It always seems a bit unfair, a bit impatient, and a bit premature to be asking that eternal question of an MMO: “What’s next?” This, perhaps, is doubly true when a recent meaty expansion is still providing an (exploded) mountain of content with an instance cluster on the way. You can almost hear the developers’ eyes roll and their exasperated sighs as they say, “Can’t you be content with where you are right now?”
No, not really. Speculating about the future is one of the exciting hallmarks of MMO fandom, and I feel it’s entirely possible to be both content with where you’re at while wondering what’s to come. So with that caveat out of the way… what’s next for Lord of the Rings Online when Mordor is said and done?
Before we dig into the possibilities (six of them, to be precise), we should acknowledge that Mordor itself will no doubt be the central focus of LOTRO through the end of this year and probably most of 2018 as well. There is a great deal of landscape left undeveloped and unexplored, and I have no doubt that the Black Book of Mordor could be expanded into a fat volume when all is said and done.
If there’s one topic of discussion that I’ve been hearing a lot in world chat, on the forums, and among my kinship, it’s about Lord of the Rings Online: Mordor
and its huge jump in difficulty.
It is pretty much the first thing you notice when you head through the Black Gates to the land beyond. Mordor is waiting there, ready to chew you up and spit you back out. Until you start getting the new quest gear rewards and bump up your Light level with it, progress is agonizingly slow. And even after a zone or two, it’s far from a walk in the park. Mobs hit hard, have deep health pools, and often are packed together so that pulling just one is an impossibility. I’ve probably died more times these past few weeks than the last two years in LOTRO.
It’s almost like I’m playing a different game. Once or twice, I’ve rested my forehead against my desk and typed out in frustration, “It feels like this expansion wants to abuse me!” And I hear nothing but sympathy in response from those feeling the same.
Now that we’re in the thick of Lord of the Rings Online: Mordor
(which I’m still enjoying very much), my mind has taken a turn back to look over 10 years of gameplay updates and expansions.
It’s bizarre to think back to a time when the entirety of the game was merely eight or nine zones crammed up in Eregion. While there’s still plenty of Middle-earth to uncover and explore, the ensuing decade vastly opened up the game world and took us on a journey that spanned from Bag End to Barad-dûr.
It all starts to blur together after a while, particularly after alternative leveling regions were added, the epic story was changed to be more solo accessible, and the studio experimented with different forms of content delivery. I felt like taking a quick trip through the expansions that brought us to where we are today. Because… why not, really?
It’s a fascinating place to begin an expansion, really. Most games like to set up a new threat, pit players against impossible odds, and have them struggle toward a final boss in some distant raid somewhere. Lord of the Rings Online, however, enjoys bucking trends now and then, and no more so than with its new Mordor expansion.
The first few minutes revisit the conclusion of the Quest of the One Ring, with the surprising triumph of the Battle of the Black Gate, the eagle air-lift of Sam and Frodo, and the destruction of the Ring. Everyone is taken to a peaceful glade to lick their wounds, reconnect with friends, and savor the victory. Even the epic book, which we’ve been working on completing for 10 years now, has come to a conclusion. Shortest expansion ever, right?
Outrageous. Ridiculous. Exciting. Exploitative. Controversial.
This past week’s announcement of Lord of the Rings Online: Mordor’s launch date and pre-order packages set ablaze discussions and arguments among the community, both in-game and without. World chat was streaming by quickly as players debated the pros and cons of the reveal, while the forums blew up with huge posts defending and criticizing the pre-order packages.
While this is not the travesty that some are making it out to be, I definitely agree with those that say Standing Stone Games misstepped with this announcement and needs to take some action to rectify the confusion and value of the upcoming expansion. While LOTRO players seem united in their anticipation for Mordor, some of that enthusiasm has been dashed with how the dating and packages have been handled, and that is a shame.
Let’s break it all down and see what we’ve learned and what pre-order might be best for you!
It has been a whirlwind week of news and reveals for Lord of the Rings Online
players. Standing Stone Games
finally pulled back the curtains of the new expansion, simply titled Mordor
— and to make things even more exciting, the first beta test of the region went up on Bullroarer to give players a hands-on preview.
Unlike some other writers here on staff, I do not like playing betas and going through new content before it goes live for real, so I will not be participating on Bullroarer (I’d prefer my first time to be for keeps!). However, that doesn’t mean I’m avoiding the news or the previews! There’s so much to take in and digest, so this week I want to thumb through the reveals and preview videos to share some of my reactions to what we’ll be seeing when LOTRO: Mordor comes out later this summer.
Whether you walk, ride, or hobble (you took fall damage, didn’t you?) into Mordor, the important thing is that we are all going there in 2018. So what will we find?
The other day I was continuing on with my Bingo Boffin adventures in Lord of the Rings Online
when Mr. Boffin decided he was going to sneak his way across battle lines and into Mirkwood Forest. Like most of his encounters, I don’t think he ended up loving it quite as much as he anticipated, but you know what? I did.
You see, ever since Siege of Mirkwood came out with LOTRO’s second expansion, I’ve always been quite partial to this odd little zone in Middle-earth. Perhaps this makes me the odd man out among the community; I rarely see anyone speak highly of Mirkwood (or, these days, speak of it at all). It seems like it’s forgotten, this strange cul-de-sac of the game world that only exists to be a stopping point on the epic story before players have to turn around and go back the way they came.
