LOTRO: Mordor and Beyond
Well, I waited till this afternoon before buying the Mordor expansion for LOTRO. Unlike the song, a day really didn’t make that much difference. In true and traditional Standing Stone Games style there were still problems, glitches and hassles to be found twenty-four hours on from the launch. In fact, there’s a hot fix to be deployed tomorrow to iron some of these out. Yet, in spite of all these minor niggles, tonight I found myself officially entering Mordor, ten years after the launch of LOTRO and eight years on from my subscribing to the game. I must admit as the game wrapped up the original story and I said cheer-bye to Frodo and the rest of The Fellowship of the Ring, I did feel a sense of great satisfaction as I reflected on what my character had achieved on behalf of the free peoples of Middle-earth. Why even Gandalf himself thanked me for my courage and effort. And then a message appeared in chat, stating “You’ve earned 5 LOTRO Points”. The irony wasn’t lost and I then went on to ponder exactly why I’ve spent years being a butler to all the NPCs I’ve met in LOTRO.
Joking aside, I did enjoy the final interlude where you play once again as Gollum. Standing Stone Games did somewhat stretch the lore to accommodate the player being present at Sam and Frodo’s rescue. However, it does bring a sense of closure to the player. The subsequent epilogue in The Field of Cormallen set up the premise for the next Epic Book nicely. Overall, the cutscenes were well conceived and showed sufficient of the end of the story without over egging matters. The destruction of Barad-dûr, the demise of the Ring Wraiths and the rescue of Frodo and Sam by the eagles were functional. Once again, the developers work well within the technical restrictions of a decade old game engine. It’s just a shame that they couldn’t have created a more exciting launch trailer. The hastily cobbled together effort that was created using in-game footage was very lacklustre and was far from the most effective marketing tool.
At the time of writing there are still some technical glitches with the new character animations. There are clipping and tearing issues especially with certain types of hats and hair. It was very noticeable of my primary character. There were also delays to some players receiving the Aria of the Valar level boost. I’m sure these matters will be addressed but once again it would have been preferable if these had been sorted prior to launch. The current gaming culture of early access, releasing unfinished content and fixing on the fly is hardly edifying for the game community. It is a lazy, finance driven concept that doesn’t take in to account such matters as professionalism and public perception. The LOTRO player base has proven its tolerance time and time again over the years. I’m sure they would have accommodated a delay or better still a later launch date, if it meant that they got a more polished product.
I was fortunate enough to have received the Aria of the Valar when I logged in to the game today. Not everyone has been as lucky. I applied this boost to level 105 to my Dwarf Hunter. He was currently languishing at level 50 something and loitering in Lothlorien, having simply run through Moria. As I wasn’t relishing revisiting such areas as Mirkwood and Dunland and have always fancied an alternative character at level cap, it seemed like the sensible thing to do. The boost provides adequate gear, although none of it is designed for essences and three Third Age legendary items. Virtues are also increased but not to cap and you are also given a modest quantity of skills points. These are mainly the ones you would acquire if you played through the Epic Story. All things considered it’s not a bad service and allows you to go directly to Mordor adequately equipped. However, it is no more than that and shouldn’t be considered a “pay to win” item. After using the Aria of the Valar my Dwarf Hunter had a Physical Mastery rating of 70K.
So finally, the wait is over. LOTRO has now reached the end of the accepted canonical story and is now moving in to wholly original territory, narratively speaking. It feels like a very major step in the games overall life. Yet the more I look around at LOTRO, the reality is that nothing has significantly changed. The new Allegiance system is merely an adaptation of the existing reputation mechanic. Similarly, the Light of Earendil/Shadow of Mordor System appears to be a regional buff/debuff mechanic, not to different to from the old Radiance/Gloom system. Although the Mordor expansion offers LOTRO player a lot more content, it is still just “more of the same”. For many this will be an acceptable arrangement but I can’t help but think that it would be to the game’s advantage if they introduced something truly innovative. Sadly, I think the reality is that the game is simply too old to support anything too complex.
Although I have bought the Mordor expansion and am happy to play through the new quests, I will more than likely move on to pastures new, once I’ve hit the new level cap. Then it’s a question of waiting to see what the next update has to offer. For those that stay it is then a question of levelling alts and repeating content. Due to the social nature of the game and its community, it is the player created content and activities that binds people to this virtual Middle-earth. Standing Stone Games provides the theatre and the players craft their own experiences with their friends and kinships. Although this on paper seems like a very equitable arrangement, I can’t help but feel that it excuses Standing Stone Games from pushing themselves. Rather than taking a proactive role in creating new innovative content, they seem more like paternal “groundskeepers” charged with maintaining a fertile environment for others. Although it’s a valid position I wonder if its sustainable now LOTRO moves beyond Mordor. What do players want next and can the developers provide it for them?