LOTRO Legendarium: Examining 2019’s amazing producer’s letter

    
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I swear, the news never fails to make a monkey out of me. Just the other day I was grousing about how it was the end of February here and we had yet to get our annual Lord of the Rings Online producer’s letter, and the very next day one pops out of Standing Stone Games as though the team had a spy waiting for me to say that.

Coming at the end of a week of fairly dour news in the MMORPG industry, it was a much-needed blast of upbeat revelations about the future of LOTRO as it heads deeper into 2019. While some of the letter mentioned expected developments — Minas Morgul, the Moria unlock for the progression servers — there were more than a few surprises that completely took me off guard.

It was certainly interesting to see where SSG’s mind is at right now, and we can learn almost as much from what wasn’t said (no talk on housing, additional classes, additional races, legendary item update) as what was. So what is this year looking like? Let’s comb through the letter and enjoy its informational bounty.

Expansion spotted ahead!

I don’t know about you, but I really wasn’t expecting any full-fledged expansions after Mordor. The dev team had abandoned the expansion model before for Gondor and then returned to it — and I want to say that both the decision to return to packs and to prepare another one for the future is most likely a product of Daybreak’s influence. That’s my gut feeling, but no matter what, I think that expansions are good for games’ profits and publicity.

So while we know that there is an expansion coming, it is most likely a ways out if SSG isn’t naming it quite yet. Sev said that we have at least two content drops (Vale of Anduin and Minas Morgul) coming before it arrives. So at earliest, it’ll reach us late 2019, but I’m willing to bet that it might even be an early 2020 release.

In any case, it’s good to hear that SSG is both planning one and putting some thought into its level of difficulty. I wasn’t alone in feeling as though Mordor was far to much of a tiresome slog due to the jacked-up difficulty level. The studio announced that with the seventh expansion, the questing content will be more or less on par with updates elsewhere, although there will be instances with difficulty levels that will offer increased challenge to those who want to try it. That’s a great choose-your-own-adventure attitude to take, and I’m glad I won’t be hesitant about the next expansion when it arrives.

Mr. Sauron, tear those virtues down!

As welcome as news of the expansion was, what really made my jaw drop was reading that virtues are finally — finally — receiving an overhaul. More specifically, the relationship between virtues and deeds. The gist is that instead of having to pursue very specific deeds to increase a related virtue, players will get “virtue experience” from all deeds to apply toward any desired virtue.

This isĀ brilliant.

I’m serious. It’s a better fix than any I had proposed over the years without having to tear down and completely reinvent the system. Deeds will remain. Virtues will remain. But the relationship between them has gone from a rigidly fixed one to a very flexible format that delivers choice to players. I’ve leveled countless characters over the past dozen years and have long since grown tired of doing the same specific deeds to gather the virtues I needed.

Now — now we can just do whatever deeds agree with our playstyle the best. Unless SSG makes the virtue leveling so prohibitive that you have to do all of the deeds in the world, I can’t see a downside here. We can choose the path of least resistance — or the path of “the deeds I’ve almost finished already.” And the fact that all virtues will benefit your character, slotted or not, might give us more of an alternative advancement system to fleshing out an adventurer when there’s nothing else to do.

Everything else

After those two bombshells, everything else in the letter was nice but not quite as overwhelming. The 64-bit client, which has been coming since forever now, will make its debut this spring (yay). There are some really nifty crafting and kinship system improvements on the docket, which will give those older systems some much-needed refreshing.

I’m much more curious what the new grouping tool or revision is going to look like when it actually arrives. If this results in an increase in people using such a tool, then I’m all for it. I’d love to see the instance side of the game pick up in popularity, especially in light of how much fun that legendary server players are having with dungeon runs.

Beyond each of these specific categories, it’s just great to see SSG, as small as it is, continuing to burn brightly as it continues to develop this game for those of us who are enjoying the ever-progressing journey. The company’s managed to give us a few fun surprises over the past year, and that makes me think that there might be more on the way than this letter is suggesting.

So what did you think of the letter? Let’s get the conversation rolling in the comments!

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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