LOTRO Legendarium: Reacting to LOTRO’s 2023 roadmap

    
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Hey-nonny-nonny

Do you remember the years of the past when we’d be waiting well into March or even later for a Lord of the Rings Online producer’s letter that would give us a heads-up on the year? I’m just pointing out that we aren’t even done with January before we have a good idea of what’s coming our way in 2023. And I’m not mad about it at all.

So yes, the roadmap was released as both a chart and letter from Orion, and I’m overall pretty pleased with it. It does seem like this format — a letter plus a chart showing the major content drops for the different quarters — is becoming quite the trendy thing among MMOs even beyond Daybreak these last couple of years, and I fully approve. With that said, let’s dig into the highlights and my reactions to these reveals.

Takeaway #1: SSG is still holding some of its cards tight to its chest.

Considering all of the follow-up posts that the devs had to do on the forums, I think it’s pretty obvious that not everything was crystal clear in this letter. SSG was specific about some details, but it painted with a broad, vague brush in other areas. Maybe that’s to save exciting announcements for down the road or to give the studio wiggle room, but I think it needs to be acknowledged that this letter is merely the starting point of the year’s plans, not its totality. I’m fine with that, by the way, but it needs to be said.

Takeaway #2: We’re going to Umbar this fall!

OK, I want to preface this by saying that we need to be careful not to call this an expansion when SSG is being a bit odd with its wording choice. In one part of the letter, it says that we’re looking ahead to an “expanded story” with “new biomes,” while another part says that Q4 will feature the “next major expansion release.” So I’m not calling it a full-fledged expansion (versus a content update or mini-expansion) until the studio clarifies this.

That said, we’re going south: “There was an overwhelming consensus that we wanted to head south to less traveled shores. Across the salty sea, beyond the Bay of Belfalas to the shore of the Corsair Kings, Umbar.”

If you haven’t heard of Umbar before, join the ignorant club of which I am the president. It’s a city far to the south of Gondor that sits on the bay of the west coast of the continent. Suffice it to say, the place is absolutely steeped in history and lore, including ties to Sauron, Gondor, Aragorn, and the DĂșnedain.

This is cool. I think it’s pretty exciting to be traveling further south than we ever have before in LOTRO, and this setting offers the world builders an opportunity to try something different.

Takeaway #3: A new class is coming!

Honestly, I missed this little detail the first time I read the letter. But, yes, we’re going to see a new class around the Umbar release. There’s some strong speculation that the class will thematically be tied to the area, so perhaps a swashbuckler, pirate, reformed corsair, or landlubber might be in our future. In any case, as someone who was underwhelmed by the Brawler, I’m keenly interested in getting a new class that makes me want to play this great game all over again.

Plus, we’re getting a level cap increase. Level 150, I’m calling it, place your bets now.

Takeaway #4: Crafting is getting some love, but is it enough?

I almost never talk about crafting in this space — and for good reason. It’s a system that isn’t strongly compelling in terms of necessity or advantage. Some people like it, but as crafting’s been neglected for a while now, a lot have abandoned it.

So it’s good to see SSG inject some love into it, starting with breaking up the vocation “sets” and letting people mix-and-match their own profession choices. And having better gear gives more of a purpose.

The studio added this in the forums: “While all the details are not ready for full reveal yet, I can say this. The changes will not extend pre-Mordor to start. We will NOT be requiring you to raid to craft top end gear.”

Takeaway #5: The spring’s Gondor adventures sound interesting

While this got a bit buried in the letter, it was brought to management’s attention that LOTRO is planning on putting out a landscape addition this spring. “The Q2 update will include the beginnings of post-war Gondor,” SSG confirmed on the forums.

I’m glad this is the case because the instance cluster coming soon doesn’t interest me (and will continue to not interest me until this game adds a proper cross-server LFG system), and I don’t want to be sitting around twiddling my thumbs until the fall. The studio knows that this game’s been stagnating at the high level for over a year now, so it’s good that level 140s will soon have a journey to undertake.

Takeaway #6: The studio is doing a lot of systems adjusting this year

There are several mentions in this letter and chart of “targeted class updates,” an expanded delving system, and a “power revamp.” This last one immediately sent some people into a tizzy of fear until SSG explained that this would be impacting dungeons only. Honestly, I’m a bit concerned as well — the specter of resilience and other systems created just to push more gear hovers over this title.

I’m also still a bit sore about how SSG handled the Minstrel update last year, so you’ll forgive me if I harbor some concern that the devs are going to break stuff when they go in to re-balance classes.

Takeaway #7: There was a lot unsaid

I don’t expect these sorts of roadmaps to cover 100% of all of a studio’s projects, visions, and goals. But it’s inevitable that we do read these and look for what wasn’t said.

We didn’t hear about a possible console version of LOTRO, EG7’s involvement, River-hobbits, a new Hobbit housing neighborhood, the user interface update, any housing changes, any further business model adjustments, any new legendary worlds, and character transfers from dead servers.

After a lot of calls for a comment on the performance issues, the studio did state on the forums, “We have spent a lot of time and energy investigating and resolving sources of degraded game performance over the past two years, and that work will continue in 2023. Much of the work is centering on how the game communicates with itself, to become as efficient as possible, and to improve the various game systems when we can in cases where older design perhaps didn’t fully consider the ramifications of a game entering its 16th year and the amount of things that would be added to it.”

It’s not the most thrilling roadmap I’ve ever seen, but it’s quite solid. I like the vision for the story going south over the course of the year, and the new class is certainly the biggest feature hook mentioned. So what do you think of all this?

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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