LOTRO Legendarium: The first year of LOTRO’s operation

    
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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.

In today’s column, I thought it would be interesting to go back to the very start of the game and trace the progress of the first year of LOTRO’s operation in terms of patches and updates. How did the game shape up over those initial 12 months? Let’s find out!

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!

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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Alyn
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Alyn

I love it when Justin reports on older games. It really does matter, I think to go back in time and revisit some of those older experiences we may have had.

My first memory that has never left me was the release of LotRO. It came out just after one of the weakest releases of any mmo in history with Brad McQuaid’s Vanguard.

I couldn’t help but compare the two. Yes, they were not perfect at release but LotRO was seemingly much smoother. Vangaurd was just not ready for release, while LotRO just made for a better experience and of course the story line was and still is epic.

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Alex Willis

My favourite memory of LOTRO’s first (or maybe it was just into 2008) year was the dev-controlled Amarthiel attacks. Each server collected the ring-lore through mob kills, then when the threshold was reached, the rest of the book was unlocked and GM-controlled Amarthiel and army started wreaking havok on the map. This was accompanied NPC attacks on Trestlebridge and Ost Guruth. Such awesome stuff. It felt unpredictable, epic.

But this is only one memory among many. Having played since Beta, LOTRO shaped a lot of what I came to expect from MMOs. Not many have measured up since.

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Castagere Shaikura

I had no interest in playing it. But I had 4 friends at my local pub that were really into it. So I caved and joined them and their guild. I made a Man Minstrel and it was one of the most fun classes I ever played and the guild was the best I ever been in. All older players the oldest being grandparents that played together for fun and they were the LOTRO loremasters. They knew everything about the world. Those were the best times for MMOs to me. What I remember was how social the game was too. The Prancing Pony on the weekends was packed inside and out.

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draugris

What a great time that was, I can remember entering the shire for the first time. It honestly never happened again in any video game that I had such a strong bond with the music like in LotRO and especially the shire. The first Helegrod Runs, Nurz Ghashu, it was challenging content, so much great memories.

cambruin
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cambruin

I made the ‘mistake’ of rolling a hobbit. Made several dwarves during early access, but for some reason, upon launch I went with a Hobbit. I was immediately turned of by the mail and cake-running quests. Figured a game that has thìs type of quests as content is not worth my time and money. So I left withint a week or so.

I regret that to this day. Came back 2-3 years later, started a ‘man’, found a kin and it was without a doubt my best MMO experience ever. I still play it to this day.

Alomar
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Alomar

Played Lotro on and off for the first 5 years, and for many after it was still my “most played” mmo. Yet, other than being immersive in terms of music, art style, iconic characters, locations, etc. it can’t hold a candle to the many mmo’s I’ve played since or even before. It was one of the last games I’ll ever stomach tab target combat for and had the worst expansion I’ve ever seen release in the 40+ mmo’s I’ve played (Gap of Rohan; not even enough content to level the added 10 lvls).

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Java Jawa

Remember when you had to actually use CC or you’d risk a wipe? Yea…those were great times. Now days you run to the end collecting every mob you see.

It was nice that support was an actual thing and a bit more strategy had to be used.

i.e. captain banners, taking group damage upon themselves , lore-master stun, mezzes and slow, and even hunter traps.

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Anstalt

Aye, that’s why I remember the game so fondly – the depth of the combat system was second to none!

I mained a captain which was amazing, but also raided at various points with loremaster and burgler too. Support classes kick ass in a game that lets you use them! If you’re playing a trinity game, you pretty much can’t complete a dungeon without a tank. In LotRO? No worries! We’ll take a loremaster to CC, burg to debuff, captain to buff and you still had 3 slots for dps and heals! Then you just neutralise everything……it might take twice as long, but at least it was possible and a lot of fun!

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Java Jawa

So true AND fellowship maneuvers, those are brilliant, they completely changed how a fight was going, not to mention you were rewarded for memorizing the correct sequences.

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Randomessa

This is honestly why I just redownloaded LOTRO after a four year absence. Can’t get that kind of combat in this setting anywhere else. Can’t be a Captain in any other game that exists! This is what I fear the most about a new lord of the rings game: the loss of that particular way of creating support and hybrid classes.

