LOTRO Legendarium: Lord of the Rings Online’s Hytbold experiment


The landscape of any long-running MMORPG is bound to be littered with various developer experiments that were tried and later abandoned. Lord of the Rings Online is no different in this regard, as different expansions and eras introduced features that either succeeded, endured, or were more or less abandoned by the dev team.

Perhaps one of the strangest was Hytbold, a system from the Riders of Rohan team that sought to give players a massive project to occupy their time once they had more or less exhausted what the regular landscape content of the 2012 expansion had to offer. Like many of LOTRO’s experiments, it had some fans and some detractors, but ultimately ended up as a one-shot that hasn’t been duplicated since.

The idea of Hytbold isn’t unique to LOTRO, of course; several other MMOs have given players a town or base and tasked them with building it up via repeatable quests and resource contributions. But unlike, say, World of Warcraft’s garrisons, Hytbold wasn’t a private instance but rather a shared space that utilized phasing. Players could still be around each other even if “their” version of Hytbold looked different than others.

Upon reaching level 84 in the game, players receive an invitation to help out with Hytbold, a Rohirrim town that’s been ravaged by orcs. At the onset, it’s an empty and wrecked village that’s just begging for a TV-style home makeover. But that’s going to happen only with the effort of a player doing quests. Lots of quests. Lots and lots and lots of quests. One hundred sixty-two quests, to be precise. You can do only five quests a day, randomly drawn out of a pool of about 50, so at least there’s some variety.

Basically, the way to think of Hytbold is that it’s a large reputation grind with an interactive visual presence. Instead of a numerical meter that you’re slowly pushing from left to right, you’re earning tokens to spend on repairs to your choice of buildings. Gradually, the town takes shape, people move back in, and vendors open up to sell you all sorts of goodies. There are armor sets, which can be ignored because of subsequent expansions, and a ton of Rohan-themed housing decor, which is still desirable. Perhaps more so today, considering that Rohan housing is just around the corner.

Crafters will also appreciate the resource instances that are unlocked via Hytbold’s reconstruction. Ultimately, however, it takes about 44 days of doing your full five dailies to finish up the town.

Once Helm’s Deep opened up, Hytbold saw its popularity sharply decline. Players didn’t need to use it as an endgame activity, as it was no long at the level cap. Unless you really, really wanted those housing items, you weren’t going to spend gobs of time grinding out those handful of dailies for a month and a half. It’s only recently on the progression servers that Hytbold has seen a mini-renaissance, thanks to the artificial content cap.

So what to make of this experiment? Despite the sheer length of the reputation grind on display, I am not that critical of Hytbold. For starters, it’s completely optional and mostly focused on cosmetic rewards, so there’s no pressure to do it unless you elect to do so. Secondly, I appreciate ambitious projects that are aimed at the community in general instead of a much smaller slice (i.e., raiders). Thirdly, Hytbold made great use of phasing to show ongoing developments, which LOTRO has used to great effect in other places. Of course, phasing doesn’t really impress us in 2020 the way it did back in 2012, but I still think it’s pretty neat.

It would be an interesting experiment to revisit for future content. I’m kind of surprised we didn’t see something like this for Mordor, what with the expedition moving in to reclaim the land for future development. I could see a Hytbold-like system put into place for the Scouring of the Shire that could recreate the feeling of a campaign to take back and rebuild a ravaged land.

For now, however, we just have Hytbold, this odd yet not-too-terrible experiment that stands alone on the plains of Rohan. For those diving into it for the first time today, I’ll leave you with links to helpful guides:

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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