Server performance issues aside, Lord of the Rings Online’s 15th anniversary has been a smashing success. It’s been far greater an event than I had anticipated, to be honest, especially with the new zone, the bevy of freebie handouts, a three-CD soundtrack release, and a whole lot of nostalgic chatter from the developers about the history of the game.
As I shared last month, it was apparently a PC Gamer article that first attracted me to the unique setting and feel of this MMORPG. I don’t recall much of the beta itself, other than it confirmed that I was most certainly interested in investigating LOTRO’s world.
But what I do remember — quite vividly, in fact — is how the game began. You see, there was a head start for players who had pre-ordered, but Turbine did something really interesting for that by restricting everyone to a level cap of (wait for it) level 15. In retrospect, this was a genius stroke. It let people get in and start having fun without racing ahead and getting too far ahead of the Day One population.
The side effect of this week or so of a restricted head start was a more relaxed and social beginning to our adventures in Middle-earth. Everyone got to explore different classes, check out the crafting scene, and poke around in the starter regions to their heart’s content. I invested in a lifetime subscription at that point, a decision that’s since paid off in spades. If you have a time machine and can go back to 2007, I highly recommend doing the same.
Once the official launch happened, however, we were off to the races. Those early years certainly featured a game that might be somewhat unrecognizable to players today. The pace of combat was slower. We had class trait lines instead of trait trees. Over the first year, features and zones were patched in, including Evendim, the reputation system, Angmar, cosmetic outfits, and Forochel.
We really didn’t have to wait long, either, before Mines of Moria arrived roughly a year and a half after the launch. This became such a seminal addition to the game that it’s hard to imagine Lord of the Rings Online without it — and its Warden, Rune-keeper, and legendary items.
As with many MMOs at that time, I came and went from LOTRO as my interest allowed. I don’t think I really started to get super-serious about it until I started covering it in January 2010 for old Massively. That was, to re-appropriate a phrase, a game-changer for me. Overnight, it transformed LOTRO from one-of-many MMOs I played to one in which I was deeply invested.
Certainly, talking about this MMO from a semi-professional standpoint was a little different from just playing or blogging about it (although I did plenty of both). I gave my hot takes on the free-to-play conversion, the entanglements with Codemasters’ European operation, and first impressions of Rise of Isengard (the first expansion that came out on my watch).
Sometimes I was blowing more hot air than I would’ve liked. I remember being unduly harsh toward Turbine for a couple of store items that, in hindsight, were not nearly as pay-to-win as I thought they were. I also got really grumpy about the hobby horse mount because lore and stuff. Eh, we all have our off days.
Throughout the years, I took many breaks, but Lord of the Rings Online would always be ready to open its doors and welcome me home. I’ve started more alts and done that Archet beginner area more times than I care to admit (well well well if it isn’t the rumor-monger), yet I’ve mostly gravitated to a trio of classes — the Lore-master, Captain, and Minstrel — that really held my interest. I’ve gone through every zone and every expansion at this point save for about half of Fate of Gundabad and Yondershire (it’s coming! it’s coming!). I think I have three premium houses at this point and zero regret.
And like many of you, I can’t believe it’s now been 15 years since release. That’s a heck of a long time, friends. I’ve grown a family as the LOTRO map’s expanded to incredible dimensions. I’ve dabbled and dived into many other MMORPGs and blogged about them all. And while you’d think that a decade-and-a-half would be more than enough time to strip away the charm and appeal of this virtual Middle-earth… it really hasn’t. I still love making myself a cup of tea at the end of the day and booting up LOTRO for another adventure as the crickets chirp outside my window.
So here’s to 15 incredible years, hundreds of columns, and thousands of in-game experiences. Wouldn’t it be neat to come back in 15 more and be celebrating just as hard?