The Road to Mordor: Old school hobbits

(Screenshot courtesy of Lord of the Rhymes)

Over the past couple weeks Lord of the Rings Online players' eyes have turned to the future, and this column with it. After all, with the beta for LotRO F2P edition in full swing and the recent news from E3 about this fall's offerings, it's kind of hard not to be focused on what's ahead.

However, I was tickled by a LotRO forum thread this week that looked back, not forward. It's one of those nostalgia threads that tend to pop up in a forum of any game more than a few years old, a place for veterans to reminisce about the olden days (whether good or bad). It's also an excellent chance for newbies to learn a bit more about the history of the game -- and perhaps thank their lucky stars they didn't have to walk uphill through three-foot snow with a Balrog on their tail just to log in to the servers every day.

The thread certainly makes for good readin', but I wanted to comment on a few specific examples of how the game's changed, and how it was back when we were in school. Old school, that is. Hit the jump, and we'll travel to the past in our hobbit tub time machine!
You know you're an old school LotRO player if Ghost Bear still haunts your dreams.

Beta was a time of peril and uncertainty for timid Middle-earth explorers, and Turbine wasn't going to let an opportunity to scare the pants off of its testers. Hence, "Ghost Bear" was born -- an invisible, terrifying entity that would occasionally roar through a player's speakers, making him or her twist around in search for the imminent mauling that was sure to follow. It never did, of course -- Ghost Bear was all bark and no bite. Alas, it went away when the beta ended, but memories of Ghost Bear still bring a smile to many vets' faces (and a skip to their heartbeats).

You know you're an old school LotRO player when there were no boat travels in Evendim.

Evendim earned the punny nickname "Everswim" (a term that gets a little less amusing every time someone says it in chat) due to a large lake smack in the middle of the zone that had to be crossed repeatedly for quests. As much fun as it was watching your character doggy paddle in plate mail across a huge body of water, player demand rose for a ferry, which was finally added to help with lake crossings.

Still have to swim a lot, though. When will dwarves craft jet skis?

You know you're an old school LotRO player when standing at the top of Weathertop was cool.

Whatchu talkin' 'bout, Willis? It's still cool!

You know you're an old school LotRO player if you remember why Appledore was the most popular NPC in Bree.

Whelan Appledore, a meek vendor who hung out at the Town Hall in Bree, shot to fame and glory when players realized that he offered a substantial discount for both repairs and crafting items -- 50% cheaper in both cases. Due to undercutting the competition, players mugged him regularly until Turbine threatened to break his arms unless he conformed with the rest of the Vendor Union 212, Bree-land.

You know you're an old school LotRO player when you go to the Old Forest and say "What the hell happened to THIS place!? It USED to be scary!"

The Old Forest quickly became one of the most notorious low-level locales in LotRO during the first year, due to its labyrinthian layout, a lack of a useful overhead map to navigate, and many, many ways to die suddenly. It didn't help that the trees would often come to life and whomp you over the head just for tresspassing, either. Of course, the game used every opportunity to send you into the Old Forest, either for quests or several virtue deeds, and players would end up lost deep in the woods, weeping and begging for Tom-Tom Bombadil to appear and provide turn-by-turn directions. This all changed when Turbine finally instituted an Old Forest-specific map (above), which downgraded the Old Forest from "frustratingly freaky" to "a mild romp on the spring meadows."

You know you're an old school LotRO player when people played instruments because they were musically talented with a keyboard, and people said, "What are ABCs?"

While it's been popular from day one, the music system in LotRO used to require you to actually play the instrument via keyboard -- there was no option to save an ABC file to your hard drive and have your character automatically perform a song. Today, using a keyboard to play a song signifies a player's skill and talent in the musical arts, but back then, it was either that or nothing.

You know you're an old school LotRO player when the level cap was 15.

For a very short period of time between the end of closed beta and the official launch of the game was early access for founders, a bizarre and wonderful time when gamers finally got to play LotRO's release version and create permanent characters. Turbine kept the level cap for all players at 15 for this period, to both get the founders past the newbie zones (and lessen the crush on launch day) and keep them from leveling too high and gaining too much of an advantage at the start. The low cap had the side effect of encouraging players to roll many alts and experiment with crafting instead of rushing up the leveling ladder.

You know you're an old school LotRO player when you remember level 15 hobbits running rampant in Trollshaws and Misties stealing your ore.

Ore stealing used to be a much bigger issue than it is today (although it certainly still exists), as several players had no compunctions running up to take a nearby node while you got trapped in combat, or even to try to mine a node that you'd started mining already. If their pick had a quicker mining speed than yours, it was entirely feasible for them to snatch it right from under your nose.

You know you're an old school LotRO player when you didn't have cosmetic slots, trait sets, gear sets, housing, quest guide, tons of extra storage... and you still managed not to go crazy!

While nostalgia is all well and good, threads like this show us just how far LotRO has come since 2007, and that is a good thing.

Even the Ghost Bear mostly comes only at night now.


Tavern Talk -- A look at what the LotRO community is talking about this week:

This article was originally published on Massively.