Yet as I was running all over the place trying to secure first AND second breakfastses for Bingo Boffin, I was reminded of how much I love this zone. I’d even say that Mirkwood is in my top five zones of the game as a whole (alongside The Shire, Forochel, West Rohan, and North Ithilien). It’s time this forgotten land got some recognition, so here goes.
One of the hallmarks and attractions of MMORPGs is growth. These games, much like the characters that inhabit them, grow and change over time. Every hotfix, patch, content update, and expansion adds or modifies something to the whole package (sometimes for better, sometimes for worse). And while that growth keeps things interesting and takes us on a long journey, there is always the very real danger of devs introducing features that, for one reason or another, get abandoned and left to rot inside this ever-expanding game.
After 10 years, five expansions, and hundreds of patches, the Lord of the Rings Online that we play today is by far larger, more complex, and different than the one that launched in 2007. It was inevitable that the team would introduce various systems and features that took off, became popular with the community, and have been heavily supported ever since. It was also inevitable that the opposite has happened too.
I polled some of my fellow LOTRO players about the subject of abandoned features in the game and received quite a few responses. Most of us agreed on a core seven features that the devs originally had grand plans for… and have since neglected and ignored. So let’s take a look at seven features that the team would probably rather you not pay attention to these days!
In addition to playing a lot of fantasy and sci-fi MMORPGs, I’m an avid reader of novels in the same genres. I never quite get tired of heroes growing into their own and then going on a journey of discovery and salvation over the course of one or more books.
It’s natural for me to compare the journeys I read in novels to the ones I experience in MMOs, and in some ways, online RPGs have forgotten or overlooked some of the elements that make the fantasy journey so gripping. Our characters start out already grown, already powerful, already killing machines that will save the world numerous times over. Our grand quest is usually nothing more than seeking even more power, gear, and experience points. Due to this, the whole process of progressing through a game is streamlined into a well-honed but somewhat soulless loop.
But what if a game took the time to reexamine the journey outside of the pressure to provide an optimal leveling and narrative path to the next world boss that needs extermination? What if there was a mission chain that took the inconsequential and made it essential, that was structured in such a way to more resemble books than eroded gameplay design?
Enter Bingo Boffin, the unlikeliest hero of them all, and his unique journey across Middle-earth with you in tow.
As Lord of the Rings Online
players revel in the varied activities of this year’s 10th anniversary celebration, the crew at the newly formed Standing Stone Games
has a huge task ahead of them: To capitalize upon this monumental milestone and prepare to shuttle players into the “endgame” of the books.
We had the opportunity to sit down with Executive Producer Rob Ciccolini to talk abut the anniversary, its hiccups, and upcoming Mordor expansion. As the page turns on a new chapter of both the game and its development team, it truly feels like we’re about to venture into the unknown in more ways than one.
The first I ever heard of Lord of the Rings Online
was flipping through the pages of some gaming magazine back in early 2007. At the time, I was neck-deep in World of Warcraft
and wasn’t really looking around for other MMO distractions, but something about the article caught my eye.
It wasn’t the use of the Lord of the Rings book franchise, which I had respected but wasn’t exactly the most rabid fan in the world. It was a mention of an online fantasy world that hewed to a low magic setting, where dazzling spell effects and typical classes weren’t the order of the day. Instead, the article poured over how much LOTRO was trying to hew to a more realistic and believable setting (albeit one in a fictional fantasy universe), and that made it stand out to me in a sea of upcoming MMORPGs.
Months later, I was in the two-week head start, experiencing Middle-earth in a brand-new way apart from the books or Peter Jackson films. Going through the Shire in those first few days was tranquil and deeply thrilling, as if I knew that this was the start of something special. Ten years later, and I know that my gut feeling was correct. While not a perfect game, LOTRO has nevertheless grown into a wide-ranging and impressive virtual world that still has so much to offer even in this modern age.
Back when Lord of the Rings Online
was being developed as Middle-earth Online
in the late 1990s, the original concept was to plop players into the Fourth Age after the fall of Sauron and the destruction of the One Ring. The idea was that this would allow for a lot more flexibility and world manipulation once the game escaped the direct influence of Tolkien’s narrative.
LOTRO, on the other hand, went a different way. The devs obviously felt that more players would want to adventure during the events of the books, especially since the story offered more details, characters, and conflicts. But that left the team with a different problem, which was how to insert player characters into a narrative that was rigidly defined by the trilogy. The solution, as we all well know, was to have the player be “a” hero, just not “the” heroes of the books. And this hero would go off on a story of his or her own that would in many ways parallel the Fellowship’s struggles but not slavishly stick by Frodo’s side as the invisible 13th member.
So how has LOTRO handled this concept of the player as a “second fiddle” over the years? I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, particularly as we turn the bend into Mordor.
If all goes well, within a few days the Lord of the Rings Online
community will be getting its first glimpse of Mordor with the release of Update 20 (Standing Stone Games
said that it is “tentatively planning”
to roll out the patch next week). I don’t know if I’m prepared, but after months of speed-leveling my Lore-master through the last few expansions, I’m in a place where I will be among the crowd that charges into the Wastes on launch day.
Update 20 is a big event for several reasons and should give us some insight into what the developers are thinking with their Mordor expansion later this year. Plus, with the 10th anniversary event right around the corner, the LOTRO community will have a bounty of content and activities to keep it busy during these spring months.
So as we saddle up our horses (and ponies and goats) for the trip north into the Wastes, let’s mull over what we can expect when Update 20 lands.