How LOTRO could zazz up its housing system

At some point this year — I think — Lord of the Rings Online will be adding Rohan housing to the game, which will be the first new housing type since the premium Belfalas mansions arrived a few years ago.

CM Jerry Snook confirmed this in an interview back in April when he said, “So, we’re going to be looking at new housing probably right after the expansion, in which case we’re looking at Rohan housing around the time before Rohan comes to the legendary servers.” He later went on to specificy that “that won’t be the last housing. I know the players are looking for housing all over the place.”

As someone who has been drooling over Rohan housing ever since that expansion showed us the architecture and interiors of the horse-lords, I’m ecstatic over this. I’m eagerly anticipating the day when I’ll be moving my little Hobbit out of a hole and into a cozy rustic log cabin of sorts. And while I’m really glad to hear that SSG is working on different regions of housing (because that will be a money maker for them), what I’d also like to hear are any significant improvements on the housing system itself.

We all full well know that LOTRO’s housing is functional yet hobbled by the hook system. While we did get more flexibility where to put items in a patch a while back, most players (myself included) agree that there are far too few house hooks available. That results in homes that either have everything really spread out or rooms where all the stuff is clumped together in one part and then really empty everywhere else. We know that from the premium house that it is possible to design homes with many more hooks than the standard small and large homes, but it doesn’t seem like a technical hurdle that SSG wants to overcome.

Beyond that, I would dearly love to see more functionality for LOTRO’s homes, period. Perhaps I got really spoiled by WildStar’s housing (OK, I totally got spoiled), since now I expect homes to not only offer me the ability to shape looks but also to be interactive. There are a few useful objects that you can plop down in your LOTRO home — such as a teleporting keg or an item that pays out in crafting mats — but “few” is the operative word here. Once you get your home set up, the only reason you’re ever given to return is to put the odd piece of quest reward decor up or perhaps because you’re throwing a party or something.

Yet there are hints that LOTRO’s neighborhoods could be a lot more. At Halloween time, there’s a mission to go around trick-or-treating at various homes by installing and clicking on candy trays. It’s a small thing, but I was happy to see the game do SOMEthing with the normally dead neighborhoods. It’s just too bad that more festivals and events can’t work in something like this too.

So how to zazz up the housing? In addition to more hooks and more functional and interactive items, I’d suggest decoration contests, player vendor stalls that they could set up in their front yards, a collectible music jukebox (instead of the one set of installed songs for each home), customizable lighting, tools for social events, and perhaps even items that would serve as periodic quest triggers that SSG could use to encourage us to return home once in a while.

Maybe even if the more a home is decorated, the better a lasting rested buff we get when we log out there? Just spitballing here, but there are possibilities. I really liked what WildStar did in getting us to visit and rate other players’ homes, that’s something I’d like to see here.

Anyway, Rohan housing is nice, but I’m not going to stop wanting something deeper until we get it or the game shuts down.

Do racial variants add much value to MMOs?

Last week we got the word that Lord of the Rings Online has a new race in the pipeline — the Stout Axe Dwarves (which, as someone noted on Twitter, can pretty much refer to all of Lord of the Rings’ Dwarves). We know that this race will have a new starting area, be a little taller than the current Dwarves in the game, and offer a female option (a first for LOTRO — at least from the player’s side). We can presume that they will have different racials and animations.

Almost as soon as this race was announced, I started to hear familiar rumblings from some quarters asking the question of whether this actually added value to the game. Is it just a cheap cash grab? The easiest way to add a race in a game hemmed in by lore? And where oh where are my playable Ents already?

Playable racial variants seem to be a minor trend among MMOs lately. DDO has several of them (such as Deep Gnome and Aasimar Scourge), LOTRO brought in the High Elves back in 2017, and World of Warcraft of course has been going whole-hog with allied races ever since the pre-Battle for Azeroth patch.

When a new race isn’t completely new at all, but rather a reskin or an old race spruced up and given a few new minor abilities, is that really enough to warrant an inclusion? It’s not a flashpoint for controversy, but I’ve seen people taking sides on this. Some love them, and some see them as only slightly better than pointless.

