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.
Are premium houses worth it?
Premium houses weren’t really on my radar until recently, mostly because I was away from the game when they were added and I had some built-in prejudices against purchasing houses with real money. But when a kinmate pointed out that the low-end houses were relatively affordable (and I had the mithril coins to spare), I figured why not? And let me tell you, no buyer’s remorse from me after this impulsive purchase!
First things first: Let’s break down the price. As with the other housing neighborhoods, the Belfalas houses come in three varieties (stately, luxurious, and deluxe kinship). Stately homes can be purchased for as low as 145 mithril coins, which is 1,450 LOTRO points or roughly $22. Luxurious homes are much more expensive, clocking in between 422 and 493 mithril coins, while deluxe kinship homes can go as high as 894 mithril coins. Obviously, the use of mithril coins to buy these is a way to add a barrier between real money and the purchase and keep players a little in the dark as to how much money they’re actually spending (which is one of the main purposes of such middleman currencies in MMOs).
Obviously, there’s a lot of factors in play with the pricing, including the deal you get on LOTRO points if you’re buying with cash, your region, and how many you earn from playing or your subscription. But I think it’s safe to say that if you want to venture into the premium housing market, you’re probably going to need to spend some real money, especially if you want the bigger and better house.
So the question becomes, is it worth it?
And the answer, as usual, is “it depends.”
With the purchase of a premium house you actually get quite a lot, even if (like me) you go for the smaller home. You get an account-wide additional home and housing port that doesn’t conflict with normal homes. The premium house comes with vastly more hooks, larger yards, and a different architecture style and layout (I have an upstairs!). You are also treated to oceanfront views and nearby services that include a vault, legendary item vendors, a housing vendor, and a flat 10% discount for all sales and purchases. You’ll still have to hoof it to a town for an auction hall, but it’s really nice to have a vault nearby on a housing port cooldown. Oh, and if you’re a VIP (subscriber or lifetime subscriber), your upkeep is free. That’s a nice little bonus.
For the record, I was pretty excited with the new home. My “small” home felt absolutely huge to me, with a foyer, an upstairs with two alcoves, a back hallway, two side rooms, and a large back kitchen. I threw every decoration I had at it and still ended up with empty hooks at the end. My only complaint is that I wish there were windows on the main floor, because it felt a little claustrophobic without them.
Hook-based housing systems are clearly inferior to your freeform decoration platforms, but if you (and your technology) is married to such a system, there are ways to make it more tolerable. Standing Stone Games made a lot of players happy and scored some nice post-Turbine PR points for announcing and then implementing changes to the hook system with Update 19.3.
If you weren’t around for the old version, hooks in LOTRO used to only allow you to plop down a decoration or piece of furniture and then rotate it. Due to hook placement, this kept houses looking very spaced out and regimented, instead of being lived-in and homey. The Update 19.3 change allows any interior (not exterior) object to be moved on the X, Y, and Z axis in addition to being rotated, which definitely provides a lot more flexibility.
I was pleased to further discover that objects could be moved well outside of their hook “boxes” (as you see up above). You can’t take them clear across the house, for example, but you can push objects together, combine them, and overlap them if necessary. In the below picture, you can see that I’ve created a simple library with a caddy-corner fireplace and then moved a table, rug, and chair together to fashion a study alcove. Before, this wasn’t even possible, so now (as basic as it is) it feels absolutely liberating.
Of course, players have gotten a lot more creative than just pushing a chair into a table. Some have found that levitating objects in the air can be used to make platforms and bizarre in-home sights that are not nearly dignified enough for a Hobbit (but are pretty amusing even so).
It should also be noted that 19.3 had one other housing improvement, which was the addition of premium housing writs to secure your house in the case of moving servers or failing to pay upkeep. You paid for it, only seems fair that you should keep it!
Where housing can go from here
Now that we’re finally seeing movement on the housing front, I hope that Standing Stone isn’t going to consider its efforts concluded. It’s a fine start to a sadly neglected system and has a lot of players excited about the possibilities going forward.
So where can housing go from here? Probably my greatest (and most unrealistic, considering the code, effort, and resources involved) desire is to see the devs fully renovate housing to become a freeform placement system and abolish hooks forever. Never going to happen, but a Dwarf can dream.
Moving down the list to more realistic expectations, I would definitely appreciate more hooks and flexible hook-types across the board. As I said on the podcast this week, the problem with grouping up decor from hooks is that when you bunch a lot of stuff together, it creates a great amount of empty space elsewhere in the room, and that is unfortunate. Moar hooks!
Presuming that the premium housing experiment was a successful and lucrative one for the studio, it would be terrific if we saw additional housing neighborhoods and types crop up. Rohan housing is pretty much everyone’s number one request, and I know that I’d be moving on over if that ever came into being. Also, don’t we already OWN a Rohan house in Edoras thanks to the epic quest line? A house we can’t actually use? What’s up with that, Standing Stone?
Apart from additional decor and interactive objects, I think my final wishlist item would be to make it far easier to invite players over to your house. It’s positively ancient to have to tell a friend your neighborhood address and expect him or her to make the journey to physically find your house in order to check out your digs. So many other MMOs make it painless to invite friends and guildies over for tea, and LOTRO should most definitely figure out a better way to do this.
What do you think about all of these housing changes? What would you like to see added or improved? Sound off in the comments!