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The Road to Mordor: Ten thoughts on LotRO's 2015 plans

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This year I'm breaking my long-running tradition of posting a "wish list" for Lord of the Rings Online at the beginning of the new year. This is partially because I'll be in danger of repeating the same old items that I've been yammering on about for quite some time now, and partially because Turbine was on the ball and released a producer's letter this past week that lays out some of the year's plans (by contrast, last year the studio waited until the end of February to do the same).

Tradition be hanged! Let's adapt with the events and spend some time evaluating the information we've been given! There's a lot going on in and around this producer's letter, so here are 10 thoughts that I'm taking away from all of this in regard to LotRO's future.


1. A switch in leadership has important implications for more than one game.

Before we even get to specific LotRO plans, we have to address the change of leadership: Aaron Campbell is out as executive producer, and Athena Peters is in. We've weathered producer changes in the past, and as always, the move carries with it a mixture of apprehension (what if Peters will be worse for the game?) and hope (if she's driven to do even better than Campbell). I'm on the "hope" side of the line, as always, especially since I haven't heard anything bad about Peters.

More intriguing is this "new project" at Turbine that Campbell is leading. Rumor has it that it's a mobile game, although there's still some outlying hope that the studio might be getting back to actually making big-idea MMOs instead of a me-too MOBA or mobile title.

2. We're still heading further into Gondor.

Peters reaffirmed that the direction mentioned several times in 2014 is still guiding the game forward, namely the progression through Gondor into Osgiliath and Minas Tirith: "These major locations will be the focus of our largest releases." It's not a surprising revelation, but at least we know the game is still on track and marching toward Mordor.

3. There's no word on a new expansion.

Last year, Turbine pretty much abandoned expansion development in favor of pumping out quarterlyish updates that together might be considered the same amount of content. I think that if you compare it to previous years (when there were both expansions and regular updates), it's a decrease in content output, but it's to be expected with a reduced team. I love expansions, and I don't think we'll ever see one again for the game, nor any real housing revamp. That makes me a little sad.

4. Legendary items are getting even bigger.

My long-standing opinion is that the entire legendary item system fails at its intended purpose and should be scrapped. Turbine's opinion, reinforced by this letter, is that it's not unwieldy enough and should be expanded even further. A big LI update is on the table that will see our level 100 items getting even more powerful via an "imbue" system. I like the mention that we won't have to deconstruct them to advance, but will that apply to all LIs going forward or just the level 100s? I'm oh-so-cautiously interested in hearing more.

5. We might not be seeing a level increase for a while -- if ever.

There's no discussion over any further level increase, but how legendary items are going to be handled makes me wonder if level 100 will be the new permanent cap and all subsequent systems will help us to grow horizontally. I'm fine with that; level cap increases aren't that exciting in LotRO anyway.

6. LotRO's returning to traditional group instances, and that's a good thing.

I think I can speak for a lot of the LotRO playerbase when I say that the epic battle system was a good try but ultimately a failure in regard to replacing traditional group content. People downright resented not seeing new dungeons and raids while being pushed into a new type of content that was far more repetitive than fun. I'm sure that there are epic battle fans out there (and we'll probably see at least one more with Pelennor Fields), but that system was not a good substitution. Personally, I miss new skirmishes.

7. Lip service is no replacement for specifics when it comes to bugs.

I'm happy that Turbine isn't ignoring the always-present problem of bugs and has a "renewed focus" on stamping them out, but this isn't as exciting of a line item in the letter as it could have been with a few specific examples. The studio loves its broad strokes for these letters -- I understand that -- but in this one case it should have delved into the nitty-gritty to gain true credibility.

8. Episodic content sounds cool.

Maybe it does sound a bit like Guild Wars 2's living story, but I'm still excited to see what the teased episodic content will be like in LotRO. This could be great "filler" for between releases and might, as the description suggests, give us good reasons to return to old stomping grounds. "Seeing familiar places in a new light," yes please!

9. Server merges? About time.

Man, I'm not even a little pessimistic about LotRO finally, finally doing server merges because it's been needed for years now. I saw one person gripe that they like their lower-pop server, but that's one voice against a crowd that clearly dislikes being in a virtual wasteland while lacking the money to transfer. Slam together those servers, grow the population, and give us additional folks with whom to fellowship and roleplay. Also, how cool is it that EU players will once again have a server on their continent in order to reduce latency? So cool.

10. Holy crap, they're doing a new PvMP map?

Out of all of the items in this producer's letter, the mention of the team "seriously investigating" an Osgiliath PvMP map is stand-up applause-worthy. This is coming from a guy who hates PvP and understands that PvMP is a very small part of the game, but also a guy who is sympathetic to the lack of development for PvP in LotRO. There's such potential in this game for conflict between players, especially in Gondor. Make it happen!

I like how Peters ends by saying that all of this is just the first half of the year, implying that there's even more in late 2015. At least for me, it's a thrill to hear some good news and solid planning for the game, and I think I'll be tackling it with renewed focus because of it. What do you think of this letter?

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.

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