LOTRO Legendarium: Exploring Lord of the Rings Online’s choose-your-own-ruleset

    
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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?

Oh, Justin, do you ever need a reason to roll an alt? My character roster indicates I do not. But when a legitimate reason is offered, it’s hard not to take the bait. So while I may be late to the party, I did join Treebeard with a fledgling Beorning (my first time playing this class, but more on that another day) to see what life was like in the slow and difficult lane.

Laid-back leveling

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.

Deadly encounters

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.

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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Barantor

I kind of hope they put the difficulty variance on the normal servers.

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Bruno Brito

I was considering playing Treebeard but two things impede me:

1- Prohibitive cost. I have to play 5.5x the price to play, because of exchange rates. So even a 15dollar purchase becomes two weeks worth of groceries.

2- I simply don’t feel strong about LoTRO’s overall community. How many of those players will last there? How long is the server lifespan, etc etc.

All that being said, i really want them to do a F2P experiment with the same rules. Kinda wanna see how such a server thrives or dies with free players.

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aYates

I’m tempted to try LOTRO again since Amazon cancelled their Middle-Earth MMO and since I’ve been drifting away from WoW Classic given everything going on and no Justin article… But, I’m wary of the cost to get caught up on LOTRO, whether it’s a slower server type or standard.

Like, how expensive is it to unlock all the content up to the next expansion?

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Sleepy

Well on a regular server it’s free to play for long enough to let you decide if you like it (up to level 50). You have to sub to access the ruleset servers Justin’s talking about. SSG are talking about changing their monetisation model, so things might well be different by the time you decide.

I think subbing gets you access to pretty much everything bar the very latest high level stuff? I’m open to correction here, but even if you play heavily that’s all a long way off.

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rk70534

You can play free beyond 50, but you need to buy expansions to get their content. Sub doesn’t give access to them.

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Michael18

There are a few annoying, essential things you have to unlock in the cash shop early on (like getting rid of a gold limit LOL), but iirc all of those will unlock if you sub for 1 month, and will remain unlocked forever on a per-character basis, even if you end the sub after that. So, the general consensus (afaik) is that for new players it is best to sub for 1 month and just leisurely get a feel for the game. After that you should decide to either go for unlocking all content step by step and never paying a sub (that’s what I’ve done) or subbing whenever you wanna play.

I think Sleepy’s advice of just starting to play for a few weeks and worrying about the cost later is very good.

Starting with 1 month of sub is also good because it gives you the option of trying out the progression servers. Given cambruin’s experience, below, they might be a good option for new players. Just keep in mind that if you wanna play on them long term it will require a sub.

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Michael18

Oh, and most importantly: welcome to Middle Earth! :)

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aYates

Thanks for the advice!
I do have a level 15 sitting on a regular server.
I’ll have to decide whether to continue or start over..

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Sleepy

Treebeard has dragged me right in, I have four characters now in the 20s, should have them all ready to go for Moria by Christmas.

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Life_Isnt_Just_Dank_Memes

I love that they do this and I love the names for the servers too. If you like a slow progression, may I suggest going from level 62 to 63 in BDO?

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Michael18

Progression servers make sense for heavily group focused games such as EQ, but for LOTRO I don’t like that approach very much, because it segregates the community. I’d prefer giving players the option to fine tune the rule set on the ordinary servers during character creation.

cambruin
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cambruin

The ordinary servers however suffer from huge imbalances. Everyone has eleventythree alts with top-tier crafting unlocked. While you can argue -and I’d agree- that classic servers draw people away from regular servers, thus dividing the community, the progression servers -Treebeard especially- offer a different type of community. Everyone is reliant on others. We don’t have all craft readily available (yet), we can’t solo the way we did and where most servers have what.. 500 or so players scattered over 130 levels, Treebeard has 400 on weekdays scattered across only 50 levels.

I was completely burnt out on LotRO regular servers and their community of whales, but I absolutely love Treebeard. It harkens back to the old days, not only gameplay-wise, but community-wise as well.

Though if they want the progression servers to remain the success that they are ( Treebeard and Anor maybe?), they should really find a way to unlock PvMP on it and open Monster Play to non-vip.

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Michael18

Good point. But I think some of that could be solved on ordinary servers with special rule sets. For example, when creating a character you could give people the option to turn off auction house and direct char-to-char trade (and mail with items/gold, etc.) or restrict it to those characters who have that option turned on as well. But you’re right, it will never be the exact same thing as a progression server.