By now, to me, Lord of the Rings Online
is a comfortable, well-worn friend that always offers a very predictable and enjoyable experience whenever I return to the game. It’s absolutely bizarre to me to consider that we’re now in the Post-Ring era of the MMO’s storyline, yet it is all still going strong in its own way.
One thing I cannot deny is that LOTRO is what most people would consider to be an “older MMO.” It’s been in live operation ever since April 2007, and once the game tipped over the decade mark, it joined other long-running titles that had long since shed their youth for maturity and stability.
As I was exploring Northern Mirkwood and going through the new Christmas quest recently, I found my thoughts had turned to evaluating the game’s status as an aging MMORPG. I mean, all MMOs age (if they’re fortunate enough to launch), and not every title can remain young, hot, and popular forever. But that doesn’t mean that they become irrelevant and unengaging when they’ve entered into the middle age of their lifespan. So, I thought, how is LOTRO aging as an 11-year-old product? What is going for it at this point and what is starting to show signs of wear and tear?
Let us travel back to 2009, when Lord of the Rings Online
released its second expansion pack, Siege of Mirkwood
. This pint-sized expansion seemed underwhelming with its options (although it did give us one of my favorite zones in the game), especially after the grandeur that was Moria. However, Mirkwood
did factor in a new feature that made a pretty big splash with players: skirmishes.
Skirmishes were a new type of instanced content that could be scaled in both difficulty and group size, both of which felt revolutionary at the time. They threw players into either an offensive or defensive quest, challenging the group to conquer piles of foes and continue to press onward by claiming flags, defending areas, and defeating optional side objectives. To make matters even more interesting, players got to bring along a soldier companion to assist, and this soldier could be modified and trained to become more effective.
When Lord of the Rings Online
turned its sight toward Mordor, it had been running off of a rather hot streak. Not perfect, mind you, but the past couple of years had seen a lot of great content come into the game. Gondor itself was beautiful and, taken together, a full expansion’s worth of content. Minas Tirith is one of the most breathtaking cities ever created for an MMORPG (performance issues aside). The game reached its 10th anniversary and had us all buzzing about with the new scavenger hunts.
And then… and then we knew we were finally headed into Mordor. That in itself was a monumental moment for many players, and I lost track of how many friends I saw taking screenshots of themselves “walking into Mordor.”
Unfortunately, this ultimate moment of storytelling in a story-heavy, IP-grounded game ended up being a disappointment. Mild for some, crushing for others. From my perspective, I say without malice that Mordor, as an expansion and a region, failed. Today we’re going to touch on the multiple reasons why this is, as well as how Standing Stone Games is getting its groove back with Northern Mirkwood.
If you haven’t noticed already, an extended silence from me in this column space usually means that I’ve taken a break from Lord of the Rings Online
for a while. I come and go from the game usually a few times each year now, but Mordor
took a heavy toll on my interest and I had to rest and rejuvenate even longer than normal this time around.
Right now I’d say my current activity is “dipping my toes back into the water,” but so far I am finding that water inviting and comfortable. Northern Mirkwood is absolutely gorgeous and a complete 180 from the dreary landscape of Mordor. I’m very much looking forward to questing more there while trying to resist the urge to roll up an alt that I’ll never be able to fully level at this point.
For me, the wide-open beauty of Middle-earth’s landscape in this game is its biggest draw. It’s what makes this MMO “feel” so different than any others that I’ve played, and I am applauding the efforts of Standing Stone Games to continually add to it. I spent a full night doing nothing but touring around the Halls of the Elven-king and geeking out about its mentions from The Hobbit. It’s such a beautiful location and a great example of how the team is not phoning it in during LOTRO’s 11th year.
Earlier this week, one of my online friends and fellow Lord of the Rings Online
player put out a notice
that there was now an official Lotro-Wiki Discord channel
. In addition to giving players another place to hang out and discuss the game, this channel reminded me of the invaluable benefit that this wiki has provided to me and many, many others over the years.
In a game as insanely big and complex as LOTRO where there are systems upon systems, numerous expansions, dozens of zones, and so many bizarrely named characters to keep track of, it is helpful to have a central repository of knowledge when trying to figure things out. Lotro-Wiki is great for both the newbie and the veteran with answers to pretty much everything you could ask about what you need to do, where you need to go, and how to get those rewards you desire.
To tip my non-existent cap to this site and its hard-working volunteers, today I want to point you in the direction to 10 of the best and most useful resources that Lotro-Wiki has to offer.
Ever since I’ve been writing this Lord of the Rings Online
column — which spans back to 2010, if you can believe it — I’ve started out every year with a little tradition of making a wish list that I’d like to see happen for the game. This year, I actually debated whether or not to do it, because Standing Stone Games has already sort of laid out its big plans for 2018 (or at least some of them) and I know that the studio’s smaller stature means that we probably can’t expect as much as we once did.
But then I thought, hey, it’s tradition. And why is it a bad thing to aspire to greater things and encourage the studio to reach for those? Should we just roll over and give up on this title that we love? Far be it! So I’m dusting off some old ideas and tossing in a few new ones to give to you my list of 11 things (for 11 years) I want to see happen in 2018 for LOTRO. Let me know what some of your wish list items in the comments too!
“The road goes ever on” is one of the most well-known phrases from Lord of the Rings, alluding to the ongoing journey of the characters, life in general, and even the fandom that poured out of this franchise. That road took us through 2017 and one of the most interesting years for Lord of the Rings Online
since the MMO’s debut in 2007.
After all, this was the first year that saw Standing Stone Games handling the title since the studio’s formation in 2016. We lived through the 10th anniversary, went to Mordor, and lived to tell the tale. It was a year of ups and downs, of mistakes and successes, and one of continued life for LOTRO.
