Why I keep returning to Lord of the Rings Online

I got sucked into Lord of the Rings Online last weekend and I'm not sure why. There's no new Hobbit movie forthcoming (thank funk). I haven't reread Tolkien's books lately, either, so that's not the reason. I guess it's just that time of year when I look around at the MMO space, see a mass of uninspired grindparks, and think to myself, "Well, at least I can wander through Middle-earth!"

This pilgrimage happens once, if not twice annually, and while I don't know how long my current sojourn will last, ultimately all that matters is that I'm having a great time with it.

I bought a lifetime sub way back in April of 2007 prior to the game's launch, and I played quite heavily through the end of 2008.

riderSince then, I've returned a couple of times per year and like the fellowship itself, I've been slowly but consistently winding my way across the game's ever expanding landscape with Mordor in my sights. I'm not even sure what I'll do when I get there, since it's such a butt-ugly place and my gear is average at best. But whatever, the journey versus the destination and blather blather.

I've never been much for LOTRO's dungeons or progression for progression's sake. Instead, what keeps me coming back without fail is a masterfully realized game world with dozens upon dozens of out-of-the-way nerdgasms that honor LOTRO's source.

The world-building is particularly impressive when you compare the game to other themepark titles and realize not only how vast it is in terms of explorable land area but also how much of a risk Turbine took by doing the fictional geography justice.

While contemporaries like Age of Conan (action combat), Warhammer Online (RvR PvP), and Turbine's own Dungeons and Dragons Online (instanced dungeoneering) were busy being one-trick ponies and funneling their players directly into the single reason for their existence, Lord of the Rings Online was inviting a small but significant slice of the MMO-playing populace who also happened to be Middle-earth lore nuts to fully explore an excellent digital recreation of Tolkien's world. And do all of the usual MMO chores on the side, as they liked!

That LOTRO is thus far the only digital recreation of Tolkien's world is beside the point. Turbine could have cashed in on the license as BioWare has by making a smallish, walled-off world that's only an MMO in the most liberal sense of the term. Fortunately Turbine took its source material and its MMO obligations a bit more seriously, and while the limitations of themepark games are readily apparent in LOTRO just as they are elsewhere in the genre, they're not overpowering here because they're not the star of the show.

Middle-earth is the star of the show, and as I do every time I return to this game, I've spent a good bit of time these last few days gawking at some of the niftier legendarium nods.

trollsBilbo's trolls

One of the first things I did during LOTRO's early days was prowl around the Trollshaws looking for Tom, Bert, and William, otherwise known as those poor trolls memorialized by the sun before they could have a side of hobbit and a dwarf dessert with their roast mutton. If memory serves, I ventured into the zone well before I was ready to take on its mid-20s to low 30s mobs, just to see if Turbine's world-builders had included a piece of Tolkien lore that pre-dated Lord of the Rings. Yes, they had, and yes it's (still) awesome.

wtWeathertop

Not far down the road from Tom, Bert, and William is one of Middle-earth's most recognizable landmarks. The ruins of the watchtower at Amon Sul, better known as Weathertop, is the centerpiece of the Lone Lands zone and is likewise viewable early in the life of your LOTRO character.

Weathertop towers over the rest of the sprawling zone, and it's worth navigating the tricky path to the summit for the view alone, in my opinion. There are also questing reasons to go, as well as an instanced skirmish or two that offer an opportunity to see the place in a different light.

hdHelm's Deep

If you're like me, Peter Jackson's incredible Helm's Deep set piece permanently affected how your mind's eye sees the world that Tolkien created. Even though I've read The Two Towers literally dozens of times, the film version of Helm's Deep is what I typically visualize when I think of Rohan's last stand. Turbine, then, had its work cut out for it when designing a memorable conclusion to its horse-lord quest arc. And while Helm's Deep's instanced battle sequences didn't do much for me, the zone itself is quite spectacular to the point that I end up riding around outside the wall and into the Hornburg for the sheer hell of it every time I return to the game.

anduinThe Mirk-eaves

I've seen some beautiful MMO landscapes in my time, but one of my very favorites is the area between LOTRO's Lothlorien and Mirkwood zones. The Golden Wood more than lives up to its name, and while there was initially a bit of a rep grind to get inside Caras Galadhon, it was more than worth it. Once you cross the mighty Anduin and land on the shores of Mirkwood, things take a darker turn, but the expansive forest is home to a lengthy (and fun) series of quests as well as great visuals that more than hold their own despite the fact that Siege of Mirkwood turns six years old next month.

