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Amazon's LotR MMO Isn't Going To Replace LotRO - And It Shouldn't Try To

Joseph Bradford Posted:
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I think it's no secret if you've been following me for a while that The Lord of the Rings Online is, and likely always will be, my favorite MMORPG on the market. New games come and take its place in my gaming rotation every once in a while, but Standing Stone Games' vision for Middle-earth will always be my gaming home.

Yet I can't help but be excited for what is to come with Amazon's next crack at an MMORPG set in Tolkien's world. When we got word that Amazon was building a new LotR MMO last week, I had a ton of questions. Where in Middle-earth's history would this take place? Would we see familiar characters? How open will the world be? With the New World studio building the MMO, are we going to see a game similar to New World itself?

Yet one of the questions that never came to my mind during all of this was what this meant for the continued existence of The Lord of the Rings Online.

Part of that comes down to a quote given to us by Executive Producer Rob Ciccolini the last time Amazon attempted a Lord of the Rings MMO, that he doesn't see this as the end of LotRO, rather it's just another game. 

Rob told us back in 2020:

"So every new game that comes out basically has a chance to compete and offer new ways of looking at this type of content. So we encounter this many times a year."

And that's pretty much how I see this as well. Amazon's MMO is certainly going to turn heads, especially since it'll be newer and probably flashier. But will it provide the experience that current LotRO players are looking for? It's hard to tell without any real information about the upcoming game.

War of Words

In an interview last week, Amazon's CEO Christoph Hartmann threw a little shade at The Lord of the Rings Online, stating that the two games will be "worlds apart" when Amazon's Lord of the Rings MMO releases. 

"It's a little exaggeration if I say it's going to be like black and white movies to colour, but that's the approach I want to take."


What Hartmann is saying here, from my interpretation, is that the older game simply won't be able to compete with the flashier, newer version of Middle-earth. No one wants to watch a black-and-white movie when you could be watching it in color, right? 

I don't think Hartmann is inherently wrong in theory - there are bound to be people who can't get into an older MMO for one reason or another, but one of the main refrains I hear from people is just that it's too old or doesn't look as good as newer games. Newer styles of play will attract more gamers, especially younger ones for sure. 

The Lord of the Rings Online developers understand this too - it's partly why we're seeing revamps to systems, inclusive options like the latest updates to the character creator, and even talking graphics revamps for the now 16-year-old MMO. 

The Lord of the Rings Online

Yet what I think is forgotten in the conversation by Hartmann are MMO players specifically. How often do we see players looking to recapture the magic of those older titles, or find ways to play the MMOs we all loved from yesteryear in the form of emulated servers and more? There is also a subsection of MMO players that just prefer the older way of designing these types of games. 

The Lord of the Rings Online has an incredibly loyal fan base as well with a community that really doesn't have a rival out there in any other MMORPG. Hartmann even acknowledges this, all while throwing shade at the player numbers (though current New World player numbers should give Hartmann more worry than LotRO's player base). 

LotRO's developers came out this week and released a statement via their forums, assuring that fanbase that the MMO isn't going anywhere either. 

"It is beloved, it is sixteen, it is evergreen. LOTRO is like the long-lived Ents, Elves and Dwarves; and we mere mortals, are the stewards of LOTRO and its community."

Honestly, this is how I see it as well - it's an older game, sure. But it's established. It's proven. And players keep coming back year after year to the wonderful vision of Middle-earth that SSG has created and cultivated over the last sixteen years.

Establishing The World

One of the statements from our interview with Ciccolini back in 2020 also stands out to me, and it's something hinted at in the statement the studio made this week: the world LotRO has built over now sixteen years is going to be hard to match right out of the gate.

The amount of Middle-earth that is explorable in The Lord of the Rings Online is mindboggling when you think about it, especially since much of that world is completely traversable without loading screens. Running from Ered Luin to Rivendell that first time back in 2007 was magical, and it never seems to stop holding that magic every time LotRO launches a new area of the world.

