The Lord of the Rings Online
|The Lord of the Rings Online|
|Publisher(s)||Midway Games (former)|
Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment (former)
Daybreak Game Company (current)
|Release||April 24, 2007|
|Genre(s)||Massively multiplayer online role-playing game|
The Lord of the Rings Online (previously titled The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar) is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) for Microsoft Windows and OS X set in J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth, taking place during the time period of The Lord of the Rings. Developed by Turbine, Inc., the game launched in North America, Australia, Japan, and Europe in spring 2007 as The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar. Players could create characters of four races and seven classes and adventure throughout the region of Eriador. The next fall, Mines of Moria expansion was released, adding the region of Moria and two new playable classes. It was followed by the Siege of Mirkwood in December, 2009. In 2010 the game underwent a shift from its original subscription-based payment model to being free-to-play, with a paid subscription and an in-game store.
The game saw continued development, alternating between expansions and free updates, which added new content in the regions of Isengard, Rohan and Gondor. In late 2016 it was announced that the publishing of the game would transfer from Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment to Daybreak Game Company, with development being taken over by Standing Stone Games, made up of former Turbine staff. The game development continued and in 2017 the Mordor expansion was released, bringing the main storyline to a close. The story then shifted to showing how various inhabitants of Middle-earth deal with the downfall of Sauron, with a future expansion featuring Minas Morgul being hinted at.
- 1 Gameplay
- 2 Plot
- 3 Development and release history
- 4 Reception
- 5 References
- 6 External links
Much of the gameplay is typical of the Massive Multiplayer Online (MMO) format: the player controls a character avatar which can be moved around the game world and interacts with other players, non-player characters and other entities in the virtual world. Characters gain levels by earning experience points from defeating enemies and completing quests and improve their personal stats by equipping items and using consumable buffs. As characters increase in level, they earn both new skills and trait points, which can be assigned in various configurations to customize personal playstyle. Players can use the quest tracker to navigate objectives on the mini-map and traverse the game world either on foot or using personal mounts, which include horses, ponys, goats and, more recently, elks. Instantaneous travel is also available by using in-game stable-masters and certain "quick travel" skills. In addition to the detailed Quest log, player characters also have a Deed log, which tracks their progress across a vast number of achievements, ranging from frivolous to being vital for character progression.
As opposed to other role-playing video games, the equivalent of health or hit points in The Lord of the Rings Online is morale, which can be raised via food, rest, music, and battle cries, and characters whose morale reaches zero in combat are considered "defeated" instead of killed. The equivalent of mana is called "power" because of the way magic in Tolkien's Middle-earth differs from other fantasy games such as World of Warcraft, except for the Beorning class, which uses "wrath" instead. Player characters can own a personal house, which can be decorated and provide additional storage. The crafting system allows each character to master up to three professions, which are separated into "gathering" of materials and actual "crafting" of usable items. In consistency with the characterization of Hobbits in Tolkien's writings, a fair emphasis is placed on cooking and farming. Players can also customize the look of their characters by using the Cosmetic system, which can display armor and weapons other than those worn for combat effectiveness. In addition to character name, players can also choose their current PvMP rank and a title to be displayed.
Mines of Moria added the concept of Legendary items, which gain experience points and levels alongside the player character, allowing them to increase in power over time. Each character can equip two class-specific legendary items (one of which is always the main weapon), which contain Legacies that provide modifiers to class-specific abilities. Alongside regular experience points, players gain Legendary Item experience, which can be applied to different Legendary items to increase their levels. Each item level in turn comes with a set amount of Legendary points, which can be assigned to specific Legacies to increase their potency. Players can further customize their Legendary items by naming them, giving them titles and slotting additional gems and runes. Characters can begin using Legendary items at level 50, but they have to be periodically replaced to make up for the difference in stats until level 100, when Legendary items can be "imbued". Imbued Legendary Items can stay relevant despite the increase in character level, but require the player to apply various crystals, scrolls and runes to remain so.
Riders of Rohan introduced the mounted combat to the game. While regular character mounts only provide a speed boost and a minimal protection against the attacks, the new rohirric war-steeds allow players to execute special "mounted" skills and attacks while on horseback. War-steeds have many of the same stats as player characters, including morale and power, and can be customized by selecting different types of war-steeds, investing in different trait lines and switching between different mounted stances. Players can also invest in a Legendary bridle item and customize the look of their war-steeds by mix-and-matching various appearance traits.
