LOTRO Legendarium: Five lessons I’ve learned from replaying Shadows of Angmar

    
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Over the past three months, I’ve been exclusively playing on the Anor progression server in Lord of the Rings Online. During that time, I’ve taken my Hobbit Minstrel from 1 to 50, gone through most of Volume 1 of the epic quest, and finished up 10 of the 11 zones that made up the Shadows of Angmar content.

It’s been a great ride so far and one that I do not foresee losing its appeal anytime soon. The opening weeks were a rush of reinvigoration as we saw the birth of a new server, leveled up together, and experienced some old favorite areas and quests once more. Sara Oakheart was cursed, Bingo Boffin was coddled, and Elrond was visited approximately 6,820,177 times in his library (wipe your feet, people!).

As we start to get ready for the doors of Moria to open once more, I had a few thoughts — lessons, really — that I wanted to share from this special journey back through the early areas of one of my all-time favorite MMORPGs.

1. LOTRO’s storytelling has gotten better over the years…

Going back to the beginning can be a dicey prospect for MMOs. The nostalgia may be strong, but the quality is not always there. After all, Eregion represents the 2007-08 era of the game, and aside from minor cosmetic touches and the occasional quest rework, it has aged accordingly.

One of the most significant signs of this aging that I noticed is in the storytelling in these 11 zones. They are… adequate, to be fair. A few tales (especially ones with Hobbits) were amusing or memorable. But there is so much filler and so many rote quests that were designed back when The Burning Crusade was the hot new thing in some other MMO. I found a large contrast between the stories I had been experiencing in Updates 22 and 23 and the lands of the Shire and Trollshaws. Scripting wasn’t used as much, nor was there as great an effort to introduce quest variety and environmental storytelling as there eventually would be in the game.

In short, hundreds and hundreds of quests later, and only about six or seven really stand out in my head as being worth telling. Even the first volume of the epic only had a couple of high points. Alas, the quantity-to-quality ratio feels very askew here.

2. …but its old world is still an enchanting place to explore

That said, I wasn’t bored nor feeling deprived during these past few months. Re-exploring the old world alongside many other adventurers created a great mix of nostalgia and company, and that kept me pumped. I found myself amazed over and over at how expansive and engaging the actual world of Middle-earth is, even when you limit it to Eriador.

There are the lush lands of the Shire and Ered Luin, the autumnal beauty of the Trollshaws, the remote wilderness of Forochel, the surprisingly huge realm of Bree-lands, and so on. I kept finding new nooks and crannies to visit that I had never seen before and kept getting off the beaten track to see what else was out there.

3. There is way too much travel involved

When the LOTRO community first went through Eriador, it had two years to get through these lands at a much slower pace than what we have today. The developers kept reusing areas and locations in its epic story, and backtracking was par for the course. That might have been fine back then, but today it’s incredibly noticeable in how frequent long-distance travel is required for both regular and epic questing.

Let me put it this way: I invested in five milestones and both cooldown reductions (taking it down to a five-minute reset), and even I felt annoyed at how many times the game kept asking me “Now go HERE and then back THERE and then HERE again.” Only the advance knowledge that we’d be asked a million times to return to Rivendell, Evendim, and Angmar kept me from hours spent wasted on horseback. There are far too many quests that have you waste a milestone cooldown or go on a long horse ride only to reach an NPC, get a short dialogue, and then be sent all the way back from whence you came. If SSG was ever to revise its questing flow in Eriador — which I sincerely doubt it ever would — trimming the travel fat would be my number one request.

4. It makes me grateful for quality-of-life improvements

While it might be tempting to bag on LOTRO for its older and creakier elements, I actually came away from these months of adventuring feeling rather grateful of how many improvements have been put into the game since launch. Maybe one of these days I’ll do an article contrasting the launch version to what we have now, but quality-of-life tweaks such as automatic looting, the Old Forest map, more travel options, housing, faster combat (ugh this game’s fights used to be so slow, you have no idea) and so on make for a better journey overall.

5. The community hasn’t grown bored with this experiment yet

When the progression servers were first announced, there was some strong vocal pushback from players who predicted an early demise to the shards and a mass exodus from established realms. Neither of these have panned out, to my knowledge; the progression servers are still going pretty strong with established communities, as are the regular servers.

What I do see, however, is a continued passion for progressing together. It’s cool that a lot of our discussion in chat has to deal with the content that we’re mutually experiencing, and groups are forming (and even using the instance finder!) to run dungeons all the time, even though loot is not that great (or existent) at these levels.

One of my kinmates is pushing hard to get one of every class up to level 50 by the time Moria unlocks, and if that’s not insane dedication, I don’t know what is. If SSG would develop better communication discipline, it might be able to take this dedication and fuel it even more. As it is, the community will do what it always does best in LOTRO: keep walking down that road.

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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Joseph Chello

Great article. You made me look at LOTRO once again.

smuggler-in-a-yt
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smuggler-in-a-yt

Every time I read one of these I’m that much closer to logging back into LOTRO. Great write up Justin. Not sure I can keep the pace of the progression servers though.

Tolkiens geography of middle earth is one of those things that LOTRO got right. And it is breath taking. Just a shame they couldn’t take a hint from his storytelling and get both sides of the coin.

