LOTRO Legendarium: How to make Lord of the Rings Online Classic work

    
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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.

“I would personally love to see a version of 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!

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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aeasus .

Surely you jest. SSG can’t even update their UI to 4K. Content updates are now mini expansions. Lag continues to plague the game. I could go into a rant but I think the above mentioned is enough to understand that SSG lacks the resources and/or desire to address player’s concerns. The thought of dividing those resources for a pet project could further infuriate their customers.

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draugris

I do not see why SSG should have to reverse engineer anything, they have the original source code so it should be only a question of how much time it takes to adapt this to their current infrastructure regarding servers/networking etc. and of course how many changes/fixes, etc. they would want to have for the “classic” experience. I do not see that to happen. I doubt that they would spend any significant amount of development time on that project.

Option 1 without the pay to win shop should be fairly easy to do. Option 3 could be the best option but with the most time needed to be spent and I am not sure if I would like the consequences regarding monetization that this would obviously bring.

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Vinnie travi

#1 would be fine with me, as I am one of those people that stay at 50 anyway. But They would have to make the content way more difficult. I can easily solo Carn Dum on my lvl 50 now. That is stupid.

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Vincent Clark

I wouldn’t trust the current SSG management with any attempt at a proper, classic server. Do we really need to give them another reason to further monetize this game knowing full well they will only deliver a half ass product–at best?

Pepperzine
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Pepperzine

LOTRO is not in the same position as WoW, they can’t afford to split their playerbase

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Strixxx

The huge amount of people who has left since Helms deep could potentially come back.

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Bruno Brito

The huge amount

“Huge” is debatable.

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Strixxx

There was a HUGE amount of people who left during, and after Helms Deep. In 2015 the amount of servers where cut in half. I remember the feedback of class changes and removal of raids. People didnt like the direction they they chose for the game. And now, only a tiny fraction of the playerbase remains.

They have two options:
1. Continue to release poor quality content and Milk whales.
2. Invest in a classic server and gain revenue by the returning playerbase.

Ofc they Will chose option 1, because they get big money from doing low quality shit and milking their small playerbase dry. But it can only last for so long.

Any sane fan of Lotro would encourage SSG to invest in something other than fluff, a true classic server would be the best.

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ThrownAwayKC

I’d HAPPILY come back for old-school LOTRO – I quit when F2P launched. But miss that early leveling, raiding and even how fun PVP was at the begining. Just do it and take my money!!

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Strixxx

4th option should still be to restore the old code, it’s probably the cheapest route. Just fix the major bugs, and release a separate client download.

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warroth weill

Or get the “mess” of old code running again? I would be happy to download a separate client and connect to an old server.. I would play it even though it would have bugs lol. Also, why does the game feel more of a mess now than back in 2007-2008? The weird lag, crashes and bugs we have now were not present back then.

Back in 2007(if u had a good PC), you could play a 24man raid without lag.. You could also enter Ettenmoors without lag when there are more than 20 people in a fight. The modern game is a mess, rollback pls.

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Rndomuser

“How to make it work” – sure, it is possible, but why? Personally I would much rather see games which use their own lore that is completely unrestricted by any static media like books or movies, which can be changed any way possible, including addition of optional open world PvP zones where you do not need to play as a character of specific “bad people/creatures” race and where extremely selfish, smelly nerds with complete lack of imagination will not complain that “…but, but, this is against the lore!” if the game developer will want to sell some cosmetic item which some people would find aesthetically pleasing or amusing to look at (regardless if it is a traditional dress or a horse mask with glowy eyes and steam coming out of the nostrils or a costume which looks like it came out of Tron Legacy movie) ;-)

Let’s keep moving forward instead of stagnating. Moving forward is good for the whole industry, something that has been unfortunately stagnating for a very long time with all unimaginative clones and remakes.

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warroth weill

Why? Because some people prefer the old gameplay/itemization/leveling progress/difficulty/animations/instance progression/raids etc etc.. It’s a game, and the game we had in 2007-2008 is no more.. That’s why.

Also, stop being worried about the game not moving forward.. You do realize that all money they earn on this server would go to further investment in the live client?

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Anstalt

I would return and subscribe to LotRO in a heartbeat if they had a “proper” classic server. The content was superior to anything we got since, the challenge level (overall) was much higher than anything since, even if some of the later raids were harder than rift and helegrod. The trait lines had no bonuses, allowing us to spec however the hell we wanted instead of pidgeon-holing us (hated healer spec on my captain during moria, but pretty much mandatory for endgame).

Finally, I loved the itemisation of SoA. No tiers of gear at endgame, it was pretty horizontal. You could hit the cap, buy the crit-crafted gear, then join in with any raid and be successful. Accessibility of endgame was higher then than it has ever been since. Hell, even the PvP set was considered good, driving activity in the ettenmoors for months!

The point about longevity is well taken, however. Whilst I loved Shadows of Angmar, I did ultimately quit just before Moria because I’d completely everything and was bored….and WAR came along and im a fan of warhammer. I imagine I’d complete everything much quicker this time around, so whilst I’d probably be there for 6-12 months, it’d be hard to keep me around longer than that.