Lord of the Rings Online’s legendary server experiments aren’t done yet. Even though it’s been a while since we’ve seen a new shard come online, we do know that SSG is working on a different ruleset for a server launch in the future. The last time it spoke about it, the studio was cagey about when this would happen, with 2023 a slight possibility and 2024 more likely.
It was intriguing to me to hear that SSG is considering some sort of spin on the existing rulesets, which would be in line with how both Treebeard and Shadowfax experimented with slowing down and speeding up progress respectively. So as we wait to hear about what this next server might bring, I have a suggestion I’d like to bring to the table: a hardcore challenge server.
Now when I’m using the word “hardcore,” I’m definitely not talking about some sort of permadeath or iron man run. There’s no way that LOTRO could create a fair environment for a death-equals-delete scenario, especially with the state of its servers. What I’m talking about is the idea of a server where players are thrown into a very challenging environment from start to level cap and left to their own wits and strategies to figure out the best way to proceed.
I think this could be done, and in fact, I think it would be a huge draw. Right now we’re seeing MMO players who are sick of cushy environments and far-too-easy progress flock to older titles and WoW Classic’s hardcore servers to enjoy sweating a bit for their advancement. LOTRO’s often been accused of watering down its landscape to the point that it rarely presents any obstacles during questing and leveling.
But imagine that SSG announces that it’s going to put a challenge server online that’ll promise to kick, bruise, and defy player characters. A server where advancing is a true accomplishment that will most likely involve mutual cooperation and shared tactics. A server where a gained level isn’t an inevitability but a badge of honor.
Does that thought have your attention? It’s certainly attracted mine.
So I want to propose a challenge server that rests on three primary pillars to differentiate itself from what’s come in the past. The first is that SSG would activate the landscape difficulty system for each and every character, setting it somewhere around Fearless+3 or Heroic.
Ever since the landscape difficulty slider went in earlier this year, I’ve been intrigued by the thought of a server where everyone was subject to a higher challenge level, where it’s mandatory and consistent rather than optional and adjustable. This level of difficulty would be quite tough but not impossible to overcome, especially if players teamed up in duos or small groups to help each other out.
I think this would bring out some unexpected benefits, such as players eager to use group skills outside of dungeons and a rise of volunteers who are naturally protective and helpful of others.
The next pillar would be to repeat what Treebeard did and reduce the XP gain by a healthy amount. This would encourage more grouping — for faster XP acquisition — and a more thorough consumption of questing, deeding, and other activities.
Finally — and here’s where I get truly wacky — I’d propose that SSG would strip out all of the gear quest rewards. As in, you’ll still get every other type of quest reward but just nothing you can equip and wear. This would drive players to rely more on drops, dungeon loot, and (most importantly) crafting. It would be so cool to see an economy explode around crafting if all players relied on this to gear up their characters.
I’m sure that there are other ways to tweak the ruleset to make a server more challenging. Another idea that comes to mind is to enact some harsher death penalties, or even to give players a limited number of “lives” before having to reroll (perhaps getting another life every 10 levels).
But this general idea excites me. I’ve had so much fun playing on a higher-difficulty setting in LOTRO this year, and I wish that more people would give it a try to see what they’re missing. A server where this was de facto law rather than an option could get a lot of eyeballs and interest in LOTRO once again.
What do you think? Would this sort of challenge server be up your alley? What would you change? Let me know in the comments!