LOTRO Legendarium: The quiet consistency of Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO is the log flume of themepark rides

    
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LOTRO Legendarium: The quiet consistency of Lord of the Rings Online

I want to start this LOTRO Legendarium column today by talking about, well, by talking about World of Warcraft. Like probably many of you, I play several different MMOs, and alongside of LOTRO, WoW has been one of my most consistently visited titles. And as we all well know from general chat, there’s no resisting compare-and-contrast exercises with Blizzard’s MMO.

There are a lot of things I like very much about World of Warcraft and continue to enjoy, but probably my greatest source of frustration is how Blizzard’s design philosophy changes from month to month and year to year. Ideas introduced in one expansion are soon abandoned shortly thereafter, characters are retconned to hell and back, and classes have been redesigned so many times that they’re all but unrecognizable from where they started in vanilla.

If WoW were a themepark ride, it would be a wildly popular rollercoaster that put its riders through a whole lot of whiplash. You love it… but you hate the unending shifts, too. Sometimes that experience is so jarring and unreliable that you need something else to be a better gaming bedrock.

In contrast to WoW, if Lord of the Rings Online was also a themepark ride, I think it would be a log flume: Comfortable, calm, plenty of great scenery, and a few truly exciting moments here and there. Maybe not everyone in the world would be clamoring to ride it, but those that did would appreciate how it delivered a consistent experience all the way through.

“Quiet consistency” is a description that I’ve applied internally to LOTRO. It doesn’t sound like the type of quote that a studio would want to slap on the back of a box, but I honestly do mean it as a great compliment.

Consider this: For a 13-year-old MMORPG, LOTRO has known itself rather well and remained very true to its vision from its launch day until today. It sets the player out on a more intimate scenic tour of Middle-earth with the occasional exciting moments, and from the Shire to Minas Morgul, that’s kind of what we’ve got ever since.

The world of LOTRO fits well together. There is a range of landscapes, but it doesn’t look like some bizarre patchwork quilt that WoW’s does if you look at the actual topography. Rather, Middle-earth very naturally flows from one zone to another in a way that areas aren’t thematic gimmicks, but rather actual regions. There’s overlap. There are very natural-looking landscape features that you’d find in our world, like river deltas, dense forests, and towns that take advantage of the landscape for their defense and prosperity.

While the developers certainly have tried to inject new systems here and there — skirmishes, epic battles, mounted combat — these don’t usually hijack expansions and are completely abandoned afterward. We may not be getting new skirmishes these days, but you can still play and enjoy them and get useful rewards from them. And while I wish that the legendary item system would get yanked out entirely, at least I can give the studio credit for not completely giving up on trying to make it work.

Character development hasn’t seen a huge amount of upheaval and reworks over the game’s lifespan. There have been dev passes on each class, the exchange of trait trees from the trait panel, LIs, and the rework of the virtue system, but that’s pretty much it. We’re still building our characters the way we did years ago, and by giving us more talent points in successive content, the devs have a way to continue to allow us to grow our characters.

But I think that the real consistency in LOTRO lies in its content rollout. Middle-earth has been slowly expanded over the years with new zones and thousands of additional quest and deeds, and we players gobble it up. We love the new areas, the new stories, and the continuing adventures of our now-seasoned adventurers. Even as the game has moved into an era beyond the books’ strict lore guidelines, I’m not worried that the devs are going to take us in wacky and incongruous directions. There’s always been a lot of care taken to stay within the boundaries of the IP and to have the game as a whole make sense, and that delivers a lot of comfort to players who want to stick around for the long haul.

In short, it’s just not the sort of MMO that I play looking in despair at the current state of the game and feeling desperately nostalgic for “the good old days” when everything was so much better and the devs hadn’t screwed it up so much. I can depend on LOTRO to not be a whiplash experience, and that’s a big factor why I’ve been coming back to it year after 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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Joss

For me LotRO is like home. Not everything is perfect, there are scratches of the cat from a previous tenant and the refigerator sounds like hell, but its my home and castle. Today it is common that the gaming folks are bored, dissatisfied and ungrateful. Almost no one looks at himself and his attitude. I know all the problems and critics of LotRO, but I know only to well that my world without would be much poorer.

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teppic

There’s a lot I like about the game, but I won’t support SSG due to how it’s now just being used to milk the IP for every drop of cash left until it finally dies.

We’ll never see it from SSG as they put nothing into development beyond content updates but I’d have loved to have seen the original game re-released like WoW Classic.

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warroth weill

The game has changed A LOT IMO, here is why I prefer the game to how it was:
*Combat system = realistic, weapons had speed, Axes were slowest, daggers fastest, Combat overall was much slower paced, you had time to react and improvise now everything moves so fast.
*No insane LI grind
*No crazy unbalanced PVMP.
*No mounted combat – Total fail
*No trait tree system, the trait trees caused a massive amount of players to leave.
*You played to earn, now you pay to get, surely it’s an optional choice, but its a slap to face for those who work/worked hard on their characters.
*Rank made sense, no clubbing, no multi-boxing, no dual accounts
*instances utilized CCs, not just massive AOE DPS spam, another tactical element removed from the game.
*Power management is all gone, another tactical element removed.
*Classes where more complex back then. (some classes have 3 button rotations now)
*Way better itemization and gear progression.
*No insane stat bloat, remember when you were happy to get a 1k crit? lol. Now you are happy to crit 1mil
*Difficulty overall was higher due to the fact that classes did little dmg, had low health and mitigations. Nowadays you can kill mobs with auto-attacks AFK.
*No essences. This system could’ve worked if it was done properly. But instead of a tool and a toy for players, it became a paywall and/or a grind for restricting/prolonging content.
*No imbuement system… It had major flaws from the start, which were brought up to the attention of devs, which were obviously ignored, which became a problem now, as predicted, to the point that devs mention another LI revamp on regular basis. Currently, Imbued LIs are a paywall, a grind, and severely limit the ability for new players/characters to join the game without the amount of cash that would make honor to some mobile games.

