Everything about the game seems like it’s slowed down. The last expansion, Helm’s Deep, is receding in the distance (as are all of the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films) with no expected further expansions to come. Turbine as a studio has weathered a hard year with the failure of Infinite Crisis, and updates for LOTRO aren’t coming as quickly or reliably as they once did. Chatter across blogs, Twitter, and Reddit shows that this once-favored MMO is not enjoying being one of the major players any longer.
However, all is not lost! Turbine is not only putting out updates but is creating the right sort of updates, consolidating servers and pushing the story forward. The strength of the IP and the loyal playerbase does a lot to prop up this title, ensuring that as long as the lights are left on, LOTRO has many more years ahead of it.
Let’s take a trip back through LOTRO’s big news of 2015 before examining the 2016 producer’s letter and speculating on what is to come.
An alleged former Turbine employee posted a tell-all forum post criticizing the game and studio while stirring up a firestorm of controversy among the community. An interesting hour-long lore video featuring some of Turbine’s devs caught our attention and rekindled some interest in the game.
There was big buzz around the new legendary item imbuement system, and this month players were treated to a preview of how it would work as well as a sneak peek of the new Osgiliath instance cluster. Eighth anniversary rewards were announced, Russian players were dismayed to find out that their country’s version of the game would close in June, and Vanderbilt hosted a course centered around LOTRO.
Update 16: Ashes of Osgiliath came out with a ton of content such as four new regions, more epic story quests, and a legendary item imbuement system. In my final LOTRO Legendarium column (before this one, that is), I belatedly celebrated the game’s 8th anniversary with pictures and stories. The game’s producer made a lot of fans happy by posting a preview letter of several initiatives coming for the remainder of the year.
A small balance patch (Update 16.1) brought roleplaying improvements and a new stage in Bree. PvMP players were finally treated to something new with a preview of the Battle of Osgiliath map. Free them from the Ettenmoors! Turbine talked about other upcoming Update 16.2 features, such as cosmetic weapons and the Adventures of Bingo Boffin. Lord of the Rings fans also mourned the passing of Christopher Lee.
Summer months were made for frivolity and merriment, so it was appropriate that July saw the return of both the Summer Festival and Weatherstock.
Server merges loomed big this year over the game, and this month Turbine announced which 10 servers would remain. Five were picked from the US and five from Europe.
A quality-of-life patch came with Update 16.5, which extended the duration of store services and fixed a couple of vexing issues. We all got a chuckle when Turbine announced that players could pay for cash shop purchases with Subway gift cards. The studio also began allowing players to transfer servers for free in anticipation of shard consolidation.
The Siege of Minas Tirith began, as Update 17 finally hit the live servers. A new region, two epic battles, and a continuation of the main storyline awaited fans who logged in. Turbine bribed players to test out the new datacenter (which never did make its anticipated 2015 release) and the fourth annual Archet Aid was hosted by European players.
Following the terrible Paris attacks, the player community held a rally and concert on a French server to show solidarity with the country. We also talked about why we seem to keep returning to Lord of the Rings Online after all of these years.
I think it’s actually a good sign that Turbine didn’t procrastinate on its traditional producer’s preview letter but got it out in time for the holidays. The letter identified five big projects for 2016: the move to the new datacenter hardware, a level cap increase to 105, a new instance cluster (with a raid!), a collection system, and quality of life improvements. The story will progress through the Battle of Pelennor Fields and push toward the Black Gates of Mordor itself.
To my ears as a long-time player of the game, that all is welcome news. Personally, I hope that Turbine is accumulating enough content and resources to create Mordor as one big expansion for the future, but if that’s to come it doesn’t look like it’ll happen this year. I’m equally glad that the studio is going back to making new instances, since players have been asking for those for quite some time now. Maybe a reversal in this area might signal that the studio is open to reconsidering some of its other positions — player housing revamp, anyone?
Lord of the Rings Online needs to put out a solid, reliable stream of updates and information in the new year. Turbine must get out there more and talk up the game, as it remains its strongest property and has quite a bit of juice left in it. If the studio is quiet or unenthusiastic about it, players will pick up on it and respond in kind. If it cheerleads more and presents a front of strength, then warriors will bolster the title.