The pricey Lord of the Rings Online remaster is officially dead, and its console port is now on the “backburner.” It is, depending on whom you ask, the end of the world, the end of hope, or a non-event that doesn’t change much of anything at all.
Today, I want to look at perspectives on this topic and share why I think it’s perfectly fine that the remaster isn’t going to happen. Sorry, Chicken Little, but you’re going to have to freak out a different day.
The first thing to discuss is the fact that this idea of a remaster was mostly presented to EG7’s investors rather than the LOTRO community – and several years ago at that. Companies are always putting their best face forward for their shareholders and investors, and having some grand projects in the wings stirs up excitement and assurance of a strong future.
The remaster and console port projects were never mentioned prior to EG7 stepping into the picture, and when that first happened, we had no idea how much potential they really saw in this MMO. But hey, if the new owner was willing to dump money into improving our beloved title, who was going to complain?
I think that became the dominant line of thought among existing LOTRO fans. If this big, nebulous improvement to the game someday happened, then great, but we weren’t going to be putting a lot of stock into it. Even when Standing Stone Games touched on the remaster during a Q&A or two, we weren’t given a lot of concrete details what this would entail.
Presumably, it would’ve been a rolling series of graphical improvements to objects, zones, and characters. But what was never mentioned was a transfer to a new game engine or a revamp to the degree of making this “LOTRO 2.0.” What EG7 said was that it was “planning visual and technical updates for LOTRO for PC and nextgen consoles to capitalize on Amazon’s highly publicized large investment (~$500m) in LOTR TV series” and that it was “investing in a major revamp to upgrade the visuals, modernize the experience and release on consoles.” I think that’s important to understand because mention of a revamp for console specifically definitely led gamers to expect something much bigger than a rolling graphics touch-up.
So we had a fuzzy outline of a project with no timeline or promised outcome, and the studio actually handling the game wasn’t talking about it very much at all. This is why I said that most existing LOTRO players weren’t stocking a lot of hope in this. We already have a pretty good-looking game — I know graphics is subjective, but I hold to this view — and realistically there wasn’t going to be any project that would make LOTRO look, feel, and function as a modern MMORPG built in the 2020s apart from an MMO built from scratch.
But if the internal perspective on this remaster was tepid at best, why did this announcement a couple weeks ago stir up such high emotions? Because current LOTRO players aren’t the only ones who have perspective on this. Lots of people care about the future of this game, including former players that harbor disillusionment or dissatisfaction (but are willing to be wooed back) and people who’ve held off from playing LOTRO because it doesn’t meet their standards.
I think we see this sentiment a lot in the broader MMORPG community. It’s usually expressed as, “I’d totally be playing [name of MMO] if only it [modernized its graphics, ported over to a new game engine, put in a certain feature that I adore].” I’ve fallen prey to this line of thought in the past, but in recent years I’ve come to realize that this is a foolish perspective. Conditional engagement in a game reveals that you’re already not that invested in playing it, so even if that condition was met, there’s a really good chance you wouldn’t stick around for the long haul anyway.
In other words, if you wanted to play an MMO, you’d be playing it — not waiting for some hypothetical day that your feature ship would sail into port.
I can understand if this is disappointing for those who were hoping for some sort of amazing LOTRO renaissance in the future. Don’t we all harbor thoughts of that for our long-running games from time to time? That their glory days aren’t fully behind them — but some ahead?
Yet it’s not all downhill from here. Believe it or not, LOTRO has had one of its busiest 12-month periods in terms of output than it’s had in perhaps a decade. We’re on track for five major patches — including a mini-expansion and full one — by the time Umbar rolls out. There’s been a new race, with a new class on the way. The difficulty system outright revitalized the game experience for many, myself included. SSG is working hard on shoring up old systems and revamping legacy content, such as crafting and stats. It hasn’t all gone off without a hitch, but it’s certainly not a sign of a dead, dying, or maintenance-moded game. (There are much larger AAA games that aren’t pumping out this much content on this cadence.)
LOTRO was already vibrant and moving forward, with or without a remaster. That’s where I choose to put my hope rather than on some hazy project that nobody honestly thought would happen.