Because you all are my fellow Hobbits, there is no one else who I would rather chat with about all of these reveals. Probably no one else would tolerate me doing this, anyway, so here I am and here you are. What did you think about this letter? Here is my takeaway, but I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Peering into the palantir…
Typically when I read letters like this, I’ll quickly skip over the self-congratulating opening section to get to the part where the team finally tells us what’s coming to the game. I really was expecting more Mordor, to tell the truth, but it turns out that I was only half right in that regard.
The letter lays out an update schedule that should play out over the next six to eight months by my reckoning, starting with the Mordor raid in Update 21.3 that will be out by the end of the year. I don’t have a strong connection to LOTRO’s raiding scene — if there even is one — but I imagine that the Abyss of Mordath will be incredibly important to a small group of players and completely forgettable by the rest. That’s kind of how raiding goes.
What was of more interest was the announcement of two new zones coming in 2018. First up with Update 22 is (drumroll) Northern Mirkwood! I listed this region back in September as one of the places that the game could go after Mordor, and I am overjoyed to see it make the list.
It’s such a great idea for the first major content update of the new year, and I’ll tell you why. First of all, we need a visual and thematic break from Mordor. I can’t be the only player who is feeling a little weary at the nonstop death, destruction, and ash-coated interior decor. Getting back to a living, green world will be such a relief. Second, it hits on some of the fans’ favorite areas, including the great forest itself, Dale, Laketown, and Erebor. And third, it is a logical place to go as a follow-up to the destruction of the One Ring.
We’ve seen glimpses of this region already. The six-player dungeon, The Bells of Dale, took us forward in the timeline to see a struggle against the Easterlings in this region after the Return of the King. And players who have pledged their service to the Dwarves in Mordor have already taken a tour around the interior of the Lonely Mountain. Now we’ll be treated to a full-fledged zone, and I seriously cannot wait.
But wait, there’s more!
The team didn’t go into detail about Update 23, but the letter did confirm that the storyline will take us back to Mordor and into Shelob’s current hangout at Minas Morgul. This city of the dead we’ve only seen at a distance so far, and as it’s the last most iconic location left in the country to show, you best believe that the devs are pulling out the stops to capitalize on this.
I appreciated that we heard a lot of other smaller — but no less interesting — additions. These included a playable fiddle, Dwarf and Hobbit avatar upgrades, more Bingo Boffin Halloween foolishness, more housing items, more festival rewards, festival additions, improving the legendary item system, and a storyline that will both touch on lore-bound events and branch off into new tales.
All good stuff, I hope you’ll agree. Mordor was a fine expansion, all things considered, but it certainly was nowhere near the blockbuster event it could have been. It could be that the team is trying to spark some hope and hype in a community that felt somewhat let down by this fall.
I do want to say that as much as I appreciated the info, I was disappointed that Standing Stone Games didn’t publicly address two significant sore spots with fans: the continuing issue of poor client performance and the proliferation of lockboxes. Other than acknowledging that it was adding more to the current rash of lockboxes, SSG avoided that snake’s nest entirely.
The studio has been pushing lockboxes hard this fall and making several questionable decisions around them, and it’s only by the virtue that LOTRO is a much smaller game that it’s been largely getting a pass from the whole controversy and conversation that’s sweeping the genre. We need to hear more about these two issues and not be completely distracted by the new shinies that we let SSG off the hook.
Overall, I am bolstered by the letter and feel a relief that the next area that I explore in the game won’t be another volcano backyard. LOTRO had a mixed 2017, but at least it and SSG are still standing, and I’m encouraged to see that the team is working on so much for the new year.