I wasn’t there the first day servers for The Lord of the Rings Online went live.
I’d participated in the open beta, getting my Captain up to level 13 and parking him in the Prancing Pony next to Aragorn before leaving on a four-day business trip.
When I returned, my journey through Middle-earth began in earnest, and I’m still there, five years later.
In those five years, I’ve met some great friends, many of whom I still play with, in LOTRO or in other games. I’ve seen two members of my kinship meet and get married. And I could even credit LOTRO with my current employment status, having started out writing freelance articles about the game for Beckett Massive Online Gamer.
I don’t play quite as much as I used to, but LOTRO is still like an old shoe that I find myself slipping back into when I want something comfortable and familiar. People always say they’ll “go back to World of Warcraft” when a new MMO doesn’t live up to their expectations; LOTRO is my WoW.
Turbine released a video today that showed several former and current employees reminiscing about their time working on the game, which turns five years old today. As I watched it, I thought about some of my first thoughts of the game and how my feelings about it have developed over the years.
Former Executive Producer Jeffrey Steefel starts the video by asking the poignant question, “How do you bring this to a game and do it justice?”
I’ve played a fair number of Lord of the Rings-inspired games through the year, and they always suffered from one of two problems:
- They follow the main characters – or you get to play as them – and the story is exactly as presented in the books, with practically no variation. Boring.
- They follow ancillary, background, or made-up characters that you don’t recognize and have no investment in. Boring.
I was concerned that LOTRO would also fall into one or both of these traps, but Turbine’s done a great job of mixing the familiar with the original, even if they occasionally have to bend the rules – not to mention the canon – a bit.
Sometimes the story does stray a bit too far from the source material, but it’s generally roped back in fairly quickly, and Turbine’s ability to expand on small bits of lore from the books grounds even “new” things in the realm of Tolkien’s works.
Some people didn’t like Moria because it was too confusing to navigate. As someone who’s always tried to avoid locking himself down to an in-game map, I loved the exploratory aspect of its three-dimensional world, even if I did get lost from time to time.
I feel like the game’s gotten a little too linear, a little too theme park-y in later releases, and I’d love to see a more “indirect” region in the future.
Besides, even Gandalf didn’t always know where to go. But that’s only because he didn’t have a jetpack.
In the press tour I got of the area a few months before its release, my GM-level character had an interesting item to help him navigate the depths of Moria: The One Jetpack. I could have used that more than few times when falling off one of Moria’s blind cliffs.
Let’s be honest: The reaction to free-to-play, mostly regarding some of the choices regarding the cash shop and how they’ve been communicated, have been mixed at best. Those issues have been brought up innumerable times, and I won’t get into them here.
But I still think F2P was the right move for Turbine and LOTRO. It brought plenty of new people into the game and, at least initially, seemed to be the right financial move.
It was the right move because The Lord of the Rings is popular. Really popular. Like, more than any other “geek” pop culture property without “Star” in the title.
So it made sense to make the game as accessible as possible, considering the likely broad span of people who loved the books and movies but couldn’t justify forking out the dough for monthly MMO fees.
And if some of them liked it enough to stick around and spend cash… well, that was just icing on the eleventy-first birthday cake.
The Journey Continues
Here’s the goofy thing I like to think about when playing LOTRO… according to the timeline laid out in the books, Frodo leaves Bag End on Sept. 23 and destroys the Ring on March 25.
That’s about six months of “game time,” though at the rate things are going, it’ll take us about 10 years of “real time” to get there.
Turbine’s still got a long ways to go, even with Rohan coming later this year. But there are still plenty of other spaces to visit, and Turbine’s not shy about enhancing the lore to make lesser-known areas seem vital and interesting.
In other words, don’t expect a straight run to Gondor. I wouldn’t be surprised if Turbine diverted us to the northeast for a peek at northern Mirkwood, Lake-town, Dale, and the Lonely Mountain, in time for the second Hobbit movie in December 2013.
But that’s getting ahead of ourselves a bit.
I’ve got a raid tonight, and Saruman’s going down.