Part of me was laughing at myself. Here I was, a grown man, shuffling around my weekly schedule to come home in the middle of the day to play an MMORPG that had been out for over 11 years. And more than that, I was practically bouncing up and down because of it.
It was messy. It was glorious. It was even, at times, ugly. But that’s the usual mix for Lord of the Rings Online.
Curiosity killed the cat, but it also brings MMO players who are starved for interesting stimuli to new experiences. Despite some loud forum grousing, the progression server saw enormous success out of the gate. Right away, the server filled up to the maximum and a queue of around 4,500 people stacked up against it. This got a bit ugly, as the queue counter wasn’t working and people were desperate to get in and grab their favorite names.
Standing Stone was at least somewhat prepared for this event, as it had another server on standby that went live relatively soon thereafter. Transfers took several days afterward to start happening, but at least the studio made them free for any communities that got separated in the chaos.
I was pretty impressed to see queues for Anor continue well into the weekend (reportedly, Ithil didn’t see as many of those). Even more impressive was the uptick of conversation around LOTRO on Twitter, Reddit, and elsewhere. It got some nice press in gaming outlets, and even one popular Twitch streamer was playing it and helped put this 2007-era MMO on the front page of that site for a short while.
From the inside, I can say that people seemed to be having a blast. While this wasn’t the vanilla server that some (not I) wanted, the level 50 restriction and the whole fresh start made us recall the original launch.
It was a glorious romp in those first few days. Chat was streaming by rapidly, with conversations, observations, and kinship advertisements running nonstop. Newbie areas filled up quickly, and dynamic layers handled the overflow. It’s been so long since I saw that many people running through Archet and the Shire, and I was grinning ear-to-ear the whole time because of it.
By taking something old and familiar and giving us a new lens through which to see it, enjoyment could be found once again. I’ve always loved the low-level areas of the game, but having lots of people questing through them and discussing them gave me the sense of company and companionship in a way that I can’t really get on the live servers right now.
One phenomenon I noticed is that people were really open to grouping up, even for a quest or two. I was tossing out invites left and right when I was grinding out deeds, and more often than not, those invites were accepted and we worked together for a common goal in the landscape.
Sara Oakheart, you do NOT need that stick!
Apart from moaning about Sara’s plodding escort quest, the oppressive nature of the Old Forest, and the initial lack of Bingo Boffin, there were some genuine concerns raised. Chief among these was the proliferation of powerful damage-over-time bleeds which ended up killing the unwary — and even sometimes the prepared. It certainly made hitting level 20 without dying to get the title a lot more difficult.
While I was mostly happy with how the new server started, it was dismaying that SSG pretty much went AFK for the better part of three days while player concerns and questions stacked up. Eventually we got a patch to fix the bleeds, the return of Bingo, and an actual working queue counter, but communication (or a lack of it) remains one of the signature problems of this studio.
So as the newness wears away, where do we go from here? Some players have raced to the end already, while others of us are still making our journey through the original lands of Shadows of Angmar. It’s a long way to go and only four short months in which to do it before (presumably) Moria opens its doors.
We’ll see how popular the servers continue to be, but my hope is that the communities that have founded on them will endure and be energized by moving through the game together at a somewhat measured pace. I’m encouraged that the studio has put little touches on the server — such as the XP reducer and the re-addition of a few classic quests — to help us get into the mood of old-school LOTRO as we take our steps forward into a larger world.