LOTRO Legendarium: A timeline of Lord of the Rings Online from 1994 to 2019

    
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When I wrapped up writing my previous LOTRO column on the game’s first year of live operation, I felt that I had left this topic unfinished. While the first year was certainly interesting to look at, I wanted to keep going to map out the rest of the game’s run.

So… why not? I’m sure you won’t begrudge me a second history article, especially if this time around I stopped being as granular with patches and stepped back to look at the larger timeline of Lord of the Rings Online from conception through the current day. What happened when? How did the game first come around? When did certain major patches and expansions drop? Do you remember where you were when free-to-play happen? That sort of thing.

Pick up your walking stick once more because we’re about to go walking through more than two decades of LOTRO history — all condensed in a format that would make your high school history teacher proud!

1994

  • Turbine Entertainment is founded by students from Brown University.

1997

  • Sierra On-Line’s Craig Alexander looks at The Realm Online and wonders if such a game would be more successful with a Lord of the Rings theme. The studio begins drawing up a concept of this title, which was originally going to be a 2-D game done in the style of Ultima Online. Rights are secured for this project.

1998

  • Yosemite Entertainment (a Sierra studio) officially starts development of Middle-earth Online, an MMORPG set in Tolkien’s famous IP. This was to be more of a sandbox-style MMO with playable bad guys and few Elves. Some of the folks on the project included Chance Thomas, Daniel James, Stephen Nichols, Craig Alexander, and Janus Anderson.  The target launch date? The year 2000.
  • Sierra FX rolls out an introductory website for Middle-earth Online. The game is announced as being developed by Yosemite Entertainment for a 2000 release.

1999

  • Sierra On-Line is sold to Vivendi Universal. Yosemite Entertainment is shut down. Middle-earth Online’s development relocates from California to Washington with a new team at the helm. The new owners originally wanted MEO to be an EverQuest hack-and-slash clone.

2001

  • By now, Vivendi Universal has the full the Lord of the Rings MMO license. Turbine Entertainment is tapped to develop MEO.

2003

  • May — Turbine officially announces Middle-earth Online, to be published by Vivendi in 2004.

2004

  • April — Middle-earth Online is delayed until 2005.

2005

  • March — Turbine announces that Middle-earth Online will release in 2006, now with the name of Lord of the Rings Online.

2006

  • March — Codemasters secures the rights to publish LOTRO in Europe.
  • May — Turbine takes testing sign-ups for LOTRO.
  • August — LOTRO starts alpha testing.

2007

  • April — Lord of the Rings Online officially launches with a level cap of 50. The MMO tops World of Warcraft on the sales chart as the best-selling PC title in North America during the last week of the month.
  • June — Evendim and the first 24-player raid (Helegrod) arrive.
  • August — Book 10 adds Annúminas, the reputation system, and chicken runs.
  • October — Book 11 continues the epic story and releases player housing and the Rift of Nûrz Ghâshu raid. LOTRO wins PC Game of the Year award at the 2007 Golden Joystick Awards.

2008

  • January — LOTRO launches in Russia.
  • February — Book 12 revamps Angmar and adds the cosmetic outfit system. The LOTRO license is extended through 2014.
  • April — With Book 13, Forochel opens up the icy north and fishing becomes the first and only hobby.
  • June — Turbine secures $40 million in financing.
  • July — Eregion finishes up the landscape of Eriador and Moria prelude quests are added.
  • November — Mines of Moria, the game’s first expansion, opens its doors. This adds legendary items and the Rune-keeper and Warden classes as well as raises the level cap to 60.

2009

  • January — Turbine rolls out a free trial for LOTRO.
  • February — Lothlórien gives players an escape from Moria and the new player experience is revised. The Waterworks raid is added, as well as crafting instances and a more forgiving XP curve. Another fun addition? Being able to revive yourself on a timer.
  • June — Volume II, Book 8: Scourge of Khazad-Dûm goes live with more story, the Summer Festival, and Evendim boat transport.
  • December — LOTRO’s second expansion, Siege of Mirkwood, launches. This kicks players off into Volume III of the epic, takes players up to level 65,

2010

  • April — Warner Bros. buys Turbine Entertainment, which ceases to be an independent studio.
  • September — Lord of the Rings Online shifts to a hybrid free-to-play business model. This also marks the start of a new patch naming convention with Update 1: Free-to-Play. The barter wallet, tasks, reputation mounts, and an Ered Luin revamp are included with this patch.
  • December — Winter-home, the new Yule Festival zone, opens for the first time.

