LOTRO Legendarium: Nine years in Middle-earth

There are always those gut-check moments in your life when you realize just how much time has passed. For instance, I’m going to look up into a mirror at the end of this month to see a 40-year-old man who still thinks he’s about 20. It’s weird to have these moments because as you get older, time both appears to move faster while seeming to stand still.

So it was just yesterday, wasn’t it, that Lord of the Rings Online launched? Not nine years ago, just shy of a full decade? It can’t be that old, it just can’t. I remember playing it as my wife and I — then quite childless and completely unappreciative of uninterrupted nights of sleep — bought our first house. I had originally leaned on LOTRO as a welcome substitute for World of Warcraft, having become burned out on the latter and looking for something a little more subtle and yet richer in other areas.

Recently I returned to LOTRO after about a 10-month break. I knew it was going to be not a long-term reunion but a gab session with an old friend. If nothing else, I wanted to go through the epic story and catch up with the latest installments. While I’ve long since lost interest in character progression, leveling, and looting in LOTRO, seeing the story through to the end feels very important to me.

A journey of nine years… and counting

I think this is because from the start, Lord of the Rings Online has been about one continuous journey, a story told in parallel and in concert with the events of the novels. My character was born across from Strider in Archet, where one of her first tasks was to fight wolves and pick plants for a wounded Ranger.

Since then, my Captain has traversed a Middle-earth that proved to be so much bigger than I ever got from either the movies or the books. She’s seen the icy wastes of Forochel, rummaged around in the basement of Bag End, gotten completely turned around in the mines of Moria, galloped across the plains of Rohan, and defended both Helm’s Deep and Minas Tirith from the sieges of the Enemy.

Her journey does not merely connect the dots between cinematic set pieces but those smaller, more intimate moments as well. She’s stopped for a concert or two in Michel Delving, run those silly pies across the Shire, searched high and low for a certain sight-seeing horse and its owner, sliced her way through countless skirmishes, picked up after drunks in Winter-home, served time as a prisoner of Isengard, and played freeze tag among the ruins in Bree-land.

As I stood on the walls of Minas Tirith, enduring another visually impressive but rather tedious epic battle lately, I thought about how much the game has changed since those early years. Sure, there’s the obvious expansion of the map; where there was once just Eriador, now there’s Gondor, Moria, Rohan, Rhovanion, and soon to be Mordor. You could look at levels (now up to 105!), the new Beorning class/race, the war-steed system, the epic battles, and the overhaul of the classes. But as I ducked under a flaming ball sent by an enemy catapult, I realized that it was far more than the culmination of all of these.

Love and life

One of LOTRO’s strokes of brilliance was to start small and take a different tack from the books. Sure, there were Nazgul and the shadow of the Witch-king making cameos from the start, but for most of us who were there back in 2008, the game had an intimate, personal feel. It was a world that invited you to truly experience it, to get to know its people, its customs, and its history. Before we were to fight for Middle-earth, we needed to learn to love it.

And so the game gave us the time and space to do that.

While I sometimes questioned why the first volume of the epic story went so far away from the books as to render it its own saga, I now look back and appreciate that the devs had the courage to do so. We didn’t need to be pale imitations of the Fellowship, mimicking their every move. We had to be given space to grow up into our own characters, making our own legends.

Back in 2008, Mordor felt a world away — and it was. Without the ability to even go there, we settled into Eriador and became citizens of Middle-earth. We moved into our own houses, attended fireworks festivals, joined up with the Bounders, and tilled the land to grow crops. We weren’t feeling the push to move on; the epic story was a lightly babbling stream, not a rushing torrent that it is today, sweeping us through the events of Return of the King as if the devs are frightened that they’ll lose our interest.

And while I miss that feel of those first years, I cannot deny that some of the magic is still very much present in LOTRO today. The environment still feels expansive and wild, especially when you get off the beaten path and dive into the underbrush of Gondor. The sounds and music still wrap me up in an aural cocoon of ancient days and mysteries.

Journeys change us and change the surroundings along the way, which is a product of time and motion. Where the game is right now seems fair — it’s progressed logically and is taking the crowd along with the established narrative — it’s also an older face looking up in a mirror, seeing crow’s feet and white in its beard.

A face with character.

Not a bad face at all.

One with more than a few years of adventuring left in it, even.