That first time seeing Minas Tirith at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields? Goosebumps. Caras Galadhon? I still remember climbing that first Flet platform and just staring at the Golden Wood in awe. And indeed, the first time the Rivendell Valley opened up in front of Eldalye of the Noldor will forever be a core memory in my gaming mind.

Indeed, this is down to the level of care that Standing Stone Games has poured into rock, twig, tree, and more laid down in their virtual Middle-earth playground. The care they take to recreate the world is beaten only by the care Tolkien took when creating it himself. 

Lord of the Rings Online Tharbad

I've long said that the single greatest adaptation of The Lord of the Rings aside from the Jackson films (not the Hobbit ones, though) is The Lord of the Rings Online. The stories the developers create, as well as the language they use to build the dialogue, establish characters and more feel Tolkienian in a way that no other Middle-earth game has been able to replicate.

Games like Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor tell good stories, though they are a bit more fast and loose with the lore itself than I would want (though Shadow of War was much more egregious). Games like the recently released The Lord of the Rings: Heroes of Middle-earth forget lore exists for a reason, instead using a "what if" scenario to explain the creature collection focus of the game.

The Lord of the Rings Online has always felt Tolkienian as if I was stepping into the pages of the book myself rather than recreating it whole cloth.

This is only going to continue in the years it'll take Amazon to bring its LotR MMO to market. Amazon Games Orange County is only in the pre-production phase, meaning that it could be years before we start to see anything really come to fruition here. Meanwhile, LotRO can continue to build on the sheer avalanche of content it already has going for it.

Coexisting Worlds

Yet, despite my love for The Lord of the Rings Online, I can't help but be excited about another LotR-based MMO on the horizon. As a nut for Tolkien's works, more Lord of the Rings media is a good thing - especially if it's done well.

I want more avenues to explore the wonder legendarium Tolkien created. I want more angles on the themes that Tolkien's works project. I want other interpretations of Tolkien's world and the people within it.

I want a game to be brave enough to include wingless Balrogs.

And yea, I'd love to explore a more graphically beautiful world of Middle-earth, but that doesn't mean that I'm also ready to give up the Middle-earth I've grown to love over the last decade and a half of my life. And I think that matches the viewpoint of many MMO players as well.

Just because a new game is on the horizon doesn't mean we need to - or should be expected to - abandon the old. 

And I think that's what bothers me most about Hartmann's quote: he seemingly expects that when Amazon's MMO releases it'll be "worlds apart" from a visual and maybe even gameplay-side of things that it makes the old obsolete. That's where the "black and white" vs "color" analogy leads me. 

The two worlds can coexist. This is nothing new in the MMO world - not for the genre, and not even for Standing Stone Games. Dungeons & Dragons Online and Cryptic Studios' Neverwinter have coexisted for years, each offering a unique look and take on the tabletop RPG in MMO form, and both doing well for their respective companies. I don't foresee this being any different.

To put it into Lord of the Rings-media terms, just because the Andy Serkis version of the audiobooks is fantastic doesn't mean I'm ready to shove off the Rob Inglis versions as obsolete. The same is true for the movies - Ralph Bashki and Rankin/Bass' movies don't become unwatchable just because Peter Jackson's epics entered the chat.

The same will hold true here: The Lord of the Rings Online will continue to exist, and possibly even flourish when Amazon's MMO enters the scene. It'll provide a different take on Middle-earth, one that players like myself will continue to enjoy until Standing Stone Games decides to shut the servers down.


Joseph Bradford

Joseph has been writing or podcasting about games in some form since about 2012. Having written for multiple major outlets such as IGN, Playboy, and more, Joseph started writing for MMORPG in 2015. When he's not writing or talking about games, you can typically find him hanging out with his 10-year old or playing Magic: The Gathering with his family. Also, don't get him started on why Balrogs *don't* have wings. You can find him on Twitter @LotrLore