Category Archives: LotRO

Fare Thee Well, Turbine

Yesterday our minds were blown with the news that LotRO and DDO, along with their development staff, were spinning off into a newly formed independent studio called Standing Stone Games. Daybreak Games will be partnering with SSG to handle the distribution and publishing of LotRO and DDO as part of this change. For a MMO studio that’s been around as long as Turbine has, and whose identity has been tied so closely to LotRO and DDO for years, this was a shock and surprise. In some ways for folks that have been around since the beginning, it feels like the end of an era. Pardon me while I put on my grey-hair wig and get my walker out. Back in my day…

Back in 2007 or so when LotRO first came out, there was so much hype regarding LotRO and Turbine. Turbine at the time stood behind their “Powered by our Fans” motto. Their community managers were the best around (who here remembers Meghan “Patience” Jenks?) and the community was diverse and overwhelmingly polite, no matter if you were hardcore, casual, or somewhere in between. News was posted fast and frequently. LotRO had a MySpace page, and the old LotRO Lorebook was a cutting-edge feature that allowed players to update a knowledgebase for the game. Every player also had a MyLotRO page – sort of an online social hub profile where they could friend other players, create blog posts, list their characters, and enter lotteries. LotRO did a really nice job of supporting multiple styles of play – hardcore raiders, casual social members, hardcore admirers of Tolkien, and even had a small but dedicated PvMP crowd. There were players EVERYWHERE: some brand new to MMOs and playing because it was Lord of the Rings, some whose first MMO was World of Warcraft and who were checking out the competition, some who were old-school EverQuest/Ultima/DAoC/AC players checking out the latest non-Blizzard title.

LotRO’s fortune over the years has been death by a thousand cuts. The Mines of Moria expansion in 2008, from what I remember, was very well received, although it was going head-to-head with World of Warcraft’s Wrath of the Lich King expansion, which didn’t do it any favors. Most might point to the Warner Brothers’ acquisition of Turbine in 2010 and the conversion to being a F2P game as the turning point, and while the buy-out made sense on paper due to licensing and movie tie-ins, it also felt like the old “Powered by our Fans” mantra started to fall by the wayside, especially with the introduction of microtransactions. I felt a bit of an odd wind when I found out that Patience left the Community Management team in 2011. After Mines of Moria, it felt like subsequent expansions were getting smaller and smaller, leading some players to speculate that money made from LotRO was helping subsidize Infinite Crisis and other Turbine games. Features like the Lorebook and MyLotRO were cut, destroying a large amount of community-created LotRO-related content. They stopped developing raids and traditional instanced content in favor of big battles, which didn’t go over as well as hoped. During the Helms Deep expansion beta, there was overwhelmingly negative player feedback regarding changes to classes, builds, and features – yet the changes all made it to live anyway.

All I can say is that it’s a darn shame. Turbine circa 2007-2008 was so hopeful, a shining beacon of a game company that knew how to make great games and how to manage their community. Unfortunately, they were going right up against World of Warcraft when it was at it’s peak – trying to grow a smaller MMO during the Wrath of the Lich King period was probably more than they (or anyone) could chew. The developers tried taking risks to set themselves apart with new features (big battles anyone?), and sometimes those features fell flat in the worst ways. The introduction of F2P helped rejuvenate the playerbase in some ways, but it also turned a good portion of the existing fanbase off with the prominence of the LotRO Store and the microtransaction buttons all over the UI. Server mergers & closures probably didn’t help the perception of the game, although I would argue that at this point it was necessary and that they handled it well.

So where does LotRO go from here? I choose to stay cautiously optimistic about the spin-off. If this means that the remaining LotRO developers can get back to the old-school Turbine mindset and to what made LotRO truly great back in the day, then I am all for it. LotRO, at it’s core, is an excellent game. It’s showing it’s age now and definitely is part of the older style of MMO gaming, but for many long-time players (myself included) that’s a good thing. Create more raids and instances, good challenging ones that keep players chasing that carrot. Stay true to the LotR source and lore, and write amazing storylines and engaging quests. Keep developing beautiful landscapes. For the love of all that is holy, please update the character models and hairstyles. Be more transparent with your players and listen to the community (everyone, even including some of the more vehement naysayers, who in many cases DO want what is best for the game). As you make these changes, go out and try to bring former players back with incentives and nostalgia feels and show them what you can do now.

