In addition to playing a lot of fantasy and sci-fi MMORPGs, I’m an avid reader of novels in the same genres. I never quite get tired of heroes growing into their own and then going on a journey of discovery and salvation over the course of one or more books.
It’s natural for me to compare the journeys I read in novels to the ones I experience in MMOs, and in some ways, online RPGs have forgotten or overlooked some of the elements that make the fantasy journey so gripping. Our characters start out already grown, already powerful, already killing machines that will save the world numerous times over. Our grand quest is usually nothing more than seeking even more power, gear, and experience points. Due to this, the whole process of progressing through a game is streamlined into a well-honed but somewhat soulless loop.
But what if a game took the time to reexamine the journey outside of the pressure to provide an optimal leveling and narrative path to the next world boss that needs extermination? What if there was a mission chain that took the inconsequential and made it essential, that was structured in such a way to more resemble books than eroded gameplay design?
Enter Bingo Boffin, the unlikeliest hero of them all, and his unique journey across Middle-earth with you in tow.
As Lord of the Rings Online
players revel in the varied activities of this year’s 10th anniversary celebration, the crew at the newly formed Standing Stone Games
has a huge task ahead of them: To capitalize upon this monumental milestone and prepare to shuttle players into the “endgame” of the books.
We had the opportunity to sit down with Executive Producer Rob Ciccolini to talk abut the anniversary, its hiccups, and upcoming Mordor expansion. As the page turns on a new chapter of both the game and its development team, it truly feels like we’re about to venture into the unknown in more ways than one.
The first I ever heard of Lord of the Rings Online
was flipping through the pages of some gaming magazine back in early 2007. At the time, I was neck-deep in World of Warcraft
and wasn’t really looking around for other MMO distractions, but something about the article caught my eye.
It wasn’t the use of the Lord of the Rings book franchise, which I had respected but wasn’t exactly the most rabid fan in the world. It was a mention of an online fantasy world that hewed to a low magic setting, where dazzling spell effects and typical classes weren’t the order of the day. Instead, the article poured over how much LOTRO was trying to hew to a more realistic and believable setting (albeit one in a fictional fantasy universe), and that made it stand out to me in a sea of upcoming MMORPGs.
Months later, I was in the two-week head start, experiencing Middle-earth in a brand-new way apart from the books or Peter Jackson films. Going through the Shire in those first few days was tranquil and deeply thrilling, as if I knew that this was the start of something special. Ten years later, and I know that my gut feeling was correct. While not a perfect game, LOTRO has nevertheless grown into a wide-ranging and impressive virtual world that still has so much to offer even in this modern age.
Back when Lord of the Rings Online
was being developed as Middle-earth Online
in the late 1990s, the original concept was to plop players into the Fourth Age after the fall of Sauron and the destruction of the One Ring. The idea was that this would allow for a lot more flexibility and world manipulation once the game escaped the direct influence of Tolkien’s narrative.
LOTRO, on the other hand, went a different way. The devs obviously felt that more players would want to adventure during the events of the books, especially since the story offered more details, characters, and conflicts. But that left the team with a different problem, which was how to insert player characters into a narrative that was rigidly defined by the trilogy. The solution, as we all well know, was to have the player be “a” hero, just not “the” heroes of the books. And this hero would go off on a story of his or her own that would in many ways parallel the Fellowship’s struggles but not slavishly stick by Frodo’s side as the invisible 13th member.
So how has LOTRO handled this concept of the player as a “second fiddle” over the years? I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, particularly as we turn the bend into Mordor.
If all goes well, within a few days the Lord of the Rings Online
community will be getting its first glimpse of Mordor with the release of Update 20 (Standing Stone Games
said that it is “tentatively planning”
to roll out the patch next week). I don’t know if I’m prepared, but after months of speed-leveling my Lore-master through the last few expansions, I’m in a place where I will be among the crowd that charges into the Wastes on launch day.
Update 20 is a big event for several reasons and should give us some insight into what the developers are thinking with their Mordor expansion later this year. Plus, with the 10th anniversary event right around the corner, the LOTRO community will have a bounty of content and activities to keep it busy during these spring months.
So as we saddle up our horses (and ponies and goats) for the trip north into the Wastes, let’s mull over what we can expect when Update 20 lands.
This past week, I received this letter from reader Thurro: “Your recent LOTRO
resurgence has my interest, and from the sounds of you on the podcast I might not be the only one. Would you consider writing a beginners guide or even just a list of tips for getting started from scratch?”
