LOTRO Legendarium: The return of skirmishes in Lord of the Rings Online


Out of all of Lord of the Rings Online’s additional features that it has added post-launch, skirmishes have my vote as one of the best systems that added plenty of replay value and future potential. It’s also been a deeply neglected system that’s seen years of absent development and interest on behalf of the studio — but could skirmishes be set for a comeback?

Originally released with 2009’s Siege of Mirkwood, the skirmish system was handed to players as a “dungeon-lite” experience, where small groups would dive into instances and wage pitched offensive and defensive battles. With win and fail conditions, a degree of randomness (with different special encounters activated for each run), level scaling tech, reward vendors, and the addition of customizable skirmish soldiers, this system had a lot to offer the game.

Initially, it seemed as though then-Turbine was prepared to surf the skirmish wave for a long time. The studio released new skirmishes for a while there, bringing the roster up to 19 in total, and even tied several of them into the epic book series to give them more of a narrative push. And players were very busy running them, especially due to the limited landscape content that Siege of Mirkwood provided.

But by the time we got to Isengard and beyond, it gradually became clear that the dev team wasn’t that interested in adding to and enriching the system. In 2012, LOTRO allowed players to bring their skirmish soldier alongside of their main characters as sort of combat pets, but only for limited durations via a pay-to-use token system. By Helm’s Deep, the team clearly wanted to put skirmishes behind it in favor of the new (and much more deeply flawed) epic battle system.

I’m not going to lie and say that everyone was absolutely bonkers over skirmishes. As with many MMO activities, some found much to their liking in skirmishes while others deemed the system too grindy and repetitive. I found that it was not an enjoyable activity to do while solo — skirmish soldier or not — but with friends, it could be an enjoyable and even lucrative pasttime. Plus, the fact that skirmishes scaled in level and doled out XP allowed for an alternate leveling path for those seeking one.

Skirmishes could have remained relevant, if Turbine had continued to make them instead of the epic battle system. But when the studio repeatedly said that it had no desire or plans to make new skirmishes, community interest in the system dropped off. Sure, there are those of us who have a cultish devotion to them, but few people like to stay invested in a system that even the developers have long since forgotten.

Or have they? Seemingly out of the blue, skirmishes have gotten a boost in visibility and popularity over the past month from two sources — one expected and one not.

Let’s tackle the last one first. Earlier this month, Standing Stone Games gave us an interesting surprise by kicking off a skirmish event called “Ill Omens” that is clearly intended to be some sort of lead-up to this year’s Minas Morgul content. On its own, it’s not the most amazing event I’ve ever seen; it just adds some special named mobs and a dedicated vendor with some chase goodies. But in what it represents, it could be revealing.

We’ve known that ever since the Turbine/SSG split, LOTRO has fielded a much smaller team with more limited resources. I am impressed with what it has managed to do in terms of pumping out enormous zones, generate gobs of music, produce additional event activities, and activate the new legendary servers. A small but well-honed team with years of experience can do a lot with a little — after all, just look at Massively OP!

One positive effect of this downsizing from its glory days of the Riders of Rohan era is that these limitations have forced the team to be creative and reuse older assets to good effect. The Bingo Boffin quest series was a terrific example of this, but we’ve seen this happening all over the place. The scaling instance tech that the skirmish system uses was already repurposed this past year for a handful of seasonal event instances, and it makes sense that skirmishes themselves might be reevaluated for their potential for reuse.

Beyond the Ill Omens event, which is running right now, next month will see the opening of Moria on the legendary shards — and the activation of the skirmish system. While skirmishes were originally a Siege of Mirkwood thing, the devs had retconned a few of them into Moria over the years, so that’s probably why we’re getting them earlier rather than in four months or so.

This means that legendary server players will have another avenue for their nostalgia tour through the game. The legendary shards’ instances have proven to be very popular for that population, and I can easily see how running skirmishes might go back in vogue on those realms.

All of this, of course, could be more of a blip of interest in skirmishes before they disappear again — but I hope not. I would love to see a true return to these, but the fate of skirmishes remains primarily in the hands of the developers. If the team decides to pour some resources into making new skirmishes, adding better rewards, and fine-tuning the instances it has (not to mention continuing to run skirmish events like Ill Omens), then what was old could be made new once more. For sure, skirmishes are more accessible and popular than epic battles, but players have to feel as though they have a future to justify the time spent running and leveling up soldiers in them.

How do you feel about the possibility of a skirmish revival in LOTRO? Join in on the discussion in the comments section!

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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