Characters and races
Lord of the Rings Online launched with four playable races: Dwarves, Elves, Hobbits and Men. In 2014 a new race of Beornings was added, although this race is only for the new class of the same name. Mordor expansion in 2017 added the new High Elf race. In 2019 a new race of "Stout-Axe Dwarves" was announced, representing a dwarven clan from the far east of Middle-Earth with an appearance distinct from that of Longbeard dwarves. Stout-Axes dwarves will also allow players to choose either male or female sex for their character as with all other races, while the original Dwarven race only allows to create male characters. After selecting a character race, players are limited in choosing a character class based on that race, with the most radical exception being the Beorning race, which only allows the Beorning class.
The original seven character classes in the game are Burglar, Captain, Champion, Guardian, Hunter, Lore-master and Minstrel. Mines of Moria added the Rune-Keeper and Warden classes, while a tenth Beorning class was added in a regular update on November 2014. These three additional classes have to be unlocked by both free-to-play players and subscribers either through the in-game Store or by purchasing the Mines of Moria expansion. A character of each class can further specialize in one of the three trait lines that further determine their skills and combat role. While players can switch between different trait lines at will, each requires a specific set of gear and Legendary Items to compliment and fully utilize it.
Each character has three separate types of traits, which are used to further customize their playstyle. Traits are earned and upgraded by completing specific deeds and quests.
An in-game currency of gold, silver and copper coins allows player characters to accumulate wealth by completing quests and selling obtained loot and crafted items to NPCs or other players. Currency can also be used to acquire equipment from NPCs or players, pay to repair equipment after combat, fast travel, buy crafting materials, and purchase a house. Players can trade face-to-face, via in-game mail, or at in-game Auction Houses. LOTRO points (formerly "Turbine points") are used in the in-game store and can be both purchased with real money or earned in-game. LOTRO points can be spend on content unlocks, character boosts and convenience upgrades as well as "Mithril Coins", a meta-currency for various game-related purchases. The game also features a wide variety of barter currencies for specific regions, group instances and seasonal festivals, which are either placed in character bags or a Store-purchased "Barter wallet".
On reaching Level 15, players can purchase a house in an instanced neighborhood, which is shared between all of their characters on the same game server. Houses come in different sizes and include chests for additional storage, but require a weekly maintenance rent using in-game currency and can be locked on failure to pay upkeep. Players can decorate their houses by placing decorations and furniture obtained as rewards for various in-game activities, such as quests, deeds or seasonal festivals. Originally four themed neighborhoods were available based on the four playable races: Dwarves, Elves, Men and Hobbits. With the release of the first region in Gondor, Premium Housing became available in the Cape of Belfalas area, with upkeep required in Mithril Coins instead of gold. Plans have been announced to add an additional housing area in Rohan.
Deeds and reputation
Deeds are a means of tracking accomplishments for each character that are not part of a quest. Most common are regional deeds, found in all of the game's landscape regions, including Explorer, Slayer, Lore and Reputation deeds. Deeds are generally discovered upon completion of one of the goals of the deed (e.g., finding the first area of an Explorer deed or killing the first enemy of a Slayer deed), although some deeds are hidden and do not show up until all required objectives have been completed. Other deeds include those tied to individual character's class or race, while Epic story deeds are advanced by completing quests in the Epic Quest line. Additional deeds are also found in conjunction with the Skirmish and Instance features. A final Deed category is the Hobby, related to fishing, which currently is the only in-game Hobby. In addition, there are 'Meta' Deeds that require completion of several other deeds, usually all of the deeds in a region or in an Instance Cluster. Deed completion is generally rewarded by statistic boosts, often LOTRO points, and sometimes cosmetic/non-combat awards such as titles or emotes.
Reputation is the measure of how well acquainted a player is with a specific group or faction. Each region in The Lord of the Rings Online features one or several factions, reputation for which may be gained by completing quests, deeds, defeating specific monsters and using Reputation items. Reputation factions in the original game and in the Mines of Moria favored advancement by collecting and using Reputation items, while those in Siege of Mirkwood onward lean towards repeatable quests that provide a set amount of Reputation each day instead. Each Reputation faction includes vendors with a set of specific rewards unlocked at various tiers, ranging from cosmetic pets and outfits to top-tier weapons and armour. Crafting Guilds are special Reputation factions for the crafting skills that provide access to exclusive crafting recipes, and each character can only join one Crafting Guild at a time.