Will Standing Stone ever be able to bring LotRO back to the old glory days? It’s very doubtful at this point. But they certainly have an opportunity to correct mistakes, blast development wide open, play to their known strengths, and try to re-build their playerbase to a stable volume and steady income. This is best case scenario and what I really and truly hope happens. Middle-Earth deserves no less.

Player Housing? Yes. No. Maybe.

I love player housing. Almost all of my favorite games include it in some form or fashion: Animal Crossing. Wurm Online. World of Warcraft. LotRO. Of course the World of Warcraft version right now is the garrison, but it just isn’t the same. When I think of player housing in a theme park MMO, I think of an actual “house” somewhere in the world, instanced if necessary. It should be customizable, with lots of decorations, exterior and interior options, and music. It’s a place to show off items from the gameplay that you’ve done, plus get a little creative. It’s NOT a place to send followers out on missions, do major crafting, farm profession materials, do defense missions, or sit around all day.

I’m going to say something here that might get me cast out of the MMO blogger community altogether, but here goes: I really don’t care for the EQ2/Rift/Wildstar format of player housing. I know, it’s incredibly customizable! You can build your own crazy thing! But something about that in a highly story-driven and thematic MMO just seems slightly off to me. You may be in a medieval world, but you can build the Starship Enterprise in your personal instance. Or you might be in a futuristic sci-fi game, but you can build a giant medieval castle. That doesn’t seem so crazy to me in a purely sandbox game such as Minecraft, which is for all intents and purposes a blank slate that can be medieval, sci-fi, futuristic, wild west, or any combination of the above, and tells no specific story line. But in a game like EQ2, or Rift, or Wildstar, or even WoW if they were to attempt it, it just seems out of place.

“I’m going to go over to Samurai Jack’s medieval castle and we’re going to play his asteroid platformer jumping puzzle”.

No. Please no.


All The Things!

LotRO’s housing gets a lot of guff from the big boys because it’s not as customizable and comparatively there’s really not a lot going on there, but honestly, I like their housing model the best. It’s a house, themed by race, that you can decorate as you like and show off trophies and items that you’ve crafted, won in seasonal events, or gotten during raids, and it has a modest storage area. That’s about it. There’s no stables, no crafting facilities, no auction house… it’s basically just an extra milestone/hearth. I’m okay with that, because people in LotRO generally don’t hang out at their house all day long. They may stop by once a day to grab something from storage or update a decoration slot, but other than that they’re out in the world. The only thing I would add is the ability to see where your guildmate’s and friend’s housing is, and the ability to quick-port there to check it out.

If they were to implement this in WoW, I would be ecstatic. Instead of Garrisons, this is my concept:

  • Instanced housing zones for all the different races, plus a few neutral options.
  • House locations that you “buy” with weekly or monthly upkeep (gold).
  • The ability to change the color of the exterior walls, doors, and roofs, as well as interior walls, ceilings, and flooring by room.
  • The ability to place any trophy anywhere, interior or exterior. To reduce lag, a limit on how many items you can have in your instance… maybe 100? 200?
  • A jukebox so that you can change your housing theme music.
  • If you kill Onyxia, you get her head to place in your home or yard as you see fit. You could take a shard of Frostmourne from the Lich King, or Garrosh Hellscream’s tusk, or… well, the possibilities are endless.
  • Crafted decorations from each profession. Tailors make carpets, pillows, and drapes. Leatherworkers make nice chairs, rugs, and upholstered items. Smiths get to make candelabras and rod iron furniture. Scribes could make paintings for the walls. Alchemists can make paints and dyes for the interior/exterior. And so on.
  • The ability to have a little for-looks-only stable with some of your favorite mounts and pets.
  • Plaques that can be made from any achievement that you currently have. Did you get Insane in the Membrane in 2010 when it was super-hard? Make a plaque, hang it on your wall, and show it off.
  • The ability to set up “home tours”, basically a set of linked housing instances either between guildmates or friends. People could then go from house to house easily on a tour of sorts.

