LOTRO Legendarium: LOTRO’s history in 2020 and hopes for 2021


Just as how Sam and Frodo experienced depths of despair and heights of hope in their journey to Mount Doom, Lord of the Rings Online players have been on a journey of extreme highs and lows in 2020. Even as we end this year with sharp criticism for LOTRO, we also have positive news of the game’s future, roadmap, and increased comms from the dev team.

Today I’m going to carry on the tradition that I’ve been doing ever since I started writing this column a decade ago by looking back at the year that’s passed and then offering some thoughts and hopes for the gaming year to come. Let’s take a trip together, you and I.

LOTRO’s 2020 in review

Early 2020 began with additional instances for the Minas Morgul expansion, the Remmorchant raid in March, and the opening of Riders of Rohan for the legendary progression servers (plus some free cloaks and armor!). At that time, Daybreak promised that its recent studio split-up wasn’t going to impact LOTRO, a hint at things to come.

At PAX East — yes, back when physical conventions were a thing — SSG discussed the upcoming royal wedding and new expansion (which was, at the time, slated for late 2020), as well as missions, River-hobbits, and a possible new server ruleset. The actual 2020 producer’s letter didn’t come until early April, probably the latest such a letter’s ever been posted.

When COVID triggered lockdowns across much of the world in March, Standing Stone Games made the unprecedented decision to make all of LOTRO’s content free for what turned out to be many months. Even better, as the free period came to an end, SSG also gave away all of LOTRO’s non-expansion quest packs and greatly lowered the cost for older expansions.

Late April was a great time to game, as the 13th anniversary (and it’s self-crisping pig) arrived along with Update 26: Wells of Langflood. A secret quest and character transfers followed shortly after.

In June, LOTRO experimented with a temporary PvP server — an experiment that largely fizzled and was forgotten. That was OK, because at the end of the month, Update 27: A Great Wedding arrived and gave players the long-awaited wedding between Aragorn and Arwen, not to mention a way around epic battles and a brand-new mid-summer festival. Due to this new festival, SSG decided to merge the existing summer festival and farmer’s faire together.

The good feelings quickly turned sour in July, as server problems began to ransack LOTRO for days… and then weeks. And months. Weatherstock got delayed, and players steamed as SSG refused to discuss what was going on. Compensation was handed out, but for most, it was too little, too late.

August got a bit better, thanks to Helm’s Deep on the progression servers and the brand-new Rohan housing everywhere. The new housing neighborhoods also came with one of the biggest upgrades to the housing system, with new hook types and stables.

And September got a bit worse, as SSG abruptly announced that its next content update would be a for-fee “mini-expansion” that included a $100 edition. Update 28: War of the Three Peaks arrived in late October.

As players digested that, at least there was the excitement of a leak that revealed that a new class — the Brawler — was in the works. And things took a decided uptick in November as SSG dumped information all over us through a frank AMA livestream. It was here that we learned a lot about what next year was going to look like, including a delay of Gundabad for a full year (from fall 2020 to fall 2021).

If that wasn’t enough of a surprise, the $300 million sale of Daybreak to EG7 in December revealed a whole lot about LOTRO’s relationship to SSG, its finances, and its population. And as December wound its way to a close, Gondor opened up on the progression server and PvMP got a balance pass. Oh, and character race changes became a thing.

Revisiting LOTRO Legendarium’s 2020 columns

Here’s a full list of all of the LOTRO Legendarium columns I wrote this year, in case you missed one or wanted to revisit a past topic. I also tossed in some related columns I wrote on the MMO:

Hopes for LOTRO’s 2021

Going back through the entire past year of Lord of the Rings Online, I was really struck by how busy the game was. Three updates, the PvP server, a new festival, Rohan housing, future news, race changes… it was a really packed year, even without an expansion. And it was definitely a year of really cruddy happenings as well as really awesome ones.

So where does this leave us as we head into LOTRO’s 14th anniversary year? Well, we already know a lot of what’s to come: the expansion, mid-level content, new level-agnostic quests, the Brawler, and possibly River-hobbits. That’s enough to make for a good year, content-wise.

My hope is not so much for the game — which I feel is in a pretty good place, all things considered — but for the studio running it. With SSG and Daybreak operating under new overlords, I would like to believe that this could tip in LOTRO’s favor for increased funding and support. Better tech and more engineers, that would be great. I still don’t think a console LOTRO is going to happen… but hey, it would be pretty amazing if it did.

Overall, I hope that SSG takes a cue from the community’s enthusiasm for all of the information from late fall and makes an increased effort in frequent and honest communication. I’m not saying this with any sarcasm; I’m being sincere. SSG needs to rebuild trust between itself and the community, and that takes time.

Also, it needs to squash that “mini-expansion” notion once and for all, but that might be stretching my wishes too far.

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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