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As 2007 comes to a close, it is now time for a moment of reflection as we look back on the many changes that our beloved Middle-earth has gone through this past year. With a successful launch, several seasonal events, and three Epic Book updates, Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO) is a very different game from the one that launched in April. It has been a long and fun road through 2007. With three huge free content updates fresh off the heels of a successful launch, LOTRO poised itself to be a major player in the MMOG industry. Let's take a look at where we were, and where we are now.
April of 2007 hailed the launch of LOTRO and a new era in the MMOG industry as Middle-earth made its debut on the MMOG scene. The original game client launched with the areas of Eriador such as Thorin's Gate, Bree-land, The Shire, Erud Luin, North Downs, Lone-lands, Trollshaws, Misty Mountains, and Angmar. Along with the areas of Eriador, there were eight Epic Books that tell the story of the player and how their destiny is locked to that of the Fellowship of the Ring without interfering with the original story. The time-line is set with the Fellowship in Rivendell before they set out on their long journey to destroy the one ring. That very story progresses as the free content is released.
Book 9: Shores of Evendim – The first free update for LOTRO was released in June, a mere two months after the official launch and it increased the overall landmass by ten percent. Shores of Evendim (SOE) No pun intended) was the first free content update for LOTRO and added a new area called Evendim to the current map. The update brought over one hundred new quests, several new deeds, the ninth chapter of the Epic Book story line, and LOTRO’s first raid instance located in the northern Misty Mountains called Halegrod. Evendim itself offered several new fellowship instances such as Thief-Takers Bane, Elendil’s Tomb, and The Twisted Grove. Book 9 also guides the player on a long series of quests to aid Aragorn in recovering an ancient stone called a Silithar to aid in the re-forging of Narsil, the Sword of Kings. (See what I mean by being locked to the Fellowship, but not interfering.)
SOE provided a massive infusion of content very shortly after launch. This not only proved that LOTRO has a lot to offer any Tolkien or MMOG fan, but also that the Turbine developers are not asleep at the switch, and are working very hard to make this MMOG great.
Book 10: The City of Kings – The developers at Turbine are pretty determined to not allow their players to go without new content for to long. In August, they released their second free content update for LOTRO called Book 10: The City of Kings. This update was just as big as its predecessor, Book 9: Shores of Evendim. The first thing anyone will notice when reading the patch notes is the fact it is four forum pages long. (On to the juicy tidbits.)
Book 10 offered a ton of new features to LOTRO. Session Play may be one of the most unique and interesting mechanics added. This form of play was designed for players who may log in with only an hour or two to play. It allows you to play as a legendary creature in the Player versus Player (PvP) centered Ettenmoores. For a fee paid in destiny points, and a small task, you can play as a Ranger for the Free People, or a Troll for the Creeps. Another aspect of Session Play is the quest line that was added to the Shire. This allows you to play as a chicken. What more needs to be said about this update. You can be a chicken. That alone makes it all worth this massive patch.
Book 10 expanded the area of Evendim to include the ancient city of Annuminas. Annuminas includes several quests to aid the Dunedain Rangers within the ruins and three new instances for players to enjoy. A Barter Merchant was also added to the Ranger encampment to allow players to barter specific items they earn along their adventures for various pieces of set armour.
The Reputation System was also implemented with Book 10. This new system works like many of the faction based systems in previous MMOG's and allows players to do a quest for collecting items, slaying creatures, or even crafting to earn reputation points with one of the six factions of Middle-earth. By doing so, you can gain access to reputation merchants that carry items only those in good standing can purchase, and you can receive a substantial discount on repair cost.
The Captain and Hunter class received a revamp and content pass in what has become known as the “Month of (insert class here)” update. These new updates are class focused and seem to occur in two’s. The Hunter received a lot of new neat skills like tracking and a group travel skill to instantly take their group to a camp site they have acquired in various areas of Middle-earth. The Captain received several new healing and combat skills and a nice assortment of Herald armaments for his pet. Both classes have been made more engaging since these updates.
Book 11: Defenders of Eriador – This update launched in October and was a mammoth undertaking by the development team. It brought to a live game four distinct Player Housing areas in a free update and not an expansion. Included with this massive housing option were accompanying neighborhoods. The neighborhoods are massive in size and each of them reflects their respective races. The housing received several items a player can buy or craft for their homes to make them unique and personalized. The developers even included a Taxidermy barter merchant as an option to obtain more items. Players can make use of the rare dead corpse drops from certain enemies and have it stuffed to make a nice trophy.
Book 11 also expanded some of the areas already in Middle-earth. The Trollshaws was expanded further south unlocking the new area of Tal Bruinen and the Northern and Southern High Pass was opened in the Misty Mountains and with it the dungeon classic known as Goblin Town. (Fans of the Hobbit rejoice.) We also received a new twelve man raid instance in northeastern Angmar called The Rift of Nurz Ghashu, complete with our very own Balrog.
This update also hailed several changes for the Minstrel and Lore-master class that changed the way each class is played and even improved their ability to solo. Lore-master’s received the ability to impact the dead more effectively while Minstrel’s received the new War-speech skill. Each class received a fill out of skills in the level 40-50 range and many other changes.
These free Epic Book updates have added a ton of new content, but the developers have also been busy offering up seasonal events. The most recent is the Yule event currently underway in Middle-earth and allowing players to earn a Yule-Tree for their homes for the holidays. While this event is relatively small, we have seen much larger events such as the Solstice Festival and the Harvest Festival. These events have all allowed players to play and compete in various games for fun and to earn prizes.
In retrospect, we have come a long way since April. That small little corner of Middle-earth has grown in leaps and bounds. To look upon the game now and as it was in April will show a very different picture. The developers are making a great effort to keep their players happy and in doing so they have added a ton to LOTRO. With all this added in 2007, the multi country launches already underway and in progress, one can only venture a guess of what they have planned for 2008. Whatever it is, I expect it will be huge.