Why do I keep returning to Lord of the Rings Online, then? The easy answer is Tolkien, and while it's also the correct answer, it's not an overly complete one. The truth of the matter is that Turbine deserves a lot of credit for accurately rendering such a massive and topographically diverse world. I don't necessarily dig all of the kill-10-rats quests, the legendary weapon grind, or the other time-wasting stuff that goes hand-in-hand with every themepark MMO. But LOTRO makes all of that incredibly palatable and even fun more often than not, which is a small miracle not unlike Tolkien's timeless story.

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39 comments
Suikoden
Suikoden

Just reading this makes me miss LOTRO as well.  They game always did look pretty good for it's age, and they did an amazing job of making everything accurate to the books.  They even took time to make sure the constellations were in the right places in the sky.  Just an insane effort, and an amazing tribute to Tolkien's world.

seemsthatway98
seemsthatway98

I try and go back every other year. But there's so few people in the starting zones, everything just feels dead. I want an MMO to come along and give a reason for high level players to actually be in old zones.

teppic
teppic

@seemsthatway98 Most older MMOs have pretty empty starter zones because as you say games give little reason for higher level players ever to be there.

The lower level areas are a bit busier than they were though since the server transfers opened up. On the ones remaining open Bree typically has at least 100 people (the max number it'll show) most of the time, and you will see other players around Archet and so on.

teppic
teppic

A nice write up there.

I've said it a couple of times, but something that impresses me is how much depth goes into all the quests making those 'kill 10 rats' at least have some kind of story behind them, usually nicely linked to the more important or wider things going on around you. Sometimes they develop into their own little sub plots. There's a lot of subtle humour, like the hobbit who wants you to kill spiders, with an aside that all the webs would stop her from being able to do her shopping easily.

There's also a lot of attention to detail in how the zones are designed. It's not just random hill here, path there, like a lot of games. Lots of places actually look a lot like real places, which requires a ton of effort.

Lateris
Lateris

Mines of Moria will  always be my favorite expansion that Turbine released. 

Tamanous
Tamanous

@Lateris That expansion killed it for me. Moria was my favorite part of the books when I read them as a kid and ever since but the entire expansion was about the opposite of how I would have imagined it. Far too much grind just to get through a place I'd rather do on my own through exploration ... yet I couldn't bypass it without countless hours of forced grind.


Also the f2p play conversion all but dissolved all of the old guilds and friends who played it prior. It may have rebounded but developers constantly fail to realize the incredible impact f2p conversion has on the existing community. They effectively are saying they are willing abandon their existing player base in favor of a new, rotating door experience. Not something many can forgive. As one who has gone through this in a few mmos now I can honestly say I am sick of it and done with f2p unless handled much better. ESO is about the best model but it's newest DLC is showing signs of developing systems for their cash shop. A very, very bad sign but not yet too bad.

TerilynnS
TerilynnS

<3 Still play. Having some trouble getting a Pel run done, ... :)

Fair More
Fair More

My sentiments exactly. Thank you for writing so fondly about lotro.

LiquidElectron
LiquidElectron

I was going to give it another go a month ago.  I was unable to transfer off of my now absent-of-everyone server at the time (Silverlode).  It still hasn't been open for transfers, so I'm just going to write the game off, honestly.  Playing by myself for 2+ months does not a happy player make.

vicariousfan
vicariousfan

i haven't been back in a while but i don't feel its aged well.  The new zones look amazing but it could use a bit of a revamp in the lower level zones.