Yes, they may be cash grabs and easy ways to get “new” races in the game from a development perspective, but I do think that racial variants offer value to MMORPGs — because they matter to some players. Making characters in MMOs are all about choice and personal expression, who you want to “be” in this virtual world. The more options, the better. I think it’s as simple as that. If it makes some people really happy to have them, then what skin off your nose is it to have it in the game, even if you don’t play it? There are lots of races I don’t play, but (other than Elves) I don’t begrudge their inclusion.

In World of Warcraft, I’ve considered allied races as a rather tantalizing carrot worth chasing, and I’ve gotten a rush over the past few weeks as I’ve unlocked two new ones (Kul Tiran Humans and Dark Iron Dwarves) as well as a minor Night Elf variant. I might well never play any of them, but there’s a satisfying feeling to having them as a future option if I want to try one out. And any excuse to roll up an alt is a win in my book!

As for the Stout Axe Dwarves, I’m betting that LOTRO is going to do the same thing as it did with Mordor and include them in the pricier editions of this fall’s expansion as well as sell them a la carté. That means we won’t be seeing as many of them in the game, but the allure of having a female dwarf is going to send some players in a happy frenzy to roll one up. It also helps to keep this MMO in the spotlight, and that’s definitely a good thing for 2019.

LOTRO: Gladden Fields at last

If it wasn’t for the still-slightly-too-tough mobs, the Vale of Anduin would be a cinch for one of my top five destinations in Lord of the Rings Online. It’s pure eye candy from north to south with a heavy dose of book fanservice thrown in. As I’ve said many times before, a gorgeous zone can make gaming a delight whereas an ashen volcano one makes it torture.

So yeah, I’m not so eager to head back to Mordor. I guess it’s inevitable, though.

With my recent re-entry into World of Warcraft, my LOTRO time has suffered a little. I’m still getting in regular sessions, just not as long nor as driving. Sometimes you want to devour content, and sometimes you just nibble away at it one little bite at a time, you know?

I haven’t even gotten close to finishing the Vale yet. I got bogged down in one section where they had me return to (ugh) Goblin Town, only this time entering from the other side of the Misty Mountains. I felt it was unfair to have all the mobs be 120 when they certainly weren’t before. Can’t I just have the fun of steamrolling things at least once in a while?

Meanwhile, my poor Hobbit hasn’t seen proper daylight in a while, as she’s still pushing through Mirkwood on the legendary server. I really should be done with this zone by now, but I’m maybe, what, halfway through? And I have Enedwaith past this. I might need to get a move on or I might not actually be ready for Rise of Isengard when SSG unlocks that.

I’m way too far into this server to consider rerolling (and I do like my Minstrel very much, thank you), but the other day a Rune-keeper really made me reconsider my life choices. Seeing her blast mobs down far more quickly than I could shout them to death made me a little envious — as did her taunting totems/stones. I wouldn’t mind one of those, let me tell you.

One really nice aspect of going back through old and familiar content is that it gives you permission to treat it casually if you like. I’ve been catching up on some Netflix while stocking up on a pile of Mirkwood quests and then gradually (and somewhat mindlessly) mowing them down. I always like the feeling of being really efficient and getting two or more things done at once as long as my sanity is not sacrificed in the effort. Being able to walk away from an hour of gaming while having knocked out a dozen quests and watched a few shows, I feel that I haven’t wasted my time.

Has LOTRO avoided the over-complexity trap?

On nights that I play Lord of the Rings Online, I’ll usually flip between my progression server character (a level 62 Minstrel in Southern Mirkwood) and my regular server adventurer (a level 120 Lore-master in Vale of Anduin). There are factors I like about each class and the setting they are in (and a few that I don’t), but one thing that I’ve really started to notice as of late is… just how similar they both feel in terms of progression and complexity.

