartons, this update has the makings to become a hearty extension into the heartland of Gondor with numerous quality-of-life updates, but at the same time, the game continues to show its age as a traditional MMO that shuns surprise for consistency.

Certainly the centerpiece of this update is Minas Tirith, the multi-tiered city at the center of the Gondor-Mordor conflict. Walking up the steps, my mind wanders back to the famous scenes of the third Lord of the Rings movie where Peregrin Took entered into indentured servitude, charged with washing and bathing Denethor II every day for the rest of his life. It’s been a while so I’m a bit fuzzy on the details. The architecture is very similar to previous Gondorian cities with identically gargantuan white buildings, most of which we’ll never set foot within, and hopefully before release the streets will be filled with warriors preparing for battle, merchants offloading their goods, and children enjoying their last breathes of freedom before inevitable orc enslavement.

Update 17 (8)

In addition to Minas Tirith, players will visit Pelennor, the fields outside the city crawling with the host of the enemy, and Talath Anor, a sparsely wooded and swampy area to the north leading to the fortified island of Cair Andros. As before, the landscape still looks bare without environmental details like churned up mud on the shores of the Anduin from thousands of Easterlings making camp within the outer walls of the city.

Then there’s the scale of the landscape. For example, Cair Andros is supposed to be about 40 miles (~64 km) from Osgiliath, but only takes a few minutes on horseback in the game. I get that it’s for the purpose of story-telling and so players don’t have to ride all day and night and so the developers don’t have to generate all that terrain, but it’s still very immersion breaking for me. And geologically speaking, an island like Cair Andros would not last very long with waves crashing upon it for hundreds of years. The northern end is supposed to be marshland anyway.

*deep breath*

Update 17 (10)

Moving on, those of you furiously polishing your legendary imbued items will find more levels added to both stat and class legacies and Beornings will be able finally get a ranged weapon. Crafting will receive a new tier, tier 10, Anórien, which finally features level 100 class items and item level 201 weapons, armor and jewelry which puts them among the best equipment in the game, but there’s no new crafting guild reputation tier, so you can save your emblems for something else. All crafting materials stack to 500 and crafting icons are already in the beta! Hooray!

The epic battles interface got a slight interface revamp to fit in the two new battles: Defence of Minas Tirith, a solo/duo and three-person battle, and Hammer of the Underworld, a solo/duo and six-person battle. Only the first was available for testing this weekend and while it provided some intense action in a new setting, it was basically the Deeping Wall battle set in Minas Tirith with Epic Foes. The battle proceeded smoothly on solo and I was awarded Platinum overall, though the patch notes state that the team has not completed difficulty balancing yet.

Update 17 (3)

Despite all this, the update still leaves me wanting. There’s something missing that I haven’t seen for a long time from the game. Maybe it’s the lack of exploration as a new player or maybe it’s the lack of denseness and detail. Everything is too flat and 2D. It feels like we’re getting the story from the book retold to us with a dash of extra flavor from the locals. I’ll try to reserve judgement for the full update when I see it live, but it’s not looking good.

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