Fellowship and group instances
A fellowship is a band of up to six characters, created to complete quests and group instances, which can be formed and disbanded by the leader at any time. All players in a fellowship can communicate with each other in the fellowship chat panel, where a conversation is seen by all fellowship members. The fellowship leader also has the ability to invite or dismiss a member at any time. Members in a fellowship will also appear to each other on the regional maps, which enables them to easily find one another in the game world. A fellowship can also be transformed into a Raid, which can be composed of up to four separate fellowships and can contain anywhere from 6 to 24 players.
Fellowships (including those found in raids) can use the Fellowship Maneuver system to perform special group moves. Fellowship Maneuvers occur randomly and require that the target be stunned or knocked down in any group encounter with a "signature" or higher difficulty enemy. Certain classes also have special skills that can initiate Fellowship Maneuvers when triggered. When a Fellowship Maneuver is initiated, every player within the area will get a color wheel on their screen to choose one of four skill contributions, with different combinations resulting in different powerful attacks.
Fellowships are required to complete many of the group instances, which come in several different variations. A typical "instance" alternates between groups of strong enemies and boss encounters which often features unique game mechanics and provide a chest of rewards upon defeat. "Raids" are similar to instances, but feature "raid locks" which prevent characters from killing each boss more than once a week, but also allow to track progress of a difficult raid across multiple game sessions. "Skirmishes" were introduced with the Siege of Mirkwood expansions and feature both enemy groups of random composition and randomized "Skirmish Lieutenant" encounters across the instance. "Epic Battles" were introduced with the Helm's Deep expansion and represent large-scale battles, in which numerous friendly NPCs engage the enemy alongside the player characters, whose focus lies on supporting their allies and completing specific objectives during the battle as opposed to simply defeating all of the enemies. While some group instances are fixed in both their size and their intended level, others can be played on different group sizes, levels and tiers of difficulty for progressively higher rewards.
Monster Players in the game can also join Fellowships, though they are named Warbands instead. Monster characters (see below) in a PvP zone also gain access to the Fellowship Manoeuvers panel, which are renamed to Warband Maneuvers.
The game's environment is J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth, based on The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. It has been noted that the game's license does not cover rights to any other works in Tolkien's legendarium, such as The Silmarillion. The game world is broadly divided into larger sections of Eriador, Rhovanion, Gondor and Mordor. It is then divided into separate "Regions", which are then further further sub-divided into "Areas". In the original game regions the area division served mostly navigational purpose, but from Enedwaith onwards each area usually has a distinctive landscape aesthetic and its own separate storyline. It should be noted that the game's distinction of regions does not always match that of Tolkien's original definitions: for example, Northfarthing of the Shire is considered to be a part of Evendim region, Rohan is considered to be a part of Rhovanion and Kingdom of Gondor is split into several smaller regions.
Each region in the game contains non-player characters (NPCs) and quests within an established player character level range, with the main Epic storyline usually serving as a guide between the region's areas in progression from lowest to highest level. Each region also has a capital settlement, but only a few regions feature a proper "hub" for player activities, which is usually defined as an area which includes all major in-game services for player characters, such as vault-keepers, auction houses and crafting halls. It is important to note that each Region is considered to be permanently set in a specific time during the War of the Ring despite the passage of time in the main story: this means that many characters such as Gandalf or Aragorn can be present in multiple places at once, if those places are set during different portions of the story. Several major locations are even permanently available in more than one state: for examples players can freely move from Isengard flooded by the Ent to Isengard at the height of Saruman's power and from Minas Tirith rebuilding after the battle of the Pelennor Fields to Minas Tirith before the battle, with the enemy still at the doorstep.
Player vs Monster Player
Classic Player vs. Player (PvP) combat, found in many other MMOs, does not exist in The Lord of the Rings Online. Free People characters can only "spar" each other on request and for no rewards. Instead, Player vs Monster Player (also known as PvMP or Monster Play) system allows players to create "Monster player" characters and engage Free People in combat in special secluded areas.