Still a great game 

Liandreth
Liandreth

I'm actually in the process of reupping my sub. I go back for the RP. I'm on Laurelin and it does NOT disappoint on that front. It's also handy for me to play on the EU, as most of the events happen in the afternoon my time :)

Anarwen
Anarwen

Every now and then I do a marathon in LOTRo. I start way up in Forochel and go as far south and east as I can before zoning. It's such a beautifully designed world. Much as I like other MMOs they just can't hold a candle in world building that makes geographic sense.

enamelizer
enamelizer

YES the world in this game is what keeps me coming back to it time and time again. And that I can jump in and play the content I purchased, without a sub ofc.


I am about due for a trip to middle earth I think.

Marelius
Marelius

Recently I just re-subbed to the game and once again enjoying myself. The game just has a good feeling fun feeling and fantastic community. 

Styopa
Styopa

Same, minus the benefit of the lifetime membership.  Remember, folks, LOTRO IS FREE TO PLAY.  And while getting anywhere past lvl 30 probably isn't, by that time you should have figured out that it's worth the investment.


It isn't for everyone.  While there have been some quality-of-life improvements making it a little easier, it hearkens back to a much older MMO paradigm.  Go here, go there, do that stuff.  Bring the red key to the red door.  All without a great deal of effort trying to make the quests 'flow' or 'synchronize' harmoniously.  Sure, there are quest hubs, but you'll cross your own path LOTS of times.  This is not the game for someone with ADD.  Further, there's no flying, and (unless you're paying) no real shortcuts.  You'll roll your eyes every time someone says "go talk to Elrond in Rivendell" because it's SO BLOODY FAR (unless you're an elf that's done the rep grind, or are a hunter/warden of adequate level).  That hike is a trip that you commit to, just like long trips in the real world.


But Jef, I think you missed one: my oldest toon (was born in the Mirkwood beta!) just arrived in Moria and it's breathtakingly beautiful.  Everyone "knows" that Lotro has a very persistently high aesthetic standard, but I was taken aback at how neatly the designers captured this intersection of ancient grandeur+decrepit+creepy from literally the first step inside.


I've played pretty much everything (and I think you did Age of Conan a little disservice in the amount of work their devs did to be book-consistent like Turbine was here), but LOTRO is the only game in which I just don't feel any need to race through content, but prefer to just poke along and really enjoy the journey.

Humble48
Humble48

@mrsangeld @Styopa I thought Moria was probably one of the best expansions in the game. It honestly felt like I was adventuring inside a giant mountain. And I was impressed that playing in there for several months did not make me miss the outside Middle Earth areas either.


mrsangeld
mrsangeld

@Styopa Moria was always amazing to me. The fact that so many players hated it was a testament to how well done it was. You're suppose to hate it, it's supposed to be a dark, scary and lonely place. I remember when I first realized this, now sometimes I log in just revisit that place.

WastelandWanderer
WastelandWanderer

@Styopa Moria is what locked me in as a player. Turbine did a fantastic job of translating the post-apocalyptic feel, while at the same time making it varied enough that each section felt distinct, despite being all underground.


Seriously, falling down that well...

paragonlostinspace
paragonlostinspace

Nice write up Jef. Basically sums up why I tend to wander back at least once a year for a few months. :)

reptarthedinosaur
reptarthedinosaur

I'd love to come back and Have wanted to for a long time but I can't remember my login info and I've tried recovering it through support several times but never got anywhere with that.    I left right after MoM and want to come back and play but my recovery email goes to an emaili address that no longer exists and I can't remember the credit card attached either so I've emailed them with as much information i can remember and never get a reply.   Makes mea sad panda.

bargon
bargon

Call them. I had the same problem. On the phone they fixed for me in literally a minute.

mattaui
mattaui

It's also a great game to just take off riding in and then marvel how huge the world is. You can really get the feeling for being out in the wilderness. My favorite memory of the game was the long haul to Rivendell the first time, and then the arduous journey through Moria later.

