LOTRO Legendarium: Embracing Lord of the Rings Online’s new class/race combos

    
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Lord of the Rings Online’s July through September edition of the Producer’s Letter appeared this week, hauling along with it some disappointment, some intrigue, and some controversy. My initial impressions of the letter — which bore up as I re-evaluated it the next morning — is that this batch of notes is a tad underwhelming after the crazy awesomeness that was the 15th Anniversary and Yondershire.

Many players rightly pointed out that SSG hasn’t done much of anything for high-level play since Gundabad, such as adding a new 140 zone or opening up additional raids or instances. I’ve gotten the impression that the studio is more focused this year on shoring up the weaker points of the early game in anticipation for a future influx of players. And that’s fine in principle, but I agree that the endgame is seriously stagnating at this point and should be addressed.

That said, what did this letter have for us? Well, we now know that there will be two smaller patches and no major updates between now and September. July’s Update 33.1 will bring a new set of Further Adventures, this time with Elrond’s kids (last seen on that failed PvP server experiment) and a slightly improved Treasure Bugan event. That event didn’t really take last time around, so I’m hoping that the promised improvements will make it more accessible and enjoyable. There’s also the return of the Farmer’s Faire and the next season of the Legendary Item reward track.

The letter weirdly spends two paragraphs talking about the upcoming shutdown of the Anor progression server at the end of August. Even with free transfers, this news hasn’t made people there happy, as I guess they were hoping that they could stay on the shard indefinitely. But I can see SSG’s perspective – that the server has run its course, the population is small, and the realm can be emptied out and repurposed for a future legendary world.

As I said, so far this is a little underwhelming as a whole, even with Raninia’s teased “summer surprise” tucked into one paragraph. I’m not so deluded that I think every three-month producer’s letter needs to contain earth-shattering news, but you do kind of hope for more stuff to do over the summer months than this.

However, the letter didn’t fully disappoint because the real lede here is that LOTRO is about to vastly expand its race and class combinations with September’s Update 33.2. The nine additional combos are:

  • Dwarf Captain
  • Stout-Axe Captain
  • Dwarf Warden
  • Stout-Axe Warden
  • Elf Burglar
  • High Elf Burglar
  • Hobbit Lore-master
  • Hobbit Champion
  • Human Rune-keeper

This sort of wide expansion of class/race combos has never happened in the MMO’s history to date, and this announcement sent shockwaves through the community. People are very much not on the fence here; they either hate this news or absolutely love it.

The hate almost all comes from the perspective of “but the lore!” If you haven’t noticed, LOTRO fans are really, really sensitive to whenever the game steps out of bounds on established Tolkien lore, and there’s some fierce gatekeeping going on because of that sensitivity. But I think the vitriol from some quarters over this is unwarranted and, to be frank, silly.

Adaptations of any work of fiction make some allowances for change and deviation. There’s no such thing as a 100% faithful adaptation of, say, a book, because readers will interpret in different ways. Even with a game like LOTRO that tries to be as faithful as it can be to the spirit and text of the books needs to have some freedom to make some changes to adapt Lord of the Rings to a massively multiplayer space.

So you want to argue that this is beyond the pale lore-breaking, then you’ve already lost the fight on Hobbits wearing shoes, or Rune-keepers, or, heck, why we’re allowed to decimate the denizens of nature that Tolkien clearly loved. These combos aren’t going to change the story, landscape, setting, or tone of the game in any significant fashion. I never felt that the class/race debate was a hill worth dying on for the sake of lore, anyway.

From my perspective, it’s a great move. Aside from Beornings (which should always stay unique because that’s what they are), I am totally fine with every race having access to every class (excluding Beornings, there will be only six race/class combos prohibited after this change). For a game that’s a decade-and-a-half old, it spices things up and gives us veterans a new way to experience the game we love. It’ll also be interesting to see how these new combos work with the racial traits paired with previously inaccessible classes.

It’s also going to encourage a lot of re-rolling come this fall, which should inject more population into the lower game and give SSG a bit of a breather to figure out what it wants to do with the high-level game.

Considering that it’s been at the top of my wish list to roll a Hobbit Lore-master, I’m beyond thrilled at this news. I’m already planning a full journey back through the game in September, and I know I’m not alone.

That’s about it for an analysis of the letter. I have a feeling that this period is going to be a breather before something much bigger this autumn, and I can’t wait to see where the game’s going from here.

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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