I vividly remember back when Lord of the Rings Online launched its first legendary server, Anor, in 2018. Like many of you, I got swept up in the hype of this progression world, yet I felt the import of what clicking that “Create Character” button would entail.
So why did I make that statement? It’s because even in 2018 I was feeling the sheer weight of the content in this game. Even at its launch back in 2007, LOTRO was not a small MMO, and since then it’s grown to be the single largest Middle-earth video game ever made in terms of scope and landmass. This was a mountain — a Mount Everest, even — of an MMORPG, and I couldn’t imagine summoning the time and enthusiasm to scale it more than a couple of times.
Now I’ve proven myself false on this claim so many times since 2018 that I just shake my head at my general foolishness. I really thought my energy for this game was winding down, yet in the years that followed, the opposite’s happened. I’ve ended up creating many new characters, including a brand-new River Hobbit Captain with last month’s patch.
Even though my altitis is still alive and kicking, that doesn’t disprove the fact that LOTRO is a truly daunting MMO if you try to think of all you’d need to do to not only level up to the cap but get through the epic story, deed up your virtues, and go through a good bulk of the zone quests. There are — depending on how you count them — 50 to 75 generally big regions in this game. There are thousands upon thousands of quests, deeds, and epic stories. If you try to take that all in at once, it’s scary big. It might even seem oppressive.
That’s how I used to think because that’s how MMOs trained me to be. Many MMOs push this idea that the most recent expansion or the end game is the only place that’s worthwhile to be. We’re trained to see the buildup to that part of the MMO as sort of training wheels that are teaching us and making us put in our time before we get to the “real” game. So until we’re there, we feel this anxiety at not being there yet — especially if the community and friends are romping around in that limited playground.
I hope we’ve all pushed back against this concept as it’s ridiculous and antiquated. The smarter MMOs are the ones that either get everyone in the same playfield ASAP (Elder Scrolls Online, Guild Wars 2) or truly invest in the whole experience of a leveling journey (LOTRO, SWTOR, FFXIV).
LOTRO is not set up to be a game that you blitz through in a few days and then sit there raiding for months until the next expansion. Its core design is that of a narrative adventure through a gradually unfolding world using the structure of levels, zones, and the epic story to guide the player. It’s a long road trip where the journey — not the destination — is the whole point. It’s what you do and see and experience along the way rather than put yourself through miserable days of marathoning until you’re at the end of it.
From launch until now, I’ve only ever gotten two characters to the level cap and through all of the epic — and one of those finished up quite recently. My roster is littered with characters all over the level spectrum who will, in most likelihood, never see Umbar. Yet I’ve long since gotten past that dread of climbing the mountain to conquer it. Now, I simply enjoy the climbing.
Obviously, I love this game, and so logging into it isn’t a chore or a race. It’s a part of the way I unwind every day as I hop onto that character and go down another stretch of road. I might see a new sight or an old favorite, and I might challenge myself to be more efficient or fight on a higher difficulty level. But no matter what, I’m not looking at the summit. I’m not staring at the end of the road. That way lies madness, my friends.
The crazy thing is that when you stop worrying about how big it all is and how much you have to do, you end up getting a lot more done than you’d think. One of my favorite sci-fi novels has a character who once said at a daunting prospect, “If I put one foot in front of the other, eventually I can walk across the entire world. Just watch me.”
One footstep at a time. One mob, one objective, one session at a time. That’s all you need to concern yourself with. LOTRO is a memory maker, and those memories are waiting for you each and every day — not just at the endgame.