It was April 24th, 2007. World of Warcraft players were deep into The Burning Crusade, SOE had just launched Vanguard, and the indie MMO studio of Turbine was fresh off of its successful release of Dungeons and Dragons Online a year earlier. But on that day, many eyes turned away from these other fantasy lands and toward Middle-earth, for it was the day that Lord of the Rings Online launched.
The world that players encountered that day was much smaller and slightly more hardcore than the LOTRO of today. Still, it was a fully realized massively multiplayer vision of Tolkien’s creation, and thousands were eager to experience it.
A running start
Leading up to the week of the launch, Turbine was frantically busy completing as much content as possible and patching in various features for the release version. A month prior in March, lutes were added, the XP curve was adjusted to be less intimidating, money drops were nerfed, and East Angmar was opened up to testers.
April saw smaller performance tweaks and bug fixes in addition to the option for Gondorian grey eyes at character creation, an end to an exploit where players would log out to avoid death, and a reduction of repeair costs. Also, the entity known as “Ghost Bear” during beta was dealt with: “Mr. Ranger finally caught the sneaky bear who kept following players and scaring them with his random growling. You won’t be hearing him anymore. (However, his accomplice is still on the loose, so be on the lookout for a small brown bear with a bowtie.)”
God bless you, Ghost Bear. We will truly miss you.
Headstart players got into the game a week or so prior to launch to create their persistent characters, although Turbine limited any progress to level 15. It was truly one of the strangest periods of the game’s history, where pretty much everyone was confined to the beginner zones and made alts like crazy.
Turbine continued to adjust the game with a couple of post-launch patches that May. Bosses became immune to fear, a “sky-diving NPC” in Bree was fixed, and the taboo list of names was made to be less restrictive.
The world expands
The first major post-launch content update came on June 12th, 2007, with the debut of the region of Evendim (or, as it became known by players, “Everswim”), a Shire-sized zone was meant for players level 25 and above. The patch also added the game’s first 24-player raid (Helegrod), several new instances, 100 additional quests, a raid UI revamp, an overhaul to farming, and seven sets of epic armor. Quite a patch indeed!
Not everything worked perfectly in those first few months, and through the patch notes we see how Turbine would yank stuff to rework it and add it back in later. This included the rain and the noises of shouts and cries. So consider that there might have been a time where your Captain or Minstrel was shockingly quiet while fighting!
In August 2007, the studio started labeling the patches according to the epic book that was released. Book 10 came out then that opened up Annúminas in Evendim, added playable Trolls and chickens, introduced a few small in-game events, made lots of changes to crafting, allowed for UI scaling, and revamped both the Hunter and Captain to bring them up to par. The reputation system also made its debut this month, allowing players to earn rewards with an initial six factions. There were plenty more smaller quality-of-life features that went into this patch, including 40 more emotes, the in-game clock, tribes of monster players, raid locks, and the ability to expand one’s storage vault.
The next big content update was Book 11: Defenders of Eriador in October 2007. Not only did this continue the epic quest arc with 13 more missions, but it also added player housing, a few high-level areas in the Trollshaws and Misty Mountains, improved the Lore-master and Minstrel skillsets, and debuted the famous Rift of Nûrz Ghâshu raid.
Turning into 2008
As the calendar turned over into a new year, LOTRO kept marching on — and players eagerly consumed the content as the countdown began for Mines of Moria.
Before that first expansion happened, however, there were plenty of other additions to the game. February’s Book 12: The Ashen Wastes gave Angmar a firm revamp, improved the reputation system, added cosmetic clothing, threw in 10 more quests for Volume 1 Book 12, created account-wide housing, and gave some love to the Burglar, Guardian, and Champion classes.
Exactly one year after the game launched, on April 24th, 2008, LOTRO grew even more with Book 13: Doom of the Last-king. Forochel opened up for business in this patch, flooding players with 100 new quests, the Lossoth reputation faction, more epic book goodness, and the Orc Defiler class for PvP. In a quirky historical note, the “first” hobby of the game — and the only one to date — was introduced, as players could start fishing across the world.
If we look past the Year One window, we’d see that the rest of 2008 stayed pretty busy with July’s Book 13 (Eregion and Moria prelude quests) and the “pre-release teaser” of Mines of Moria that started players into a new era of the game’s history.
Looking over that first year as a whole, it’s pretty amazing how much was added to the game and how many of the systems that we take for granted today — housing, outfits, fishing — weren’t in the launch version!