LOTRO Legendarium: How did Lord of the Rings Online do in 2019?

When we gave Lord of the Rings Online the award this year for the Most Underrated MMORPG on the market, it came with plenty of caveats. The engine, even with this year’s 64-bit upgrade, is creaky and not-entirely-reliable. The business model is peppered with lockboxes and is antagonistic toward new players. The studio isn’t always the best at communicating. I can’t really argue that these are falsehoods, but I think that the purpose of this award is to highlight a game that is still pretty good despite its flaws. It’s become underrated because the focus of the larger community have drifted to focus on its problems instead of its virtues.

That’s a very slight LOTRO pun, by the way.

“Underrated” isn’t a bad place to be. LOTRO won’t ever be a super-hot property again, but if 2019 is any indication, the MMO is striding forward with the confidence that comes only with maturity and experience.

Looking back over 2019, I’d say it’s been a pretty busy year for the game. The regular servers enjoyed two major updates: June’s Vale of Anduin adventures and November’s Minas Morgul expansion (Updates 24 and 25, respectively).┬áThe virtue system was revamped, the 64-bit client introduced, Stout-Axe Dwarves were added to the racial roster, the Black Book of Mordor wrapped up, and players pressed on to level 130.

The expansion itself should earn an “underrated” title in and of itself, in my opinion. It was far more balanced and well-designed than Mordor, with a smattering of time travel, some ingenious twists, the return of fan favorite characters, and a genuinely creepy city to explore.

Over on the progression realms, the first full year of operation saw a journey that began with the core game, moved into Mines of Moria in March, then Siege of Mirkwood in June, and Rise of Isengard in September. After the community pushed back over the rapid pace of the expansion rollout, SSG agreed to slow down somewhat and hold Rohan to 2020.

There were controversies — when are there not? Nobody was happy during an unscheduled four-day outage this past March, and SSG took some flak for shoving in a cash-for-catch-up item in the store instead of properly revamping legendary items as it had promised. There were boons as well, particularly hearing the LOTRO team enthuse that they still have ideas and energy for decades of content to come. Bill Champagne’s soundtrack made a good musical collection even better with the patch and expansion additions.

As for this column, I tried to balance between looking at specific current events and broader game topics:

So looking ahead to 2020, what should we expect? We’re probably in for a wait until the next producer’s letter — Standing Stone Games has been waiting until February for these in recent years. But we know that the Riders of Rohan expansion is coming to progression servers in the next couple of months, with Rohan housing sometime thereafter. Seeing as how the Morgul Vale map hasn’t been fully finished, there’s probably a content update lurking in the shadows for that.

The fact that the Black Book of Mordor epic is done means… well, I don’t know what it means, exactly. SSG has the (relative) freedom to pursue new directions in the storyline, and we still have a royal wedding and a Shire scouring to come, but the devs have not sounded as if they were in a hurry to get to those book moments.

With the specter of Amazon’s Lord of the Rings MMO looming over LOTRO, I hope that SSG uses the fire under its heels to produce a year full of surprises and adventures that keep some attention on its game. LOTRO came out of 2019 with a net gain to what it offers, and I can only hope that I’ll be saying the same this time next year.

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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