While my primary interest and focus in this column continues to be Lord of the Rings Online, I’m not so stubborn as to refuse to make room for Amazon’s upcoming Lord of the Rings MMO. We’ve known for a while now that this project is in the works, but the company and developer isn’t saying much about it, so there really hasn’t been a lot to dissect in this space.are working together to make a massively multiplayer game set in the Lord of the Rings universe. We know that it will be set chronologically before the book trilogy, that it’s being developed for both PC and console, that it wants to create “breathless” settings and characters, and that it will tell “all-new stories” in this familiar IP.
The scarcity of details on the project hasn’t stopped some in the community from rampantly speculating about what Amazon may one day deliver. Those who are disenfranchised with LOTRO in particular are hoping that they might get, I don’t know, LOTRO 2.0 with better graphics, combat, and maybe golf. But as this is my column, today I want to just share with you what I would like to see in this game if and when it ever launches.
Faithful in feel
If we look to Middle-earth video games beyond MMORPGs, we see that there have been many attempts to portray The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings from the early 1980s to present day. Some of these are much more faithful to the Tolkien’s source material, while others merely sport a superficial Middle-earth skin.
One of the reasons that I’ve loved Lord of the Rings Online for over a decade now is that the developers have truly committed themselves to creating “the game of the books” that was as deeply immersed in lore, world-building, and proper setting as could be. When you have The Tolkien Professor use this game above all others to show how accurate the devs were in fashioning a world straight from the books, you know you’re doing something right.
So if I had one over-arching wish for Amazon’s project, it was that it would strive to be equally faithful and diligent in replicating J.R.R. Tolkien’s vision. Obviously, it will need to take story and setting liberties, since it is a prequel set in a time that isn’t as fully covered by the books, but there’s nothing stopping the devs from trying to replicate that “faithful feel” that makes Middle-earth a much different place to adventure than Azeroth or Tyria.
I just don’t want to jump into this game and see that it’s nothing but some bloody hack-and-slash murderfest where people name-drop Sauron on occasion before going on to decapitating Orcs and using steampunk blimps to race around the world. Not that that wouldn’t be cool in its own right, but it wouldn’t be Lord of the Rings.
Sampling the best
I certainly am not going to levy expectations that Athlon and Amazon make this MMO as if it was being designed in the mid-2000s. It’s 2020, and the gaming scene — and MMORPG scene — is different, and that’s going to greatly impact any forthcoming games. Instead of hewing to past design, I would suggest that the developers look to the current field and see what is working the best — and sample liberally from it.
What’s the best business model? Maybe rip right off some of the monetary ideas that Elder Scrolls Online, Guild Wars 2, or Path of Exile have been doing to great success. How do you connect players socially? Take some of the features that work from MMOs and other online games and give us robust tools to build up in-game networks and facilitate teamplay. Support crossplay with all you’re worth. Consider level-scaling in grouping situations at the very least. Invest in good voice acting. Build up an experienced and communicative community team that starts establishing the fanbase and setting expectations for behavior as soon as possible.
Also, it would behoove any smart developer to realize that the industry as a whole has left some really great ideas in the past — and these features and concepts might be worth a second look and an updated iteration. Look to how MMOs used to place a greater emphasis on activities and engagement beyond mere combat, and do something to replicate that in your game.
Be different and be good
My final great wish is a two-for-one deal. Firstly, I don’t want a LOTRO 2.0, because we already have LOTRO. A game that’s too similar will just serve to hurt one of the two (or both) and most likely frustrate everyone. Instead, be different while still being Lord of the Rings. There is enough room in this field for two (or more!) Lord of the Rings massively multiplayer titles, just as there is enough room for two Dungeons & Dragons MMOs. In fact, look to how DDO and Neverwinter sport radically different designs while still being D&D games, and take inspiration from that.
Secondly, I just want it to be good. It doesn’t have to blow me out of the water, but it does need to clear a bar of competence and enjoyability. My greatest fear for this project isn’t that Amazon’s game is going to kill LOTRO, but that Amazon and Athlon are going to deliver some superficial Middle-earth slasher that has a horrible business model and is anti-community.
Be faithful. Be a copycat. Be different. Be good. If Amazon’s game can do these four things then, yeah, I’ll be more than happy to romp around in this MMO.