After several month’s delay and various rumours about internal corporate dissent, Standing Stone Games have finally released this year’s Producer’s Letter. Its arrival has produced a collective sigh of relief from the playerbase, as neither Executive Producer Severlin (Rob Ciccolini) or Community Manager Cordovan (Jerry Snook) seem to shine at corporate communications. In fact there has been an information vacuum for over six months. As for the letter, it certainly promises a lot of new content for The Lord of the Rings Online coming over the next year to eighteen months. And at first glance it sounds as if there’s something for everyone. A catalogue of PVE content, adjustments to the Legendary Items systems, a designated PVP server, more Premium Housing (this time in Rohan) and a further Legendary Server offering greater content difficulty. However, as ever the devil is in the detail and until we know more the vagaries are somewhat frustrating.
A new PVE Epic Storyline “The Legacy of Durin and the Trials of the Dwarves” is scheduled to run over 2020-21. The first instalment called Mists of Wilderland, that will take players to the Wells of Langflood, is to be released in late spring. Later in the year after the release of Aragorn and Arwen’s wedding, SSG are adding the War of the Three Peaks. This is scaling content open to all players allowing them to come to Durin's aid, as the Dwarves advance to Mount Gundabad to deal with the Orc threat. All of this content is the “meat and potatoes” of LOTRO. Raids, instances and PVE quests are the things that keep players engaged and playing. If the overhaul to the LI system is fair, sensible and not yet another grindfest, then I shall be pleased. Legendary Weapons are a great concept that have never met their full potential since their introduction in 2008.
I am however, somewhat reticent about some of the other ideas mooted in the Producer’s Letter. I’m not sure what the population is of the two current Legendary Servers but is there any real value in offering a third? Offering more difficult combat in the manner described by SSG, with the Eye of Sauron boosting mob performance sounds intriguing but if this is then met with a reciprocal boost in player performance, exactly what has been gained? It sounds somewhat similar to the existing “Inspired Greatness” mechanic that allows single players to solo content that was originally intended for groups. And where I welcome a new PVP combat server for fans of such content, for any competitive and ranked gameplay to have any longevity, it will require regular updates. Other competitive games have seasons, themed material and a great deal of developer/community interaction. If the LOTRO PVP players are simply encouraged to relocate to an environment that is static as the Ettenmoors in the existing game, then it’s not much of an improvement.
Spreading the LOTRO playerbase across multiple servers is both a risk to business and community cohesion. If players old and new, commit to one of the new servers and it doesn’t work out the way they hoped, will they return to their old servers? Certainly for new players it means starting afresh. And for established players returning to alts that have fallen below level cap, catching up can be an uphill struggle at times. It’s a shame that SSG cannot offer a variety of play styles and activities on the current live servers thus ensuring that LOTRO players although pursuing different goals are at least in the same virtual Middle-earth. I also don’t like to see such words as “temporary” in any road map style communication. These are after all public business plans. Short term objectives don’t always inspire confidence. However, once again I will reiterate that LOTRO is a 13 year old MMO and frankly having any timetable for new content is a good thing compared to the alternatives. Let us see what comes of it all.