It’s that time of year again. A time when the New Year still has that new year smell. When every fortune-teller and futurist comes out of the woodwork to give their predictions about what our next run around the sun will bring. In that spirit, we thought it would be a good idea to dust off the old crystal ball and peer into the future of Lord of the Rings Online. Unfortunately, we overspent on poultices and herbal remedies in 2007 and we’ve been forced to cut crystal balls and other soothsaying devices from our dark arts budget. Luckily, there was plenty of room in our telecommunications budget, so I just picked up the phone and spoke to Lord of the Rings Online Executive Producer Jeffrey Steffel to see what he had to say.
But before we can look forward, we need to look back on the year that was and what it meant for Lord of the Rings Online. LotRO had a notably smooth and relatively bug free launch in late April 2007. The launch set the bar for AAA MMOs and confirmed that a smooth launch is a necessary ingredient if you want to call your game AAA. Since launch, Turbine has been busy adding content and features in the form of free expansions, called books. Three books have been released thus far, opening new areas to explore, bringing quests with new foes to defeat, and adding new features like monster play, player housing, and more.
I asked Steffel how he would describe the previous year from a LotRO point of view. “It’s been awesome,” he responded. Now, getting a developer to say that their game is awesome isn’t exactly news (or even difficult), but he was kind enough to elaborate, saying that LotRO has a healthy, growing community. Turbine as a whole feels validated by the positive reception they’ve received and the awards that they have won. Included among those award is the MMORPG.com Reader’s Choice Award for best new game of 2007, but that outcome hadn’t been determined at the time of this interview.
So all in all, 2007 was a good year, but what about 2008? Steffel informed me that for the first quarter of 2008 they will only be speaking in broad terms about the game’s future. They’ve spent the last year figuring out what the players want to see added to the game, making sure that developers and players are on the same page. Based on player feedback, they’ll be making a few changes to the level advancement process, hoping to smooth it out.
Steffel says that the team will be working toward adding more solo content for all levels of play. They knew people would want a significant amount of solo content from the start, but as it turns out, people want more. Another element that we’ll be seeing more of is elder game content and raids. When a game first launches, there is less demand for end game content as everyone is low level, but as the game matures, and the player base advances, more high level content becomes an obvious necessity. Exploration and achievement players will also see more content directed at their style of play in the coming year, but no further details were given, except that achievers will get their due in Book 12.
Other improvements to the game that are specific to Book 12 will be a focus on character customization, some major class balancing, an overhaul of Angmar, and extended monster play which will include a high end dungeon under the Ettinmoors called Ettindeep. As mentioned earlier, most of the details on the upcoming features are somewhat nebulous. Few details about specific customizations have been released but we can say that characters will soon be able to wear one piece of clothing for display purposes, and another piece for statistical purposes, which will complement LotRO’s equipment system nicely. Another convenient addition to the game will be the ability to access the LotRO Lorebook from inside the game, giving players access to a wealth of information at their fingertips. Recent books focused on improving and rebalancing specific classes, although each class usually gets a little love if they need it. In Book 12, the focus will be on improving the Burglar and the Guardian. Angmar’s overhaul was announced a few months ago, and while details are still sketchy, we do know that their goal is to make Angmar feel like a dark and vile place rather than a place to kill those pesky evil boars. Beyond Angmar and Book 12, there will also be a general focus this year on finding ways to improve gameplay wherever it’s needed in several other unnamed zones.
2008 will also be a big year for Turbine and Lord of the Rings Online because not only will they be improving and expanding their game’s content, but they will also be expanding their game’s audience. Later this year Chinese and Korean gamers will have the chance to enter Middle Earth with the launch of LotRO in China and Korea. This should be an interesting year for Lord of the Rings Online.