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.
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!