LOTRO Legendarium: A tale of two progression servers

    
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Truly, this is a momentous week in the history of Lord of the Rings Online, if for nothing else than the addition of two brand-new permanent servers for the game. Of course, it is more than that, but let’s just pause and reflect how absolutely rare it is that this middle-aged MMORPG has increased its server count (rather than decreased) by two.

With Shadowfax and Treebeard joining the lineup, Lord of the Rings Online subscribers have two new progression server rulesets to consider — and a few difficulty options as well. It’s an unprecedented level of choice that shakes up the status quo in both exciting and mildly concerning ways.

In this week’s column, let’s look at a tale of two very different servers and what this might portend for our game.

The last (and first) time we got progression servers was back in November 2018, when Standing Stone Games made big waves with its Anor and Ithil legendary worlds. For a small but blindingly bright period of time, LOTRO shot up to the top of MMO headlines and even made an appearance on the front of Twitch’s page. It was a big deal, news-wise, but also a great opportunity for players who felt behind or wanted to progress with a community to jump onto a server together and start fresh.

Since then, Ithil has since closed down and Anor has closed in on catching up with the live servers. The excitement isn’t quite there any more — some would argue that it largely evaporated after Moria was released — but there are plenty of dedicated kins enjoying this journey. The point is, it’s been over two years since SSG started a new server type, and it was probably time to start this up again. That’s what its parent company Daybreak does with the EverQuest games far more often, so it makes sense.

So instead of getting a single new progression server — a repeat of Anor — we have two new worlds that each have a significantly different ruleset while still time-locking expansions. Shadowfax is the “fast” server with a big bump in the amount of XP and virtue XP gained while also unlocking expansions every two months. Treebeard is the “slow” server that nerfs XP gain by 60% (in comparison, I think Anor has a 40% XP reduction) and will feature expansion unlocks at a slower pace, one every five or six months.

The thought behind this, according to the game’s producer, is that the prior legendary servers seemed to split the community into two crowds: one that wanted faster progression and one that wanted much slower progression. So why not cater to both crowds?

This certainly has the air of “experiment” about it, even though SSG has gone on record as saying that both of these servers are now permanent. We’re going to see how this plays out, especially if one server ruleset is more appealing. In the early days right now, the Treebeard shard certainly has more chatter going on the forums than Shadowfax… but these are the early days.

That raises concerns among a protective LOTRO community that such additional servers — when some merges are probably needed — will dilute the crowds and put the focus on the shiny new thing. I can see that. But since these servers also function to draw lapsed players and new players into the game, it might balance out. I’m of the opinion that older MMOs need to pull stunts like this to keep things fresh and interesting, plus I love different rulesets for options.

And that brings us to the other big topic of these servers, which is the addition of the landscape difficulty slider. These servers will be the first to have optional difficulty increases from the get-go, which means that players who are always bemoaning a lack of challenge can tie one leg behind their back by going onto Treebeard and then tie both arms up as well with a “Deadly” difficulty rating. Alternatively, you could shoot for those milestone rewards at a quicker rate by going over to Shadowfax and taking advantage of the greater XP.

It’s a range of choices and options to customize a leveling experience, and that’s pretty cool. Personally, I don’t know if I have it in me right now to start all the way over again, but it’s hard not to get a little buzzed about the new server smell and the idea of a tougher challenge. If I do fall prey to this, I’ll be sure to report back.

I genuinely do wish both servers — and their communities — the best as they turn summer 2021 into a new start for many LOTRO players. SSG is doing the right thing by exploring ways to extend the interest in the game and the appeal of rolling up alts. How it shakes out… who can say. I have a suspicion that Shadowfax may not fare so well, but there could well be a niche community of speed runners who will take advantage of this.

Who’s playing on these two new servers? Let’s hear your experiences and thoughts 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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moondog548

Sadly I barely have the time to play my main on Landroval, but I rolled up on Treebeard anyway because I love the idea of it and am ever the reckless optimist.

I don’t understand the point of an accelerated progression server, but I saw several folks excited for Shadowfax so … yay!

Mostly it seems like a good iteration addressing the biggest problem with Legendary Servers Version 1.0 (too fast AND too slow content additions).

They REALLY need to let folks migrate off of Anor for free. It’s obviously knowingly obsolete now. The ONLY reason folks will keep playing on it is the characters they’ve invested (time AND MONEY into).

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DJ Meowth

I’m playing a Stout-Axe Guardian on Treebeard and having fun!

The lower XP rewards mean you don’t need to use the XP disabler from the in-game store to avoid outleveling quests and zones, but the real star of the show are the selectable difficulty levels.

One thing I personally dislike about regular LotRO, as well as quite a few other MMOs, is that overworld mobs are made of paper. They pose absolutely zero threat unless you go out of your way to pull a large crowd of them at once. They die in three global cooldowns and barely dent your health. Once mobs require nearly zero effort to dispatch, they only really serve as thousands of mini-timesinks.

ESO, WoW, and others have alleviated the issue somewhat by having the world scale to your level – but I still find it too easy. Mobs take a bit longer to kill and you might go down to 80% health instead of just 95%. An improvement, but a tiny one.

