How 2016 took Lord of the Rings Online to the gates of Mordor

As Lord of the Rings Online nears its impressive 10th birthday in April of next year, we see a game that's in many ways coming to its own personal endgame. To be sure, LOTRO could indeed keep on thriving for another decade to come, but the guidance of the books and the progress of the updates has kept the story marching steadily toward the climax of Mordor and Mount Doom.

At the start of 2016, players were still in the thick of Gondor and facing the largest battle of their characters' lives. At the end, the battle is behind them, a brief respite consumed, and the task of pounding down the doors of the black country to the east remains.

Let's take a look at the year that was Lord of the Rings Online, from its updates to its festivals to its community to the future. Perhaps this is an MMO past its prime, but in at least one important way, it is only now maturing into what it was destined to be.

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The updates

The year got off to a bad start when LOTRO moved to a new datacenter that caused a lengthy period of lag and downtime.

While there were only two major updates in 2016, LOTRO patched in more features and content than you might remember. January's 17.2 update beefed up questing in Minas Tirith and added a public endgame space.

In April, Update 18: The Battle of Pelennor Fields brought the game's largest and most ambitious battle sequence to bear as a "mini-expansion." The update added a new region, a level cap increase to 105, an instance cluster, and even a combat tune-up.

Slayer deeds had their kill requirement reduced in May's 18.1 patch to make the tasks "more reasonable." July's 18.2 update introduced the game's first 12-player raid in years: Throne of the Dread Terror. The raid required some adjustment after its release, but that is par for the course for such things.

A small patch in July enabled players to see and collect stable-masters, facilitating easier fast travel across LOTRO's labyrinthine routes. In September, players were able to initiate server transfers directly from the launcher itself.

After a short delay, October saw the release of Update 19: March of the King. The patch contained the first new housing area since housing was instituted way back when as well as the North Ithilien questing zone, a flora bartering system, and a storyline that took players up to the doors of Mordor itself.

The most recent content update wasn't without its criticism. Players were concerned about the technicalities involved in paying for and maintaining a premium house, not to mention disturbing questions that arose from how the game monetizes its endgame gear grind.

Lord of the Rings Online

The festivals

While there were no new festivals in 2016, LOTRO's wide array of holidays all made a return to keep the playerbase hopping.

Of course, the big one was the game's ninth anniversary back in April. I wrote a piece commemorating the passage of time and LOTRO's accomplishments since its launch.

All of the old staples came back: The Spring Festival splashed everything with gaudy colors, the Summer Festival took the time to spell the flowers, the Farmer's Faire trundled in tasty treats, and Bilbo's Haunted Burrow made a spooky return for this year's Harvest Festival.

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The community

This popular online role-playing game appeared as a question on the television game show Jeopardy! (What is Lord of the Rings Online?)

Managing the community as passionate and long-lived as LOTRO's has to be a challenge, and in November the CM team sat down for an interview to talk about the behind-the-scenes struggles and joys of doing just this.

Said community held several large player events, including the Olympics-inspired Harnkegger Games and the hot summer jam of Weatherstock. Players even held a publicized memorial service for a fallen friend in which they dressed #yellowfortinki.

Fans of both the MMORPG and the books will want to enroll in an open course starting on January 3rd, 2017, to explore the story chapter-by-chapter with the Tolkien Professor. There will even be in-game field trips!

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The future

Players were troubled to hear of layoffs back in July and the decision to transition Turbine's future projects into the mobile arena. However, it eventually became clear that the studio wasn't going to abandon its MMOs either.

Four years after Helm’s Deep, LOTRO will be returning to the expansion model with a trip into Mordor itself. Turbine has been heavily teasing this expansion all year, and with the recent Update 19 came a detailed map showing the features of this dreaded country. Possible features include a Shelob encounter, a new raid, Minas Morgul, and a “big” event leading into the expansion.

The Mordor expansion will be released sometime after the game’s 10th anniversary in April 2017.

Even more encouraging for LOTRO fans, the studio said in September that it had a multiple-year plan for the title going forward: "Right now we have a two-and-a-half-year plan, and the only reason it is not further is because we want to see where the player’s heads are at after that much time. We are currently focused on not only telling the epic story leading up to the Gate, but also what happens beyond. We have already kind of hinted to the players that an expansion is on its way."

Good luck and godspeed as LOTRO turns the bend into its 10th anniversary and the dangerous lands of Mordor!

Curious about what we said about Lord of the Rings Online last year? Check out our 2015 review!

