Earlier this summer when Lord of the Rings Online kicked off its second batch of progression servers — the slow Treebeard and speedy Shadowfax rulesets — I wasn’t on board with it. I hadn’t really returned to LOTRO yet, for one thing, and felt as though I had gotten most of what I wanted from a progression server experience back with Anor. Why do it again?
These two new server types offer significant changes to the standard rules that govern your average LOTRO experience, and I wanted to separate them into two categories for examination. First up on the block is the pace of the content unlocks, which in the case of Treebeard is “mighty dang slow.” SSG hasn’t stated an exact cadence here, instead saying that each new expansion or region unlock will come at a rate of once per five or six months. So we might only get two a year verses the “every two or three months” rate of Shadowfax.
On top of that, the experience gain rate has been reduced to just 40% of the live servers. In comparison, the older progression servers feature a reduced rate of 60%. This rate really encourages a whole lot of content completion to eke out every XP point possible.
For Treebeard’s population, this slowness is a major draw. We know that we’re going to be in the base Shadows of Angmar content for most of the rest of the year. Even for someone who’s late to the party, such as myself, there’s plenty of time to get through all of these zones, get the first volume of the epic done, and deed to my heart’s content. Removing that psychological pressure of having to rush to keep up with the crowds and the unlocks is wonderfully freeing.
I’m not super crazy about the XP reduction, although if you’re enterprising and have access to certain items, that rate can be restored to near 100% if so desired. I will say that it’s made hitting certain level milestones a big deal for my kinshipmates because level 50 certainly feels like an accomplishment rather than a participation award.
The other major change-up to the status quo on these servers is the wholly optional choice to pick a higher difficulty level. There are, weirdly enough, 10 difficulty settings (which is about seven more than is needed, in my opinion) from which to pick. Mostly this is for personal challenge, as the chase rewards are a handful of titles.
However, there is another real benefit to increasing your difficulty, which is that you do get both an XP and virtue XP buff. I guess it’s supposed to make up for longer fights, making the effort-to-reward ratio more or less the same, but it’s still nice to get all the same.
I’ve been asked how the deadly difficulty level feels — I’ve been playing on Deadly-0 — and it’s certainly been an interesting experience. The difficulty slider not only reduces your damage and defenses (thus, making mobs feel like they’re tougher), but it periodically activates an orbital strike from Sauron that takes about 25% of your health if you don’t move fast enough. Additionally, once in a while monsters will get a corruption boost to make them a little trickier to deal with.
I’m of a divided mind on how this is working out. I do like that mobs don’t feel like wet toilet paper when you fight them early on, but the mechanics of this seems jury-rigged and not quite reliable. What I’m most concerned about is the erratic spikes in difficulty that LOTRO peppers into its landscape and instances, especially later on in the game. There are some places where normal difficulty is already too difficult, particularly for some classes, and I can only imagine how tough they’ll get with Deadly active.
It also slows things down considerably, and that can go from “I’m enjoying the workout” to “this is a slog” pretty quickly. The other day I was doing a solo instance and spent an hour and a half trudging my way through packs of mobs that took a while to burn down. The two bosses in that instance took 20 minutes apiece to kill, and by the end of that, I was not feeling much love toward this system at all.
All in all, I do appreciate getting some interesting choices for gameplay styles in 2021, whether or not I — or you — participate in them. As always, it’s been a heady nostalgic trip to go back through the lowbie zones, run those pies, see those northern lights, swim that lake, and curse the day Angmar was ever designed.