What I mean is that in most MMOs, as you go up in levels and expansions, you start dealing with additional systems that have to be dealt with if you’re going to develop and build out your character to his or her fullest. So at max level, what you’re doing is significantly different than cruising along at mid-levels, and as such, the game feels like it has changed (for better or worse) than what it used to be.

Yet I don’t really get that in LOTRO. Sure, various patches and expansions have added some well-intentioned progression systems over the years, most notably skirmishes, epic battles, and warsteeds. But you’ll notice that those can be ignored after their mandatory bits in the epic books. Really, the only additional progression system that’s lasted is the legendary item one, and even that fades away once you get a good weapon maxed out at the cap.

What is left at the top of the game is the same as much of the journey through: questing, epic storyline chapters, the option to run dungeons/skirmishes/raids, a little bit of reputation grinding, deed hunting for virtue ranks, and maybe crafting, if you’re into that. Actually, I really like that LOTRO hasn’t grown significantly top-heavy. Sure, every so often I wish that we’d get something new and exciting to help advance our characters again, but I know that those systems are often abandoned and undersupported, so it’s a cautionary wish.

For me, I like that I can log into Vales of Anduin and continue the same type of gameplay that I’ve been enjoying for over a decade now. The relaxed pace of questing is highly enjoyable to me and helps me slow down and enjoy the sights and the measured combat and mission objectives. And the game’s even avoided making me the Single Greatest Hero Middle-earth Has Ever Known, which is a terrible trap many MMOs stumble into. I mean, I’m *a* good hero, but I’m hardly the only one, and I’m never above having to prove myself time and again while going on smaller adventures that are strangely more fun than large-scale battles.

Do you feel this way? Am I looking at this from the wrong angle? It’s just a random line of thought, but I suspect that it might be helping the long-term health of the game more than many people suspect.

How serious is Amazon’s Lord of the Rings MMO?

To be honest, it’s hard to know how serious we should be taking the announcement that Amazon’s teaming up with Leyou Tech to make a Middle-earth MMO. I mean, back when it was just a sole announcement last year from a Chinese company, it was easy to dismiss. There weren’t any solid details or screenshots or what have you, so it was just an idea.

But now? Now the situation has changed significantly, because attaching Amazon Game Studio as a co-developer adds legitimacy and possibility. Not certainty, mind you; Amazon has yet to actually launch a title, although it has cancelled one or two already. And New World, Amazon’s other MMO, hasn’t really made a lot of waves with its test cycle and “back to the drawing board” move.

Then again, Amazon is spending gobs and gobs of money on that Lord of the Rings prequel TV series, and if that’s a hit, then having a Middle-earth MMO (related to the series or not) is going to reap Amazon some nice benefits. And there is a little nervous chatter that Amazon might well see LOTRO as a threat and look to edge it out of the market to pave the way, even though it wouldn’t be a direct competitor in a lot of regards.

The best scenario for Amazon and perhaps the nightmare one for LOTRO players is one in which the company flexes its muscles to get LOTRO’s license taken away prior to the MMO coming out, and then jumps onto the scene with a cross-platform, cross-media title that may well be more about flash than substance in an attempt to appeal to a more mainstream crowd (your Shadow of Middle-earth demographic).

Obviously, it’s far too early to predict or even rationally speculate, but I cannot ignore this the way I did with Leyou’s announcement in 2018. Maybe it’ll turn out to be nothing. Maybe it’ll peacefully coexist the way DDO and Neverwinter do, and we’ll have two Lord of the Rings MMOs on the market. Maybe it’s going to be a different game entirely than what we think. But Amazon has deeply vested interest in Lord of the Rings right now, and this move cannot be a coincidence.

That makes me wonder. Hm.

LOTRO: Beggars can be winners

I find it darkly amusing that the elves, in their re-conquest of Mirkwood, find a place called The Haunted Inn and decide that, sure, this sounds like a great place to set up shop. I mean, the place is clearly haunted, as you can see the ghosties come out when you’re in just the right place like so:

I think it’s a wonderfully creepy effect and one that LOTRO hasn’t used too often since.

