LOTRO Legendarium: Grading Lord of the Rings Online in 2017

At the beginning of 2017, it seemed as though a mini-renaissance was brewing for Lord of the Rings Online. Standing Stone Games broke away from the sinking ship that was Turbine and offered a fresh start of sorts for the long-running MMO. We were coming to a head with the game’s story and a return to large-scale expansions was confirmed with the news of Mordor.

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!

Visuals: B

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.

Performance: D

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.

PvP: C-

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.

Communication: C

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.

Marketing: F

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?

Community: A

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.

Expansion: B-

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.

Updates: C

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.

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.
SHARE THIS ARTICLE
Code of Conduct | Edit Your Profile | Commenting FAQ | Badge Reclamation | Badge Key

56
LEAVE A COMMENT

Please Login to comment
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most liked
Subscribe to:
Reader
Melissa McDonald

My point of view is probably entirely different than most.

I do not judge LOTRO fairly because of what it is.

It’s quite possible we will never, and I mean NEVER, again see an attempt to create the entire map that Tolkien drew, a successful effort to create the whole of Middle Earth, and I believe that makes this game important and historic. Perhaps years from now when someone tackles The Silmarillion there might be another LOTR game that is this ambitious, rich, BIG, and detailed, and yes, as faithful to the books and canon.

Is the game old? 10 years old. You don’t expect a 10-year-old video game to look as good, perform as well, or not have a history of hits and misses, good days and bad, great expansions and mediocre ones. Judging it on graphics by Black Desert Online standards isn’t fair. Judging the game client by modern 64-bit engines isn’t entirely fair either.

This is a ‘bucket list’ thing for hard core Tolkien fans. This is your chance to actually walk in Middle Earth. This is your chance to see things only discussed in passing in the books, or seen as a name on the Map.

Compared to such considerations, judging the game by 2017 standards is probably the furthest thing from my mind.

I love this game like an old dog that can’t fetch as vigorously anymore, its muzzle turning grey. I love this game like an elderly relative who has meant something in your life, and now it’s your turn to return the love. I cherish this game like the double-bed your parents conceived you in. Like that coach or professor that made you believe you could do it. Like that setting on cliff, beach, or forest you would go to when you needed to be alone and think.

It’s one of the greatest games ever, and we had better enjoy it while it lasts.

Reader
Vincent Clark

The sad thing is, SSG banks on people with your perspective (and wallet) as an excuse never to optimize the game engine, update the graphics (while still keeping the current aesthetic), fixing the thousands of bugs/lag, update mounted combat, revamp the loot system and the list goes on and on. So instead we get rushed/bugged instances, loot-boxes, bad promotion for the game (that Mordor launch trailer…ugh), and a complete disconnect from the exec producer and dev team on what is actually happening on the ground. All because of a fear that there might not be another MMORPG set in Middle Earth?? You should expect more from a company that has created a game you cherish so much. You should want more for the game you claim to love.

Reader
Melissa McDonald

But that’s just the thing. It’s given all of that, and much more. I love the game already, I’m satisfied with it already (and always have been), and I don’t hold it to the same standards other games get criticized for. Lootboxes? I got some great gear from them. All the fixes you are asking for mean making an entirely new game. You can’t turn a 6-cylinder into a V8. These “disconnects” from producer? Haven’t ever affected my game enjoyment one whit.

I have come to realize I am much more of a casual gamer than some here, because the things that make people go into rages on these boards are things that have scarcely ever occurred to me.

Reader
Vincent Clark

I disagree, the fixes would make it a better game, not an entirely new one. Making it so I can transport in and/out of Minas Tirith without crashing is not creating a new game. Releasing new dungeons that aren’t bugged and poorly tested is not creating a new game. I could go on, but you’ve already admitted if it doesn’t affect you directly, then you don’t care. And while it’s your prerogative to have, I think it’s very limiting and selfish. But, to each their own.

Reader
Viktor Budusov

Then pay for proper testing. At the same tme you demand from SSG not to monetize more. But that can’t work. If you want more quality => pay more.

Reader
Vincent Clark

It’s HOW they are monetizing, not the mere fact of it. It’s also the fact that the exec producer did a complete 180 (essentially, he lied) on his justification for the loot-boxes (just one example).

April-Rain
Reader
Kickstarter Donor
April-Rain

Vincent is correct, and I have played this game since launch and it never played as bad as it does now, I am probably on my 5th gaming PC since then and it runs worse on this than it did on my gaming system from back then with 2gb ram, amd athlon and radion 9800pro.

The issue is they have never invested anytime into upgrading or fixing the engine they just add more to it which it can no longer handle.

The engine is just not optimized for modern computers and they have a choice, sort it out or die a slow painful death as people will just move on.

For a lot of us who play across the atlantic its just unplayable.

All the people that want to be smug and claim its ok they should be worried as its less population in the game and more nickel and diming for you.

