LOTRO Legendarium: Lord of the Rings Online’s 2018 review

    
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It was the best of years, it was the worst of years for Lord of the Rings Online — but no matter what, it wasn’t a boring year. As this Tolkien MMO entered into its 11th year of operation, we’ve arguably seen more buzz, interest, and participation than we did back in 2017. And that was with the 10th anniversary celebration and the Mordor expansion!

As is customary in this column, at the end of the year I like to take a look back at the previous 12 months and see how LOTRO fared. So join me as we rewind the clock to January 2018 and progress through this year for the High Elf highs and the Hobbit lows of this fantasy title!

January

Following a look back over 2017, we turned a corner and found ourselves looking at an exit strategy from Mordor. I posted a wish list of things I wanted to see happen in and for the game. While not all were addressed, a few of these were fulfilled and then some!

It what would become a running theme of the year, SSG spent absurd amounts of time and effort on the in-game lockboxes to the consternation of players wishing that they weren’t there at all.

February

This was a generally quiet month as testing began on Update 22 and I jawed about the most helpful pages on LOTRO Wiki. “Slow month” doesn’t even start to cover it.

March

Update 22: Legacy of the Necromancer, the first major content patch of the year, arrived early in March. It took players out of Mordor (whew) and into the realm of Northern Mirkwood, Dale, and the Lonely Mountain. Also, there were fiddles.

The dev team hinted at “far-flung adventures” that it had in the making past the obvious next steps in the game. “There’s a lot more to explore — from Arwen and Aragorn having a wedding to the reign of Aragorn, new king of Gondor,” Lead Developer Schneider said.

Yes, this was the month when a secret goat quest was discovered. Why do you ask?

April

The 11th birthday of LOTRO arrived this month, and players busied themselves with completing the new year of scavenger hunt quests while enjoying some extra presents. This was also the month when the whole Daybreak (which sort-of owns SSG) thing went down and made a lot of players more than a little anxious.

The studio got slightly more transparent with lockboxes, made noise about the difficulty level of Mordor, and generally tried to keep its head down.

May

Everybody was taken aback in a pleasant fashion — including yours truly — when SSG came out with an actual development roadmap in the middle of the month. Update 23, with its multiple regions and level cap increase, was promoted as a pseudo-expansion in all but name.

We enjoyed more spring festival, touched-up older zones, and listened to the actually-pretty-good Northern Mirkwood soundtrack. This was about when I staged a return to LOTRO and compared the failure of Mordor’s zone design to the success of Northern Mirkwood’s.

June and July

I have to admit, this was a pretty slow stretch during the year. We were briefly interested in the new seasonal instances that SSG was promoting for its festivals, including a pair of summer ones and a testing of the upcoming Christmas event. My takeaway? I was underwhelmed.

Players got together for Weatherstock X, classes got minor adjustments, and Update 22.2 arrived with wearable musical instruments and more story quests.

August

While SSG and players started to prepare for Update 23, the month of August was rather tame. The preview program started back up, auto-mute was added, and something something lockboxes. The team did talk a bit about the future — including Minas Morgul and the fabled 64-bit client — while I chatted about how well LOTRO was aging.

September

News that a rival Lord of the Rings MMO was in the works unsettled and surprised LOTRO players. But the general consensus was that it wasn’t anything to be too worried about, especially after Middle-earth Enterprises assured the community that LOTRO was safe.

I spent some time talking about the future of the game, including its business model and potential classes, and the feel of LOTRO, while SSG worked on making better lockboxes.

October

October was when it all got very real — and very exciting. Update 23: Where Dragons Dwell dropped on October 9th with three high-level areas, instances, and scads of quests to do. Then there was the unannounced debut of brand-new fall festival content with the addition of Wistmead and another Bingo Boffin questline. Finally, on October 23rd, SSG revealed that it would be launching EverQuest II-style progression servers (aka “legendary servers”) in the near future. It was almost too much to take in all in one month!

Beorning players rejoiced to hear that their class was to be the target of a sweeping revamp later that year. I also complained about the text quest size, an issue that would be addressed not two months later.