It honestly isn’t the biggest or most ambitious housing system, but I think it would scratch the player housing itch that so many players have, it wouldn’t be so high-maintenance and indispensable as garrisons are, and players would still be out in the world rather than rotting inside a private instance 24-7.

That Dorothy Moment

I’m generally a pretty positive person. Maybe sometimes a realist, but more often than not I’m a sparkly unicorn of rainbow optimism. Which makes the recent game depression – for lack of a better term – that I’ve been going through so strange.

I think it’s a combination of several things. It kicked off when Sony announced that they were selling SOE, which then became the dubiously-named Gamebreak Daybreak Games, with the promise that it would be “business as usual”. Then came the layoffs, the changes, breaking away from Storybricks and the subsequent closure of Storybricks. Even Storybricks themselves communicated that if they had been successful in their purchase of SOE, they would have made deep cuts. While I’ve never been overly attached to SOE or the EverQuest franchise, it’s still a cornerstone of the industry and seeing it go through this is like watching Michael Jordan crash and burn on a basketball court.

Then came the revelations of a former Turbine dev regarding the development of LotRO. LotRO has been in a slow downward spiral for several years now, although in the past Turbine has tried to spin PR otherwise with little success. Still, hearing the stories of the behind-the-scenes of a game that I’ve been playing for years – the lost money, the dead projects, the poor decisions of executive management – it feels like it’s a miracle that it has made it this long. It’s still alive due to the sheer tenacity of certain developers, the best IP and lore you could ask for, and a dedicated, passionate, award-winning community, which was nearly decimated by the ineptitude of a former community manager.

Elder Scrolls Online, Archeage, & Wildstar all were less successful than anticipated. RIFT & The Secret World are still chugging along quietly – almost too quietly. World of Warcraft, the elephant in the room, had a gangbusters start to their latest expansion but has had questionable decisions since (selfie camera? really?). Guild Wars 2 is the one bright spot, with an expansion coming out in the near future. As far as AAA-level MMOs coming up – I don’t see any out there. There are indeed some smaller and indie-level MMOs in the works, but this is the first time in a very long time that there hasn’t been a “new hotness” coming out. This may not be a bad thing – the market is more than saturated already, with too many engorged albatrosses lumbering along with cash shops hanging around their necks.

Lest this be seen as unbridled criticism and despondency, let me clarify that it’s not. The developers, artists, production teams, community managers of our favorite MMOs are passionate people that pour their heart and soul into these games. Sometimes missteps are made, but it’s usually on the part of executive management – releasing games and patches too early or incomplete, making decisions based on what will give the fastest infusion of cash rather than on what is best for the game, putting in systems that are completely unnecessary or unwanted by the playerbase… all of which are sure recipes for disaster. The developers are trying their best to hit deadlines and trying to conjure magical experiences for us. But as Fredelas tweeted the other day:

As gamers, we all have Dorothy moments when studio curtains are pulled back and we find it run on wires and levers by mortals, not wizards.

I’m having that Dorothy moment. I’ve loved my time in LotRO, but now I wonder if it’s worth continuing to play – I see the age, the mistakes, the current state of the game and it smells like an injured gazelle on the Serengeti. The doubts cloud my mind but I’m contributing to the problem if I don’t play. Even if I try playing a newer, stronger contender, like Guild Wars 2, I feel guilty for not playing LotRO.

WTB a pair of ruby slippers, please.

The Red-Maid

One of the things that entertains me endlessly in LotRO is searching for all the little easter eggs and places that are accurate to the books. The stone trolls in the Trollshaws are a great example – one even has a birdsnest behind it’s ear, just like it should. Even better is when I find that Turbine has taken something that is alluded to in the books, and has ran with it to make it’s own story.

