LOTRO Legendarium: Wistmead surprises and progression servers

    
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What a week this has been! Originally I was all gung-ho to talk about nothing else than all of the new Halloween content that Lord of the Rings Online has added, but with the word of the coming progression server, I knew we had to discuss that too. So saddle up for a long ride this week!

I want to begin by expressing a good deal of surprise that Lord of the Rings Online, 11 years in, is still significantly adding to its festivals. I never thought that Harvestmath was really lacking in content, especially with the Haunted Burrow, but seemingly out of nowhere Standing Stone Games threw in a new zone, a rotating maze, an additional Bingo Boffin questline, and the ability to actually trick-or-treat in the player housing neighborhoods. Oh, and some wickedly cool outfits and horse, too.

He who runs behind the rows

I don’t know why SSG didn’t talk all of this up more ahead of time, because this is one of the best festival additions we’ve seen in years. Wistmead is one of the most atmospheric zones in the game, and I was genuinely creeped out (and even touched!) by the second Bingo Boffin Harvestmath questline. We’ve been waiting for the resolution to that cliffhanger for a year now, and I was not disappointed.

And while the maze feels like a bit of a rehash from the Spring Festival labyrinth, I’ll give it a pass because it reminds me of the corn mazes that my family and I go through every fall. All in all, I had a wonderful time strolling through player neighborhoods, exploring the new content, revisiting the Haunted Burrow, and getting all of the cosmetics, mounts, and decor that I wanted. Bravo, devs, for raising the bar for Halloween content.

Legendary Worlds on their way

With that out of the way, I think we really should discuss the “Legendary Worlds” that SSG announced earlier this week. If you didn’t catch the announcement, the studio said that it will be opening up a new server type this fall that will initially cap progress at level 50 and the original Shadows of Angmar zones. Then, every four months after that, the studio will unlock more levels and content so that the community can progress through it together.

This certainly sparked a firestorm of discussion that divided players up into three camps. You either were really excited about it (as I am!), you were against it (mostly out of fear that it would take population away from other servers), or you were disgruntled that the server wasn’t set up the way that you would have preferred.

It’s hard to judge how much of the latter is just cranky players being cranky on the forums as they always are and how much is valid insight. The main arguments against this server type as I’ve seen include the lack of the original trait lines (a big sticking point to many who have hated the newer trait trees), the current ease of leveling and character power compared to 2007’s launched game, the limitations to subscribers-only, and the presence of the LOTRO store.

What’s the point?

Again, it depends on the person and what they wanted. I think you have your people who really would love to see a classic vanilla LOTRO server done resurrected from 2007, while others are more open to a modern version but with some sensible changes. One argument that I’ve seen from this crowd is that if SSG isn’t really taking the server back in time, what’s the point?

Let me speak to that point, because there is one. Make no mistake, this server is not a retro server in the vein of Old School RuneScape or WoW Classic. SSG is far too small and lacks the serious resources such an effort would take. You may want it, you may wish for it, but let’s be honest: It’s not going to happen. It might not even be a remote possibility if the code or original hardware doesn’t exist any more.

What this server is is a modern progression server. The whole point isn’t to give us a 2007-era world and freeze us in time, it’s to start a new community out together and keep a leveling crowd roughly in the same brackets over time. That right there has huge appeal for some players.

A fresh start

Starting out new in LOTRO these days or rolling up an alt means months if not well over a year before your character is right up there in the endgame content with everyone else. It’s a huge world and a very long journey, and it kind of stinks to do it all by yourself. Nobody’s running at-level instances. Nobody’s chatting in those zones. But on a progression server, everyone is being offered the chance to go through this journey as a group without the fear of being left behind or struggling to catch up.

There’s also the appeal of starting out fresh on a brand-new server, which LOTRO hasn’t had for many, many years, by the way. It’s a new economy, new kinships, new acquisitions, and new personal achievements. I love fresh starts because what was old hat becomes sort of new again, if only for a little while.

I’ve seen a lot of people note that with the Stone of the Tortoise, players right now can artificially limit their progression and stay in whatever zones they want. That’s true, but that’s also missing the fun of a whole community going through old content alongside of you. It’s also ignoring the effect that a game can have when it limits your content and then periodically doles out more of it. Again, it’s about recreating that feeling of expansions dropping and moving into an ever-expanding world.

A proven system

There is no doubt that Daybreak-controlled SSG is doing this because it has been proven to work in EverQuest and EverQuest II. In fact, this is exactly the same sort of progression server that both of those MMOs have gotten and enjoyed over the years. People like them. They’re fun. They’re an option for a different kind of experience, and that appeals to some and not to others.