Monster player classes are Orc Reaver, Orc Defiler, Spider Weaver, Uruk Blackarrow, Uruk Warleader and Warg Stalker. Monster player characters are always of current maximum level and advance by gaining Infamy Ranks instead. Infamy is awarded for killing Free People characters, and higher ranks give access to better equipment and stat ratings. Monster players can equip no items, but can use consumable buffs and can be customized with specific appearance traits, purchased with Commendations given for quest completion or enemy kills. The quests, deeds and titles are similar to those of the regular characters, but Monster players unable to leave the confines of the PvMP area and interact with Free People characters who do not wish to be a part of it. Originally, the only PvMP are was the Ettenmoors, where Free Players could travel and battle Monster players for control over the five keeps and minor outposts. In July 2015, a second PvMP area was added in the ruins of Osgiliath.
The main storyline (also known as the "Epic Quest Line") is presented as a series of "Books", which consist of series of quests called "Chapters". There were initially eight Books when the game was released, with new books added with each free content update. The Epic Quests focus on some events that are new additions to the Lord of the Rings story created by the makers of the game. The player starts simultaneously with Frodo and company leaving The Shire.
Volume I: Shadows of Angmar
- Book I - Stirrings in the Darkness - After the introductions, the player is sent to Aragorn, who needs help weakening the Blackwolds, a hostile gang within Bree-land, loyal to Sharkey. After helping Aragorn and the Rangers, the player is sent to Tom Bombadil to destroy the evil in Othrongroth, the Great Barrow of the Barrow-downs. Though the Wightlord Sambrog is defeated, the Witch-king and his servants, Ivar and Skorgrim, escape the player's pursuit. Upon returning to Bree, the player discovers Aragorn has left with the Hobbits and instead meets Gandalf, who arrived too late to help. The player is then instructed by Gandalf (who leaves for Rivendell as well) to locate one of Gandalf's fellow Istari, Radagast the Brown.
- Book II - The Red Maid - The player is sent to the Ranger Candaith, who tries to learn the location of Radagast the Brown for the player. While waiting, the player investigates the mysterious events that happened on Weathertop and fights the Orc army around and on top of the hill. By the time the enemy is defeated, Candaith has found Radagast in the city of Ost Guruth and sends the player to meet him. Radagast asks for the player's help in cleansing the area of Garth Agarwen from the evil wights that inhabit it. Ultimately the player and Radagast fight Ivar the Bloodhand, their leader and servant of the Witch-king. Upon succeeding, the player is urgently sent to the North Downs to aid the Rangers in those lands.
- Book III - The Council of the North - The player is asked by Halbarad to aid in the defense of the North Downs against Angmar's forces, by uniting the three main armies of the North Downs: the Men of the town of Trestlebridge, the local Dwarves led by Dori, and Gildor's Elves. After accomplishing this, the player is sent to Rivendell, where the Fellowship has now safely arrived.
- Book IV - Chasing Shadows - The Black Rider that survived the Flood of Bruinen by Elrond is still somewhere in the Trollshaws, making it impossible for the Fellowship to leave. With the help of Legolas, Elladan and Elrohir, the player chases the Nazgûl, destroying the Trolls he has corrupted, and forcing the Ringwraith to retreat to the Misty Mountains. The player is sent to pursue him, where Glóin and some Dwarves have set up a camp.
- Book V - The Last Refuge - The player's search for the Nazgûl brings him/her to the final stronghold of Skorgrím and the Dourhands, the corrupted Dwarves. An assault led by Gimli results in the fall of Skorgrim and his servants. But the Nazgûl has fled to Helegrod, where a long-dead Dragon Thorog has been reanimated as a wight to serve the Dark Lord. The player arrives just in time to stop the Nazgûl, defeating him and making him lose control of the Dragon, who escapes. Now that Rivendell is safe, it is time to move on to Angmar itself.
- Book VI - Fires in the North - Rangers of the North, led by Corunir and Golodir, have gone to Angmar and their kinsmen want to know what has become of them. Upon arriving in Angmar, the player finds Corunir safe in a friendly Hillmen village. He begs the player to find his lost company, who passed through Rammas Deluon: a great series of statues that weaken (or even kill) those who pass it. After destroying the spirits within them, the player becomes able to resist the power of Rammas Deluon, and finds a hidden Dwarf settlement, where a part of the scattered party lives.
