Before we begin, I want to mention that I have a mixed reaction to these letters from Turbine. On one hand, I love knowing what's coming and appreciate the attempt made to inform. On the other, these letters can be maddeningly vague on specifics (Turbine likes its "broad strokes" when releasing future info to fans), giving a "trust us, everything's going to be OK, but we're not going to say exactly how right now" vibe. I've grown weary of that. This letter in particular should have been as specific as possible.
There's been a huge swirl of discussion surrounding the letter, moreso than in previous years, due to the "bombshell" that there will be no expansion in 2014. I've been talking with friends about it and listening to what folks are saying, and I could make a case for this being the worst thing for the game and the best. But you don't come here for other people's opinions; you come for mine. Bring it on, 2014. I'm nothing but opinionated about this game.
I said most of what I had to say about this in my last column, but when a studio makes just four promises for a year and pretty much skips one, that's not good. Housing should've been addressed in 2013, expansion or no, if Turbine said that this was a major focus for the year, and it did.
That said, I definitely welcome "meaningful changes" in this system. I really want to be excited about LotRO's housing again because it has such potential. I don't think Turbine can get away with passing the buck on this to 2015 at all. A free-form item placement, more hooks, more flexible hooks, more housing types, and more functionality are all on my wish list for housing improvements.
"The release of Helm's Deep was definitely a high point of the year for me!"
You know what? It's definitely a high point of the year for me and the game as well. I'm enjoying the game as a whole more than I have in the past year or so, and I think it was a really solid, positive addition to the game.
"Another set of great moments in the year for me were when I got to meet with members of the player's council and listen to their thoughts. We have a great group that has worked very hard to bring your concerns to our attention, make suggestions and provide invaluable feedback on a number of projects."
OK, I've mentioned the player's council before a couple of times, but this whole concept irks me, particularly how often Paiz brings it up in her letter. I am not on the player council. You, most likely, are not either. But we have this group of people who have a higher level of access to the devs' ears engaging in projects and conversations that are kept from us. We're just told, as in this letter, that these discussions are going on and to trust Turbine that it's helping us and the game as a whole to have these players represent us. Why should we?
I generally try my hardest not to remember that there is a player council because I feel that it's such a bad idea. It smacks of laziness, for one: "Let's make these hand-picked players collate feedback for us so that we have to really pay attention to only a dozen or so folks." The lack of transparency makes everyone nervous because important decisions and conversations are going on that affect us and we're not even privvy to the specifics after the fact. Finally, the whole thing feels as if Turbine has its "teacher's pets" that it fawns over while ignoring the rest of the community. I'm not saying this is the reality, just the feeling that it gives. And I know for a darn fact that I'm not the only one who sees it this way.
I'd be really OK with dissolving the player council entirely. We didn't ask for it; we don't need it. I'm sure good folks are on it and try to do their best to help the game, but the formation and operation of it is so suspect that I can't give the council this benefit of the doubt. I think that as long as it remains, we have good reason to be wary.
"We've heard a lot of you suggest we take a break from the annual expansion cycle, and we agree!"
Um... who said this? No, really, who? I've never heard someone ask for the team to pause with its expansion pace. My friends are just as bewildered about this statement as I am. I mean, listen, it's your decision and that's fine, but don't start with the "a lot of you asked for this" when there's scant evidence to back that up. It's just such a weird thing to say. "No, please, stop making content-packed expansions! I beg of you!"
Let's talk about the whole no-expansion-in-2014 thing. I've heard some say that this move is a sign that Helm's Deep didn't sell that well or that the team has overreached. There's possible merit in that considering that we've gotten three expansions in as many years. It could also be that the demands of expansion production have pushed all else to the side.
In any case, I'm actually really cool with this. Assuming that Turbine makes good on its promise to get us at least healthy quarterly updates and that these updates have enough to keep us occupied and excited, it could be a welcome shift in the development schedule. We all have our laundry lists of things we'd like to see done, improved, or added to the game, and I'm sure the devs do as well. I love that this team doesn't have a problem with going back to make old systems and content better. So could I put in a plug for a complete legendary item revamp? And if it isn't too much trouble, take some time to improve the character models and hairstyles so commenters could talk about something else in every LotRO-related article I write on this site.
"Players have expressed a desire to explore a bit deeper into Fangorn Forest and to see Isengard flooded in the battle with the Ents. Both of these are slated for our first quarterly update in March. Later in the year we'll be seeing more iconic locales and moments from the lore including the Paths of the Dead and the Dead Marshes. We will also take our first steps in Gondor!"
Here are the only real specifics we got in this letter, all of them pertaining to more areas added to the level-capped game. As much as I liked Fangorn Forest, I don't see what else can be done with it that hasn't been done in the three zones we've encountered it in so far. Flooding of Isengard, on the other hand, sounds really cool. I totally expected the Paths of the Dead and anticipate the eerie adventures through that.
So what I'm wondering is whether quarterly expansions will amount to four single-zone releases, a la the Great River or Wildermore. This isn't a bad way to roll out new content and keep a bunch of players together, but I wouldn't be holding on to hope that we'll get any new zones in anywhere other than around the Rohan area.
What we really need are more instances and skirmishes for those who enjoy that content. No matter how good or bad Big Battles was going to be, we knew that people were going to keenly miss their standard instanced content. It's made the endgame weird.
"If you're a VIP, these regions and content will all be free with your subscription."
Good! So how will you be making your money in 2014 from free players with this new content? Will all of the new zones combined equal the cost of an expansion, or will you simply be making less?
"We think it's time to take a new look at inventory in LotRO and see where we can make improvements."
I wouldn't have put this as a big issue. I'd love a new look at loot in LotRO instead to make it actually interesting instead of varying degrees of vendor trash that keep filling up my bags.
"We'll continue to develop our festivals, new and old, and add more events for you to participate in throughout the year."
I feel a little lukewarm about this as well, probably because I've done the festivals enough that I'm not really excited by them any longer.
"We are working on one more secret surprise, but I won't do more than tease its existence now, other than to say that the class changes have made it possible for us to consider making a new addition to the game."
New class? I'm saying new class. I saw some people hoping for a new PvMP class, which I think would be a ridiculous waste of time considering how few people play that part of the game. Other possibilities could be new class-race combinations, a fourth trait line for each class, or heroic versions of our classes.
Like it or not, 2014 is going to be a change in several ways for LotRO players. I'm wishing for the best, ignoring the potential for the worst, and girding my loins for another 12 months of exploring this game that we all love.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.