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Randy Savage

The game felt dated when it came out. Clunky combat, atrocious UI, and terrible graphics by comparison to virtually every other contemporary at the time. I will never understand how a game with an IP as big as LOTR could be released in that state. It’s as if the developers spent the bulk of their allotted resources just obtaining the IP and didn’t have enough left over to engineer a AAA game.

The game’s only saving grace is the lore and world building. It’s the only thing that has kept the game on my computer after all these years. You can tell the people designing the quests and environments are actually fans of Tolkien’s Middle Earth. And the player community is probably the best out of any MMO past or present. But under the hood, the engine is terrible.

I’d be completely fine with Amazon poaching the right people from LOTRO so the new game captures the same heart and soul that LOTRO does while achieving a level of technical fidelity worthy of the IP. I hate to bash LOTRO because I do love it despite its flaws, but I love Tolkien even more so the game’s flaws are all the more egregious. Without the strength of the IP behind LOTRO, it never would’ve survived this long.

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Anstalt

The first 6-12 months of LotRO remains my favourite time in MMOs. The highlights of that first year for me:

1) The Rift
My all-time favourite raid! I’d done “raiding” in SWG, and I’d been through Helegrod a month earlier in LotRO, but The Rift blew my mind! To me, The Rift represents the pinacle of small-scale multiplayer content. Wide variety of bosses and mobs. Loads of potential tactics. Variety of difficulties. And a combat system with the depth to keep it exciting and engaging through many months of repetition. Also, you get to fight a balrog!

Side note: the player limit of 12 in the rift proved to be an awesome number. Its big enough to make it social without people talking over one another, but small enough to handle complicated tactics. Dropping down to 8 (in swtor) proved too small to feel like a raid, whilst 16 (also swtor) was too big for the social factor to be handled well.

2) The Delving of Fror
This is the PvP dungeon they added that sits underneath the Ettenmoors. The dungeon itself wasn’t that great, but the PvP that resulted was brilliant! What Fror introduced was motivation for players (in the form gear rewards) and a clear roadmap (take keeps, enter the Fror, farm stones, profit). This brought in a load of new PvPers which was good in-and-of-itself, but what was best is it acted as a self-balancing mechanism.

The Delving of Fror could only be accessed by the side that held 3/5 or more of the keeps. So, the larger side would take 3 keeps, but then a load of them would disappear to farm stones, so the balance of power would shift. The other side would then reach 3/5 keeps and some would go off to farm stones. This meant the balance of power would shift very frequently, rather than one side or the other dominating all night. This sense of “fairness” improved the PvP community and we had a great time. Sadly, once people had farmed their stones to get their gear, this all stopped, but those 2-3 months kicked ass!

3) Chickens!
I really enjoyed chicken play, but the thing that made them most fun for me were the community events. A couple of guilds used to organise chicken races with decent prize pools. This is probably the most “massively multiplayer” that LotRO ever got! One race I took part in, there were maybe 50-75 of us racing from the Shire to Rivendell, plus 100s of spectators and judges along the route. Outside of PvP, when do you ever see that many people doing something together?

There were, of course, a few things I didn’t enjoy about that first year, things that set the tone for what was to come and ultimately, reasons why I left:

a) Solofication of the Game
It started almost immediately. At launch, you got your first group quest within 30 minutes and they never stopped. You had to do the group content to reach 50, or else spend time grinding mobs. This resulted in a great community who were used to helping each other out. Then, each new zone they added was almost exclusively solo so that players could avoid the group content. Fine, I’m all for choice, I don’t want to force solo players to group if they don’t want to. But! Then they started changing the original zones (to make them more similar to the new zones), removing the group content. I hated that! It had a noticeable impact on the game (in the negative).

b) Rare Crafting Mats Change
At launch, if you wanted to craft the best heavy armour chest piece, you needed a drop from a specific named mob. Best shoulders? Different mob. This created a lovely little sub-community of beast-hunters who would travel the neglected areas of middle earth looking for these named mobs. It was fun, but it did put a limit on how much could be crafted (due to respawn times). So, Turbine removed that whole system, and replaced it with beryl shards and their equivalents in other tiers. It meant much greater access to crafting mats (there were tons of shards everywhere within days) but it removed the value of crafting and killed a (small) part of the community.

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George

Wonderful article, thank you Justin.