I can’t recall the last time I felt pulled in two different directions in an MMORPG, but over the past couple of weeks, Lord of the Rings Online has done just that to me. First, Update 24: Vales of Anduin arrived (rather abruptly, I thought) and gave us a new zone and plenty of content to chew through. Then a week later, Siege of Mirkwood was unlocked for the legendary servers, and the progression players surged out of Lothlorien and into the depths of that shadowy forest.
There’s a lot to digest from all of the changes in the game as of late (and with the summer event is on the way as well!), so I’m going to try to parse my observations on LOTRO’s summer o’ fun here.
Systems in flux
While the titular Vales of Anduin might be the star player of Update 24, much conversation has arisen around the three big quality-of-life changes that came with this patch.
The expanded instance finder is perhaps the smallest of these, a useful tool — if people actually start using it. It’s too early to see if this is the case, but I’m mildly hopeful. I would love it if I could rely on this system to actually get me into pick-up groups for dungeon runs rather than solely being a tool for established groups to start a run quickly.
Of more interest is the long-awaited 64-bit client, which is now available in beta form with a full release presumably later this year. We’ve been waiting for this for so long now, and I know that expectations were sky-high with what improvements it might bring to game performance. From my own experiences and what I’ve been reading and witnessing on videos, the general consensus is that there is a small but noticeable performance increase and a smoother frames-per-second rate for most clients.
Finally, there’s the somewhat controversial virtues revamp. This is something I strongly felt that the game has needed for a while now, and on the surface, it’s great that we can apply any deeds toward whatever specific virtues we want to progress and also get passive benefits from non-slotted virtues.
However, this system may not have been as well thought out, as players have been debating how grindy this revised system is and how much more min/maxers will need to chase deeds since all deeds now benefit your character. In fact, you could do every deed in the game and still not have enough virtue XP to max your virtues out, something that Standing Stone Games acknowledged and addressed by saying that there are repeatable endgame tasks and festival events that can also pay out in virtue XP.
Personally, I’m not going to get too riled up about this. I like the concept but I’m of the mild opinion that it is, indeed, too grindy. Just looking at 60(!) levels of virtues apiece is enough to make me cross-eyed and then ignore the system entirely until or unless I have nothing better to do than deed grind. I wish SSG had been more generous with virtue XP payouts, as this system should feel more exciting than a chore to progress.
I continue to be fascinated with the new direction that the game has taken in this post-Mordor era. It does feel as though the constraints of the story direction has loosened enough to let the developers have more freedom without letting them run slipshod over lore boundaries.
Let me include this quote from MadeOfLions on this topic: “Our stock in trade has almost always been to find gaps in the text of Lord of the Rings (and The Hobbit!) where we can find interesting places to put story — consider the tiniest mentions of Angmar or Forochel, from which we crafted entire storylines! Radagast being friendly with the Beornings, living in this part of the world, being a Wizard whose powers include ‘master(y) of shapes’ who is noted for his kinship with beasts. I find the possibility pretty compelling […] This is just the sort of connection that we’ve enjoyed exploring since the very beginning.”
It’s kind of exciting not exactly knowing where this new epic storyline and future zone expansions will take us, and I’m glad that we got another “pretty” zone with Vales of Anduin. It might not be the largest place, but the combination of Beornings, Radagast, and giant eagles makes for a lot of fun storylines that are markedly different than we saw in, say, the Iron Hills or Mordor.
So far, the only criticism I have is that, like everything from Mordor onward, mob time-to-kill is still on the high side. It’s not impossible or too frustrating, but I find myself going out of the way to avoid flies when I know that my Lore-master will be in for a 30 or 45 second battle if I bump into the aggro radius.
Meanwhile in Mirkwood…
Three months after Mines of Moria released (and seven months since the legendary servers opened), Siege of Mirkwood has become available on Anor and Ithil. At this point I’m not really sure if SSG promised or simply hinted that we were supposed to get an unlock every four months on these servers, but I think that three months is a much better rate, especially if the studio is going to get us to Rohan next year in time for that region’s housing to become available.
In any case, Mirkwood (and Enedwaith) is now open for business, and players were streaming across the Great River to tackle quests and push to level 65. Much moaning was had about the lack of Riders to kill for a mandatory quest, but generally I’m pretty excited to be regaining forward momentum with my Minstrel as she goes into one of my favorite zones of the game.
Make no mistake, the shiny new excitement of the progression servers has been dulled somewhat, but there are dedicated and steady communities on both of them that are loving — as I am — this measured and staged movement through the world. It’s still really thrilling to be in these older expansions and zones and see tons of other players (and layer notices!) abounding. We’re all playing the same content and talking about the same content, and that makes this experience completely worthwhile for me.
For certain, Mirkwood and Enedwaith will not keep even the most casual player fully occupied for three months unless you’re really into the raiding scene, but combined with Anduin, it’s certainly enough to keep us busy for the summer and well into the fall.