Lord of the Rings Online. I am starting to post about it again because I am starting to play it again. I and the rest of the permanent floating Saturday night instance group have a long (relative to the age of the game) history with it. Look at my own dance card.
All that and a lifetime subscription as well… though that list looks a little out of order. I wonder how they sorted it?
So I thought I would take this time to bore people with a recap of what has gone on before, since we, as a group, seem to be getting into new areas into the game… at last!
Lord of the Rings Online has been live for more than four years now. Several members of the instance group, including myself, have been playing it since open beta.
And yet, here it is, more than four years in and the lot of us are just now getting to the level cap from the original game. Gaff has pressed on to 53, while my own main is finally level 50. And Potshot, who was in the closed beta for the game, is closing in on level 40 with his highest level character so far.
How could this be? While we have not devoted ourselves to the game as a group the way we have tended to with World of Warcraft, we have devoted a substantial amount of time to LOTRO. Yet our progress does not seem to reflect that very well.
We seem to have gone through a series of discreet interactions with the game, which for the sake of lore and humor I am going to refer to as ages.
The First Age of LOTRO – The Windfola Years
LOTRO was launched and we were there, pre-orders in hand, for the head start. We formed a kinship as soon as we could. This was during the first great instance group hiatus, when Earl moved to New York City just in time to take heat for the economic melt down.
The launch was an age of discovery, and of coming up to speed, and we spent our time exploring a world both new and well known to us. (And being silly.) We ran about in joy and tried to get some of those emote-related titles. (To this day, I do not think anybody in our regular circle has ever gotten one of those titles.)
It was also the age of poverty, full bags, running back and forth, defeat, and an unresponsive user interface. And chickens.
In order to keep the economy in check, Turbine made money very hard to come by. Getting the silver together to form the kinship was an effort. You could go broke clicking the “repair all” button at a vendor. And we could never afford to take the horse at the stable master. Some routes were priced over 100 silver a ride.
And while we were happy to start out with bags provided to carry all our goodie, such goodies quickly took over all of our available slots. Raw materials stacked in pitifully small amounts. Every token, quest item, or bit of vendor trash took up space. They still haven’t completely solved this problem. They have introduced the concept of a wallet but have not integrated all the currencies with it. I still have a pile of tokens for the Wardens of Annuminas for example.
Complaints were also leveled about the nature of questing in the game. There seemed to be a perverse plot to make us all run back and forth between distant places. And there were gaps in quest chains where they would suddenly jump a couple of levels, leaving you looking for a way to level up to continue. That gap between the Forsaken Inn and Ost Gututh used to be a killer back in the day.
And there were the fellowship quests you could solo, and the solo quests you couldn’t And then there was that one epic quest chain that was solo until you were in and instance and well into it, when suddenly the next stage was a fellowship quests… and a tough one at that. Quests were a bit of a mess.
Then there was the struggle with the game itself. Already spoiled by the responsiveness of WoW, the UI in LOTRO felt like a layer of molasses between us and playing the game. Targeting, casting, and even moving could become struggles. This culminated in the post Why Isn’t LOTRO More Fun?, which I attempted to describe our woes, some of which seemed to be just below the level of consciousness.
The sunset of this age came during that summer, with a set of characters at approximately level 30. Though there was a brief twilight revival some time afterwards, not much has happened for us on Windfola since, and there is scant incentive to go back there. Our characters are dirt poor for their level, my richest guy there having close to, but not quite, 100 silver pieces.
It might have been worth it later to transfer these characters, but that process appears to be very manual at Turbine. They could learn something from SOE on that front and automate transfers via the LOTRO Store.
The Second Age of LOTRO – Dalliance on Nimrodel
The second age came about in the post-Moria era, when Brent, Darren, Jonathan, Adam, Michael and Craig started playing, and podcasting about, LOTRO. Listening to their adventures, I rolled up first one, then several characters on the Nimrodel server to join their kinship, the Podcasters of Bree.
They were way ahead of me in levels, so it was a chore to catch up, made all the more difficult by my inability to make and focus on a single character. I did ride with them a few times, and made it to Rivendell for the first time in their company. However, as I started to close in on them, passing level 30 while they were around level 40, they stopped playing the game regularly.
While Gaff made a character to join me, and Potshot might have joined in as well, the driving force keeping me going, a group to play with, faded.
The Third Age of LOTRO – Firefoot and the Coming of Free to Play
Our beginnings on Firefoot, in the post-Mirkwood time frame of last summer, came for a couple of reasons. We had burned through classic WoW on the horde side and were now working on the Burning Crusade content, for which none of us had any particular passion. Potshot and I gave up on our wormhold space station mission in EVE Online when we found that pretty much any wormhold we could hope to survive in was already sporting a space station belonging to somebody else.
So we were casting about for something to do at just about the time I got laid off. At that point I wasn’t keen to start dropping money on more games. So there was always LOTRO, to which I purchased a lifetime subscription back at launch, a decision that has worked out well for me in the long run.
I actually lead the way onto Firefoot after having asked the “hey, what server?” question here. Brian Green was there, along with a couple of others, though in the end, as these things always seem to work out for me, I don’t think I grouped with anybody who reads the blog in the end.
Firefoot meant starting fresh again, new characters to level, new trade skills to obsess about. And music. And Anderson Cooper.
Fortunately, in the intervening years, much had been done to the game. New zones were added, while old zones like the Lone Lands or the Barrow Downs were revamped to remove a lot of the pointless travel and to fill in some of the level gaps in the quests.
Meanwhile, the free to play transition went smoothly enough.
There was some work selling Earl on the whole thing. He is not a particular fan of the books and his view of such games is measured on the scale defined by WoW. And while LOTRO has improved greatly over the years, its interface is still not up to Blizzard levels of polish in either responsiveness nor usability. (The whole icon thing, for a start.) He’s always game to jump in, but sticking for the long term is different.
Still, he was willing to come along. And so four of the instance group, Bung being on hiatus this time around, pounded through Middle-earth even as it was transitioning to a free to play model, which gave the server quite a spike in population.
We ran through the epic quest line, played music, and hung out with Anderson Cooper.
We ended up in the low 30s before we ran out of steam. Cataclysm was coming and it was time to go visit Azeroth again.
The Fourth Age of LOTRO – Ascension to Moria?
Which brings us to the latest revival. After our burn-out in EverQuest II Extended, thoughts turned to Middle-earth.
Cataclysm wore off quickly for most of us, and EverQuest II proved to be not so sticky as we had hoped.
So into Middle-earth we went, or a sub-set of the regular group in any case. Moria was the goal when we started. How far will we get in this latest instance group age of LOTRO?