As we walk down the road and get ready to cross the border from 2017 into 2018, I felt it would be appropriate to look back at the year that was and the road we traveled. What great memories did you make in the game — or the game made for you — this year?
One of the quirks — and frustrations — of MMORPGs is that there never seems to be one game that truly has it all. Even some of my favorites are missing what I consider key features or design elements that are present elsewhere, and it’s maddening to think about how much better the game could be with those features transplanted.
For Lord of the Rings Online, I have to say that my biggest frustration with the game design is that dungeons might as well be non-existent. Oh, they’re in the game (and raids and skirmishes too), but LOTRO has never cultivated a dungeon-running community of the sort that you see in contemporary MMOs.
In other games, I enjoy changing up the routine by grouping up with others for a run through detailed setpieces as we battle our way to the final boss. I enjoy the rewards that those runs bring and learn a lot more about how to play my character. This has almost never been the case for me and LOTRO, and it’s not for a lack of trying. This MMO has a grouping problem that undercuts participation and interest in the dungeon scene, making such runs an anomaly instead of part of the mainstream. I have some observations from my point of view and some thoughts about how it could be fixed.
With some depressing news bouncing around the MMO genre as of late, it was particularly welcome to read an upbeat and exciting producer’s letter
from Lord of the Rings Online
this past week. And surprising as well — I don’t think many people were expecting a “state of the game” post in late November, of all times. That’s sort of a “new year” thing. I’m not complaining.
Because you all are my fellow Hobbits, there is no one else who I would rather chat with about all of these reveals. Probably no one else would tolerate me doing this, anyway, so here I am and here you are. What did you think about this letter? Here is my takeaway, but I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
If you haven’t been paying attention to the television market over the past few years, you might have missed the fact that we are in the middle of a revolution of how shows are made and broadcast. Streaming services like Netflix, Amazon, HBO, Disney, and CBS are greenlighting all sorts of fantastic shows with the hopes of strengthening their audience and luring them to these pay-to-watch platforms.
Game of Thrones, Westworld, The Walking Dead, The Defenders, Star Trek Discovery, and Stranger Things are a few examples of how these companies are getting acclaim and major viewership with ambitious projects. Large amounts of money are being thrown around on both the licensing and production of these shows, and companies are frantically looking around for the next big hit. So while Disney is boldly announcing a Star Wars live action TV series, Amazon went to the fantasy equivalent and nabbed a little thing called Lord of the Rings.
Yes indeed. The big news from this past week was that Amazon bought the rights to produce a multi-season Lord of the Rings series. While the exact cost of this deal wasn’t revealed, industry experts estimate that it was somewhere in the neighborhood of $200 to $250 million. No small po-tay-toes any way you look at it. But what will this series mean for our beloved MMORPG? I have a few thoughts about that.
Here’s a weird thing to admit: I was actually concerned when I heard that Lord of the Rings Online
brought back Chance Thomas
to score this year’s Mordor
expansion. It’s not that I dislike him or his music; on the contrary, I recognized that Thomas has created a large amount of terrific music for this MMO’s beloved score. And while SSG has done very well with its scoring in house (Gondor in particular), I would normally be ecstatic to see Thomas come back again.
My concern stemmed from the source material. Mordor is evil, through and through, and I knew that this would call for an oppressively dark soundtrack. I felt that no matter who scored it, it wasn’t going to be an eminently listenable album, and I worried that Thomas’ efforts would be hamstrung by this setting.
After receiving an advance copy of the score (which will go on sale digitally November 1st), I found my concern borne out. Mordor’s OST is very competent and does a great job helping to sell the corrupted, death-strewn nation — but it’s not anywhere near as fun to listen to as, say, Thomas’ adventurous Riders of Rohan or his classic Shadows of Angmar work. That said, there are a couple of standout pieces and some very interesting elements going on with these tunes, so let’s go through it track by track to grok this latest chapter in the LOTRO musical archive.
Two of my absolute favorite “inconsequential” elements of Lord of the Rings Online
have to be the Haunted Burrow every Halloween and the whole Bingo Boffin saga, the latter which I just enjoyed for the first time this past summer. When I discovered that these two features were on a collision course during this year’s Harvest Festival, I about fell off my chair. I might have even ranted a little to my kin about how I was disappointed that no one informed me of this fact. You think that I should start reading patch notes or something…
Since I have run the Haunted Burrow to death (pardon the pun), I eagerly turned to devour this new scrap of holiday content and to reunite with one of my favorite characters in the game. Ever since I’d finished up with the wonderful conclusion of the Bingo quest line, I’ve been secretly hoping that this wouldn’t be the end. That the developers would, one day, bring back this character and Bingo would ride again.
And while his much smaller quest series for the Harvest Festival is a breezy and mostly unremarkable affair, Bingo Boffin brought back his goofy charm — and a shocking twist that might be hinting at dire events to come in LOTRO’s game world.
At the beginning of 2017, it seemed as though a mini-renaissance was brewing for Lord of the Rings Online
. Standing Stone Games broke away from the sinking ship that was Turbine and offered a fresh start of sorts for the long-running MMO. We were coming to a head with the game’s story and a return to large-scale expansions was confirmed with the news of Mordor
Reality and hopes don’t always get along, and while 2017 hasn’t always been the kindest to LOTRO, it hasn’t been a crushing disappointment either. The more I’ve been looking at the state of the game, reading the forums, playing it, and covering news, the more I’ve felt the need to grade how the game is doing in the right here and now.
So why not? It’s school season, so let’s embrace the academic spirit and assign some marks to LOTRO’s operation and state. Agree with these grades? Disagree? Get out your quill and scratch your own thoughts down there in the comments!