Currently, Lotro is “fine” if you just want to go through the main story and have a look at the regions. But the quality is not there anymore.. Also, the Minas Morgul questing is terrible, literally 100s of kill quests in the same tiny region.. Worst questing experience I have ever gone through. The main story quests are an exception though.

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teppic

Got confused as you said how you prefer the game to how it was, rather than how it was.

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Rob Hagaman

When you can rely on the greatest novel of the 20th century(look it up), and the inspiration for everything from Dungeons and Dragons to World of Warcraft, you just have to have good art and fan service to be a success. They’re consistent because they have the greatest road map pre-made for them. And, honestly, they still managed to make Middle Earth more boring and grindy than I thought possible.

No thanks. I’ll pull the book off the shelf for the 1943rd time if I want my LotR fix.

jimthomasUS
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jimthomasUS

At least the rides at the WoW themepark work.

Snark aside, LotRO was a brilliant mmorpg that sold its soul to WB to pay for the brilliant Mines of Moria that Turbine chose to launch at the same time as Burning Crusade. Oh, and the lifetime subscription debacle. You can’t run a quietly consistent mmorpg if you’re broke.

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I like Tolkien’s work and I have bought some books in physical copies – a Middle Earth Map, the LOTR trilogy, The Hobbit, The Children of Hurin…

But I don’t like the game at all. Aside from somewhat accurately recreating the world and staying true to the lore, the game is one of the worst I’ve experienced in my life. The game just doesn’t capture what the Middle Earth is about and it doesn’t put you (or your character) in the shoes of an adventurer, it just makes you feel (or your character) as some kind of pushover who gets sent on meaningless errands by every settlement’s local idiot. It’s just mindless kill/fetch quests, doesn’t feel exciting at all. There are no puzzles, no mysteries, no thrill, just grinding of pointless kill/fetch quests to reach the level cap. Even the story is not presented in an interesting way – just walls of text to read in quest windows. I read them in the beginning, but they were mind-numbingly boring and ultimately stopped bothering, as I could just look at my objective (kill 20 spiders) and I know it’s something about spiders, whether I will waste 2-3 minutes reading the quest that I will forget in like 10 minutes or not read it at all was the same, at least I could progress faster in the game. But around level 30, in Trollshaws, I ultimately gave up on playing the game. Mostly due to the laggy and janky combat and the piss poor server quality.

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rk70534

There are actual puzzle quests and some of the Deeds involve mysteries and puzzles. But one thing wrong with the actual questing is that the amount of travelling needed is often obscene, and even with VIP status the fast travel system is pretty lacking. Just travelling from point A to other side of Eriador to speak to someone at point B to be spent to do something in another remote control at point C before going back each step…

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Anstalt

I agree that LotRO has been pretty consistent with it’s world building…..except for Mirkwood. That expansion was a patchwork quilt and it was horrible. Luckily, only 5 levels so you could get past it pretty quickly.

I would disagree about the quality and consistency of the new systems they kept bringing in. Each successive expansion progressively lowered the quality of combat, made it easier and shallower, but with Rohan that process rapidly accelerated.

All that said, still probably one of the best themeparks out there. If they opened a vanilla server, I’d return in a heartbeat.

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2Ton Gamer

You did not mention another consistency and that is there sheer lack of great communication through the years.

I agree about the landscape being consistent and nicer than what I have seen of WoW Classic so far, but I also think that it is because LOTR literally had a roadmap of Middle Earth and it’s regions described in great detail where WoW has the chance to create things from scratch. That in itself allows a freedom for WoW that can be nice and can pigeon hole LOTRO for good or bad. If the game survives this year and moves into new regions that go outside the book more, it will be interesting to see how they manage. They will certainly need new assets and that too will present a challenge to LOTRO. And yes, I am aware that places like Forochel and areas around Beorning Lands were not much in the books and they have already sort of tackled some imaginative lands, but I’m talking about entire regions vs smaller quest pack areas.

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Vincent Clark

The lack of irony…anywhere in this article…

Snark aside, I kind of get your point.

Side note: Mounted combat was the main draw/focus/new system introduced in Riders of Rohan and was in fact, almost completely abandoned shortly thereafter. I mean, sure…it’s still in the game but…

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PanagiotisLial1

I like the legendary system as an idea of a unique item that can be customized and grow along with you, but definitely it needs a lot of polish and fixing. Its one of those cases where the idea was Great but the execution of it had a lot to be desired.

Like you LOTRO has something that always attracts me for a revisit and there are lots things I do like on it and even though more content is nice, for a title so old the priroity from the dev team should be stabilizing the service and fixing whatever doesnt work well enough.