They again did another U Turn as they did promise locating servers to the EU not long ago but then changed there minds.

Dam I am so done with standing stone games and daybreak its untrue, but sad at the same time as I would love to play lotro but years of neglect have taken its toll.

Reader
odin valhalla

Surprisingly, I think this is a pretty accurate review and the grades are what I would have given with the exception of the community. an A is way to high IMHO, B- to B, still good but its no where near an A, lol.

Reader
donvweel

I think for Standing Stones the biggest problem they need to adress is the lag. It is no fun running a quest and fighting hard all the way to the end only to die because you are frozen in a boss fight. Some improvements have been made but a lot of veterens I know are not playing because of this. The regular updates are great and keep me playing. But the frustration of game freezing at certain times is wearing me down. I think the server move hurt DDO and LotRO quit a bit.

Reader
odin valhalla

There has been lag in lotro for years. Once mounted combat came in it became much more common. I dont think they can address it, I mean if they could Im sure they would have by now.

Reader
Crowe

I can go with most of your ratings but Visuals would get C maybe C+ out of me. Gameplay is still good but the performance is such crap that I can’t even really think about joining a dungeon run or raid as a healer. I remember the “original” release and the Moria expansion being excellent for performance. But nowadays, there’s just way too much lag between click and when the ability fires off. If the engine was ever to be re-vamped (really needs to be re-written from the ground up), I’d give LOTRO another look-see.

Reader
Castagere Shaikura

For an old game they are not bringing in many new players with their business model. They need to realize that its an old game and people have so many choices now. Charging for expansions is one thing but also charging for quest packs so you can quest in certain zones was and always will just drive the f2p players away. Most don’t mind paying for expansion. And telling people they don’t have to pay for those quest packs if they grind for tokens is stupid. Nobody wants to grind for tokens. I was hoping Standing Stone would turn things around but they are making it worse.

Lateris
Reader
Lateris

Are they going to update their avatars?

Reader
teppic

Seems a reasonable list. For me the major issues about the game:

* Performance: this should be an F. It’s the worst performing game I play by a long way, any other game and it’d be enough for me to quit.

* Lootboxes: adding a new store key for a new lootbox in a paid for expansion. Awful.

* Business model: in addition to the lootboxes, having to pay for old expansions is plain stupid. They should all come with Mordor, or at the very least, should all be included in the monthly sub.

But community, story building, world design, all of these are excellent.

Reader
Viktor Budusov

For me performance is quite good. From B to C.

Reader
Viktor Budusov

Great article, agree on every point

April-Rain
Reader
Kickstarter Donor
April-Rain

Performance: D this is my main reason I no longer play and the reason why it’s no longer installed on my computer, it was for a good 7 years previously and since I bought the lifetime sub back when codemasters ran the game in the EU and did a better job of it (never thought i would say that).

Playing from the EU the stuttering and rubber banding just takes you totally out of the game, on tracert I have no bad ping’s till I hit new york so I know it’s not an issue on my end, they well know about this but instead plough ahead with other content and willingly ignore this issue with such a lack of desire that I have lost all faith in these developers.

I had already decided never to go back till I saw news of it being fixed but the recent news of the lock box fiasco has killed any desire to play one of my more loved MMO’s ever.

Its only going to get worse and they will slowly kill they own game trying to nickel and dime the remaining population.

Reader
draugris

I agree, SSG turned out as a company who wants to squeeze out the last $ out of their customers, but with daybreak involved no suprise otoh. So the future for lotro imo seems not the best one. I expect less quality content and more microtransactions instead in the future. I would not be surprised if they decide at one point to make gear direct purchasable through the store. It´s really a shame where they are heading.

What i am surprised at is that for american players the performance is also bad. Afaik the datacenter where the servers are hosted is in the us so i thought they do not have the lag issues. I am playing on a german server and it is unplayable sometimes, specially if we talk mounted combat. The things that do make me login is either the old (Angmar) content and the community on my server.

OneEyeRed
Reader
OneEyeRed

I’m in Virginia on a very fast connection and it was horrible for me last time I left. I also have a monster build and I don’t have the same issue s in any other games so I know it’s not me. Before relocating here we were in the metro NY area on a fast FIOS connection and had the same issues as well. Now in VA I am on top of them and it doesn’t matter.

I also did not know Daybreak was involved. I’ll never go back now and this explains everything.

OneEyeRed
Reader
OneEyeRed

Bah tired and early; I have it backwards and can’t edit post. I used to live on top of the servers in NJ on other side of GW bridge. Same scenario here in VA though nothing changed. From beta we lived in OH, TX, and NY before getting to NJ and server issues were always the same

Reader
donvweel

There is lots of fun stuff to do and the game world is beautiful. When LotRO went free to play I took my DDO guild over but most including myself could not get used to the combat after DDO. I puttered around there a bit, the main story is pretty good but i got stuck trying to beat some bosses. If they could adapt a more action combat style like DDO I would play regualr.