Sometimes the passage of time triggers disheartening moments when we feel things slipping away from us. The internet seems to nastily delight in prompting these dismaying realizations when posters go out of their way to highlight how much time has slipped by.Lord of the Rings Online, an MMO that has endured — and not just survived, but also grown, thrived, and matured.
And so we come to this MMO’s 16th birthday. Yes, 2007 seems so far away, but this game provides an easy bridge from then until now. Every time I create a new character and revisit the Shire (which happens far too often for me to be comfortable admitting it), I hold hands with my past self and skip among the pastoral hills delivering pies, avoid nosy hobbits, and discover the shocking secret of the haunted library once more.
It’s crazy awesome to realize how large this virtual Middle-earth has become since its humble origins. When LOTRO launched 16 years ago, we thought that the landmass of Eriador was huge and expansive. Now that seems like a drop in the bucket compared to the 10 (or so) expansions and numerous zones added in the years since. This world now stretches from the frozen north to the coastal south, from the western haven of the Elves to the eastern stretches of Mordor.
We have all gone on a great journey, touching on every corner of J.R.R. Tolkien’s trilogy and more besides. Tom Bombadil received his due after being neglected in the movies. So many Rangers lived and (especially) died in helping Aragorn claim the throne of Gondor. We’ve had our own fellowship that ended in separation and heartache. The War of the Ring escalated and came to bitter blows at Pelinnor Fields and the Black Gate. Moria held us captive far too long, while Mordor beat us black and blue.
And we are still moving forward, ever onward.
If I could go back to 2007 and talk to myself as I began this journey into Middle-earth, I hardly know what I’d say. That you’ll still be enjoying it nearly two decades later along with many great friends you’ve met along the way. That maybe you need not be as concerned about the free-to-play switch as you were when it first arrived. That this game is best enjoyed when it’s savored rather than binged. That you’ll have plenty of time to smell all of the flowers (and probably have to pick a lot of them for needy elves) along the way.
I think that one of the greatest testaments to the special nature of this game is how you still, after 16 years, routinely encounter player groups entertaining each other through performances and roleplaying. LOTRO’s community is renowned for organizing all sorts of wide-ranging events, from multi-day concerns to scavenger hunts to touching memorials.
No, I’m not putting LOTRO on a pedestal or idolizing it. It’s not the be-all, end-all experience — or even game — for my life, and it’s got plenty of issues (some small, some annoyingly persistent). But it’s been a blessing. I’ve played and loved many MMOs in my day, and I can attest to how rare it is to encounter one that goes the distance with development, engagement, and design.
And speaking of development, I have to give appropriate praise to the passionate team at Standing Stone Games. I can’t imagine sticking with a project like this for 16 years — more, actually, considering its initial creation — and not becoming bored with it. I’m always impressed by the dedication that this small team has to preserving and building a world that’s authentic to the books.
Plus, when you consider that there’s always another task, another expansion, another fix that needs doing, I admire the devs who roll up their sleeves and tackle it. SSG has done so, so much with relatively fewer resources than your bigger online games.
Finally, I’m happy to continue to be your LOTRO columnist in this space. I initially inherited this column (which was called Road to Mordor back in the day) in 2010 as the game was only in its second expansion. I’ve had a great time analyzing and talking about this MMO ever since, and I am glad you’ve all stuck with me her as well.
I’m reminded of this Hobbit quote: “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”
What a merry online world it’s been!