I’ve always liked the Agamaur area and the Garth Agarwen quests, but it wasn’t until my latest run through the place that something jumped out at me – a bit of quest text by a shade in Harloeg:

‘In ages past, we were cursed by Iarwain Ben-adar for our inaction as the Red-maid slipped further from the gentle creature she was to the corrupt thing she now is. Until she is redeemed or removed from the world, we are cursed to wander these swamps, with no hope of rest.

‘But we have no hope. She is too powerful, or so the men believe. I do not believe this is so. I must find a way to restore the men’s resolve. I must find a way to restore their resolve. One of the Eglain, Hartrím, has gone to the place where she dwells. He goes to secure items lost as my brethren and I battled the Angmarim and Hillmen of Rhudaur: our shields. I believe they are still held by the Hillmen who worship the Red-maid and the brigands who have allied themselves with them.

Wait. Iarwain Ben-adar? That is none other than Tom Bombadil, as Elrond tells us in the books during the Council of Elrond. It translates to “oldest and fatherless”, or “old-young”. Apparently he was pretty upset about the Red-Maid’s corruption, according to the quest text. Hmm.

The Red-Maid, the game tells us, is Naruhel, Goldberry’s sister, who became corrupted under the influence of Angmar. She, along with the other in-game river-maids – Gwindeth, the Blue Lady in Evendim, and Roamingstar in Gondor, is an invention of Turbine, and is not canon to the Middle-Earth universe. In the books, Goldberry is said to be the river-daughter, the daughter of the river-woman, so sisters are not out of the realm of possibility.


Corrupted Naruhel, Uncorrupted Naruhel, and Goldberry

Then I remembered this bit of text from Fellowship of the Ring:

He chose for himself from the pile a brooch set with blue stones, many-shaded like flax-flowers or the wings of blue butterflies. He looked long at it, as if stirred by some memory, shaking his head, and saying at last:

‘Here is a pretty toy for Tom and his lady! Fair was she who long ago wore this on her shoulder. Goldberry shall wear it now, and we will not forget her!’

Who exactly Tom was referring to? It’s always been considered a mystery – Tolkien never went into more detail, and the popular theory if you only consider the books is that the lady was perhaps the wife of one of the kings buried in the Barrow-Downs. But I like to think that Turbine perhaps spun the Red-Maid story off of this – what if Goldberry had a sister, and what if this was her brooch? What if Tom Bombadil cursed the shades because of the corruption of Goldberry’s sister?

It’s an interesting story if indeed this was intended by Turbine.

It’s Dangerous To Go Alone!


Paislea the hobbit minstrel is level 62 and rolling through Mirkwood these days. She just arrived at the Haunted Inn, which I am loving the vibe on – creepy/scary places in MMOs are nearly always my favorite, and this place looks like it came out of a teen horror movie, you know, the kind where the young beautiful people go to a cabin and die off one by one in horrible and violent ways. Anyways, there’s a whole crew of humans and elves hanging out there, wringing their hands over what to do, and my little hobbit lass walks in. Their reaction?

You can stay a while, but don’t get to comfortable. We’ve been sending out bands of scouts to check out the area, and none have returned. Our hundreds of years of experience and wisdom are of no use. Go out there and find them, little hobbit girl!

Uhm, guys? Really?

Two Looks, One Pant

As I’ve gotten back into LotRO, one of my pet projects is helping my husband get back into the game. He’s never really clicked with LotRO in the past, but I’ve been there, done that too, so I get it, I really do. So I tried a different tactic: instead of just straight up questing, we started with some of the more uhm… “fluff” in the game – stuff that is fairly unique to LotRO. So far it’s working, and now he has more motivation to quest and level.

First off, he LOVES the hobbit presents. So much so that he blew through 2000 TP buying mithril coins to play the slots on his first night. He got a nice set of armor from that, plus some cash for his house and some bounders tokens for decorations. So far, so good.

Then he bought his house, and spent several hours finding all the housing vendors and grabbing up decorations, and getting stuff settled.