November

The release of Anor, the first progression server that featured reduced experience gain and a content/leveling cap, on November 8th drew immense amounts of attention and interest back to the game. Players flooded onto the shard in such numbers that a second server, Ithil, was brought online later that day. Free character transfers between the two servers went functional a week later.

The launch didn’t run perfectly smooth; excessive bleeds, a non-functional queuing system, and a lack of Bingo Boffin required attention. I prepared for the adventure and documented my first steps rolling up a brand-new Hobbit and exploring the game from a slightly different perspective than before.

December

For the most part, LOTRO went out on a high note at the end of the year. The game was awarded “Most Underrated MMO” by the Massively staff, which represented this notion that this game is anything but over and done. I took a fresh look at LOTRO’s early level zones. And then there was a college class on Tolkien that gave presentations about LOTRO itself, which was pretty cool.

Standing Stone games decided to sell a pseudo-lifetime subscription for $200, which felt a little like whale hunting to me. We did mourn the loss of Ben “Dr Octothorpe” Schneider, who left (or was let go) from SSG after six years as lead designer. Finally, there was Update 23.1.7, which brought in a host of quality-of-life improvements including a Beorning and Burglar overhaul, two new Yuletide instances, and dynamic scaling quest fonts.

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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Suikoden

I jumped back in for the legendary server and and really enjoying the game again. Still looks pretty good for a 10+ year old game. Of course the IP is one of the best, and their world building is fantastic. I probably would not have come back if not for the progression servers, so I’m glad they did that. Also very happy about the dynamic font scaling. There seem to be a good amount of people everywhere I go, so that is fun as well.

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budtoker420

I’ve tried to get into this game 4 or 5 times now, this last attempt recently being the longest I lasted at roughly 6 weeks. The engine kills it for me every time. The constant hitching, pop-in and ability lag are maddening.

I’m glad people are still enjoying it though. It’s awesome being able to run around a fully-realized Middle Earth.

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Tamanous

Still a decent game. Still overburdened by the impact of the Cash Shop. Legendary servers needed to differentiate themselves more by reducing Cash Shop options due to enforcing a sub cost and also needs a harder difficulty overall (not time to kill). You can easily play without anything in the shop but it’s shoved in your face at nearly every moment and hard to ignore. Currently my LM can easily kill all 3 man content minus some bosses. I’d prefer all normal mobs be the lower reds. The white mobs are like 1hp npcs in a table top game. Just there to annoy and overall rather pointless.

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teppic

I agree that the cash shop should be reduced for the legendary servers (really just to cosmetics), but you don’t really need anything from there when you have VIP, though I don’t agree it’s shoved in your face at all as a subscriber.

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Yuge McBigly

I’ve never felt like it was shoved in my face. But I am also a lifetime subber so..

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Tamanous

Offers to pay for options to bypass regular game rules is rampant. You just got used it. It is everywhere. I am speaking from sub perspective and NOT premium for F2P. Is it as bad as many other games? No. I am only comparing it’s current state to its previous state prior to F2p and even early in F2p.

If it’s there, it’s distracting … period. The alternative is becoming tone deaf to it which happens when you let yourself become compliant to change which is precisely what players have done to allow the F2P mess that exists today.

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Tamanous

I want to reiterate that the game is still playable without the cash shop. I just actively remain vigilant against the BS of the industry … and many other things in life as I get older compared how easily manipulated I was when younger. This is a general trend.

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Vincent Clark

If you are a fan of the books and/or the movies, there is really nothing quite like seeing the world of Tolkien being brought to life in an MMORPG. The world builders deserve a lot of credit. Having said that, if this was any other IP, this game would have shut down years ago. It’s failings over the years (and even now)…I just hope the company realizes how much they owe their remaining, loyal fans.

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mosselyn

I wish I felt as positive about where the game is at the end of this year. I really loved U22, but I feel like much of U23 was a huge mis-step. Not the zones or the leveling, but the level cap experience.

It’s not apocalyptic. It can certainly be changed/improved. So far, however, SSG seems perfectly happy with where things are. THAT I find discouraging, in the extreme.

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Bruno Brito

Would be all over this game if it wasn’t a cashfest.

