LOTRO Legendarium: Digging into LOTRO’s 2024 roadmap, from U39 to the Baharbêl expansion

    
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Oh boy — it’s roadmap time for Lord of the Rings Online! As we’ve been seeing over the past few years, Standing Stone Games has become way better at pushing out these year-planning letters in January, now with easy-to-grok infographics. So it is with 2024, as we received the MMO’s roadmap this past week from Orion.

It’s a weirdly short letter with more broad strokes than specific details. Still, there’s plenty to dig into here, so let’s break this letter down and see what’s coming, what was left unsaid, and how the overall year is shaping up for our favorite MMO.

After some reflection and self-praise for 2023, the letter turned its gaze upon the coming 12 months. SSG broke down the year’s big pushes into four quarters, which each seem to revolve around a big update — so let’s call them Updates 39 through 42.

The current quarter’s Update 39 is a hefty endgame patch for Corsairs of Umbar, with a pair of three-player instances, a six-player dungeon, a 12-player raid, another chapter in the epic storyline, and more expansions to the delving system. For the casual player, only the epic has any value here, but it’s good that dungeon munchkins, raiders, and delvers (?) are finally getting the more challenging content that really should’ve come with the release of the expansion last fall. That was one of the big criticisms of Corsairs, and from the roadmap it looks like SSG is loath to repeat that mistake again (but more on that later).

Then we move on to spring’s Q2 update, which rolls out more of the epic story and a time-released quest pack called “Catacombs of Umbar.” I’m not a content binger, so I do like a more measured parade of new adventures like what we had with Bingo Boffin many years ago.

The studio also gave us this mystifying hint: “We’ll also make some of the landscape creatures a little more compelling to encounter and fight.” More landscape difficulty options? More mob AI options? Better loot? I have no idea. Again, this letter isn’t really telling us a lot in the specifics.

So far in this letter, I wasn’t feeling much in the way of excitement, but my interest was piqued with this next part. Summer will see a character-centered update that kicks off with a new (and, yes, unspecified) hobby. Is, um, is someone from SSG cribbing ideas from this column? Because if so, I’m going to be obnoxious about wish list items from here on out!

What I’m sure is a massive coincidence aside, word of the game’s second hobby certainly stirred up a lot of interest and speculation in the community. I like how the whole update aims to improve the character experience, too, with class updates, VIP updates, a fourth crafting profession slot, PvP love, and an Elf glow-up.

It’s a tie whether the announcement of a new hobby or the reveal of another expansion coming is the bigger surprise. I really didn’t think we’d see a follow-up expansion so soon, although LOTRO is no stranger to that sort of pacing (previous expansions came out in 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2017, 2019, 2021, and 2023).

In any case, we’re getting another Umbar expansion, this time going east to Umbar Baharbêl and will experience “a new culture, exploring the waste and a vast complex.” I’m digging Umbar so far (and yes, I have a review in the works), so I’m not opposed to more of this down south adventuring. The expansion is coming with four zones, an instance cluster, and a raid at presumably the same time.

I think this push for another expansion a year after Corsairs of Umbar mainly comes from two places: Daybreak urging LOTRO to fit into the same content cadence of EverQuest, and SSG aggressively pursuing a strong shot of income on an annual basis. I’m not complaining, mind you; the gap between Gundabad and Umbar was long and frustrating to high-level players.

The letter concludes on what might be the real sleeper hit of the year: The (very) long-awaited kinship update. We’ve been wanting one forever now, and SSG kept talking about it, so it’s nice to see this actually happening. I can’t wait to hear what it’ll entail, but I’m excited that this should give LOTRO’s social organizations a huge shot in the arm.

“One of our main objectives with the 2024 effort and timeline is to get back into a standardized release cadence,” Orion said on the forums. “It’s a fancy way of saying that we desire to provide four complete releases over the year.”

And overall, it’s a very solid roadmap. To my eyes, it appears more skimpy than 2023’s new race, class, housing neighborhood, and expansion. We aren’t really guaranteed any new regions until the expansion itself, although you could read between the lines on some of these updates to see the possibility for one or two.

It was a mistake for the studio to leave off any mention of tech improvements, as it had to continually addressed in follow-up forums posts (see below). I personally was disappointed that SSG didn’t mention the new legendary server at all despite references to it in the recent past.

The lack of specific details makes it harder than it should be to get too hyped for the year. It’s nice to have a high-level overview, but SSG is holding its cards closer to its chest than before, so we’re going to have to wait and see how this all plays out.

Other info released on the forums:

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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