When I first logged into LOTRO a few years ago, it was stunningly beautiful in many ways, and true to the Tolkien books. The maps were accurate, even though some places were hard to find when questing. There was no real guide to tell you where quests where, so you had to hunt them down, sometimes going out of the game and using player made coordinate maps of the areas. They were broken down accordingly, from West to East, at the time. The first chapters of the game was Shadows of Angmar, which was the home of the Witch King. You started off playing as one of the Free Peoples of Middle Earth. Human, dwarven, elvin, or hobbit. Elves and dwarves started the game in Ered Luin, the westernmost region, with the Elvin area in the very west, and the Dwarven area in the north in Thorin’s Hall. There were many quests to take on just in Ered Luin alone, dealing with factions of Dourhand dwarves, goblins, some undead, and some fiercely territorial wildlife. The hobbits started in the Shire, where their enemies were few, but some Dourhands and Greybeard influence had come in from the West. There were some goblins and many wolves, bears, and giant spiders to fight, plus some human outlaw bands that were scattered in remote parts of the Shire. The Shire’s influence can be seen also in the northern region of Evendim. Human’s started in a small town north of Bree called Archet. To the south of Archet was a section of ruins that had been taken over by a band of outlaws called the Balckwolds. The Blackwolds and the Southerns where the main human bandits in the Bree-lands. Also, the Bree-lands is where we first find giants, and orcs, plus the many undead of the Barrow-Downs and the angry trees of the Old Forest where we also found the world’s oldest, and merriest creature, Tom Bombadil.
The city of Bree was the first crossroads where all these Free Peoples would meet for crafting, auctions, guilding, instruction, and merry-making in the Prancing Pony Inn. It was also there where our characters would first meet the characters from the books that we knew so well. Later on, the developers would make the game a little easier by giving us new ways to work with our questing maps, and there were even coordinates so we could track exactly were we were. We would follow quest lines that would take us out of the Bree-lands, to the North Downs, Aragron’s birthplace, and the ancient capitol of Fornost which was now home to many, many undead. To the LoneLands and Weathertop, and to other necropoli just before we crossed over into the Trollshaws and into the protected valley of Rivendell, which was pretty much the Oxford of Tolkien’s world. One could make the entire run from the most Northwestern edge of Forochel to the eastern outpost of Echad Dunann, which is pretty much the back gateway into Moria, and never have to cross transitions. Not only was the scope of the game rich in quests, aesthetic beauty, music and sounds, it was fun to meet new people who were there because they truly enjoyed what the storytellers and developers at Turbine had done with this world. Comraderie and fellowship were welcome, just like in the books. There were book instance battles, as well, where it was often crucial to find teammates to help you get through them, because no one would be able to survive them alone.
Things came to a foul turn when a new kind of battle was introduced later on. Skirmishes. This is when a solo player, a duo-team, or maybe a group of three or four people play in pre-set battle in an area to move a storyline along. In these, you could call on a NPC ally for help. For a solo player, this kind of thing was just great, because these skirmishes were very easy to get through. Group play was a little more difficult. Two-player teams in skirmishes where given a beatdown that made the UFC look tame, and would often have to play them at a level set about five to ten lower than their own level to get through them. It seemed that Turbine was punishing the couples and family groups that would play this game together for some reason. New areas were added, but the enemies were now so near-sighted, you didn’t know whether to slay them or send them to an optometrist. Later on, a Free to Play version of LOTRO was introduced, and this brought in players from other MMOs in droves. There was much complaining from the new players on how this game was not like the ones they played before. Complaining from the veteran players on how immature the new players were, and how they did not respect Tolkien’s works. Complaining from the storytellers on how Turbine was paying them to tell the story, and they were not going to change it, like in the Colin Raye country song “That’s My Story”. Now anyone could pay to get things the veterans had earned through many levels of gameplay before, and veterans were on an exodus to other, more traditional games. It seems that Warner Bros and Turbine had created a marketing nightmare. This player left LOTRO last year because of all the chaos, and has not been back since, or really checked the media to see if any changes had been made to fix all the problems caused by the Free to Play status of LOTRO. Will I go back? Not sure yet, but I would really like to see the skirmish system overhauled for people who play as two-person teams get an easier time of it. Even though Frodo cast The Ring into the fires of Mount Doom, he did not have to do it alone. Why should we have to do it any differently?