Every so often, the LOTRO Legendarium goes on an adventure (horrid things, those) through the wondrous, terrifying, inspiring, and, well, legendary online world of Middle-earth. Justin has been playing LOTRO since its launch in 2007! If you have a topic for the column, send it to him at justin@massivelyop.com.
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24 Comments on "LOTRO Legendarium: Nine years in Middle-earth"

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RamiroSuarez
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RamiroSuarez

Great article. After 9 years I’m still drawn to it as you described. Great atmosphere.

Firelilyx
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Firelilyx

My character was born even before Aragorn made it to Archet! :D It used to be just the wounded ranger that gave you the quests and you first met Aragorn (Strider) at the Prancing Pony like in the story. LOTRO is probably my favorite MMO of all time. I started with WoW in ’04 and enjoyed it a lot, but I haven’t played WoW since about 2008 and LOTRO has kept me coming back throughout the years with every update since the start. While these are the waning years of both LOTRO and Turbine, they will always have a warm place in my heart.

Anarwen
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Anarwen

Back in the 80’s&90’s I played the desktop MiddleEarthRollPlaying from ICE and then moved over into this. I love wandering off the beaten track in Middle Earth. That here are so many of them is why Tolkien is so great.
Before launching into Mordor I really hope we get some Haradwaith or maybe Dorwinnion and Rhun.

Winterskorn
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Winterskorn

I’ve  played off and on over the 5yrs and the last time I made it to the Mines of Moria where I stalled.I have to say of all games this gives such a huge variety of gameplay.  Not just in what to do but where to do it.  Not a lot of games place you underground for an entire expansion and make it feel so huge!

peyo01
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peyo01

An amazing MMO, thanks for the article Justin. I’ll always keep excellent memories of my time playing it.
I agree with you: building its own story apart from the books was a brilliant idea from the devs, even if damn risky. It really felt like exploring Middle-Earth while playing this game. And the books’ plot what never so far as, if you paid attention, you would find many remnants of the Fellowship here and there and even meet some famous NPCs.

Finally, for a 9-year old MMO, I still find the landscapes gorgeous and extremely screenshot-worthy.

xGBHx
Guest
xGBHx

WandaClamshuckr Agreed. I have tried unsuccessfully to go back a few times since leaving around the time RoI, I still feel like my experiences in Lotro were some of my best in any game. It’s bittersweet to see it still around so long, and that it seems to be coming to an end and I never expected to see the game reach its conclusion without me there, but alas I simply cannot log in and play anymore.

Draugris
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Draugris

Great Article. I started my MMORPG experience with Lotro when it was in beta. When it released i immediately bought a life time subscription for if i remember it correctly 150€ at that time and did never regret that. I have so many really good memories being in a very active role playing kin back in the days. We shared so many adventures together in middle earth. Sometimes i wonder why i never experienced something like this also in other games, maybe the Lotro community was or is special, i don´t know. Even now i play Lotro from time to time, sometimes i only go to the prancing pony listening to the stories players like to share or simply walk in the shire under the stars. Of course gameplay wise Lotro is outdated but it has something other games desperately miss, it has soul. The devs managed to build a wonderful and rich middle earth with respect for Tolkiens work. I really really hope that they will be able to extend the license in 2017.

crackfox
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crackfox

That was great Justin. I really wish I’d kept playing when I finished Angmar. Sadly, my adventure ended at the gates of Moria. I guess I had the ‘Bill the Pony’ experience. Very fond memories of the time I spent in that game though, and I still listen to the soundtrack every now and then.

paragonlostinspace
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paragonlostinspace

And of course …

paragonlostinspace
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paragonlostinspace
WandaClamshuckr
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WandaClamshuckr

I spent a fair time on Brandywine server. What a wonderful community. No matter what happens to LoTRO in general, the years I spent there were well spent. Amazing experience.

Sigbjorn
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Sigbjorn

I recently went back and caught up on the story till Minister Tirith. I’ve been playing since Beta 1 in 2006!
The downfall of the game was really right after Moriarty launched. Turbine pulled most of the developers to work on another project. Updates slowed to a crawl, players left, and the game’s population never recovered.