Sure, why not? It’s still a little too early to tell, but we could be seeing a nice little LOTRO renaissance right now, and I bet that there are more than a few players who are checking the game out for the first time after reading the news and hearing recommendations from others. Considering that it’s a massive MMORPG with 10 years of content and expansions, I could see how it might be overwhelming during your first week.
A true guide would probably take so much longer than the space I have this week, so let me present a quick and dirty starting guide to the this wonderful MMO and then point you to LOTRO Wiki for any further questions (seriously, it’s a great resource!). Let’s get started!
Like probably most of the population of Lord of the Rings Online
, I was initially interested in player housing when it first came out, gave it the ol’ college try for the first year or so to work within its limitations, and mostly forgot about it after that.
It was a sore point with the community, a subpar housing experience in a game that screamed for a robust feature on par with some of the genre’s best. Year after year, a housing revamp was the top most-requested desire from players, and year after year, Turbine either ignored it, delayed it, or promised and then abandoned it.
Yet over the past year we’ve actually seen some movement on this front with two important changes: the addition of premium housing in Gondor and, most recently, Update 19.3’s expansion of housing hook functionality. With these in mind, I turned my attention back to housing for the first time in so very long — and found myself actually enraptured with creating a new home for myself. It’s not the complete overhaul that we want and the game still needs, but it’s far better than nothing and has actually revitalized the housing scene somewhat.
We are one month into 2017, and already the MMO genre is brimming with anticipation over several upcoming expansions. One of those has no name — yet — but is still the talk of the Lord of the Rings Online
I confess that I am a little puzzled how Standing Stone is currently handling the reveal of the Mordor expansion. One assumes that there’s an official reveal in the works, yet at the same time, the studio’s been quite chatty about some aspects of the expansion if particular outlets happen to ask about them.
The end result is a scattering of information around several sites, including the main LOTRO site and its producer’s letter, leaving us with the task of putting together a picture of what we know so far about this next step of our epic journey through Middle-earth. Today, let’s count down 10 things we know will be in the Mordor expansion proper (the title of which I am guessing will be The Doom of Mordor).
If you are looking for a bridge between you and the sometimes dense (but quite popular) works of J.R.R. Tolkien, then you could do no better than to sit at the feet of the Tolkien Professor. Dr. Corey Olsen
has been teaching about Tolkien and his collective works for years, providing understanding and fostering discussion in a way that is always interesting and accessible.
Recently, Olsen started up a new course at Signum University (where he is both the founder and president) called “Explore the Lord of the Rings on Location.” This free, public course meets every week for a lecture through a chapter in Tolkien’s famous trilogy, followed by a “field trip” in Lord of the Rings Online to locations mentioned. It’s been a highly publicized event so far, with Standing Stone even creating a special lecture hall in Bree for the series. Interested parties can attend in person in the game, watch via Twitch, or catch up with afterward on the series’ YouTube channel.
We caught up with Dr. Olsen to talk about the making of the course, the history behind his university, and his interaction with the long-running MMORPG.
Ever since I’ve been covering Lord of the Rings Online
for this site (dating back to 2010!), I’ve had a tradition of kicking off every year with a wishlist of some of my greatest desires for the game. I think I missed last year, but in the years previous, I would allow myself one wish for every year the game has been operating.
This year? The 10th anniversary means 10 wishes, baby!
It’s shaping up to be quite an interesting and exciting year for LOTRO. I’ve seen friends coming back to the game thanks to the recent news and the promise of the expansion into Mordor. It’s almost like we need periodic reminders that, “Oh yeah, that game is still running! And it’s pretty darn good!”
But what would I like to see changed, added, or created for the MMO this year? Whether or not the devs ever get around to these, any of them would make my day.
One of the threads that weaves the Lord of the Rings narrative together is that of hope. Holding onto faith in friends, perseverance against all odds, and trust that good will prevail against overwhelming evil is something the Fellowship struggles with, yet in the end, that hope is fulfilled in the salvation of Middle-earth.
“Where there’s life there’s hope, and need of vittles,” Gaffer is known for saying. And the hope that was made good in the books is the hope that the LOTRO community holds on in these waning hours of 2016. After a rocky year full of ups (the Battle of Pelennor Fields, new housing) and downs (the datacenter move, latency issues), this aging MMO and its players faced upheaval as the game was handed off to a new studio, a new publisher, and a new future.
I’ve heard it said from many people that they are “cautiously optimistic” about where Lord of the Rings Online goes from here. It’s a cautious hope, and one which I can identify. As a longtime (and recently returning) player to this fantasy world, I want nothing but the best going forward for LOTRO. But is that hope grounded in truth or mere wishes?
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.
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.