"If you like the smell of salt water, you may be pleased in the coming year." That was the tease Rob Ciccolini, the executive producer on The Lord of the Rings Online gave us during an hour-long Q&A on Twitch last week. While he was quick to shut down the possibility of naval combat, it still got my mind racing with possibilities.
Saltwater typically means ocean, though there are obviously some saltwater lakes in our own world. However, while Middle-earth is home to multiple inland seas, such as the Sea of Rhun and the Sea of Nurnen, it's not explicitly stated (from what I can find among The Histories of Middle-earth or The Atlas of Middle-earth) that those were saltwater seas. However, they might be, thanks to some speculation that they were formed after the draining of the Belegaer, which is a saltwater ocean.
To me, though, these are red herrings. As much as I'd love to explore the Sea of Nurnen and see the reclamation of Mordor even more, or check out Rhun and see how LotRO's developers interpret Aragorn's statement about how the "stars are strange," I find myself drawn to one major possibility this could give us: The Gulf of Luhn and the Grey Havens.
Seeing Mithlond In LotRO, FINALLY
Obviously, this is just speculation on my part. But it makes some sense in my mind for a few reasons. As much as I'd actually love to see this reference turn into an expansion that transports the player back to the Second Age where we see the Downfall of Numenor (in line with the Amazon show as well), I don't think that likely at all.
We have seen a familiar location in the show already, though: the Elf Kingdom of Lindon, which includes Mithlond, known as the Grey Havens. This has been a location myself and many other LotRO fans have longed to see. We've been fortunate enough to travel through so many iconic locations from the books and the movies, such as the ruins of Eregion, Dol Amroth, Moria, Annuminas and much more. But the Grey Havens and the lands west of the Shire have been left off the map.
I had a theory that LotRO, in its dying days as it goes into maintenance mode later on in life (hopefully much, much later) that the Grey Havens would be the last location added to the LotRO map of Middle-earth, signifying that the developers are going "Into the West." However, the tease last Friday has me wondering if we're going to explore Farlindon and Harlindon, and the Gulf and Havens inbetween.
The docks at Dol Amroth are magnificent, with the city of the Swans being one of my favorite locations in all of The Lord of the Rings Online. I would love to see the incredible artists at Standing Stone Games take that skill and build out the magnificent docks of the Havens as the Noldor would have, complete with the Swan ships of the Elves, the Elf-lord Cirdan standing vigil and more. I would love to stand on the Towers in the Tower Hills leading into Lindon, where the Red Book of Westmarch was set down by Sam and his descendants.
To me, this is the most obvious location. The Havens are set in a natural estuary, where the salt water ocean and fresh water from the bay would mingle. Mithlond opens to the Belegaer and beyond it, the Sundering Seas. And it's a location that connects easily to the map already, with Ered Luin and The Shire simply right there.
But what if it's not?
But, I could see LotRO staying in the East as well, where the last few years of major end-game content have taken place. From the downfall of Sauron and the destruction of the One Ring, to the dismantling of the infrastructure in Mordor, and finally seeing the resurgence of the Dwarves in Gundabad, the East has been where a lot of the action has been. Naturally, The Lord of the Rings Online can continue this. It's not as if evil has been wiped out from Harad, Rhun or even inside the depths of Mordor itself.
This would also track if the MMO is trying, even subtly, to align with what we know about the Amazon show. The Southlands depicted in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power are, in fact, Mordor, Rhun, and Harad. Could we see the Standing Stone Games team interpret these inland seas as saltwater seas? Could we finally explore Rhun and see another wholly unseen location in The Lord of the Rings on any major screen? The potential of the MMORPG is there - and has been exploited multiple times, from Evendim, Forochel, Angmar - the list throughout the years for the SSG team to dive into the maps of Middle-earth and take players somewhere they've never before had has always been a strength of this game.
We know that when Aragorn becomes King he cedes the land around the Sea of Nurnen to the former slaves of Sauron. We've seen this sea in Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, but what would it look like after the War of the Ring? Could we be helping establish that stronghold of Men in the heart of Mordor, and reclaim the lands from Evil Men? What about Rhun? Could we follow in the footsteps of the Blue Wizards and discover what is going on there? The possibilities here are fascinating.
Image via LotR Fandom
The Corsairs of Umbar
Across the Bay of Belfalas from Dol Amroth is the stronghold of the Black Numenoreans who worshipped Sauron during the waning days of the Second Age: Umbar. Casual fans will know of these Men due to references to the "Corsairs of Umbar" in the Lord of the Rings movies, notably the ships Aragorn and the Army of the Dead capture leading up to the Battle of Pelennor Fields (book version sees Aragorn and an army of Gondorian soldiers do this).
The smell of salt water fits here too - Umbar is a peninsula in the Belegaer, and the civilization is still very much thriving on its Numenorean shipwright roots. The Corsairs of Umbar are feared along the coast and have helped to raid Gondor and even Rohan during the Third Age.
However, Umbar itself might be a stretch thanks to the fact that much of Harad would need to also be added to get players to Umbar, unless we get a boat fast travel spot from Amroth. But it would be cool to explore a place that would look vaguely familiar thanks to its roots as a Numenorean colony in Middle-earth, but with influences from Harad, Sauron, and more.
Looking Ahead To The 2023 Expansion
For me, I'm hoping we finally see Mithlond and the Elvish lands west of the broken Ered Luin. I want to see Mithlond in its glory, the docks of Cirdan in splendor before the Elves fully leave the shores of Middle-earth. I'd love to explore those themes as well, the themes of loss, departure, and hope for the Fourth Age and the Dominion of Men play out through the eyes of the Elves who have labored long and are now leaving Middle-earth to its fate.
Either way, however, Ciccolini's tease of "the smell of salt water" has me probably more excited than I should be, considering it doesn't really tell us anything other than what the air smells like. But I'm excited to see where this tease takes us - especially as The Lord of the Rings Online continues to provide some of the best adaptations of Tolkien's work around. And considering Severlin has famously said the studio has 20 years of stories left to tell, I'm hoping at someone point we'll see all of these areas filled in on the LotRO map, bringing Middle-earth fully into the MMO.