Every once in a while, 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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18 comments
melissaheather
melissaheather

1) EverQuest

2) LOTRO

3) WoW


I think those stand, in that order, as greatest MMOs ever.   LOTRO is simply magnificent and should be required of any big Tolkien fan.  The chance to walk in that world, lovingly recreated in detail scarcely imagined from the books, bringing the Map alive in ways you never dreamed, can literally entertain you for years.   When I think of all the stop-and-stare moments I experienced there, there has never been any game like it for me.  One where you enter the game world already knowing the lore.

melissaheather
melissaheather

@Karl_Hungus The eagles refused.  They were reluctant and had no real love for the worlds of Men, from whom they stole sheep, and who shot at them with longbows according to their chieftain Gwaihir The Windlord.   But Gandalf healed him and he saved him from Orthanc in repayment.  How he was able to prevail upon him to save Frodo and Sam is not really known, but just taking an Uber ride to Mt. Doom wasn't an option.

Draugris
Draugris

I started playing LOTRO during the beta, played it as my main game for a couple of years and since then i even play it now from time to time at belegaer rp server. LOTRO always had and will always have a special place in my heart. I had so many great moments in that mmo and it´s community that i will never forget, so i am happy that there are plans for the future and hopefully many years to come. 

Telos_
Telos_

This has always been my problem with LOTRO.  They wanted to tell the story in a linear fashion, which is great for singleplayer games, but it fails horribly as an MMORPG.

Just think about it.  It literally took 10 years to see Mordor.  I've always said they should've just created all the major regions first, then expanded from there.  Instead, they created the regions in a linear fashion, which got really boring after the first couple of years.

barryspeed
barryspeed

@Telos_ Agreed. The exact same reason why I stopped playing it after its first year. Not only that, the thought always linger that they are following the books as closely as possibly, which means......... it will end. I don't want to spend time and money on a game with a sure end.


However, if they do have a plan beyond that, then, who knows, a second look at it again? Are they brave enough to explore the East, on their own?

cowboyhugbees
cowboyhugbees

I have been playing on and off since 2010. Just recently I started playing again regularly. A couple of points:

First, I think it's important to mention that the population doesn't feel barren, at least to me, at all. On my server (Landroval) there always seems to be kins looking for membership, or bands playing music, or people in different zones running around, or festivals with tons of people, or things selling quickly on the Auction House. Of course it's not 2010 levels, but I definitely don't feel alone.

Second. I think the community manager (Cordovan) has been a lot better with the player base. He is always streaming and interacting with players, and has encouraged more streaming and community involvement (Tolkien Professor steam is particularly cool).

The final and most important thing for me, though, is that the game is as close as we'll probably ever get to a fully realized version of Tolkien's world. To read through the books and to picture the layout of the Barrow Downs, or the Lone Lands, is something I'll take with me long after the game sunsets. As a Tolkien fan, for me, that's invaluable.

zoward
zoward

@cowboyhugbees Cordovan did a stream to raise money for Extra Life 2016 (Boston Children's Hospital).  The guy's a class act.

SwobyJ
SwobyJ

@cowboyhugbees "The final and most important thing for me, though, is that the game is as close as we'll probably ever get to a fully realized version of Tolkien's world." Eh, I disagree. There's always opportunity, even if it takes until the 2020s or 2030s to happen.

WastelandWanderer
WastelandWanderer

@cowboyhugbees Agreed on all points. I've only been playing for a few years myself, but the developers have seemed to put all their energy into playing to the game's strengths since the so-so reception of Helm's Deep. The server consolidations, the new raid, housing update, new zones, and really embracing the community have only increased the population. On Landroval, at least. I remember playing through the summer event my first year and only seeing a few players running through. This last summer, the event was absolutely packed at all hours. In the short time I've been playing, I think Lotro has been at its best this year.

melissaheather
melissaheather

@SwobyJ @cowboyhugbees What economic event would make it a viable business plan for a game company?  Not even joking.  Tolkien's time may have come and gone.

zoward
zoward

I'm really looking forward to seeing what they do with Mordor (although a tiny part of me is worried about when they get to "The Scouring of the Shire" and my little hobbit-hole in the Michel Delving Homesteads).

denhith
denhith

The game still has serious performance issues that the "new" team are only now seriously starting to address in recent patches.  Better late than never, but this is something that has been compounded over years and should have been addressed long ago--as such, it won't fully get the attention it deserves.  I have no doubt they will reach Mordor (and perhaps, beyond) but at this rate if something major isn't done it will be a laggy mess filled with FPS drops, crashes and ridiculous skill lag.

ComradeStanimir
ComradeStanimir

The first MMO to make me feel old. I still remember buying the box at Best Buy when I was like 15. I didn't even know what an MMO was.

Happy 10 years. Even though they butchered horribly what I liked about it, I still wish it well.

Greyraven
Greyraven

This is what is impressive about LOTRO as you follow the path of the fellowship you see the world at the point it was in the novels for the most part, yet when you go to certain areas of Men or Hobbit you see just how clueless they are that there even is a outside world. That more than any other MMO I have played sets the feel and tone of the history/lore they are trying to recreate.


I'm very glad to see this is not the end.