LotRO doesn’t have scaling – hopefully someday it does – but I actually like these difficulty settings more than regular old level scaling. I’m playing on Deadly difficulty and I’m surprised at how much more fun questing is when my brain is fully engaged. I have to think about how to approach every single combat situation, trying my best to pull a single mob at a time if possible, and avoid things like patrolling enemies. Whereas on live servers you’d two-shot a bandit before he could get a single attack off, on higher difficulties they actually have enough time to pull out their weapon and maybe even use an interesting ability they would have otherwise never gotten off. It changes the feel of the game significantly.

The only ‘downside’ so far, and it’s more of a personal thing than anything else, is that I have an automatic grumbly reaction whenever I’m slowly and carefully working my way through a 15-minute infiltration of an enemy fortress only to watch as another player, on the lowest difficulty level, suddenly appears on the scene and absolutely destroys every single mob in the area in twenty seconds. Then they mount up and ride away like the absolute gods that they are, while I’m left waiting for respawns so I can continue my epic struggle.

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Sashaa

Playing on Treebeard and having a blast.

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Bango on Laurelin

The titles are not worth it – being account bound they can be had via easy mode crafting & running instances where the debuffs don’t apply.

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teppic

The difficulty thing could have been something a lot better but as ever SSG has cut as many corners as possible with it.

It’s implemented as a blanket nerf to your character, not tuned at all per class or level, just a basic nerf which needs no real development. It’s also hacked into the system by an NPC quest instead of doing any real work to support it via the UI. They originally said they’d have lots of rewards for it, but instead they’ve dropped all that and just added a couple of titles (again, requiring no real dev work).

While I’m sure it’s fun to try out, the lack of work that’s gone into it makes it more of a gimmick. Maybe it’ll improve a little when it goes to the live servers, as it is essentially a paid beta test right now, and a very easy cash grab.

cambruin
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cambruin

Sorry, but I disagree.

I’m not a fan of SSG at all, but I think they deserve more credit for these 2 servers in particular. While there’s the obvious perks/benefits of increased difficulty, slow XP gain and slower expansion releases, there’s also the less obvious perks. Not only does it provide a fresh start (which is always a great feeling), but there’s also a sense of coommunity which is severely lacking on ‘regular’ servers.

People trading crafting materials, gifting gear, grouping up for content which we have been soloing for well over a decade, .. Do not underestimate the value of community-building.

I haven’t had this sense of community in well over a decade. Every MMO has focused on 3 types of players; PvPers, hardcore raiders and ‘filthy’ casuals. While very different playstyles, all 3 had one thing in common; grouping was nothing but a necessary evil. They all level to cap solo, when no pvp action going on, PVPers will log on their alt, when no raid live, hardcore raiders will log their alt instead and casuals will log their eleventythird alt. The vast majority of their playstyle is solo and solo only.

The 4th player type has long been forgotten; the regular, old-school players. Where people actually tackle obstacles together. Whether it’s a raid or just some landscape boss mob, unlocking a new crafting tier, obtaining a FA, … People who crave not only the loot and progression, the other X players a means to an end, but players who actually enjoy building relationships.
Only time can tell whether they’ll last or not, but at least on these 2 servers the incentive is there.

Yes, just like every other dev out there, SSG is out there to make money. And yes, they have little to no morals on how to make said money, but do not discard these Legendary servers as simple cash grabs.

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teppic

I agree that the community aspect is great, and hopefully people are having fun. That doesn’t stop it being a cash grab though – to force people to pay for a sub and then have the cash shop on top (and watching streams, people are using the cash shop a lot). They could have just opened a new server like the others and people would still be able to do all the things you said, that would have been much better.

Mark
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Mark

Absolutely enjoying playing a captain on Shadowfax at “hard” difficulty.

At “hard” its difficult enough that you have to think about what you are doing without the time to kill being a disincentive.

Why am I on Shadowfax, well because I want to try a class I have never tried before at cap (50) and play it as a capped toon, i.e. either as a blue healer, yellow tank or even red dps/buffer.

If I enjoy these two months before they boost the level I’ll keep playing it, if not its not a huge commitment, I know more about a different class and I might try another class.

SSG are embracing binary splits in a clever way.

cambruin
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cambruin

Enjoying Treebeard immensely. People group up for just about anything and with open tapping, everyone jumps in on just about everything. I play on Deadly +3 and even the easiest of foes (swarms) pose a threat. As a Loremaster I have to resummon my pet every 2-3 pulls as my heal is on CD, I have to stun mobs, debuff, … There’s also a sort of AoE which randomly pops up, so you need to move and pay attention.

To me this is the LotRO I sorely missed. The community is great and the difficulty awesome. You will nééd to group if you wish to complete zones. I waited for more people to show up cause I knew I wasn’t going to make it solo.
Absolute awesome feeling.

Cherry on top; fresh start.

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Sashaa

Exactly… reminds me of what mmorpgs used to be 20 years ago when the difficulty forced people to play together from the start!

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Rndomuser

Definitely not me – I don’t enjoy going through same story again and the game has nothing else interesting such as open world PvP (which is what kept me playing Classic WoW for some time).

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aerynne

Does anyone still play this game? I have been locked out since January, when the game decided my password was no longer valid, and my customer service ticket has gone unanswered for five months. The forums are full of stories like mine – oddly, almost all of the affected accounts are “lifetime” accounts.

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Bruno Brito

Yes, there are people playing. Sadly, these tech issues seem to happen with certain frequence when it pertains to LoTRO.

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MesaSage

That’s terrible. What is going on there?