- Book VII - The Hidden Hope - The player is informed that Golodir is settled at Gath Forthnir, far in the North. Upon arriving there, (s)he finds that Golodir is long gone and the Rangers are led by his daughter, Lorniel. Lorniel reveals that Golodir has been captured by Mordirith, Steward of Angmar, and has been locked away in Carn Dûm. As leader of the remaining Rangers, and with the help of the Elf Laerdan, Lorniel launches an assault on Carn Dûm, where she is slain by Mordirith, who then releases broken Golodir in a mockery, to continue his torture.
- Book VIII - The Scourge of the North - Golodir's grief for the death of his daughter has almost destroyed him, yet he sees a chance to avenge her. Reclaiming an ancient sword, he travels with the player to the heart of Carn Dûm, defeating Mordirith with his blade. But then Mordirith's palantír, a great seeing-stone he used to torture Golodir, is quickly taken by the mysterious Sara Oakheart.
- Book IX - Shores of Evendim - The player learns that Sara Oakheart is none other than Amarthiel, the legendary Champion of Angmar. She has set up a plot within a tower of Barad Gularan to use the player to weaken Mordirith. Now that she has the palantír, she can communicate with Sauron and challenge Mordirith's position. The player is sent to kill all of Mordirith's Knights, in an attempt to further weaken his power. But despite the player's victories over Mordirith, Amarthiel only grows stronger. After losing Fornost and Barad Gularan, she moves to Annúminas, the ancient capital of Arnor. The Rangers there, led by Calenglad, need the player's aid.
- Book X - The City of Kings - A massive battle in Annúminas ensues and the wise Elf Laerdan offers his services to Calenglad. Mordrambor, one of Amarthiel's captains, is captured, but while in captivity he poisons the mind of Laerdan, making the Elf decide to fight Amarthiel on his own, in an attempt to make up for his mistakes in the past. Again the Free Peoples have been tricked by Amarthiel and her servants. Together with the Rangers of Evendim, the player is able to wrestle the palantír from Amarthiel's clutches, but Laerdan is lost. However, within the palantír, Amarthiel saw a glimpse of where Narchuil, her ancient ring, lies. She is now determined to possess its power once more.
- Book XI - Prisoner of the Free Peoples - Amarthiel's captain Mordrambor breaks free, killing many Rangers. Soon he leads an army out of Annúminas, to find Amarthiel's Ring, Narchuil. The player attempts to find Narchuil before Amarthiel can, searching the ancient ruins of the Trollshaws. After much searching, it turns out Narmeleth, Laerdan's daughter, who originally caused Amarthiel's fall in Fornost, has become possessed by her. But all searching seems in vain, when it is revealed Amarthiel has already found Narchuil. However, Elrond does not fall for her trickery again; he realizes Narchuil is still out there, and Laerdan knows where.
- Book XII - The Ashen Wastes - Amarthiel has Laerdan transported to Angmar, where she learns from him under torture where her Ring is. In a brave attempt to save both Laerdan and the ring Narchuil, the player is able to get to them before Amarthiel does, but only half of the ring was found. Laerdan confesses to Elrond he has broken the Narchuil in two, and reveals where the other part should be. But then he swears an oath upon Elbereth that he will not rest before he has saved his daughter, and leaves the Council.
- Book XIII - Doom of the Last King - Trying to find out more about the other half of Narchuil, the player is sent to Forochel. However Amarthiel's forces have already arrived, and their search is underway. In an attempt to find the ring before the Angmarim, the player receives help from the shade of the Last King Arvedui. During a confrontation with the enemy, it appears that Mordrambor has betrayed Amarthiel: the two battle each other and disappear from the view. The player then retrieves the second half of Narchuil and returns it to Rivendell.
- Book XIV - The Ring-forges of Eregion - Still seeking to save Narmeleth, Laerdan travels with the two halves of Narchuil to Eregion. Amarthiel, baiting him in, reclaims Narchuil for herself. Elrond sends many Heralds of Rivendell to all corners of Eriador to help him in his search for the lost Ring-lore. But all efforts are too late, for Narchuil has been reforged when the Free Peoples reach Eregion. It quickly becomes clear none are able to withstand Narchuil, until Mordrambor, Amarthiel's former servant, arrives. Sowing confusion in her, he shows her the arrival of Mordirith, who is in power once again, but Amarthiel does not surrender and believes she can defeat him with use of Narchuil. However, Mordirith has the power of the Witch-king and defeats her, claiming Narchuil as his own. Just as he is about to finish Amarthiel, Laerdan appears. He reveals his knowledge that Mordirith is actually Eärnur, the last King of Gondor, taken captive by the Witch-King and made a Wraith in mockery of his former defiance. Under Mordirith's orders Mordrambor kills Laerdan, after which the two leave. Amarthiel is devastated by the loss of her father, and taken captive by the Free Peoples.