MesaSage
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MesaSage

I loved the game up to about level 75 (which I’ve done a few times) and then I lose interest, despite the progression of the story.  I can hang out anywhere in Eriador just to be there and ride around.  Mounted Combat, LI’s, server consolidation, data center issues and the Lotro $tore killed the rest of it for me.  I stopped playing a couple months ago and I’m really done with it.  It’s a wonderful place to visit, but I won’t be there for the finale.

zoward
Guest
zoward

This … is a game I will keep coming back to.  it hasn’t been my immediate go-to game in some time, but it will likely never be one I completely give up on either (listened to a band practicing on the stage outside the Prancing Pony this afternoon,. in fact).  Thanks for the retrospective, Justin.

Oleg Chebeneev
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Oleg Chebeneev

I used to like LoTRO, especially RP server events. But game dated really bad. Graphics and quests never really improved, rare new mechanics were a miss. Devs were constantly asked to update character models but never cared to do.

Amorey
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Amorey

Thank You Justin. 

Whatever the future holds for LOTRO  is has been a  wonderful nine years journey through Middle-earth for me .

Memories I collected and friendships I made will last a lifetime

wanderv15
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wanderv15

MorpayneRADIO Most probably it’ll get the license as WB already has it

Zo5o
Guest
Zo5o

Excellent read, one of my great MMO loves is Lotro, especially pre Moria. There are so many parts of that world that are just so serene.
I’ve a life time account so I’ll follow the story till it’s logical end.

MorpayneRADIO
Guest
MorpayneRADIO

Wasn’t this game still up in the air about a license renewal after 2017? What happened with that?

cromahr
Guest
cromahr

Great article, thank you for writing this!
I can’t believe it’s been 9 years! I remember preordering the game back then, and was all excited about the release. And then it was on, all those players entering the world. I loved the graphics right away, and the more “down to earth” feeling of the classes… no huge shoulderpieces and flashy gigantic spells.
I had just burnt out on WOW and LOTRO felt like a fresh start. However, the burnout wasn’t just about WOW but MMOs in general, and LOTRO took a lot from WOW, like so many other MMOs, so I eventually left again at some point.
However, I came back again and again, and stayed for a couple of weeks and months, and enjoyed it. So much to explore, so many cool stories, so much respect and love for the lore (well, apart from that ice giant in that weird zone near Rohan… I missed that part almost completely).
I even liked the warhorses, ROR was pretty cool IMO, and I rebuilt that town on two chars.
However, I eventually left the last time in Oct 2014, and the last time I peeked in (last xmas), I simply didn’t like what I saw… so much focus on the store, so many things locked. I don’t mind AT all if an F2P game locks cosmetic things and a lot of convenience for free players, but I hate that the actual quests, which to me is such an essential part to MMOs, particularily this one, have to be unlocked with a sub or a ton of TP.
Even though I guess I won’t go back, I still like the game, and I am grateful for the happy memories from the early days, Mordor, ROR… won’t forget those. Happy b-day, Lotro!

MostlysaneUK
Guest
MostlysaneUK

A great article Justin.  It sounds I came to LOTRO in a similar way to you after burning out on WOW. I loved the whole atmosphere of the place.  And Bree – or Bree as was before it was tinkered with – remains one of my favourite starting zones in any MMO ever, with The Shire a close second.   And the LORO community, after the toxicity of WOW was a complete eye opener.
For me LOTRO finished shortly after the release of the first post Moria expansion.  I loved Moria but the repetitiveness of the questing got to me in the end. I like to be invested not just in the main story, but also the rest of the expansion story.  For me there has to be a good reason for me to go kill the same group of Kobolds for the 10th time.

Seeing the same approach to questing from the start of the next expansion just killed the game for me.  It’s a shame, some of the new systems in the following expansions have sounded very interesting. I do occasionally try to go back but  I don’t think it’s going to happen.  

Part of me hopes they manage to finish the story successfully if these rumours about 2017 and license renewals have any truth behind them.  Part of me hopes they find a way to continue the story beyond Mordor for many  more years.

Winterfresh
Guest
Winterfresh

I am going to curl up in the fetal position once this game has finished and the servers shut down. I don’t need another reminder that I’m not young anymore! Ironically, playing the game makes me feel old too – just trying to read the quest text in this game is a chore since there seems to be no way to enlarge it or sharpen it. I think it’s rendered as bitmaps, hence no option to optimize it.

Jaed
Guest
Jaed

Great writeup, Justin. I haven’t played as long as you, but I feel the same way.

Karl_Hungus
Guest
Karl_Hungus

Mount Ruapehu, the Mt. Doom shooting location for the movies in New Zealand, has recently been showing signs of increased activity. Coincidence? I think not.

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