LOTRO Legendarium: Rethinking LOTRO’s landscape soldiers


In December 2009, Lord of the Rings Online added one of its most unique side systems with skirmishes. Not only were these instances flexible in size and difficulty, but they also offered players the opportunity to bring along a virtual soldier to assist in the fight. The idea was that these soldiers could shore up a player’s weakness — a healer soldier for a melee DPS class, for example, or a tank soldier for a squishy character.

I remember getting absurdly excited a few years later when the studio announced that it was allowing players to wield skirmish soldiers out on the questing landscape to help out in tough spots or with grinding. That excitement was quickly dashed a moment later when we learned that this wasn’t a permanent feature; you had to buy or collect tokens to allow a soldier to appear for a limited time.

In my eyes, this promising feature was sacrificed on the altar of the cash shop and left to rot. I don’t see a lot of people using landscape soldiers, and even though I have accumulated piles of tokens over the years, I scarcely use mine. It’s either that I forget they exist or don’t want to waste that time that’s always counting down when they’re summoned.

Like many orphaned LOTRO systems, landscape soldiers have a gem of a good idea going on there — and could be dusted off, improved, and made relevant. Giving every class a combat pet is a cool idea, especially since it’s one that’s customizable. But this will take some work and vision on behalf of SSG, and I haven’t heard the studio talk about landscape soldiers in a very long time.

To make a case for what I’m calling “Landscape Soldiers 2.0,” I want to quickly touch upon two contemporary MMOs that also feature similar systems that are far more supported.

First, there is Final Fantasy XIV, which allows you to summon your chocobo mount as a fighting assistant when you’re on foot. This comes pretty standard as part of the main storyline and is quite cheap to do, requiring a paltry purchase of a consumable from vendors to trigger a half-hour of help.

Second, a few years back Elder Scrolls Online added its companion system that is one of the most buffed-up examples of this that I’ve seen. Companions are collected via short quest lines in various expansions (there are currently four, with two more on the way for 2024) and can be permanently summoned once recruited. I love that each one comes with a ton of voiced quotes for various situations, giving them a very BioWare companion feel.

Both chocobos and companions can level up, be customized for certain roles, and have gear and cosmetics assigned to them. They feel more thought-out and hefty, a core system that aids the ongoing adventures out in the main world (but not in dungeons). Sometimes they feel a little overpowered, often not. And I love them.

There are far more examples across the industry, such as Star Trek Online’s and SWTOR’s crew, that also feature fleshed-out design ideas.

So how could LOTRO learn from these systems and bring its own landscape soldiers up to spec? First of all, SSG needs to ditch the tokens and simply allow skirmish soldiers a free summons on landscape. If it needs to console itself with the loss of a very small revenue stream, it could say that there would be a lot of opportunities to sell soldier cosmetics in the store instead. And you know we eat up cosmetics.

It’s probably high time that skirmish soldiers have their progression and trait system revamped. It’s still using a very old and very clunky design that could be reworked into a streamlined talent tree with some slots for race and outfit visuals. Let soldiers level up with normal XP rather than marks, giving more use for XP in this game.

But what could be the most interesting is if you didn’t merely buy a landscape soldier from a vendor but attained them via questing, drops, and even dungeons. It opens up a lot of possibilities for an expanded loot table and incentives to do certain content. We already collect mounts and pets — why not soldiers? There could be different rarities, various races outside of the typical player ones, and all sorts of fun looks and voice quotes.

With last year’s addition of tougher landscape questing, having a permanent soldier alongside would make some of the higher difficulties more feasible (if still challenging). And this would give each player his or her own small “fellowship.”

What do you think about landscape soldiers? Should SSG revisit their design? Would you like to have an improved system at your fingertips? Sound off in the comments!

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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