DugFromTheEarth
DugFromTheEarth

Any time i get that LoTR craving, ive found its much quicker and cheaper to just rewatch the movies  :P

Humble48
Humble48

I'm always going back to LoTRO to play because I love that genre, but the combat in the game kills me. It's just too clunky and they really need to address it. The game would be significantly better to revamp the combat, but I'm guessing there isn't enough interest to warrant that level of investment.


Sorenthaz
Sorenthaz

LotRO feels too bogged down by outdated elements/systems for me to ever return to it full-heartedly.  While I like the Middle Earth stuff and how generally faithful they've been to it,  it's not worth the download just to go on a scenic tour for me.  

Koshelkin
Koshelkin

I had such a nerdgasm when I passed by the weathertop the first time. Goosepumbs, really. The way to Rivendell was a dream journey.


And it didn't really stop there. The game is beautifully crafted. I sure do hope that one that will rework it completely with a new engine, character models and animations(and some touches on the combat). The game really deserves it.

hardy83
hardy83

When this game dies, I REALLY REALLY hope either the developers release the net code or hackers figure out how to do private servers because this games landscape is amazing.


Even if someone just made a program to let you fly/run around it. It's worth preserving.

ComradeStanimir
ComradeStanimir

I really liked this game in SoA and MoM, but I haven't liked a change they've made in some time. SWTOR has replaced it as the game I return to.

Polyanna
Polyanna

How is the population of this game these days? Does it run on a single-shard universe or mega-server system, or are there separate servers that might be heavily or lightly populated as people come and go?

jefreahard
jefreahard moderator

@DemonicPossession @Polyanna It does seem a lot busier than when I played last year. And I thought it was fairly busy then, especially for a 7-year-old game.

WastelandWanderer
WastelandWanderer

@Polyanna It's in the process of merging servers right now. (A good thing, since it had an obscene amount.) Lots of people going every which way, but it's still a very populated game. If you're in the US, I think Brandywine and Arkenstone are the most populated for PvE, Landroval for RP-EN (and fantastic community events). For the EU, Evernight for PvE, Laurelin for RP.

JohnD212
JohnD212

I do the same thing because LOTRO is beautiful and has a little of everything an MMO should offer.  It's so relaxing if you want it to be, the crafting is fun and the auction house is still profitable and fun to play.  The only thing lacking is real housing. The housing they provide is not very much fun in the end but everything else is top notch in my book. I sub everytime I jump back in because I like to support the games i love.

jefreahard
jefreahard moderator

@DemonicPossession We might have to adopt. I'm not sure I'm ready for demonic hobbit babies flying around the house.

Greaterdivinity
Greaterdivinity

Since I'm lazy...is there an ETA on when server merges will be complete. Hoping to try to give the game a serious go then, but I haven't kept up on the status of merges.

Vagrant Zero
Vagrant Zero

@Greaterdivinity  They plan to be fully "done done" with the mergers by the beginning of the year. I'll probably stop by and take a gander at that point assuming I burn out on ESO.

Styopa
Styopa

@Vagrant Zero @Greaterdivinity I don't know that's true.  Our server (Vilya) was scheduled to switch over near the end of Nov, but that's now been postponed indefinitely.  I'm happy to let others bear the brunt of the bug-smoothing and load-balancing process before we get there.  I'd say it MIGHT be done by March.  There's a sort of very "fin de siecle" vibe in Vilya today; the long term players all know that it's going to be 'falling apart' soon as everyone migrates to different places with different motivations.  Everyone's quite cool.

teppic
teppic

@Greaterdivinity If you are on Brandywine or Evernight, you can currently move to any server that's remaining open. Most of the closing servers can also be transferred from now. Once it's all done, they will have periods on each server where it's free to transfer to any other remaining server, to help people play together. Eventually it will return to paid transfers, except of course for characters on closing/closed servers.

Damonvile
Damonvile

It's a pretty unique game in a rather saturated fantasy genre. considering how much is copied from lord of the rings to still remain somewhat unique is a rather impressive accomplishment.