What I don’t think doomy and gloomy people are seeing in their pouting fits is that if this server is not for you, then don’t worry about it. Don’t play it. But it could be a really good thing for the game as a whole.

Why? Because we’ve seen in this industry that progression and legacy servers are Big, Exciting News that draws attention back to an older title. It won’t take a lot of resources for SSG to pull off, but it will rake in a good chunk of publicity, even months later as each new content expansion unlocks.

Three suggestions for this server

That all said, I think the community has some good ideas as to what SSG could and should do with this server. If it is at all feasible, bringing back trait lines would go a long, long way to pulling old-school players into the idea of this server. I’m not sure how much work that would entail, but if there was only one big feature or change SSG made with this ruleset, that would be my recommendation.

I also second those who would like to see the LOTRO store disabled or severely curtailed on this server. Considering that everyone on the shard will be subscribers, SSG is getting their money regularly and doesn’t need to grub for more. And the store’s advantages for progression will undercut the idea of a pristine leveling experience. SSG should take a cue here from Trion Worlds’ RIFT Prime server and reign in its cash shop.

Finally, make sure this server is stable and tested before launching it. Considering that this is supposed to be one worldwide server, I can only imagine the latency and technical issues that will arise from people all over the globe trying to cram in and play on this server. SSG has a history of rushing out half-tested content, and it will shoot this server in the foot if it does so here.

In any case, speaking just for myself, I’m psyched and ready to roll up a Hobbit for a new adventure through the entirety of Middle-earth come this fall!

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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Alex Malone

Thanks very much for explaining “the point” of this new server. I’ve been struggling with the point of this progression server so it’s interesting to see your views.

I still don’t get it, not really. You say the primary point is to have the whole server community be leveling up at the same time. Whilst this is definitely a plus point, it’s only needed so that you can complete group content on-level. Yet, with the progression server, most of the group content has been removed (compared to vanilla), most of the remaining group content has been dumbed down and the few bits that haven’t (I’m guessing just Carn Dum and The Rift) are still made trivial by the combat / trait changes.

On top of that, the overwhelming majority of group-focused players left the game years ago when Turbine stopped developing group content.

So, is the point of the server really just so that players feel a bit less lonely whilst leveling up a new character? Just seems like a complete waste of time to me.

(im in the camp that would prefer a server set to the exact code one or two patches before an expansion. that way you get all the original content, plus patches etc, without the big changes that come with an xpac. I.e. I want Shadows of Angmar but with Evendim, Forochel, Goblin Town, The Rift etc. Also, no PvMP on a progression server…..thats a red line for me)

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Roger Melly

Looking forward to this , a friend of mine is starting up a kinship on the server and it will be fun leveling with them , in the past I have done 90 percent of lotro solo so i have missed a lot of the instances it has to offer .

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Maggie May

I’d seriously consider it if I had a friendy Kin to join and run stuff with, otherwise it won’t really make any difference (cough, cough … hint,hint).

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teppic

My own feeling is I’ve wanted something like this for a long time but I’m disappointed they’re implementing it in a way that seems to be gating some content, capping the level and nothing else. Requiring a sub and having a cash shop on top means they really should be putting serious work into it, they’re requiring us to pay for it after all.

I’d like to see all items from the cash shop that can affect progression in any way removed — all xp boosts, stat tomes, buffs, etc. If everyone’s to experience the game together don’t have some people have advantages because of paying extra cash on top of a sub.

I’d also like some serious balance tuning so that you can’t just race through the content with no real risk of dying as you currently can. That’s not how the game was designed to be played, or how current content is designed to be played, so there’s no excuse on a progression server.

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aYates

I’m definitely interested as a newer player to Lotro.
I’ve started a character multiple times in the past, but I’ve never stuck with it.
I’m almost to 120 in WoW and I think I’m ready for an extended break, so the timing is perfect for me.
No way to be sure if I’d continue long-term, but I’m thinking it’s worth a shot!

Plus, what new PvE game like Lotro is coming out soon..?
I really would like to know, because I can’t think of one…

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Ironwu

LOTRO is a really good game and a really good MMO, but only if you love the lore of Tolkien’s world, in my opinion.

For me, a much better general fantasy game is Elder Scrolls Online. I think the story is good, the world is huge, it is well populated, it has a quasi-action combat system, useful crafting and much more. Free to play model is also pretty good and the subscription model gives substantial benefits.