2011

  • January — Turbine announces that free-to-play has tripled LOTRO’s monthly revenue.
  • March — Update 2: Echoes of the Dead brings a new instance cluster, adds Volume III: Book 3, makes Volume II more solo-friendly, fleshes out Evendim, revamps the Ettenmoors, and finally removes the much-hated Radiance system from the game.
  • June — Turbine brings out Update 3: Lost Legends of Eriador. This includes the Inn of the Forsaken and Halls of Night dungeons and the Attack at Dawn and Icy Crevasse skirmishes. Turbine takes over overseas operations of the game from Codemasters.
  • September — Rise of Isengard, LOTRO’s third expansion pack (Update 4), is released. This raises the level cap to 75, adds three new zones, makes monster play available for free players, and adds the finesse stat. Rise of Isengard becomes LOTRO’s best-selling expansion to date.
  • December — Isengard instances arrive with Update 5, as well as Volume III: Book 5, the instance finder, a reputation system revamp, and coffee.

2012

  • March — Players head out to the Great River region in Update 6. Skirmish soldiers are allowed on the landscape and the virtue cap is increased to 14.
  • May — With Update 7, Turbine revamps Fornost and part of Moria, adds Star-lit Crystals, includes the Storm on Methedras skirmish, and increased bag space.
  • October — Riders of Rohan takes players into the fourth expansion with Eastern Rohan, mounted combat, the bridle slot, warbands, and a level cap increase to 85. Hytbold, an interesting rebuild-the-town activity, is also included.
  • December — This busy year went out with a bang thanks to Update 9: Against the Shadow. This patch included a small instance cluster, the second part of the Moria revamp, remote looting, and several combat revisions.

2013

  • March — Turbine starts selling mithril coins as a usable in-game currency. Update 10: Against the Shadow, Part II tweaks more combat elements, adds four instances, and does a large revamp of the fate stat.
  • May — Update 11: Treachery of the White hand opens up the region of Wildermore, changes the launcher, adds more to the epic story, includes the hobbit gifts system, and opens Lalia’s Market for business.
  • July — The official website gets a huge revamp.
  • November — Just about a year after its last expansion, LOTRO goes into Helm’s Deep with the five regions of Western Rohan, three books of the epic story, a level cap increase to 95, and the epic battle system.

2014

  • January — LOTRO’s license is renewed through 2017.
  • April — With Update 13: The Breaking of Isengard, players ventured into the Entwood and Flooded Isengard, concluded Volume III, enjoyed an inventory facelift, and explored a revised Misty Mountains, North Downs, and Trollshaws.
  • July — The player journey heads south into Gondor for the first time with Update 14: Paths of the Dead. Western Gondor is opened up, Volume IV begins, essences are introduced, and the level cap is increased to 100. As a whole, Gondor is basically an expansion but is never named as such.
  • November — Beornings join the game with Update 15: Gondor Aflame. The patch also adds the Pelargir epic battle, more of the epic book, and the area of Central Gondor.

2015

  • May — After a bit of a break, Update 16: Ashes of Osgiliath arrives with legendary item imbuement, a new instance cluster, Volume IV Book 3, and additional Gondor regions.
  • June — Russia’s two servers are closed down.
  • July — The Ballad of Bingo Boffin, a weekly quest series, kicks off.
  • August — 10 US and nine European servers close down, leaving 10 left.
  • October — Old Anórien and Minas Tirith itself open for business. Update 17: The Siege of Minas Tirith takes players through a pair of epic battles, another epic book, and include cosmetic weapons.

2016

  • January — LOTRO installs a new datacenter, which does not go over well.
  • April — The Battle of Pelennor Fields commences with Update 18. The level cap nudges up to 105, Far Anórien is added, three new instances challenge groups, and the featured instance system goes into effect.
  • July — The Ballad of Bingo Boffin concludes, although the friendly Hobbit would return with Harvestmath quests. Layoffs hit Turbine as it transitions into a mobile games studio.
  • October — Update 19: March of the King takes players into the aftermath of Pelennor Fields with another epic book. Belfalas housing, the first new housing since the system launched, is added as a premium option.
  • December — Standing Stone Games takes over LOTRO’s operation from Turbine; Daybreak Game Company is selected to be the title’s new publisher. The IP license is renewed for an unspecified date.

