Nostalgia Or The Sweetness Of Coming Home – Lord Of The Rings Online
For this I have to go back a while. Way back into 2007. Lotro launched the year I started to spend a lot more time at home. I had just become a mom and after the first stressful times I found myself with a lot of free time on my hands. And a friend of mine (Hey Sonja!) was playing this Lord of the Rings game. At this point Tolkien hat been a permanent fixture in my life for years already. So said friend was playing this game and loving it. I, on the other hand, was sceptical. An MMO? After seeing quite a few of my friends becoming so obsessed with WoW that it started influencing their personal life and relationships I was very weary. Especially since I am a quite obsessive person myself. Then I saw that the game was only covering a part of the Lord of the Rings and I managed to not think about it any further. A year later I was pregnant again, spent even more time at home and there was this game again, having just gotten an expansion that led you into Moria. MORIA. And they had this “try the game out for free” demo that let you play for a couple of days. So I though: “Ah, why not, if I don’t like it I can just delete it later.”
A few hours later I logged in for the first time and created my very first character. Which I deleted half an hour later. Because that is how long it took me to be convinced that I needed to buy this game. I logged off, bought the thing and the expansion and started over. That was when Valyanna was born. An elven runekeeper that is till today probably my most played character.
After dying myself through the Ered Luin and partly through the Shire I got to Bree. And spent an entire evening sitting around in the prancing pony, listening to music, watching people come and go. Talking to random strangers. In character. And later ooc. (I was playing on a RP Server) And I was pretty convinced that this was pure magic. Best game ever. I found a guild (or kinship as they are called in this game) and went on to see the magic of my favourite fantasy universe in more detail.
Some of the locations alone were just awe inspiring. Questing through the lone lands was excruciating for the first time. But the moment you are actually on the weather top? Worth it! Then came the trollshaws and I was a bit under levelled but I really, REALLY wanted to get to Rivendell. There was a way to get ported there by a friend who was an archer but my guildmates advised against that. “Rivendell is magic – you really want your first impression of it being the view you get when you finally pass the mountains.” And they were right of course. The first time I set foot in Rivendell I might have actually shed a tear. And again I spent entire evenings just standing around and seeing who comes and goes.
I started exploring all I could. I went into Evendim and swam through the entire lake. I went to a spring festival in the shire, participating in a pie eating contest. I went to the autumn horse race in the Breelands and won a horse. I met Tom Bombadil and several members of the fellowship. I went through the North Downs and helped the rangers out. Ventured into Forochel and watched some ice fishing. And I slowly went into Angmar, fightint the minions of the Witch King. Some of it I did alone and some with friends I met on the way and in my guild. But the thing that never ever stopped was the sense of adventuring. And the guild I ended up in was mostly really great. All people that were a bit older (30+, I think I was the youngest by far with my 23 years) and all passionate about the Lord of the Rings. But they were also really understanding of my time management. They took me onto 12 people group content that took a while and when I had to check the kid’s room in the middle of it because someone woke up they pulled out a camping fire and instruments and made in game music until I was back. Never put me in a position where I had to drop out. (Granted, I was the designated healer and therefore also very useful but they could have replaced me for a way quicker run.) If anyone had something coming up no one was ever annoyed. All they ever said was: “Take your time – if anything this will be here tomorrow.” I have rarely met a more relaxed bunch of people.
When I was finally levelled high enough I continued into Moria. I think I was stuck there for weeks because it is really huge and in the beginning I was very prone to completely loosing my way and running around in circles. And then, one day I came out on the other side and was on the outskirts of Lothlórien and I was so happy that I ran straight towards it – and died. The Elves did not let me pass without a certain amount of reputation so they shot me down instantly when I set foot onto their lands. Lesson learned I got friendly with them and finally got to see Caras Galadhon. (And again a little tear – elven stuff does that to me.) In Mirkwood was where my journey ended for a while – I finally reached the end of the current content but I had other characters levelling up already so I was still busy. After a while I moved onto other games. A lot of my guild members that I really liked migrated to SWTOR at launch. And so did I, for a while. It’s pretty safe t say that without Lotro I wouldn’t have given a Star Wars MMO a second glance and boy am I glad I did. Some went on to play mainly GW2 and I joined the for a while as well. But I went back to Lotro when the next expansion came out. Rohan.
With Rohan many things changed. The skill system got easier and better, the graphics improved and they had a nifty new feature: Combat on horses. At which I sucked! There aren’t enough words to adequately describe how much I sucked at it. You might know the Mako from Mass Effect? imagine this but more clunky. And with an acceleration and deceleration button instead of “press the button = move, let go of it = stand still”. I was level 70 and felt like the most incompetent noob of all times. There were moment when I thought I got it only to end up riding headfirst into a city wall. Or the only tree standing around.
Eventually I figured it out. Or they fixed the horses? I don’t even know but nowadays it works. After the Rohan expansion that gave you the opportunity to do actual world changing events (like help rebuild something that stays rebuild or not depending on your effort etc) they moved onto Helms Deep and I took another leave of absence of the game. Mainly to play SWTOR which got me absolutely hooked. But every now an then Lotro pops up in my mind again. I can’t let got of this game and I will probably keep playing it on and off until they finally take the servers offline. It has very little voice acting, no real personality for your character and no personal storyline. In that regard it is very old school. But it also deviates from the usual game aspect of “you are the chosen one”. In Lotro you aren’t. You are one among many who has the capability to help here and there. It is not your story. It is the fellowship’s. You meet them over and over again all through middle earth. Help them out here or there. Do something good for just a few people constantly. The story of Lotro feels like you are a small, but not a less important, part of a greater thing. You make your own way through middle earth.
Overall the gameplay is a bit slow compared to modern games. But it is relaxing and a bit challenging at the same time. It is an MMO but the combat doesn’t stress you out with being overly hectic. At the same time the stats are important and your skills and your stats can keep you quite busy if you want to delve into that aspect.
The group content is great and allows for both very casual games with friends up to very well thought through tactical gameplay where you need to really understand your class and your group to get through. The Balrog of Moria is one of the most impressive bosses I have ever stood before. And I still have wiping nightmares from the Orthanc. You have group content for 3 people, 6 or 12, depending on what you want to do and the updates on endgame content have been frequent. Overall it is still a very great game that has tons of content by now and a lot of ways to keep you busy. There is so many areas to level in that you can pick and chose where you want to go most of the time. Way more quests than you’d ever need so don’t feel bad about skipping the usual “bring me 8 wolf pelts” quests.
I remember saying to my friend, who has been playing this from launch on, years ago: “You think we will ever get to Mordor? Imagine, one day, if the game makes it as long, we will stand at the top of Minas Tirith, looking towards it.” And we were both shivering a bit. Yesterday, almost 8 years later that actually happened. I went into the game after a few months and reached Gondor. I still have to quest myself there but I couldn’t help but ride ahead for sight seeing. Internet rumour has it that Mordor will be coming in 2017. According to the devs the game is not ending afterwards, they say they still have lots of things to tell. It is here to stay, thankfully. For me it is kinda reassuring. Because it was a start of something for me. An entire new hobby basically. Where I met wonderful people and a few awful ones but then again, you can’t have it all. Where I spent a lot of my time talking to people, getting to know new friends when the alternative would have been simply being at home and talking to the babyphone. So this game never really leaves my hard drive. And I look forward to whatever comes next. Mordor will have me back for sure. And then I will again update my game, log in and I feel like I am coming home.