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aYates

Like Lotro, I’ve started many characters in ESO, but never got past the first few zones. It’s also a great game, I agree.
The main reason I was thinking Lotro over ESO, right now is because I think ESO will be around or “relevant” longer, so I don’t feel there’s a rush to play it, but Lotro…not so sure. And, I do prefer the Lotro style of fantasy over the darker, grittier world of ESO.
But, you might be right that ESO is a better choice, long-term..

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Ironwu

The only thing that stops me from playing LOTRO is the poor engine performance. The hitch-move-hitch-move cycle is just something that is not fun for me. :(

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Wilhelm Arcturus

“…this is exactly the same sort of progression server that both of those MMOs have gotten and enjoyed over the years.”

No, this is not exactly the same sort of progression server that EQ and EQII have gotten, unless you draw back far enough to obscure any relevant details. I know you love to eschew facts in favor of emotion, but both of those games, in addition to having a lot more expansions to unlock, have added new races, classes, and starting areas over the years, none of which are available on day one of their progression servers.

That means there is some point to playing through or joining in when your favorite class or area unlocks. With this LORTO server it will be a big day at launch, then will taper off with people dropping out after the Lone Lands.

This is nothing but a live server that is capped at level 50 and won’t let you progress to the Mine of Moria content for a few months. And unlocking Moria won’t help much. It is a very divisive expansion. I loved it, but a lot of people did not, and it introduced the awful legendary weapon system that Turbine should have dropped after an expansion.

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Ben Stone

Sure, they locked new races with EQ, but the game systems were the new ones. Gear, crafting and character progression was nothing like the original game, it wasn’t a vanilla server, it was a progression server, just like this offering.

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Wilhelm Arcturus

I did not say EQ offered vanilla servers. I said they were not “exactly like” what LOTRO is offering, as the author stated. You yourself even admit that it is different in its own ways. They are akin, but different, in part because of the additional efforts put in by SOE/Daybreak and in part because of the nature of EQ, which has a lot more parallel paths and content to unlock.

This is, after all, a site dedicate to MMO news and discussion. Details matter here. If they don’t, then the place loses its purpose. I can read a whitewash at GameSpot.

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Ironwu

Well, I am one of the ones that just does not see the point of this. Other than to make extra $$$ for SSG.

I am sure that a large number of folks will poke into that server. I also believe that the vast majority of them will abandon it after a short period of time. Just as soon as they realize that they could have the exact same experience, level to cap in a much shorter time, join established guilds, have more in-game resources, the list goes on.

Thinking that folks are going to be more social in this sort of server has NOT proved to be the case in any game that has done one. There is a mad rush to the current level cap, leaving the few folks that want to deeply do the content behind. This creates the same environment that you have on standard servers.

And at the end of the day, folks end up on servers that are merged, closed, or just abandoned with no recourse (usually) as regards the characters or time spent.

This may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but has proved to be a pretty crappy deal for the players, long term.

I am really looking forward to the WoW implementation, if they do a true Classic server. It would be great to see how one of those would do, long term. I know I will pay $15mo for that experience.

But certainly not for these cash-grab ‘progression’ offerings.

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Barantor

Opens on the 6th according to twitter, unless that’s changed.

I’m using it as an excuse to get my friends who like lotro but didn’t like being alone back into the game. We can all start new, find a kinship and run with them through the content as a whole, not having everything for 100 levels be mostly solo.

serariron
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serariron

Just want to comment on this because the rest is spot on (especially the cash shop thing – I highly enjoyed how Rift handled it)

“It might not even be a remote possibility if the code or original hardware doesn’t exist any more.”

In one of the Q&As a while back the devs mentioned that the code is giant pile of garbage basically (paraphrasing here). The fluctuation in the dev team lead to poor documentation and figuring out how (through “hack” shenanigans, like the sitting in SW:Tor for example and what not) a dev who is not in the company anymore for ages achieved XYZ is a huge pain and takes a ton of effort.

They basically said that for example trying to bring an old raid to the current level takes basically 75%-80% of the work that it takes them to just develop a new one which is why they only brought/bring some raids (or individual bosses) back that people love because a new raid might cost a bit more but is also completely new for everyone.

So, yeah, I have no doubt that if a traditional vanilla/classic server would’ve been possible they would’ve done so, even just parts of it like the old traits, but like you mentioned, their team is small and doesn’t have the budget of a blizzard that can dedicate a few people soley towards a project like this.

I think this is a happy, albeit also sad compromise one just has to accept if you want to play old content on level again.

Overall I am in general happy that so many MMO companies realized that there is a market for this. EQ started with this ages ago and found huge success, then EQ2 followed, then Rift and WoW (with a true classic server), now Lotro.

People who don’t enjoy something like this can just ignore it while players like us can enjoy something at least somewhat fresh – I think it’s great.