LOTRO Legendarium: Grading Lord of the Rings Online in 2017
Reality and hopes don’t always get along, and while 2017 hasn’t always been the kindest to LOTRO, it hasn’t been a crushing disappointment either. The more I’ve been looking at the state of the game, reading the forums, playing it, and covering news, the more I’ve felt the need to grade how the game is doing in the right here and now.
So why not? It’s school season, so let’s embrace the academic spirit and assign some marks to LOTRO’s operation and state. Agree with these grades? Disagree? Get out your quill and scratch your own thoughts down there in the comments!
Back in the day, players routinely gushed about how incredible and screenshot-worthy LOTRO’s graphics were. Today, it’s hard to deny that it’s gotten longer in the tooth, but I still contend that this is a fantastic-looking title, especially with its natural environments. Two of the game’s races received subtle but much-needed visual touch-ups, and Mordor is a wonder to behold in all of its ghastly glory.
Older engine or no, there is no excuse for how terrible LOTRO runs. It got really bad last year after the move to a new datacenter, and Turbine/SSG never seemed to get a handle on all of the hitching, lag, and lengthy load times that resulted. This old of an MMO should run silky smooth on my new machine, but instead it stutters along just the same as it did on my six-year-old rig.
World Building: A+
So why do I play a badly performing game? Because what is available is enticing and unique. There isn’t quite a Tolkien game like LOTRO out there with its immense scope and adherence to lore. It still feels very much like a world to me rather than an artificial theme park with Sonic the Hedgehog-style zones, and I often find myself lost (in a good way!) in its scope.
If you play LOTRO for PvP (or PvMP, to be more accurate), then you’re a glutton for punishment in all sorts of ways. It’s just not a big draw, and even last year’s Osgiliath map didn’t do a whole lot to revitalize this mode.
I had high hopes that SSG would be more talkative than in its Turbine days, but it really hasn’t worked out that way. Its CM (who does double duty with DDO) is pretty much the only person we hear from on a regular basis, mostly via livestreams. Articles and dev diaries are much more infrequent than before, which was noticeable with the lead up to Mordor. And the studio has retreated to stony silence on some thorny issues, such as the terrible expansion pricing and the exclusion of High Elves in the base edition. Speaking of which…
Business model: C-
I will continue to give LOTRO a nod for the fact that its F2P mode does allow for a very grindy way to unlock content and offers a nice chunk of activities for those starting out. But it’s too old and restrictive in other ways.
What’s far more disturbing is SSG’s incredibly bad string of more aggressive business practices in 2017, from the outrageous Mordor pricing to the explosion of lockbox proliferation. Many players, myself included, have pointed a finger at publisher Daybreak as an influence behind these moves, but it could simply be the desperation of a small indie studio trying to cut a profit any way it can.
I’m sorry, but I can’t overlook how badly SSG has fumbled marketing this year. The launch trailer to Mordor was absolute amateur hour, and there has been so little promotion for this game and its climatic expansion that it boggles the mind. It probably comes down to a severe lack of funds, but still that’s no excuse for what we’ve seen. Maybe the studio spent all of its money bringing Chance Thomas back?
Apart from gold spammers and your crash-and-burn cynic, LOTRO still sports a rather friendly and inclusive community that makes me proud to be a member. I love the ingenuity and spirit that has led players to running elaborate events, fundraisers, and fan sites. I’ve never seen so much roleplaying in an MMO than I do here, and while it’s not always my cup of tea, I enjoy seeing others enjoy it.
I’m four-fifths of the way through Mordor, and while I still contend that it is a difficult slog with a few problematic points, I have to praise the overall package. It’s a meaty expansion with a lot of great stories, some pretty epic places, and surprises now that we’re past the boundaries of the books. I was curious if and how the developers could make an “evil” country like Mordor interesting and compelling, and I feel like they have accomplished just this. Now granted, this doesn’t include a look at the new instances or its final zone, so putting that caveat out there.
Festivals and special events: B
LOTRO has built up an assortment of really great and varied festivals, and coupled with the smaller events that pop up here and there, there’s usually something interesting to do when you get tired of questing and dungeon diving. I was noting the other day how people still get really excited over the advent of these familiar events, and that’s a good sign of their enduring legacy. Plus, the new rewards that the team keeps adding helps!
One terrific addition in 2017 was the 10th anniversary quests, which added a slew of new missions and objectives to pursue. It was audacious and — for the most part — well-received, and I’m glad the team is going to build off of this in future years.
We’ve had a few meaty updates this year, especially with the Wastes, the 10th anniversary, and the recent instance mini-cluster. They’ve been… OK, but we see time and again that SSG doesn’t provide enough time for testing and ends up having to run damage control once these patches go live instead of heading problems off before they get out the door.
Future potential: B-
I’m generally more of an optimist than a pessimist, so when it comes to looking ahead to the future, I hold to hope that it will be a good one. As I’ve talked about in weeks previous, there are some really cool places that LOTRO could go post-Mordor. I’m amazed how well this game has held up over the years and drawn me back in with its sheer fun factor after a personal absence for most of 2016.
The fate of the game is really in SSG’s hands, however, and it’s here that my optimism starts to slip. My faith in this company’s potential has been shaken by its poor communication, bad business model practices, absent marketing, sloppy testing cycles, and lack of a public vision. Small team or no, SSG needs to get more public and more bold as it forges ahead. If it can do that, then there is still hope.