LOTRO Legendarium: Why LOTRO needs a progression server

At some point this year — Turbine isn’t saying when, yet — Lord of the Rings Online will be making an effort to consolidate server populations. It’s a good move, considering that this MMO has quite a few servers and the players are too spread out. I’m hoping that transferring players from low-pop servers will grow the community and forge new friendships.

As I whole-heartedly support merges (or whatever PR phrase you want to use to avoid that dreaded term), what I am going to say next will sound really strange: I think the studio should open up a new server. And not just any old ruleset server, but a progression server.

I’ve been jealous of seeing games like EverQuest roll out this type of special ruleset because it seems like such a fun idea that few other studios are willing to implement. Well, I think a progression server would be a huge shot in the arm for LOTRO and could be a marketing boon if done correctly. Or maybe I’m simply mad in the head. Either way, I’m going to muse on what a progression server would look like and how it could help the game!

This isn’t the progression server you’re looking for

I want to start out this thought exercise by denouncing the concept of a progression server where the devs somehow turn back the server clocks to 2007 and allow players to experience the same game code as was in existence at that time.

For starters, I sincerely doubt that the old code exists anywhere. What RuneScape did with its “old school” server was possible only because the team found old server tech that still had the code on it. Most studios do not save their entire ancient codebase on a few million 3.5″ floppy discs for a rainy day.

Plus, theoretically turning back the clock would reintroduce bugs, creaky mechanics, and so many potential conflicts that I couldn’t see that working. Is there demand for such a server? Perhaps on a limited scale, but I do not see a lot of people waxing nostalgic over the days of slower combat and no map in the Old Forest. No, it’s best to dismiss a “retro” server out of hand.

Why a progression server could work

Like many older MMOs, LOTRO has a lot going for and against it. One of its greatest assets, in my opinion, is a wealth of established content: Eight years’ worth of updates, plenty of new zones and regions, hundreds of additional quests, and five expansions. It’s already most of the way through the books in terms of story progression and territory, which provides any new player with a lengthy adventure.

Then you have an established population that is always looking for reasons to roll up alts and get a new experience out of a game players have traversed for the better part of a decade now. The addition of a Beorning class was quite helpful in providing said new experience, except that players who tried out the new class were instantly 100 levels and countless hours behind the curve of the bulk of the population.

So take plenty of content to gate, couple it with an established population that would love to get a hit of that “new MMO smell,” and come up with a smart way to roll it out. Suddenly our theoretical progression server is an experience unlike the game has seen to date.

My vision for a LOTRO progression server

If I were dev for a day and had the power to make anything happen instantly, here’s what I would do in regard to a progression server ruleset.

First, I would announce and hype the heck out of it because why do something like this if you’re not going to get some major publicity out of it? LOTRO’s not doing expansions any more, so there are fewer reasons to blow the trumpets over “big” events. This could be a big thing that not many other games are doing. Plus, given time to prepare, kinships and leveling duos could make plans for the jump to the new server.

The tricky thing would be figuring out how to segment the actual progression. Would there be a hard level cap that would be slowly increased over time? Would you gate by expansions? By zones? What about the epic books? Personally, I think it would need to be a hybrid of all of those.

I envision starting out the server with only the first three zones (the Shire, Ered Luin, and Bree-land) and a level 20 cap. The server could exist like this for a while to allow kins and characters to become established, snag housing, and explore the first stages of the epic book.

Then, I’d gradually (every month or so) raise the level cap by five or 10, open up zones to match those levels, and unlock the epic books that take place in those regions. The key would be to strike a balance between going quickly enough that players wouldn’t be too bored but not so fast that the population progressing together would get spread out. Such a pace could take the entire server from the beginning through the most current content in about two years.

In fact, since we’re talking about a special server ruleset, I’d want one additional feature: If a player were more than 10 levels behind the current progression cap, then he or she would be treated to a massive XP buff so that catching up wouldn’t be a chore. That way players who come into the server months after its start could still have a chance of experiencing it with others.

The benefits of a progression server

Really, what I’m envisioning here is crafting a LOTRO experience that we can’t get on a large scale right now: Starting fresh and progressing together with a bulk of the playerbase through classic and modern zones. By creating artificial gates, the devs could slow players down to really enjoy content they now zip through and re-experience dungeons, quest lines, and areas that have long since grown stale.

While it would be some work for the studio to create and run, I would think that a progression server would be a smart use of existing assets and a constant excuse to make game update announcements.

Even smarter would be to involve the progression server community to come up with special events (scavenger hunts and races in the currently unlocked zones?) and to talk about favorite areas and stories. Think of it as a nostalgia-fueled roadtrip with both the devs and players in the van together (a… big van).

Plus, we haven’t had a new server in so very long. The chance to start over or return to the game when a server opens its doors is a strong call to some players.

Is this an interesting or a dumb idea? Would you roll on such a server, or do you have a better idea how to organize it? Sound off in the comments!

Every two weeks, 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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