Swanky.

2017

  • March — The Mordor era of LOTRO begins with Update 20: Battle of the Black Gate. The Wastes region is added, as is Volume IV Book 8.
  • April — LOTRO celebrates its 10th anniversary with scavenger hunt quests and more.
  • August — Mordor, the first new expansion since 2013, is released. This takes players into the eponymous country, concludes Volume IV (and starts the Black Book of Mordor), increases the level cap to 115, adds the allegiance system and High Elves, and sort of brings back radiance as the Light of Eärendil.

2018

  • March — Players escape Mordor for northern areas with Update 22: Legacy of the Necromancer. The Black Book of Mordor continues, and Northern Mirkwood and the Dale-lands opens for business.
  • June — Musical instruments now can be visibly worn. Huzzah!
  • September — A rival Lord of the Rings MMO, developed by Athlon Games, is announced. Amazon Game Studio would subsequently partner on the project in July 2019.
  • October — Update 23: Where Dragons Dwell travels into the regions of the Iron Hills and Grey Mountains with a new quest pack and two additional chapters of the Black Book. Hobbits get an avatar update and the level cap is increased to 120.
  • November — Two “legendary” (progression) servers, Anor and Ithil, launch for subscribers.

2019

  • January — The Anvil of Winterstith raid commences.
  • March — Mines of Moria opens its doors for the progression servers. The game suffers a massive four-day outage.
  • June — The most recent update, Vales of Anduin, is added with Beornings, Radagast, and lots of Great Eagles. Update 24 also revamps the virtue system and rolls out the optional 64-bit client. The progression servers unlock Siege of Mirkwood.
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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Zero_1_Zerum

Huh. Looks like September 2011 was about the time I left LOTRO. Got bored with the repetitive quests and other stuff. But, part of me wants to get back into it, maybe just to take a look around the Shire, Bree and Rivendell again. But… I’d want to be able to get all the expansions since Isengard, and I don’t have the cash for that. Probably someday I will, because I did want to see the whole map, including Mordor, which they have now.

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Wakkander

There was a pretty dramatic shift when turbine went radio silent between 2004 and 2005, middle-earth online at that point may as well have been a different game. MEO sounded a lot more like what became DDO in terms of heavily instanced questing, and actually had breakpoints in quests where you would choose light or dark paths. The way you resolved things would then affect your eventual class evolution. The concept art was also really different, with the elves in particular having a very different look.

When it emerged as LotRO on the other side all of that was gone, following a more standard themepark design with an artistic direction heavily borrowing from the films.

Little remains online of that original Turbine MEO, and honestly I can’t help but feel if it wasn’t for Turbine being very shaky financially following the implosion of AC2 right after they bought the IP back from Microsoft, and choosing to play it safer, we would have had a much more mechanically interesting LotRO.

To give a sub-timeline of Turbine

2002: AC2 Launches
2003: AC IP purchased from Microsoft
2003: Turbine announces Middle-Earth Online
2004: Turbine stops saying anything about MEO, eventually the forums and sites go down, all is silent on the middle-earth front.
2005: AC2 transition completes from Microsoft to Turbine. This period is plagued by bugs and issues, such as chat not working.
2005: AC2 Expansion is released in may, not long after it is announced that it will be closed down in december.
2005: Out of nowhere Turbine announces DDO, there is an alpha test.
2005: LotRO re-emerges with little looking to be shared with it and its prior incarnation. Both it and DDO are due to be released in 2006.
2006: After two years of development DDO is launched with a level cap of 7 (shortly thereafter raised to 8). It isn’t a huge hit, and a common complaint is a lack of content.
2007: LotRO launches.

My personal theory is that AC2 was a financial disaster, they put out 10 million as an indie studio to buy back the ip, invested in an expansion, and while all of this is going on the transition away from the Microsoft gun servers prove far more difficult than anticipated,.

Transition from Microsoft leads to bugs and absence of chat from the game for an extended period. Expansion launches, no one cares, bridges were burnt, to end the bleeding they shutter AC2.

DDO is at this point one year into development but they need money coming in, DDO is rushed out the door to keep studio afloat, while LotRO is changed dramatically. Maybe to satisfy outside investors who want a wow-clone, or simply to play it safer with current mmo trends, either way MEO’s concepts are gone.

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Akagi

They should make the purchasing a lot simplified, like in ESO, then I might consider buying.