Huh... what is there to talk about these days? Really? Such a slow news cycle for LotRO... hm. I guess there's that whole "getting rid of pesky radiance" thing that's going to save me from having to write a column on that convoluted system, so thanks Turbine! Other than that, life in Middle-earth is as quiet as...

As... as a...

GEEKQUAKE! RUN FOR COVER! EMPLOY EXCESSIVE CAPS LOCK STATEMENTS! LOTRO AHOY!

OK, so I might have been a bit facetious there. Shocking all of us, Turbine brought up the servers with the new patch an evening early, granting access to the head start of F2P on Tuesday night. I sort of suspected the devs were up to something when they kept rubbing their hands and cackling maniacally at PAX last weekend, although they claimed it was just a nervous disorder.

So it's here -- the biggest non-expansion update to the game yet and a literal game-changer to boot. F2P, wardrobe, scaled instances, Enedwaith, the LotRO store, and lots and lots of new (and returning) players have existing players giddy and twitchy. So how'd the first couple days go so far? Is LotRO F2P really all that and a bag of Shire Sweet-leaf? Read on, my short and stout brethren!
Stepping through the wardrobe into Narnia. Er, Nimrodel.

Last Tuesday was an agonizing wait for many of us as Turbine took down both the servers and website in preparation for the re-launch. Without the comforting presence of LotRO, the day grew dim and dreary. I even stumbled into Starbucks and begged the barista to send me on a quest. Oddly enough, that quest involved purchasing the jazz CD in front of the register and then leaving before I disturbed any of the other customers.

So it certainly was a surprise when Turbine brought up the servers on Tuesday evening instead of Wednesday morning, and people rushed to download the patch and see all of the new goodies. In a way, this sly maneuver is ideal for situations like this. It does no good to have thousands of players try to log in at the same moment, so by quietly releasing it earlier, Turbine could spread out the inflow and come out looking like the devs were ahead of schedule. The company did the same sort of thing for the game's initial launch, refusing to tell players what time that day it would be released and then springing the patcher at a random time.

Surprisingly, the patch downloaded quickly, and I was in the game before I could say, "Ooh, big buttons!" Upon entering the game, I just stood there for a few minutes while I absorbed all of the new elements of the UI. Well, that, and watch what appeared to be the entire scrolling-text from a Star Wars film fly by on the screen. This was due to all of the new reputation deeds that have been added to the game, and it quickly became a running joke that whoever would log in next would inevitably comment on the wall of text that just crit him or her. Not that we're complaining -- after all, a lot of these deeds awarded additional free Turbine Points (which took a few additional minutes to register).

Unfortunately, our friends in Europe have been left out in the cold at the last possible moment, as Codemasters announced that this update wasn't ready to go out on its servers just yet. Minus 10 points from Codemasters, which puts the publishing company at -750 for the year so far. It's hard to think of a positive way to look at what is a massive bungling on the company's part, so I'll just frown in its general direction. Feel that Codemasters? It's a frown, baby!

A land of new possibilities

It's at that point that the thought of "What do I do first?" became overwhelming, almost paralyzing. No matter how much you experienced in beta, it's a whole different ball of wax (disgusting cliches FTW!) when you deal with it on live servers. Do I check out the new store first and go shopping? Fiddle with the wardrobe? Queue up for an instance?

Happily, the game made up my mind for me. Because of all the updates, I had to spend time reworking my character. First came the purchase of additional skills (as a captain, I got the new level 1 "Sure Strike" attack) and rejiggering my attack rotation to fit it in. Then I had to re-spend all of my legendary points and skirmish soldier points, as they'd been reset due to the update. Finally, I spent a few minutes at the bard to retrait my captain into the new Lead the Charge line. Ghost archer, attack!

Of course, everyone was checking out the LotRO store, especially since most of us head-starters had loads of points burning holes in our pockets. What-oh-what to purchase with them? I didn't go nuts, but I walked out of LotRO-Mart with a couple new virtues, a few cosmetic items, 20 more slots for my wardrobe, one house decoration, and a stat boost to vitality. I think the prices are a bit on the high side, especially if you want to fill out your virtues or any multi-step purchase like that.

The store was absolutely slammed that first night, slowing to a crawl as everyone poured into it. I had issues with making a purchase that didn't register until almost five minutes later, which didn't instill me with any confidence. Turbine brought the store down for a while to make adjustments, and when I tried it out the next night, the store seemed OK.

Another issue we had was the Case of the Mysterious Disappearing Turbine Points. Between the first and second day, I had lost around 600 TP for no reason that I could see, and my kinnies reported similar situations on their ends. Hopefully, this will get settled quickly -- nobody likes the thought of losing TP, even if we were given them instead of paying directly for them.

A few of my favorite things

Aside from store issues, I've found that the patch is bursting with practical goodness. The UI simply looks better all around, and I adore the new quest marking system. Previously, if you were looking to find the destination for a quest, the map would show you a hard-to-see blob. Now the game color-codes blobs to each quest that you're tracking, so it's a lot easier to see where they are and whether they overlap (which is certainly helpful if you want to knock out multiple quests at a time).

I spent a while filling out my wardrobe with all of the cosmetic clutter I've gathered on multiple toons over the past year. Again, because of the servers being crushed, it was a slow process, but it worked just fine. I really, really like the new wardrobe/vault UI, which is not only easier to read, but makes dragging and dropping items onto stacks a breeze -- the game automatically adds anything you drag to a stack (if one is available) instead of making you hunt around for that item.

Dynamic layering was in full effect in busy places like Bree and the Twenty-First Hall, a new tech that essentially functions as multiple instances of the same area in order to reduce lag and server strain. You can switch between layers if you want to find a particular person, but I never really needed to do that. I do feel somewhat bad for the roleplayers, who make a valid point that layering hurts casual and mass gatherings, especially in places where players typically go to relax and congregate.

But all things considered, I'm loving this new update, even though it'll be a while until I get to see the glory that is Enedwaith -- it's just nice knowing that it's there at the end, and I bet a lot of high-level players are glad for a new place to stretch their legs. It's also been great to see crowds storming in, including old friends and returning players who are either back for good or there to satisfy their curiosity. Turbine's staking a lot on this update, and while it's far too early to tell if the gamble has paid off, it's thrilling to see this many people excited about LotRO once more.


When not clawing his eyes out at the atrocious state of general chat channels, Justin "Syp" Olivetti jaws about hobbits in his Lord of the Rings Online column, The Road to Mordor. You can contact him via email at justin@massively.com or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.

This article was originally published on Massively.
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