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.

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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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