- Book XV - Daughter of Strife - With the death of her father, Narmeleth is once again freed from the evil influence of Amarthiel. She becomes a captive of the Free Peoples, but volunteers to avenge her father. In Angmar, the final battle between the Free People and Mordirith ensues. First Mordrambor is defeated and Narchuil is finally destroyed by Narmeleth. In the final confrontation, she sacrifices herself in order to defeat Mordirith. The book ends bittersweet with Narmeleth's redemption and her death and Elrond comforts the player, saying that she had found peace in the Undying Lands.
Volume II: Mines of Moria
Volume III: Allies of the King
Volume IV: The Strength of Sauron
The final volume, the first chapters of which were released in March 2015. The epic story concludes with Book 9, which was released as part of the Mordor expansion. Volume IV covers the final months of the War of the Ring. The player character is summoned to Dunharrow to meet Lady Eowyn who informs them that Aragorn and the Grey Company have travelled through the Paths of the Dead. The player character learns that a faction of the dead called the "Ruthless Dead" have chosen to follow Sauron and stop Aragorn.
The player sets out after Aragorn and, through region quests, stops the Ruthless Dead before coming across the Corsair fleet that Aragorn has set out to stop. The player then takes part in the Battle of Pelargir and afterwards is tasked with going to Minas Tirith and informing either Faramir or Gandalf of Aragorn's plan to take the Corsair ships and sail up the Anduin. After journeying through Eastern Gondor, the player comes across Osgiliath being raided by the army of Minas Morgul. During the player's time in Osgiliath they discover that Moridith has returned from the void and been rechristened 'Gothmog'. The player eventually ends up escaping the city, meeting up briefly with Faramir before he is shot by a Morgul dart and rendered unconscious. The player then prepares the city of Minas Tirith for siege and after looking in Steward Denethor's Palantir, sees the battle of Minas Tirith take place and the Rohirrim not arriving, leading to the fall of the city. After telling Gandalf what they have seen, the wizard asks the player to head out to find King Theoden's forces. The player finds the Rohirrim in Far Anórien and marches with them to Minas Tirith just in time to save the city, finishing the Battle of Pelennor Fields in time to march to the Black Gates through North Ithilien and the Wastes. On the Slag Hills the player fights during the Battle of the Black Gates to draw the enemy eye from Frodo and the ring. The quest of the ring is completed and the player travels with Gandalf on the eagles just in time to save Frodo and Sam from the eruption of Mount Doom. Volume IV ends here as the last of the volumes; a new story begins with "The Black Book of Mordor".
The Black Book of Mordor: Where the Shadows Lie
The War of the Ring is over and also the volumes which followed the player since ten years are no more, new stories are beginning. The first of them is called "The Black Book of Mordor: Where the Shadows Lie" and talks about what happened soon after the fall of Sauron in the Dark Land and beyond. It is divided in chapters: the first four were released with the Mordor expansion in 2017; two chapters each were released in March 2018 with Update 22: "Legacy of the Necromancer", in October 2018 with Update 23: "Where Dragons Dwell" and in June 2019 with Update 24: "Vales of Anduin".
Development and release history
Sierra On-Line first announced the development of a licensed Middle-earth MMORPG in 1998. Sierra had financial troubles in 1999 and replaced the staff working on the game. Sierra continued to confirm development of the MMORPG but did not release any development details.
Vivendi Universal Games, the parent company of Sierra, secured eight-year rights to produce computer and video games based on The Lord of the Rings books in 2001. Vivendi announced an agreement with Turbine in 2003 to produce Middle-earth Online (at that time expected to be released in 2004). In March 2005, Turbine announced that it had bought the rights to make an MMORPG based on Tolkien's literature and that Turbine would publish The Lord of the Rings Online instead of Vivendi.
