The beorning class, or some kind of new class, has been a long time coming in Lord of the Rings Online. It’s been since 2008 and the release of the Mines of Moria expansion that a new class of people has graced the digital recreation of Middle-Earth. There are several things to consider in LOTRO when deciding to add a new class. Besides the obvious business implications (will enough people pay for the class or re-sub to play the class to make development investment worthwhile?), LOTRO must also consider how a new class will fit into the all-important LOTR Lore, and how the balance and systems currently within the game will be affected. A beorning on a war-steed? How exactly will that work? Also, will players want to take a new class through 100 levels of established content in a game that is notorious for its slow leveling?
While it’s fairly clear by the frequent updates (the update dropped Nov 5 and the 2nd patch is already on the beta server less than 2 weeks later) that the beorning was not fully baked when released, it’s also apparent that a lot of work went into the class. It includes it’s own starter area, class quests, class-specific skills and skill trees. No shortcuts have been made in the skill trees, which include 3 specific and unique lines (tank, DPS and support).
Early reports of the Beorning have been very good. I can attest that at the early levels, the class is interesting, if overpowered. Following are some of my observations through the first 20 or so levels:
The Starter Area is Short, but Well Done
I was certainly glad that I didn’t have to be rescued from a jail cell again, and that the starter area ties in very well with the established lore. You get to speak with Grimbeorn about the importance of the history of your line. You are called to duty by Rhadagast the Brown, which pulls you neatly into the LOTRO universe previously established. You get to see the Carrock (from a distance) which is just one more iconic Tolkien landmark to check off the list. Once you complete a specific deed, you are able to earn the “return to Grinbeorn’s lodge” skill so that you can return to visit the Vales of Anduin whenever you like. This is nice, because your time questing in this area is very short. It’s probably the one gripe I have about it.
Bears are Overpowered. Of Course They Are, they’re Bears!
Granted, I’ve been playing duo with my wife (don’t mess with a momma bear, btw), but the first 20 levels have been exceedingly easy with this class. In many ways it feels like a leather-wearing champion from the standpoint that you can charge in to multiple mobs and expect a decent outcome. This is partially because of the wrath system, which builds by using specific skills in-combat, and then can be consumed by using powerful attacks while in bear form. So, the more mele skills you can fire off in human form, the longer you can sustain bear form and really raise Cain. Beornings also seem very hearty for medium-armour wearers. I think this may have to do with their main stat being might, which also counts towards physical mitigations. In all, I don’t have much of a problem with this class being OP, since from a lore perspective, you’d expect them to be some of the most savage and wild beings in Middle-Earth. One thing I do find a bit strange, is that on the character creation screen, the beorning is listed as an “advanced” class, while the champion has always been considered “basic”. This is puzzling considering the similarities in combat mechanics and difficulty. Perhaps the differences will become more pronounced in the later levels.
Feel My Wrath
While I think that the new wrath mechanic works well for this race/class, I’m still unsure why it was developed separate from the fervor system used by champions. They seem to behave identically, with the exception that the “wrath” scale is much larger (this one goes to 100!) than the fervor scale, which only goes up to five. Still, this seems like something that could have been solved with math, using scaling ratios so that fervor builds and decreases more slowly for beornings than it does for champions. At any rate, gone is the need for power for beornings. This probably solved some complexities with regards to balancing the wrath/power consumption, but it introduced others. Gear, quest rewards, and drops all contain items that benefit power for characters, whether it be stats or potions. These are now useless for boernings. I suppose it could be argued that with changes that have occurred over the last year that power is no longer much of a consideration for any class, but I’d still prefer that it remain consistent. Either include it for the beorning, or remove it entirely.
Fight with Might
I mentioned earlier that might is the stat of choice for beornings. This actually makes a lot of common sense, and does have mitigation advantages. Really, the only problem I have with this choice is that it is a complete reversal from the major changes made to the burglar and warden (which were also based on might at one time) not long ago. The reason those changes were made was to enable LOTRO to simplify development of gear. If all medium armour wearers have the same main stat, then fewer pieces of gear would have to exist in the game. Now, just a few months down the road, all of that work is being eschewed in favor of increased diversity in classes again. This type of frequent direction change just smacks of individual developers making their own decisions regardless of the overall direction of the game. That’s how it feels to me, anyway. Once a developer leaves, or is told to leave, the next dev either has no history on which to base his/her decisions, or just doesn’t care because the originator of the previous direction is no longer around. On a positive note, this could also mean that if you’re unhappy with the current direction of the game, sticking around long enough might reap benefits.
I like turning into a bear. There, I said it. Building wrath in human form in order to turn into one (incredible hulk style!) also seems to make perfect sense. One thing that I mentioned in my video above is that I would like to be able to remain in bear form for the duration of a long battle. I can’t imagine Beorn flipping back and forth during the Battle of Five Armies because he got less wrathful with each swipe and roar. Personally, I would like to see wrath only degenerate out-of-combat, as a beorning in-combat certainly would be able to maintain his/her unbridled wrath as long as the fight endured. I’m told that there are skills available at the higher levels of the beorning that make wrath decay more slowly so that the bear form becomes a longer-term possibility. I hope this is true. Perhaps I’ll write up a higher-level beorning post once I level up a bit.
That probably sounded like a lot of complaining, but overall I’m enjoying the class. I’ll admit that most of my grievances are fairly nit-picky. I think overall, the launch of the beorning has been a bit of a boon for LOTRO. I see renewed interest within YouTube and among the community that I haven’t noticed since prior to the Helm’s Deep expansion. I look forward to trying out the red and yellow skill lines in the future!