Lord of the Rings Online: Then and Now (Opinion)

Since its initial launch in 2007, Lord of the Rings Online has come a long way. It has seen a vast amount of changes, for better or worse.

I’ve recently returned to the game after a nearly 2 year break and well… Things are different. Things are vastly different. The level cap is now 100, matching that of World of Warcraft and Everquest. There’s a lot more regions available. Skills have been… completely messed up? What? Okay, let’s dial back several years here.

Time: Mines of Moria launch, September 2008. The base game had been around for a bit over a year now and there had been two new regions added in this time – Evendim and Forochel. Neither were areas for max level, which at the time at 50. Evendim was aimed at those between levels 30 and 40, with Forochel jumping in for those between levels 44 and 49. There was a couple new reputation “areas” added, but these weren’t actually full out regions and just had a few deeds within.

Mines of Moria saw a pretty decent amount of changes. First off: the game saw its first level cap raise, bringing it to 60. Legendary items were also introduced at this time, promoted as items that would “grow with you.” Well, they do and don’t. They gained their own experience but you still got stuck upgrading them every few levels.

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Moria was dark, but that’s the way it was meant to be. It was a place untouched for ages, at least until the Fellowship came through and caused a huge ruckus. Even then, they only went through some of Moria. Moria is a massive expanse of a place, a Dwarf kingdom of times long gone. We, as players, got to delve into these unknown depths. Depths that had been subjected to many years of Orcish (or otherwise) rule. There was no sunlight reaching these depths. Creatures mutated beyond belief.

Moria was dreaded by players, but for most of the right reasons. It was dreaded because it was dark. Because it was expansive. But Moria suffered some issues. You were forced to fight stuff every 2 feet if you wanted to get anywhere, and there was incredibly large amount of backtracking and traveling these large halls to get anything done. I only had one character (out of 7 so far) mostly complete Moria. It was long, but the story was enjoyable. Though, the way I did it was probably something I only could have done on that class at the time (maybe one other but I hadn’t leveled that one yet).

I was soloing group things, barely surviving fights against massive bosses. Guardian was powerful, even if it did take quite a while to kill anything. When I came through later on my Warden (the previously mentioned other class), I completed a fair bit but not as much as I did on Guardian. Moria was rough to try and complete out on multiple characters due to how much backtracking there was.

Beyond Moria lay Lothlorien. At the launch of Mines of Moria it was just a shell of a place. Only west of the Nimrodel existed. I still remember going out there on my only character I managed to get to 60 (when it was the level cap) just to look around. A bit later, Lothlorien proper was added, along with actual quest content in the western half. To even enter the eastern half, what was beyond the Nimrodel, you had to gain the trust of the Galledhrim. If you tried to enter without their trust you were shot dead on the spot. It makes sense though, they were very particular about who they allowed to enter their lands.

Jump ahead a little to late 2009: the launch of Siege of Mirkwood. Siege of Mirkwood introduced the second level cap, this time to 65. To even get into Mirkwood you had to first go through all the stuff in Lothlorien to gain the trust of the Galadhrim. Then, you had to go through the initial siege. Mirkwood, at least the part we were able to enter, was overrun with the forces of evil. Again, like Moria, Mirkwood was dark. The forest had been so corrupted by evil, and it was so dense, that hardly any light shone in. Unlike Moria however, it was bearable. I finally brought myself to bring more characters through Moria, though stopping part way to jump into Lothlorien to just brute force up to 60 to go into Mirkwood. During the time of Siege of Mirkwood I go 5 characters to level cap.

There was a large dead period in region progression after the launch of Siege of Mirkwood. In the couple years that followed, we only saw the addition of one area – Enedwaith. Enedwaith was aimed towards those already at 65, but it wasn’t very enjoyable. At least for me it wasn’t very enjoyable. It was, overall, a dull period in Lord of the Rings Online. And then it happened… Free to play was announced.

