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.
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:
- Rating the best active racials in Lord of the Rings Online
- Revisiting Riders of Rohan in Lord of the Rings Online
- Five ideas for special servers in Lord of the Rings Online
- Lord of the Rings Online’s Hytbold experiment
- Battle Bards Episode 165: LOTRO composer Bill Champagne
- Breaking down LOTRO’s 2020 producer letter
- Jukebox Heroes: LOTRO’s unreleased soundtrack
- Wells of Langflood, River-hobbits, and free questing
- What I want from Amazon’s Lord of the Rings MMO
- Are LOTRO’s new PvP servers a good idea?
- Six tips for fun and profitable deed hunting
- A very Middle-earth wedding
- Jukebox Heroes: LOTRO’s Mists of Wilderland soundtrack
- What we have here is a failure to communicate
- The pros and cons of Rohan housing
- Ranking LOTRO’s expansions from worst to best
- The quiet consistency of Lord of the Rings Online
- Is LOTRO getting greedy with its fall update?
- Jukebox Heroes: LOTRO’s Great Wedding soundtrack
- Speculating on the Brawler class
- Is LOTRO at war with Orcs — or its playerbase?
- How to make Lord of the Rings Online Classic work
- Was LOTRO’s lifetime sub the best deal ever?
- Getting a glimpse of LOTRO’s 2021 plans
- What Daybreak’s sale revealed about LOTRO
- Jukebox Heroes: The quieter side of LOTRO’s soundtrack
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.