We are excited to announce a new way to experience The Lord of the Rings Online: Legendary Worlds! Relive the tales of Middle-earth, chapter by chapter, visiting iconic locations and adventuring with new friends – or reconnecting with old ones – on the path of Frodo, Gandalf, and the Fellowship of the Ring.
Join us this fall on a Legendary World and make a fresh start with a brand new character; see Tolkien’s bustling realm anew, whether for your first or fiftieth time. Initially, the Legendary World will begin at the very start of the game and run through Angmar, then open new regions and levels over time. Relive the legend: where everyone is here and the story is now.
-Standing Stone Games, Legendary Server Announcement
I think the big question up front is whether or not WoW Classic is going to wreck the retro/progression/vanilla server idea for MMORPGs the way that WoW itself can be argued to have wrecked MMORPGs overall.
Yes, that is an odd way to start off a post ostensibly about Lord of the Rings Online, but World of Warcraft remains the dominate power in the genre and when they get into any given aspect of the genre everybody else has to take notice or get trampled. So bear with me for a minute.
I wonder if WoW Classic will set the bar for quality and fidelity so high as to be unattainable for studios who don’t practically print money. I mean, you can shit on Blizzard because you think they might not get the Vanilla WoW experience to line up exactly with your memories from 2005, but who else out there has the staffing and budget to pick a point in the past and go remake the game from that time so it will not only run, but will be a full on quality Blizzard experience?
All of which came to mind when I saw the Standing Stone Games announcement about their planned LOTRO Legendary Server… or World… they use both terms.
The announcement itself is pretty brief, quoted almost entirely in full at the top of this post. The bulk of the information is in the form of a FAQ, and the key to the whole thing, and in my question above, is in the final question.
Is the Legendary server a “Classic” or “Vanilla” server?
By most descriptions, a “Classic” server is an attempt to recreate LOTRO exactly as it was at launch, using only assets and content that was available in 2007.
A Legendary server runs alongside existing servers, and therefore contains many of the changes that have been made to the game over the years, such as UI improvements, bug fixes, changes to game systems, etc. In cases where we have updated or changed the layout of regions, the Legendary server uses the updated version of the regions. In cases where we have changed items or player abilities, the Legendary server uses those updated abilities. Some content or gameplay that isn’t appropriate to the Legendary server’s current level cap may be restricted, until that portion of the story unlocks with level cap increases (one does not simply walk into Mordor on Legendary until the time comes).
This, along with some of the other questions, makes it clear that this is more of a fresh start progression server than anything else. New classes, new races, and all other changes that have gone into the game over the last decade or so will be present on the Legendary server. There will be, so far as I can tell from the FAQ, virtually no difference between starting a fresh character on one of the current servers and on this new server, save for the fact that cash shop items related to later features, like legendary weapons, will be absent and you will need to have a VIP subscription in order to play.
So what is the draw then?
This isn’t EverQuest, where the original 1999 content has been bypassed by a tutorial, fresh starting zones, and the Plane of Knowledge. Going back to an EverQuest progression server means going into content you likely wouldn’t otherwise play. And while some of the world has had its graphics updated, if you’re like me and long for original Qeynos, it is still there waiting for you. (Just don’t get me started about the fog.)
Also, EverQuest has 20 years and 24 (soon 25) expansions worth of content to work through.
All of the improvements from the Live servers come along for the ride, so hot bars work like you expect and WASD is a default control option, but things that came with later expansions, like new races and classes, are held off until that expansion unlocks.
And this isn’t World of Warcraft, where a lot of the original Vanilla content was hacked out of the game like a tumor, so there is no going back to play it unless you want to try a pirate server, at least until WoW Classic comes along.
As far as I can tell, Standing Stone isn’t even going to make you wear the hair shirt so popular with this sort of server by clipping experience gain or the like. It is just going to be a live server for VIPs with all the new features and classes and currencies, just restricted to before Mines of Moria expansion… for four months, with new expansions every four months after that until they unlock Mordor two years down the road and it essentially becomes a VIP only server.
So I am not feeling the draw for this Legendary server idea. I suppose if you had a group of friends and wanted to do a fresh start, this will be your opportunity. And, of course, there will be the launch time euphoria when for a brief moment everybody on the server will be level 1 together and all the early zones will be full of players. I might try it for that last aspect alone… I have a lifetime subscription, so why not… though I am not sure how long I would stay.
In addition I wonder both if there is enough to draw players and, if there is, can the live servers stand the hit? That is a topic that has come up with both EQ and EQII, that the progression
Then there is the fact that, to my eye at least, LOTRO has not aged well. It is still a balky UI with tiny, hard to distinguish icons graced with some of the least informative imagery to every land in an MMORPG.
EverQuest is old and it feels old as well, but the team has polished up the UI some. The hitbox for your own character is still huge, so you end up selecting yourself annoyingly often, but a lot of other things are better than they were back in the day. Those updates smooth out annoyances that you wouldn’t likely want to remember, things that would more likely get in the way of your nostalgia rather than enhance it.
I do want to be fair to Standing Stone Games. Given their limited resources this is about the level of server they are up to providing. This isn’t a cash grab, as some have already announced, but an effort to provide something akin to what a vocal segment of the community has been asking about for a while now.
All of which brings me back around to what effect WoW Classic will have on this sort of thing going forward. When EverQuest or RuneScape classic servers were the benchmark, things like Rift Prime didn’t seem so far off base.
But when WoW Classic shows up with a remade version of late 2006 Azeroth, with paladins who can’t tank and only have a ranged attack good against undead and hunter pets for which you have to go out in the world and find updated skills and ammunition in your bag and the whole Sunken Temple or Uldaman dungeons available in all of their previous horrific glory, how is a special server that limits you to the initial content but is otherwise indistinguishable from the live servers going to stand up?
Oh well, we shall see.
And, in one last bit of irony, even at the four month between expansions drop rate for the new server, the journey from start to the opening of the Mordor expansion will still take longer than the War of the Ring, if measured from Gandalf telling Frodo to get the ring out of the Shire (April 12, 3018 TA) to the Battle of Bywater (November 19, 3019 TA), clocking in at 2 years compared to 1 year 7 months for the events in the book.
Still, that is much faster than the decade it too the game to get to the gates of Mordor the first time around. And you might be able to start late, a month after the Mines of Moria unlocks, and try to keep pace with the books. That would be an interesting project… maybe more interesting to read about than to try, but there it is. Though you could do that on the live servers right now if you wanted. Oh well.
Others writing about the server announcement: