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!
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.