Originally promoted as being an option, and that it wouldn’t interfere with regular gameplay, free to play was fairly easy to ignore. The LOTRO store was introduced, where those whom were playing for free could purchase things such as the riding trait or regional quest packs. It gave a chance for those who had played previously but could no longer afford it to play again. And it’s true – you can play LOTRO completely for free. Sure, you have to do a lot of grinding to do so. Now, I’ll come back to the point of “it wouldn’t interfere with regular gameplay” bit a bit later. It’s time for…

September, 2011: The long awaited release of the next expansion, Rise of Isengard. Rise of Isengard brought the many gigantic changes to the game. Instead of needing to focus our efforts of many stats, each class was brought down to two. It also brought the level cap up to 75, and remade Enedwaith into an alternative for Mirkwood (making it for levels 60-65). It introduced dynamic environments that would change character placement or the layout as your particular character progressed through an areas storyline. It introduced a gigantic storyline that even brought you into the heart of Orthanc not once but twice. I seriously enjoyed Rise of Isengard. So much so that I brought 6 characters up to level 75, 5 of them within months of release! It was around here the downward spiral began.

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Rise of Isengard instance cluster. Originally touted as being part of the expansion itself, you only actually received it if you paid for the more expensive bundles. Otherwise, regardless of whether or not you were a subscriber, you had to buy it from the store. The instance cluster contained several instances, including the long awaited Orthanc raid. I only ever did a few of the three man instances, and never as an actual three man. Heck, one of them I did solo up to the first boss with my Warden, whom was now level 75 after much work. I ended up recruiting my Captain friend and we slowly (and painfully) finished off the instance and you know what? It felt rewarding to do.

During Rise of Isengard I actually pretty well geared several of my classes. This was especially true for my Warden. While at first the class bored me to death, I ended up falling in love with it. I had already loved playing as Guardian, though I had always wished I could do more damage. Warden answered that. I could be there tanking, hardly taking any damage, but still able to deal damage. Sure you had to micromanage a lot. Your true skills came in the form of your gambits. I loved the class a lot. So of course, I actually went through a lot of pain to actually gear it well. Well, as well as one can without actually doing instances and raids.

October, 2012: Riders of Rohan. At the times I was very much looking forward to this expansion. Being able to ride through the fields of Eastern Rohan was appealing. This is where war horse mounts got introduced, along with the level cap raise to 85. While within these areas you could finally fight from your mount. Sounds appealing, right? Well, when I went through on my Warden all it actually turned out to be was “kite this enemy in circles until it dies.” You didn’t need strategy. You just needed to know how to kite. On top of that, this is around the time they decided the game was “too difficult” and needed to be toned down to cater to free players. While yes, this did start somewhat in Isengard, you still actually needed strategy there.

While I had enjoyed Isengard, it was around here that my playtime started to drop off dramatically. Maybe I got burnt out? Regardless, I still maintained my subscriptions. I wanted to support the game. When Rohan came around, I started to question this but still maintained it for a bit. Then, as money started to run out, I let my subscriptions drop. Partly, though, it wasn’t on purpose. My secondary account had been “invited in” by a founder (my first account), and had been granted the founder subscription price of $9.99. Well, at some point my subscription dropped, and when I went to renew it… Wait. Where’s my founder price? It was gone. It was then that I decided I was going to drop both subscriptions. It was then that I truly realized how far towards catering to the LOTRO Store the game had become.

I still continued to play for a bit, but I was on a lower level character leveling. I had already taken a decent break after the launch of Rohan. I was back in Mirkwood and all I kept seeing was “Use Mithril Coins to instantly teleport to this quest NPC!” Of course, guess how you get said coins? You guessed it. The store! So much for “free to play”, or in other words “pay to win”, not being shoved in your face, huh?

Now of course, there was a reason I had gone to a lower level character. At some point during my break, they decided to make some… changes… to Warden. Oh, let’s just change a primary stat! They had given a grace period where your old gear was still fine but I missed this period. When I logged back on to my Warden, I found it totally nerfed. Remember how I had said it was pretty well off on gear? Yeah, not anymore. I couldn’t bring myself to regear it. I was dead inside. All that work on its gear was gone. It was a class I absolutely loved to play.

Somewhere around getting my lower level character, my Minstrel, to 65, I stopped playing. Between losing all my work on my Warden (who was now at level 83 with severely nerfed gear), losing access to the founder pricing I had been on for 5 years, and the store being shoved in your face I lost interest.

