Twice now this year we have heard from Standing Stone Games’ Jeff Libby that, no, a hypothetical LOTRO Classic isn’t in the works, nor is it something that’s feasible and desirable for the studio to do. Libby seems to be approaching this subject from an engineering angle, saying that to roll back the servers to their 2007 state would invite disaster in the form of scads of bugs and bad game design.LOTRO from launch, to run around in old-timey Eriador and see it in all of its 2007 glory,” Libby posted. “But it doesn’t have the longevity you remember.”
If this sounds familiar, it’s because — and you know where I’m going with this — it’s the same kind of line that J. Allen Brack gave several years ago for World of Warcraft. You know, right before Blizzard turned around and created World of Warcraft Classic.
“It’s hard to do” and “You wouldn’t want it anyway because of nostalgia goggles” are getting to be pretty flimsy deflections in the MMO genre, especially considering the fantastic success of WoW Classic, Old School RuneScape, and many MMO rogue server projects. There are some gamers who genuinely enjoy jumping back into earlier periods of MMOs before expansions greatly changed their trajectories.
I’d even argue that Lord of the Rings Online has already shown that there is a great hunger for some sort of classic or legacy server, thanks to the progression server that rolled out a couple of years ago. When Anor and Ithil first debuted, they were limited to Shadows of Angar content only. For several months there, players lived and gamed in a hemmed-in world that reminded them a lot of the 2007-2008 period — and they loved it! It demonstrated that there is a hunger out there for a legacy era LOTRO, and SSG is foolish to belittle or ignore that.
Plus, there is money to be made. I assume SSG and Daybreak like money.
I’ve been turning over in my head how SSG could actually pull off a LOTRO Classic in a realistic fashion. The studio doesn’t have endlessly deep pockets, after all. So what possibilities does that leave us with?
Option #1: An endlessly locked Eriador
The first, and by far the easiest, scenario would be to create a server that functions nearly identically to the progression servers — with the exception that this server would never, ever progress past Shadows of Angmar. Level 50 would be the eternal cap, Moria’s doors would never open, and inhabitants could exist in a land where legendary items are but the boogeyman, whispered as a cautionary tale to naughty children to keep them in line.
Clearly, this could be done because it has been done. It might end up being a niche community, but I think it might have more staying power than one might first assume. There’s a pretty devoted subsection of LOTRO players on the live servers who join guilds that halt progress at level 50 (thanks to the Stone of the Tortoise) and ignore the rest of the game. This would be a server that would effectively do the same for everyone on it.
SSG could tinker around with it a bit, too, by changing the rules (such as how it’s slowed leveling speed on the progression servers) or even holding back some of Eriador’s content and releasing it in patches the way that the original game did.
The drawback to this is that it’s not LOTRO Classic in truth, just LOTRO Limited. For some it might be enough, but for others who really want a throwback server, it’s not going to sit well.
Option #2: Bring back trait lines
Here’s a good middle ground that I’ve argued for in the past. Keep the idea from Option #1 up there but make one significant change: Abolish the trait trees and bring back character trait lines.
Hear me out. Veteran players by and large really liked the flexibility and unique structure of trait lines. It was unique to LOTRO, whereas talent trees are ubiquitous in the genre, and delivered both challenge and options to players who could customize their character independently of their level. Trait trees could give a server a “classic” feel with that one big change alone — and serve to draw in a lot of people who left the game over their abolition or hold a torch for them.
Obviously, SSG would have to do a lot of work to reverse-engineer the current code — but it’s not impossible. In fact, as far as I’m aware, playable monster characters still use this system. And the whole skirmish system uses it as well!
It might be an effort for SSG, but I think it would be both doable and worth doing. Bundle up trait lines with a limited scope server and sell it to players as LOTRO Classic. Boom. Done.
Option #3: Recreate — not restore — the 2007 code
I hear what Jeff Libby is saying about not wanting to dust off an old server or codebase for LOTRO, plug it in, and hope for the best in 2020. He’s right: That would be a total mess. I don’t think it’s what anyone is asking SSG to do, however.
The desire I see for a LOTRO Classic is for a game that would walk the same development path as WoW Classic. WoW Classic isn’t the 2004 code of the game on the original hardware; it’s a very cleverly engineered overlay that uses the modern game but changes it to look and function like the older game. So you can keep all of the bug fixes but simulate going back in time.
That’s what, if SSG had the will and the funding to do, I would love to see done with Lord of the Rings Online. Take the modern, better-than-2007-in-the-bug-fix-department game and then mold and shape it into Classic. Bring back trait lines. Abolish the Old Forest map. Yank out all of the sunflowers from the Shire. The old server code, which hopefully still exists somewhere, could serve as a guide for the developers to do this.
It could be done. It might even be something within SSG’s capabilities, granted that it got funding approval from Daybreak and bent its will to making it happen. I don’t think there’s a snowball’s chance in hell that it ever would happen, of course, because SSG seems preoccupied with new expansions and releases.
But that’s my case. Three ways that a LOTRO Classic could be accomplished, more or less. What are your thoughts? Sound off in the comments!