LOTRO Legendarium: Amazon plays at making a Lord of the Rings MMO… again


Weren’t we just here?

I mean, that’s what everyone’s thinking, am I right? It was just three years ago that I penned a column about the then-fresh announcement that Amazon, Leyou Games, and Athlon Games were working on some sort of Middle-earth MMORPG, possibly to coincide with the new TV series (the latter of which emerged this past year as Rings of Power). And it was back in 2021 that this project was canceled.

And now we’re here again. It’s weird. It’s heady. It’s worrying. It’s OK.

If the rapidity of the new announcement on the heels of the shuttered project seems odd, you need only to consider the rights at hand. Amazon is sitting on a huge franchise with Lord of the Rings right now, and even if things didn’t work out with the first MMO, it still has the rights to try again. So why wouldn’t it? Middle-earth games, TV shows, and other related media are still pretty popular, and we even heard word this past February that Warner Bros. is contemplating making more movies set in this universe.

So why wouldn’t they try to crack this nut again? Makes sense to me.

The actual announcement is skimpy on details but laden with implications. The big takeaway here is that Amazon (and company) is indeed making a “new massively multiplayer online (MMO) game based on The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien.” Whenever a studio pulls out an unapologetic MMO label for an upcoming game, you best believe that it gets our attention.

Now this space that’s been pretty much occupied only by Lord of the Rings Online (outside of text MUDs) may be expanding in the next few years for a second online title. It’s a major studio that’s been shifting hard into the MMO market, and it’s said that it will both develop and publish this title.

Other small details that stick out to me:

  • I like the logo that the company is starting with here. It’s clean, striking, and franchise-appropriate.
  • Amazon doesn’t say it’s an RPG in the announcement but rather “an open-world MMO adventure in a persistent world.” Could be splitting hairs here, but I’m not willing to make assumptions. Just noting it.
  • Saying that the game is “set in Middle-earth, featuring the beloved stories of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings literary trilogy” sort of implies a Third Age, book-era setting.
  • It’s in the “early stages of development” with the ink from the deal still drying, so we’re not going to see this for a few years at best. Maybe, maybe 2025 at the earliest, but 26 or 27 would be a safer assumption if Amazon is piggybacking on its established work. Speaking of which…
  • The same studio branch that created New World is making this. Could it be a Middle-earth overlay of New World? I mean, it wouldn’t be the worst thing if so. In any case, let’s hope that the team’s taking its hard-earned lessons from New World to do better with MMO number two.
  • It’ll be published globally on PC and consoles. That’s good news for accessibility, not to mention the fact that — if this goes through — it’ll be the only Lord of the Rings MMO on consoles. Not even New World’s taken that step yet.
  • Speaking to IGN, Amazon Games said that this game is “completely new. The old project wasn’t very long [in] development. It’s not that it was a three-year project, it was a fairly small team working on a certain part of the game, but that was not a full-blown production.”
  • The studio said that this version of the license is “much, much wider” than the one it had with the previous LOTR project.
  • “We’re taking every care to deliver an MMO which will do justice to the expansive Middle-earth universe and delight players around the world.”

I don’t think that any of us would’ve predicted a few years ago that Amazon would be the new multi-MMO powerhouse in the tradition of SOE or Trion Worlds, but here we are. A Lord of the Rings MMO is a big get for the company, but it’s one that’s going to come with a lot of expectations and scrutiny, as fans have not historically suffered poor mismanagement of the franchise.

If I may be allowed a paragraph of speculation, from this press release alone I get the impression that this will likely be more of an action MMO that’ll focus more on flashy visuals and lots of Middle-earth fanservice. It could be substantial, perhaps, but it could also be a Shadow of War-like experience that completely disrespects its source material for a mindless generic romp with Hobbits. It could use the same template of New World’s survival-lite crafting gameplay loop. I wouldn’t complain too much if this were the case.

What we don’t know about this title could fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool and then some. Speculating is probably futile at this point, as is getting too over-hyped.

But what about being concerned? Because that’s what I’m seeing among the Lord of the Rings Online community this week. We went through this a few years back, naturally, and here we are again. I’ll put it bluntly: There are fears that either Middle-earth Enterprises would yank LOTRO’s license in favor of the new kid on the block (“pulling a Star Wars Galaxies” is how my mind characterize it) or that a new MMO may hurt or shove aside LOTRO.

People (including me) genuinely love this game and grow naturally protective of it when a possible threat is sensed. I get that. And we really don’t know. I don’t think it’s super likely that MEO will pull the license to the most faithful Lord of the Rings game that has ever existed, but nobody’s guaranteeing that it can’t or won’t, either. SSG put out a statement that’s a brave face with no concrete details on the licensing, saying that the game isn’t going away. You can either take that at face value or not, but it’s something the studio would put out no matter what will happen.

It does sound like Amazon wants to come out swinging with this game, saying, “Now, the mission we are on, and the mission Embracer fully supports, Middle-earth Enterprises fully supports, is to make the biggest, best MMO out there based on Lord of the Rings. That’s our ambition.”

I’ll say that I really don’t like the condescending attitude that Amazon’s VP had toward LOTRO, though. It was tacky and probably only accomplished the feat of souring some dedicated Lord of the Rings fans against the new project.

But as for competition, hey, bring it on. I love playing multiple MMOs, and I would like to see what a different team could do this this same franchise. SSG is no stranger to having an MMO that just so happens to exist in an IP that is shared with another (vastly different) MMO, so now it might have two. And since DDO and Neverwinter both continue to survive, that gives some hope.

For now, we’ll patiently wait for any further details, and when there’s something substantial to discuss, it’ll crop up in this column. But it’s too early to be jumping for joy or freaking out over a falling sky. Amazon has already failed to bring one LOTR MMO to completion, so there’s no guarantees there either. Wait and see, my furry-footed friends. Wait and see.

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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