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Ashfyn Ninegold

Just curious, what gives you this opinion? It’s actually possible to buy everything you might need, including expansions, with in-game tokens, which you earn by playing the game. In addition, the major questline, the Epic, is free to play until near the end. Recurrent festivals are a great source of fluff, housing items and horses.

I know everyone’s experiences are different so that is why I ask. Is it possible to spend a lot of money on LOTRO? Yes it is. Is it necessary? Not really.

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Bruno Brito

Being able to only f2p to 35 before having to buy quest zones is what gives me this opinion. A leveling progression paywall that wasn’t heard of for a while now ( only Priston Tale comes to mind, with it’s 39 lock ) is the same as a free demo, like WoW’s 20.

I could also spend 5 years in Allods to be able to get starter raid gear. It’s possible? Yeah. It’s feasible? Not really.

Just for a better answer,i went around and looked for a F2P leveling guide. I found this:

Q1. Can I truly play F2P without paying any money?

A1. The short answer is yes you can. The long answer is you’ll want to peel your eyelids back and set your eyeballs on fire after you have completed the Main 3 Starter Areas for the 50th time to try and farm Lotro Points.

It may not be necessary, as it is not necessary for you to not walk in the middle of the road. But it is insanity to do so.

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cambruin

Well, I really dislike the game and the company behind it, but it is indeed ‘possible’. They’ll try and trick you at each and every occasion into spending though.

Like the 200$ legacy pack. Embarassing how the community tries to trick new people same way the company does. Really shamefull. You get a one-year sub to rent (RENT!) the content. You don’t own it in any way. The second the sub lapses the content is gone and you’ll have to either buy it still or ‘rent’ it some more.
Why they don’t advise players to instead buy some TPs during a sale and then sub for one single month is beyond me, but very representative.

If you want an honest opinion of the game, visit the main forums. If you want to really see how good a year it’s been, visit HdRO Lux and check the server status.

This game may have been a lot better for LotRO than the previous, but it’s still a dishonest company at the core that fails to put out quality content, lacks a long-term vision and relies on nostalgia alone.

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Bruno Brito

Yeah, i find that business model particularly vicious.

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Roger Melly

You could always subscribe you know . It’s about 10 dollars a month which is significantly less than most other mmo’s .

Its business model is to make money out of the game and I agree it doesn’t give away as much as say Wildstar or Rift in its free to play model but Wildstar is no longer with us and Rift is in all practical terms maintenance mode while Lotro is still a going concern with new content being released for it on a far more regular basis than WoW has had in the last two year .

Its upto the players to work out for themselves what they want to spend their Lotro points on it’s not for the company to advise them and if their eyes are too big for their stomachs and they spend those points on cosmetic store items then that is their look out .

My advice to anyone wanting to play the game is just to buy return to bree and the riding skill in the store if you want access to a mount earlier in the game and if you don’t want to grind for the return to Bree skill .

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Bruno Brito

I am not subscribbing.

I do think Wildstar ended up doing too much for f2p’ers and i won’t comment on Rift because that’s a issue with Trion itself.

But here’s my points:

You could always subscribe you know . It’s about 10 dollars a month which is significantly less than most other mmo’s .

I’m brazilian.

I pay 4 times more what you pay for your “significantly less than most other mmo’s”. I’m not exactly strapped for cash, but Brazil isn’t a country where we have the fortune to waste money easily. We don’t. Specially considering that we’re in a economic crisis right now.

Its upto the players to work out for themselves what they want to spend their Lotro points on it’s not for the company to advise them and if their eyes are too big for their stomachs and they spend those points on cosmetic store items then that is their look out

Sure, whatever you say. Here’s how it ACTUALLY works out: You don’t have a decent monetization procedure to bring people into your game. It already suffers being an extremely old game, and it’s paywalls are insidious. It doesn’t MAKE you wanna pay for it, it FORCES you to it. That doesn’t create a playerbase, it depletes it.

Then you realize the main server is empty, you get layoffs from the company, and they launch a “legacy” server for minimal work and maximum profit. It works for a while, until people realize the game is the same, it’s issues are the same, and that being a old, janky game, not a lot of people will go far.

It’s a simple way of seeing things: I can live without LOTRO. LOTRO can’t live without me.

