The Road to Mordor: A fresh start

I don't know about you, but sometimes I fall into the trap of forcing myself to do something in a game because I feel internally obliged to do it. Somewhere along the line, "setting a goal" became a Bataan Death March that absolutely had to be accomplished before I'd allow myself to do what I truly wanted. In my case, it was the stubborn determination to get through the remainder of Rise of Isengard's content even though I had slowed to slogging through it, feeling burned out on my Lore-master after well over a year of constant play on the character.

So I sat back and re-evaluated. My reasoning for finishing Isengard was to make sure I was at the top of the game and could evaluate any new high-level content that came along for you guys, which was a noble reason. But the truth was that in so doing, I was playing something that was leeched of enjoyment for the time being and really needed to be put aside. Once I realized that, the solution was obvious.

A fresh start. That's what I wanted: a completely fresh start to the game. Hey, it's still (sort of) a new year, so why not? And once I gave myself permission to do that, my adventures in Lord of the Rings Online brightened up considerably.

I might be weird in this, but I absolutely love starting over from scratch in long-term games from time to time, even though it means scrapping (or putting aside) a whole heap of achievements and the effort spent acquiring them. This week I'm going to look at my fresh start with LotRO and why it has me buzzed to log in for the first time this year.

Tabula rasa (no, not the game, the concept)

When you're in the highest levels of the game, it can be an unthinkable prospect to start over. I'm not merely talking a fun little alt on the side here; I'm talking a pack-your-bags-we're-moving, blank slate reboot with nothing but dreams in your pockets and a mountain of content to climb once more. Just trying to get your head around the scope of doing such a thing -- especially after the game's gone through three expansions -- is almost inconceivable (I do not think you know the meaning of that word).

And yet, there's an elegant freedom in that as well. Don't we wish life had fresh starts? Don't we ever look back, and knowing what we know now, think that we'd totally do it better if we had a second chance? With real life that's impossible, but with MMOs it's always available. The only thing you can't do is erase your knowledge and memories of what you've already been through.

Starting over is a game mode that only you can activate for yourself. In my case, it's because I wanted to become untethered from all the familiar elements I'd acquired (my skills, my mounts, my wardrobe) and see how it might be different if I simply choose to go left instead of right.

Elves have horrible groundskeeping
Life in the slow lane

Because I was dedicated to starting from scratch, I knew that I'd have to move servers (or else would have to delete all my characters, which wasn't going to happen -- I'm not going to abandon my LM forever!). I knew that staying on the same server would provide too much temptation for crutches by sending myself items and money from other characters. Plus, I kind of wanted a brand-new house, and LotRO's one-house-per-server rule had me tied up on Landroval.

So I decided to return to the first server I ever joined in LotRO back in 2007: Gladden. I was pleased to discover that my old kinship was still thriving (a testimony to the enduring power of this game) and that I was welcome to rejoin it. Other than a few friends, I would have no resources for a new character save my pre-order bonuses that come standard on every toon I make and a few Turbine Points to help me restock my cosmetic outfits. I would come into the game as naked as could be and experience life in the slow lane.

The next decision I had to make was on my new character. I mulled this over for a while, picking up classes and then rejecting them for various reasons. Whatever I chose had to be interesting enough to me to keep me involved in its development for a long time, but it would need to be something different from my previous Lore-master and Captain. I actually rolled a Rune-keeper for an hour or so but just felt so uncomfortable with the mechanics that I scrapped it.

That's when I turned to my first love of the game, a Minstrel, and realized that with RoI's changes, there was a lot to discover about this class that I'd never experienced (special thanks to A Casual Stroll to Mordor for laying the changes out for me). Plus, I've always had a soft spot for Bard classes, and the fact that the Minnie can do a bit of hand-to-hand combat as well as attack with songs fit my hybrid preferences perfectly.

Heroes cower!
Roadmaps, goals, and playstyle

My final decision was on how I wanted to play this character. With my Lore-master close enough in levels to be able to tackle Riders of Rohan content when it comes this fall, I'm in no particular rush to get anywhere with my Minstrel. As such, I will probably be continuing my interrupted "quest completionist" series that I started with The Shire and Ered Luin, attempting to tackle every single solo quest in a zone before leaving.

I did have to do a bit of reading to get familiar with the changes to Minstrels, stats, and virtues. Creating a virtue roadmap for my character took a half-hour or so, but generally I'm pleased that it ended up being a mish-mash of quest, kill, and exploration deeds (rather than, say, a majority of kill deeds). I'll try to get through my Shire and Ered Luin deeds first before really diving into Bree-land, but, as I said, there's no rush.

And who knows? Maybe I'll actually get The Undying this time around. Always a first time for that title, I suppose.

The journey still matters

Even though it feels like Turbine's urging us to get up into the expansions faster these days (with the store armor and +XP stone), I'm glad that LotRO hasn't turned into a bizarrely fast leveling experience like some other older MMOs. I've always appreciated how much the journey matters in this game and how exploration and careful observation can lead to some surprising revelations.

Whether or not my Minstrel ever steps foot into Moria doesn't concern me as much as whether I enjoy her journey along the way. I think she's probably most excited to see the new summer festival more than anything else, even though that won't be readying her for the horrors of Mirkwood or the challenges of Rohan. Life, even video game life, shouldn't be just about killing.

Ultimately, I'm feeling refreshed and revitalized to game in LotRO, and every time I log in I'm reminded of those little touches that I don't see in other games. The circle of gaming continues.

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 or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.
This article was originally published on Massively.