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Matthew Yetter

Item 3 made me remember a favorite saying between my friends and me… Elrond must be consulted about EVERYTHING.

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Roger Melly

If you know how to use the travel mounts correctly as the game progresses you can pretty much quick travel to most locations . Also just make sure you get the return to bree skill and use the milestones . I do agree though that in earlier stages there is quite a lot of travel involved but I do what I used to do in WoW back in the day when using the griffin mounts , I just go and make a coffee . MMO’s have become a bit too much about instant gratification anyway .

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Paragon Lost

Wait until Rohan.

Cadaver
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Cadaver

Yeah, I love the size of the game world but I’m very grateful for my hunter’s ability to teleport to any zone at will. It’s been a real sanity saver.

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Maggie May

I didn’t move to the progression servers but I am back after a long furlough. I seem to remember having to explore the map in a new area to be able to see it on the map. One thing that hasn’t changed is the quest that makes you go into an area to kill x njmber of things (in Isengard there literally is a quest called kill 10 rats), and hey look at that big dude, I think I’ll kill him too … only to go back and be asked to kill that very dude again. And maybe you you need to get get x thing later where dude is so by the end you’ve killed him many many times. The one thing that can be annoying or funny, depending on how you see it, is the odd mixup of the storyline. If you’re not careful, and I’m not, you will do parts of the epic dealing with an npc that has already died. I didn’t even realize I had missed big parts of the epic bc I had moved on to Moria and started book 2.

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Vincent Clark

I think I’ve finally reached the point that I can be genuinely happy for someone still finds this game fun, even though I wouldn’t touch it with a ten foot pole. Good for you, Justin! :)

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Anstalt

Story telling gotten better? I guess the stories themselves might have gotten better (I stopped playing after Isenguard) but my experience is that they got worse over the years, not better. This is because they changed from a very open world / exploration type game to a shitty generic quest-hub grind system which killed the feeling of living in middle earth.

The old world is definitely an amazing place to explore and the best designed zones in the game that I ever experienced. Moria looked great but started us down the quest-hub route and Mirkwood was a disaster in terms of zone design. Isenguard started heading back towards open world flowing design which was good, it was just a little bland.

Travel……yeh, lol, I remember that issue. Did u play when you couldn’t get a horse until level 35? THAT was long! I remember coming back to LotRO during Moria after having played WAR for 6 months, and the travel time really stood out. That said, I came to really appreciate it as it gave us loads of time for socialising…. something sorely lacking from most other MMOs.

Quality of life improvements….. I personally hate everything you mentioned! Each thing you list dramatically reduced the feeling that we were in a living world and moved us to a generic RPG. The old forest was an amazing place at launch, it was tough and it took time to learn the way around it. It was a real skill to know how to navigate that zone. Adding a map and nerfing the mobs stopped it being special, it became just another place to blast through in 20mins. Same thing with the quest indicators, that truly killed off the feeling of living in a world. Before quest indicators, everyone had to read the quest text and actually figure out what to do. It forced everyone to connect to the world and the stories, but it also meant we all spent a decent amount of time exploring the world trying to find what we needed. The instant they introduced the quest indicator, the community degraded noticeably. We didn’t need to speak to one another to figure out where to go anymore, we didn’t need to explore to find stuff, hell, we didn’t even need to read the text anymore. It sucked. Faster combat…I never experienced that, it stayed consistent for the 6 years I played the game. LotROs combat was my favourite feature of the game, it was the deepest combat I’ve ever experienced (still) and the synergies between classes were amazing! The nerfs to combat and the dumbing down of classes is the main reason I have never returned to the game.

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PanagiotisLial1

Slow travelling is a negative, there is no question about it, but it has a good side effect, it gets you to notice the world around and beautiful details more as you cant really rush through them

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Anstalt

Thats true. Plus for the first 35 levels when u didn’t have a horse, exploring on foot meant you saw all those nooks and crannies. It also meant you spent more time in combat and thus got more xp from combat, something that was needed during SoA when there wasn’t enough content to reach 50 unless u did all the group content.

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starbuck1771

So that tells me you weren’t an original founder or there for the first christmas. Where you got a divice for the free mount you could use right away.

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Anstalt

I started playing on release day, but not a founder I dont think; I didn’t preorder or join the betas. So, I was there for the first Christmas but don’t remember getting any free mounts.

That said, I had my main plus two alts at level 50 before that first christmas and didn’t level another alt until after Moria (I hate the leveling process in all games, plus I was raid+guild leader so spent all my time at endgame).

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Dividion

Totally agree on the old forest. It was perfect before they added the map. And remember when Moria launched? One of the best questions asked was “where’s the bat cave?”, because you actually had to learn the zones back then. And yeah, having to wait until level 35 made getting a horse an actual accomplishment, especially since you had to spend almost every penny you’d earned up to that point just to afford one too.

But having done all that once before, I’m okay with how the game is now, because it’s both old and new now, rather than just a repeat of the old.

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PanagiotisLial1

Its a game that always tempt me to retry. It has a rather high fantasy feel and a lot of things to do. If only they got more reasonable with price tags of older content