Finally, tonight we went to Laila’s Market for the first time. We both LOVED it and spent waaaay too many TP and Mithril Coins there. I outfitted Staesia, my baby champ, with two outfits…

staesiashirt-frontstaesiashirt-backstaesiahauberkfrontstaesiahauberkbackThen Michello found some pieces he liked for his hunter, and he ended up looking very much like a certain DC Comics character with a popular tv show. He was stuck on pants though. None of the Laila’s Market options struck his fancy. But I remembered a particular pair of pants with “hunter” written all over them: The Westernesse Protector’s Leggings. It’s a craftable pair of pants with leather patches, it dyes really well, and is versatile enough for hunters, rangers, burglars, minstrels – pretty much any character that has a nature-sy bent. A kinmate, Neruwyn/Lauralda, was sweet enough to craft me two pairs – one for me, one for the hubby. We went two totally different ways with them.

First Paislea the minstrel, with the pants dyed Crimson, a new Laila’s Market shirt, her cook’s backpack, and the boots that came with the Rohan expansion.

paisleacrimsonfrontpaisleacrimsonbackThen there’s Michello the hunter, a.k.a. The Green Arrow. All of his items came from Laila’s Market, except for the pants. He went with Rivendell Green.


A Place to Call Home

I think one of the things that I love about LotRO – and one thing that keeps drawing me back – is the housing system. Housing in LotRO has been hotly argued about for years now; the system is extremely antiquated compared to newer, more robust housing in RIFT and the expected new hotness of EverQuest Next. Still, a part of me loves the little neighborhoods, the excitement of picking a neighborhood name and location, and decorating the uniform, standard issue houses in a way that my characters would enjoy.

Of course, one of the first things I had to do upon logging back into Landroval was check out the housing situation. My old Landroval house had been foreclosed upon and all my belongings sent into escrow, so I was free to start from scratch. Seeing as how I’ve had a Hobbit Hole and an Elf…shrine? in the past, it was time to go with a house in Bree-land.


There’s a few things I look for in a location – close to water, nice trees, lots of flowers in the grass, things a hobbit would probably like. More importantly, good yard decoration placement – I don’t like houses that have symmetrical decoration placement, it just looks unnatural. 6 Chestnut Street quickly became an obvious favorite – lots of purple flowers, a large yard hook right in front of the house for a big tree and another one to one side along the walkway, perfect for the anniversary windmill. It’s not terribly close to water, but that’s okay because it’s on top of a hill with nice views. Even better: it was right next to 1 High Street, a kin house with MORE purple flowers, even better views, and decent yard decoration placement.


Did I mention that I started an alt kin on Landroval before I left? Applebottom (hee!) Farm, named after the last name of my hobbits. Yes, these side-by-side properties would do nicely. Now the kicker: to find a neighborhood with both of these properties available. It doesn’t help that these locations seem to be a favorite and one or both were taken in most neighborhoods. It finally came down to two choices, Pimbleborough or Wildore.

Now, if you don’t know the history on Landroval, this wouldn’t seem like a big deal. Just pick one. However, several years ago some community members on Landroval tried to start an unofficial RP neighborhood. Wildore just happened to open up and RPers quickly bought out the neighborhood, and it was home to concerts, faires, and other RP events for several months. However, as these things normally go, interest eventually waned and people either stopped playing or moved out. When foreclosures happened a couple of months ago, almost all of the neighborhood opened back up.

So… a neighborhood with a cool history? Or a neighborhood that could be nicknamed Pimpleburg? I went with Wildore, and by the end of the night I had a deluxe home AND a kinship house. The next night, my husband updated his copy of LotRO, and he moved in to 4 Chestnut Street, which is a deluxe house in an autumn/mountainous area of the neighborhood and conveniently right behind my house and the kin house. We’ve claimed a little triangle of domestic tranquility.


I didn’t realize it at the time, but it also looks like I have a kinmate with an alt-kin house in the neighborhood as well – Nevanna/Lynxa owns the home at 5 Long Street for the Lights of Valacirca. Nifty!