It was also sometime in this period that they begun to revamp Moria. This was part of why I had gone onto my Minstrel in the first place – it was stuck in Moria, and had been for ages. Moria had been dark and dreaded, but again for mostly the right reasons. When the revamp happened, things changed. The only good thing is that enemies were cleared out. Well okay, quests were made far less annoying to turn in, speeding up the area. However, the dark and gloomy days of Moria were gone. Lights were added everywhere. It made no sense. The difficulty was also massively toned down. You could now do Moria in your sleep… Well, some of it. Only part of the area had been revamped. “Original” Moria still existed in half of the region.

Now, flash forward to the present. The only reason I logged in at all between the start of my break in early 2013 until now was to make payments on my house and to make sure I didn’t lose my kinship. In this time, a lot of regions were added and Helm’s Deep was released. The LOTRO Store became even more prominent, despite initial claims that “it won’t interfere with gameplay.” The overall difficulty of the game was toned down severely. The level cap got raised to 95 and then more recently to 100.

In this time, another gigantic change was made to skills and traits. Gone were the days of customizing your character through different traits. Gone were the days of actually learning your skills as you bought them. Instead, you had to actually dig through your skill panels to find “what did that do?” Traits trees, like what you see in World of Warcraft, were added in place of choosing from a list of traits to set into one of five spots.

These trait trees are awful. On a lot of my classes they broke up my different traits I USED to use into different trees. You could no longer mix and match, you HAD to choose particular traits to use. You can’t take a little from here, get skills from there, get traits from there. This absolutely ruined my builds on my characters. Oh yeah sure, so you can get the different various “benefits” from the trees but it feels less customized. Sure, it IS still customized but in a totally different way. It feels too much like World of Warcraft, something this game already had issues with.

In this time I was gone, they also did the other part of the Moria revamp. While I haven’t gone into it yet (still working through the first part), I’m sure it will feel just like the first part – easier. Between the trait trees and the previous revamp, my time so far in Moria as my Captain has been a bit… boring. I’m just casually going through doing critical hits for 1400+ damage… Something I had previously only really dreamt of doing on things like Hunter (75) or rarely Rune-keeper (54). My Captain is now at level 53 and I’m taking a bit of a break from it to see how Isengard is doing.

Well… It’s still the same. It’s just you know… easier because of the trait tree changes. I tweeted out a picture of me casually doing a 5600 damage critical hit with my Minstrel. What I got in response? Well… It sort of didn’t surprise me. Apparently, that’s just the norm now. The game has lost a lot of strategy and is just a DPS race in so many places now. It’s so sad. The days of actually needing strategy, of actually needing to level your traits, are gone. It has officially been catered to pay to win. Pay to get even further ahead in the game.

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Needless to say, I miss the days of the old Lord of the Rings Online. I miss barely surviving running through groups of level 50 enemies to get some deeds. I miss going into Moria and being filled with a sense of dread, a sense of “should we really be here?” I miss when a new region being added actually meant something really significant. I miss when the level cap being raised wasn’t just “okay time to grind quests and LI’s all over again.” While yes, things in MMOs need to change with the times, they don’t need to go as… knee jerk? reaction as this.

Maybe my mind will change when I go back into Rohan. When I actually bring myself to regear my Warden (whom is still crying is over the Might/Agility change). When I finally purchase Helm’s Deep and go there, and then beyond into Western Gondor. I’m not very hopeful though. All of these changes have left a bitter taste in my mouth. When I first decided to try and play again, I started up a new Warden just because. It’s a good thing I knew some of the gambits! Because you literally never have to visit a trainer and you just see in your (spammed out) chat log “hey you get a new gambit” you don’t learn your gambits. Heck, I didn’t even know when I got new ones! Like I remember what levels you get particular gambits…

I’m disappointed to say the least, Turbine and WB. Disappointed with what you’ve done to what was a fantastic game. You’ve completely dumbed it down to the point where you can play it in your sleep. You get constant “in your face” reminders that the LOTRO store is there. There are issues that have apparently existed for MONTHS you haven’t bothered to fix (lag issues). Those Hobbit presents? Yeah, another “fantastic” way to try and shove the LOTRO store in your face. Oh sorry, they just say Mithril Coins, my bad.

Until next time, perhaps in Mordor.

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