LOTRO Legendarium: 10 reasons to get psyched about Before the Shadow (that aren’t the new zones)

    
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Standing Stone Games went and pulled a classic case of misdirection on all of us — and I’m not complaining. While the studio had us almost laser-focused on the dual zones coming with next month’s Before the Shadow mini-expansion, it was secretly preparing several amazing quality-of-life changes for Lord of the Rings Online.

Now, thanks to Update 34 going up on Bullroarer this week, the surprise is out. I wasn’t alone in jittering with glee as the patch notes unfolded to reveal many great reasons to get excited about the patch — even if you’re not planning on buying the zone packs themselves. In fact, there are easily 10 features that will greatly improve our favorite MMO, so let me recap them for you along with some thoughts on each.

Class Trait Point Change

Class trait points were always one of the most important parts of character progression, and if you didn’t get enough of them, you were effectively limiting your effectiveness. However, LOTRO has always made you do a wide range of activities — some more annoying and time-consuming than others — to get those 98 total points.

This is about to change: With Update 34, 100% of your class trait points will come from leveling. As GM Cordovan explained, “In general, players now earn 1 point every level from 2-22, then 1 point every other level thereafter. Bonus points are given at level caps, and content releases that only raised the level cap by 5 distribute a point every level through that range.”

I cannot express what a joyful game-changer this decision is. It streamlines a messy character system and allows for far more player choice while leveling, as you won’t be tied to doing specific activities (epic battles, quest clusters) to advance in trait point acquisitions. The only downside is having to respec every character in the game, but that’s a hassle I’ll gladly accept.

Delving System

While a bulk of this update is focused on the early game, high-level players aren’t being excluded. They’ll have a new twist on missions to check out with delvings — a scaling difficulty system that offers tougher challenges and better rewards.

I’m eager to try these out myself and see how doable they are, especially since I have a Captain sitting at max level spinning her wheels right now. A lot of attention should be given to this system, too, seeing as how SSG said that it wants to roll it out to other instanced content in the game. Hopefully it’ll live up to the studio hype.

New Tutorial Zone — And Tutorial Options

Before the Shadow is set to be the most alt-friendly update ever to LOTRO, and a big change to the tutorial zones help with that. Previously, your race dictated which intro zone you had to do. Now, you’ll be given three options upon rolling a new character: Do your traditional tutorial area, engage in the new Mossward border village, or skip the tutorial section entirely and be dumped out into the wider world.

As someone who’s done the Archet zone probably close to 100 times in my LOTRO career, I embrace this change with a firm bear hug of thanks. I predict a whole lot of new characters come next month!

Expanded Quest Tracker

My jaw literally dropped when I saw the patch note that said the quest tracker was finally — finally! — expanding from the meager five spots to a much more respectable 10. This has been a highly requested change for years and years now, and SSG’s struggled with technical limitations to make it happen.

Considering that the tracker shares spots between quests and deeds, it’s terrific that we won’t have to make as many painful choices which ones to include and which to hide. And yes, this means that the maps now track all 10 items with various color blobs.

New Reward Track

Update 34 will mark the start of the game’s fourth Legendary Item season. This means a new reward track with four chase items: a black steel lockbox key (level 25), a red salamander pet (level 50), another black steel key (level 75), and a warm winter goat kid pet (level 100).

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been half-heartedly doing the LI reward track. I mean, if I unlock it with all of my normal actions, great, but I often forget about it and don’t get nearly as many levels as I need for some of the good rewards. Still, a couple of free lockbox keys are nothing to sneeze at!

New Maps

In addition to adding the expected maps for Swanfleet and Cardolan, SSG is also revamping four older maps to bring them in line with the modern style. This means that Enedwaith, Lone-Lands, Eregion, and the entire Eriador region are getting face-lifts. It’s a small thing, but I do like a helpful map, and these all look fantastic.

New Skirmish

Hey, look at that: The devs haven’t abandoned skirmishes entirely in their pursuit of missions! “Doom of Caras Gelebren is a new Defensive Skirmish available to players levels 20-140, featuring a suite of new Deeds and unique rewards.”

I don’t do many skirmishes these days, but, sure, I’ll check this one out, especially if it does have some desirable rewards attached.

Optional Session Play

Now, I don’t mind session play instances — those special quests where you’re put into the shoes of another character (sometimes in a different time era!) as a storytelling device. But I guess some people really don’t like being yanked out of their own character’s shoes, which is why SSG is offering the ability to circumnavigate many of these session play quests if so desired. More choice is good!

Free Riding Skill (And Mount)

How many LOTRO Points have you spent on riding skills over the years? Now you don’t have to spend any, because SSG is adding a new quest to the tutorial that will train your riding skill and even grant you a beginner mount. Again, this update is really pushing alts, and taking the cost of riding skills off the table gives players more incentive to try out as many characters as they like.

New Monster Play Intro

I guess SSG is still pushing Monster Play hard — Orion is no doubt at the head of this parade — but if it’s a part of the game that you’re interested in trying, then there’s a special treat for you. The studio’s adding an introductory quest for monster players during which a “War-tyrant” will rally players to the Enemy’s side and grant some useful blessings.

Final Thoughts

I was already excited about Before the Shadow, but now I’m thrumming with impatience that it’s not here yet. I’m sure there’s going to be some debate over some of these changes — and the class adjustments (particularly for Brawler and Burglar) — but on the whole this update is shaping up to actually be deserving of the term “mini-expansion.”

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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