In any case, my adventures on the progression server are going rather slowly, as I’ve just reached level 62 and am pushing gradually through Mirkwood. I’m not in a rush, but it doesn’t help that I know all of the content that’s to come ahead. It’s too much to think about, so I just focus on one quest at a time while I listen to audio books or evaluate yet another MMO soundtrack.

So let’s talk the live server instead, because I have no idea how much I’ve left to do in Anduin. Probably a lot, I’m not the quickest of adventurer. And what I’m finding is that as in Mordor, these mobs hit like trucks and are often packed together in camps that can turn incredibly dangerous in moments.

In fact, a couple of quests sent me into an orc camp like so many others I’ve done in the game to date, except that these mobs were all super tough and came in twos and threes. I will not embarrass myself by telling you how many times I died trying to gradually clear the camp to my objectives, but it was enough so that my armor broke. And I was trying every trick in the book, including experimenting with different pets. It just wasn’t working.

I didn’t get any help from my kin when I put out a couple calls for assist, but a lovely Minstrel in global chat came to my aid and helped me to plow through the area to get both quests done. That’s a real hero, right there, someone who helps others even when there’s nothing in it for them. So Daize, I salute you. You’re my hero tonight.

Double-dating Lord of the Rings Online

I don’t recall ever being this torn while logging into Lord of the Rings Online. I’m not talking about whether I want to play or not, but rather which SERVER I want to enjoy at any given time. The near-simultaneous release of Update 24 and Siege of Mirkwood has resulted in a tug-o-war for my attention and affection. The weird thing is that I feel equally interested in both, which is kind of cool.

I mean, over in Update 24 live server land, it’s all about brand-new content in a really pretty zone I’ve never seen before. I’m not rushing this (I rarely rush) but am taking my time meeting the Beornings, doing tasks for Radagast, joshing around with the giant eagles, and watching dogs stand up on their hind legs to serve dinner.

It’s a weird zone, let’s just say that. Lots of Hobbit influences, obviously, and that book wasn’t nearly as “grounded” as Lord of the Rings. I don’t mind, to be honest.

In addition to the zone itself, the Black Book of Mordor added two new books, so on we go with the ambiguity of what this “black book” is and why some Jason Vorhees-wannabe is chasing after it. He’s probably the most effective villain this game has had in some time, and I was kind of shocked when Gandalf blasted off his mask to reveal this scarred, zombie-like visage underneath.

So yeah, good times on the live server. It’s kind of disappointing that I don’t have any character advancement left to do right now on my Lore-master, so pretty much all questing is being done strictly for the experience and whatever gear upgrades the devs want to throw my way.

You’d think that in contrast to the sun-drenched lands of Anduin, Mirkwood would be anathema to me, but that’s just not the case. I’ve always loved this zone and feel far more free questing through it than I did in Moria. And there is plenty of advancement to be had, as I march toward level 65 and work on getting my first agers up to spec. There are a few talent points I’m saving up for, but it’s going to be a long while before I see them due to the slower pace of this server.

And speaking of slow, more than a few of us were complaining the first few days of the expansion unlock that one quest in particular caused a nasty bottleneck. We absolutely had to find and kill seven of these warg riders to advance to the next phase (and the larger zone itself), but the spawn rate seemed really off and players kept roaming everywhere just trying to find one. I eventually took to patrolling the same stretch of road for an hour or so after I noticed that about two spawn points happened around there.

The other factor that helps balance out my interest in the legendary server is that I’m having way more fun fighting as a Minstrel than a Lore-master. Weird for me to admit that, but it is the case. The instant powerful shout/light attacks make for an enjoyable rotation, and I love rounding up groups of mobs and then popping off four AoE spells in rapid succession. Plus, as long as I’m paying attention, I can never die.

So I guess this’ll be my summer in LOTRO: Anduin and Mirkwood/Enedwaith. That’s not a bad fate to be had, and we still have an expansion to go for later this year.