The Road to Mordor: A year in Middle-earth

What a difference a year makes, eh? One year ago, and you didn't have to put up with me yammering at you every Friday like a hyperactive badger with a personality disorder. One year ago, and we weren't free-to-play-anything, Turbine was its own company, the festivals were nowhere near as cool as they are today, and shrews freely roamed the land without fear of reprisal.

So in my last Road to Mordor (of the year, stop rejoicing over there!), I thought it'd be great to look back at the wild rollercoaster that was 2010 in Lord of the Rings Online. I also thought I'd get an easy column out of all this, but that was before I had to read through 1,337 posts and my eyeballs began to lose pressure.

January

Stuff happened. Let's move on.

Fine, I'll go into a bit more detail. As weird as it is to remember, back in January the latest expansion -- Siege of Mirkwood -- was relatively new, so much so that we were only starting to see the first post-Mirkwood patches at that point.

Apart from the very first Road to Mordor column, Turbine announced the Oath of the Rangers update, and we were off to the races!

February

There was a lot of anticipation for the year's first big update, and we were on hand to tour through the new content a couple of weeks prior to launch. Included in the update were improvements to crafting, skill upgrades, and skirmish gear rewards.

Turbine started up the Isengard Private Preview Program to offer players the opportunity to test upcoming content for bugs. Whee!

March

March kicked off with the release of the Volume III, Book 1: Oath of the Rangers update, which featured a brand-new epic questline that took players all across Middle-earth.

"Shrews? STOMP 'EM!" was the rallying cry of players during the new Spring Festival event. Silly? Sure. Entertaining? Definitely. Unfortunately, the festival wasn't without its fair share of glitches, but players endured nevertheless.

We also enjoyed a rare peek into Turbine's QA team and saw the hard work that behind-the-scenes employees put in to keep the game as bug-free as possible.

And oh hey -- who's that handsome new LotRO blogger on Massively? Golly, wish I could meet him!

April

LotRO celebrated its third anniversary this month, and I asked players to recall some of their favorite memories from their time in the game. April also marked the last time Turbine would be an independent MMO studio, as Warner Bros. purchased the company to fold into its entertainment division.

May

May was a pretty quiet month leading up to E3, with the single biggest piece of news being the appointment of Jeff Junge as the overseer of Turbine and its MMOs. Otherwise, we fiddled our fingers, enjoyed a couple of welcome back weekends, and cheered Sapience on when he showed just how much Turbine listens to its fans.

June

While some predicted it, others like myself denied the possibility, but it happened anyway: Turbine announced that LotRO was well along in the process of converting to a hybrid subscription/free-to-play model. Reactions and discussions were as intense as they were varied, and we milked the company for all of the information we could get during E3. The F2P edition swiftly went into closed beta soon after.

Meanwhile, Kate Paiz transferred her flag from Dungeons and Dragons Online to LotRO and took over executive producing duties from Jeffrey Steefel.

Players rounded out the month by participating in the Summer Festival -- or not; I couldn't keep track of everyone's actions.

July

We began July with a stellar -- if I may say so myself -- two-part tour of the F2P content update. This included first word of the Halloweentastic Haunted Burrow, an examination of the LotRO store, and a peek into Enedwaith.

The beta was the hot ticket this month, and everyone wanted in; fortunately, it wasn't that difficult to get a key if you were determined. While the NDA remained in place, Turbine released a handful of beta testimonials to give us a glimpse into the process. The company also announced that LUA scripting would be allowed in the game on a limited scale, sending modders into a tizzy.

August

You were either a beta tester or a waiter in August. Testers got their hands on all of the shinies of the F2P patch early, while the waiters took orders and complained about their tips. Also, they waited. Once the NDA for the beta dropped, we analyzed the class changes and other features in excruciating detail.

Turbine announced a September 10th launch date for F2P, and everyone cleared his schedule accordingly.

Beta testers were less-than-pleased with some of the prices and items in the LotRO item store, and they were particularly vexed about the inclusion of reputation mounts. Turbine heard the controversy and yanked the mounts from the store prior to launch.

September

Free-to-play was on everyone's mind in September as Lord of the Rings Online experienced what could be called its second launch with the change. We met with the devs at PAX Prime to pick their brains about the soon-to-be-released update, which happened a couple of weeks later. Reactions were mixed but generally favorable, and LotRO shot back into the spotlight in the MMO industry (and got a spiffy new TV commercial).

It wasn't just the F2P business model that players welcomed, but the many other quality of life improvements as well, including the region of Enedwaith, UI plugins and the awesome wardrobe system.

Unfortunately, EU players were told that F2P would not be launched at the same time, and Codemasters scrambled to come up with humorous ways to deal with the frustration.

And don't forget about Talk Like a Pirate Day! I know I won't.

October

The free-to-play move seemed to pay off after the first month; Turbine reported that revenues doubled as a million new accounts were created following the switch.

The most daring of hobbits dared to venture into the Haunted Burrow, the brand-new addition to the Fall Festival that opened up the spooky depths of Bilbo's cellar to the population. Secrets, prizes, and mysterious ghosts lay within, but nothing was more desirable (or rare!) than the skeleton horse mount.

Meanwhile, the EU LotRO community continued its long wait for the F2P update due to legal issues -- a wait that would stretch all the way to November 2nd.

November

This month Turbine took the wraps off the next expansion: Rise of Isengard. Come fall 2011, we'll be pushing through three zones into Saruman's fortress -- as well as pushing up to level 70!

Ever since the launch of free-to-play, LotRO fanatics looked ahead and asked, "What's next?" Turbine gave its answer this month with the November Update, a "kitchen sink" content patch that included Rune-keeper and Lore-master improvements, the Task system, the wonderful Vault 3.0 revamp, the barter wallet, and several other features.

The LotRO store continued to generate controversy, this time with the new Steed of Night mount. This horse, which cost around $20, easily rivaled the best in-game mounts and irked those who put in the time to earn reputation mounts with similar stats.

By November the LotRO community had grown to record numbers of blogs, podcasts, and fansites, and I attempted to catalogue as many as possible.

December

The new and improved Yule Festival was the talk of the town in December as players flocked to Winter-home for a taste of holiday cheer. While the town was infested with mood-dampening beggars, players could flee to Frostbluff Theatre to partake in a play -- or participate in one.

Otherwise, the year ended on a quiet note, with the welcome return of both the LotRO lotteries and the design-a-horse contest.

The year 2011's looking even brighter for our favorite MMO, with Isengard, Legendary Item improvements, and hopefully many more updates to LotRO. See you on the flip side!

When not enjoying second breakfast and a pint of ale, 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.