Or maybe it can, and i’m being pessimistic without knowing nothing. Be as it may, we’ll know in the future.

To be fair though if you save up the lotro points from that one year sub and buy all the expansions at 75 percent off in the next store sale ( which happens a few times a year ) you will own all that extra content anyway without having to pay a single sent more .

Fine. Then just make the game b2p already or say it’s a free trial. Good f2p games make YOU wanna pay, they don’t punish you for being f2p.

Btw, let me make this clear: The little i played of LOTRO i actually enjoyed. Quite a lot. But it’s not enough for me to pay for it. If it was at least possible for you to casually get to endgame, and farm your stuff feasibly, or pay for the convenience of rushing it, i would be ok. Like any other MMO.

But no. They lock you out of it. Like Allods did, like Wushu did. It’s extremely dense to pretend that farming these games to achieve what other paid customers achieve is feasible. Allods required FIVE YEARS of farming for people to get raid ready. RAID READY, because you won’t EVER get top tier.

But hey, i hope LOTRO can keep going forward. Don’t desire any ill on it. It’s a good game, if a bit old and janky.

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BalsBigBrother

I like lotro a lot and I can’t really disagree with what you have said.

It does grind my gears that folks keep saying you can play the entire game for free. Especially the lotro streamers who push that (and I subscribe to some of those folks too.) Just because its possible it doesn’t make it a viable option and I don’t think it will be for most people who try.

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Bruno Brito

Interesting enough, i do have the time for doing that, but i don’t have the guts for it. The game takes too much time, and the activities for such are mindnumbing.

It’s the same issue with DDO. If it was like GW2, where doing the normal activities rewarded you with the possibility to move up, it would be fine. But no.

To play DDO for free, you would have to rush several characters several times through the starter island, to achieve points to convert to cash shop currency ad nauseum until you would have your points for your quest packs and xpacs. You would then proceed to play your mains to achieve more, rinse and repeat, reset, rinse and repeat.

Yeah, no.

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BalsBigBrother

Yeah I ran into that on my recent try of DDO there is so much content which is good but its such a big investment either time or money wise for an old game.

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Bruno Brito

Yeah. I don’t get these companies honestly. It’s like the game has so little content that you can’t let the f2players at least have a glimpse of it. You need them to bleed and sweat for their minimal stuff, or to cough up some dough to see that same lacking content.

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Vincent Clark

Please delete. {file under: if you can’t say anything nice, say nothing at all}

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Roger Melly

To be fair though if you save up the lotro points from that one year sub and buy all the expansions at 75 percent off in the next store sale ( which happens a few times a year ) you will own all that extra content anyway without having to pay a single sent more .

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Oleg Chebeneev

Wow, people asked for slower leveling? I always thought leveling in LoTRo was slow already

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Ashfyn Ninegold

Nope, opposite in fact. You almost always out level the content until about Eastern Gondor, about level 90-100. This is why folks wanted the legacy server to have a different leveling scale, so it was possible to really enjoy everything the game offers.

cambruin
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cambruin

Nah, the leveling was ok. It’s the combat that’s slow. Well, and as a direct result from that; the xp gain of course.

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Roger Melly

The leveling is about the same as other mmo speeds apart from WoW which is way too fast these days .

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Cadaver

Definitely seeing more Beornings about after the update. It’s always nice to see something (anything!) that isn’t yet another bloody high elf.

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BalsBigBrother

Not managed to get on my Beorning yet but I am hearing good things about the update from friends.

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eris19xx

There are no pro to have a lotro leggendarium . It’s only a waste of time

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Eliandal

There are more than a few people who still enjoy Lotro! There was no need for you to click the link, or comment!

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Tuor of Gondolin

Sort of like your post.

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Ailsa Nordstrom

The thing about Massively is that they cover a myriad of MMOs. I’m pretty sure they don’t expect their readers to consume each post regardless of what game is being covered. Why don’t you focus on the articles covering the games you like and leave us here in the LOTRO section alone, eh?

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Briar Grey

Lots of people still enjoy LOTRO and Massively’s job is to cover MMOs — don’t like the game? Don’t click the link. kthxbai.