A closed beta was announced on September 8, 2006. An open beta began on March 30, 2007, and was open to all who pre-ordered the game's Founders Club edition. On April 6, 2007, the beta opened to the public.
In April 2007, Salon.com reported that the game had dropped a planned feature for in-game players marriage because of the controversy around the possibility of same-sex and inter-species weddings. One developer stated that the design rule was for weddings to be allowed if examples could be found in the book, as between elves and humans. The online magazine for gay gamers, GayGamer.net commented that, while Tolkien was a devout Christian, his stance on gay rights isn't known as the topic wasn't a public issue at the time. Video game critic Ian Bogost compared it to the case of The Sims 2, which did allow same-sex marriage three years prior.
The game was developed and maintained by Turbine after Jeffrey Anderson secured the rights from Vivendi. In January 2014 it was announced that the license for The Lord of the Rings Online had been renewed to 2017.
Executive producer Aaron Campbell transferred to other duties in 2015, and Dungeons and Dragons Online franchise director Athena Peters replaced him. Peters announced a new roadmap for the future of Lord of the Rings Online, including improvements to the legendary item system, new fellowship quests, and various "quality of life" fixes. Also on the agenda for the summer of 2015 were server merges and new datacenters.
On December 19, 2016, it was announced that Turbine would no longer develop the game, rather a new independent game studio was formed under the name Standing Stone Games, the staff of whom would made up of the people that have been working on The Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons & Dragons Online under Turbine before. The publishing of the game would transfer from Warner Brothers to Daybreak Game Company. While a reason was not given for the transition, it was assured that the game would continue with new development.
Releases and subscription model
In North America, players who pre-ordered the game were offered a special founder's offer, a lifetime subscription for $199 or reduced cost of $9.99 per month. Standard monthly fee is $14.99 with three, six, twelve month, and lifetime discounts available. European players had a similar program from Codemasters. A holiday subscription was available in December 2007 and January 2008 for $9.99/month for a 3-month commitment. A special edition, which cost $10 more than the regular edition, included a full-color manual, an item called "Glass of Aglaral," a cloak of regeneration, which is visually different from the one in the regular edition, a "Making of" DVD, soundtrack, and a 10-day buddy key.
The one year anniversary edition included a $9.99/month subscription or a $199.99 Lifetime subscription, which was again offered during the lead-up to the release of Mines of Moria. However the lifetime subscription option is no longer available and is unlikely to return.
On June 4, 2010, it was announced the game was to add a free-to-play option in the autumn, with an in-game store. Free-to-play was successfully launched in North America on September 10, 2010. After a delay in Europe, free-to-play went live on November 2, 2010. During the following six months the company reported tripled revenues from the title.
On April 26, 2011, it was announced that Codemasters would relinquish control of the European service back to Turbine, and on June 1, the servers were transferred. After a transition period of a few days, they reopened under a unified Lord of the Rings Online global service. Finally, on June 6, 2012, The Lord of the Rings Online was made available for download on Steam.
Until 2008, approximately once every two months a major update was added to The Lord of the Rings Online. Each update was an extension to the epic quest called a book. Despite the Mines of Moria being an official expansion to the original game, it is not required for subscribers to continue receiving the free content updates. However, any new content exclusive to Mines of Moria, including any area past Eregion, is not accessible. In the case of items such as legendary weapons, they are viewable but unable to be equipped. The only exception to this is the Helm's Deep update, where a portion of the Epic Story tied in directly with a new feature added in that expansion. Because of this, in order to play through the Helm's Deep Epic Story, the expansion must be purchased.
The soundtrack for Lord of the Rings Online has received much praise for its quality and variety. It features compositions from Turbine composer Stephen Digregorio as well as original songs from acclaimed video game composer Chance Thomas. Other composers include Geoff Scott, Brad Spears, and Egan Budd. According to Thomas, all references that were made to the music of the peoples of Middle-earth in the books were used to extrapolate as much information as possible about the instruments and styles that each race would have used to create their music. This information was then used as the base for creating the score. Additionally, 61 songs from the game were made available for free in mp3 format using a download manager released by Turbine.
In keeping with Tolkien's heavy use of song and music in his books, Lord of the Rings Online has a player music sub-system akin to MIDI that has been the subject of a Harvard anthropological study. Characters on reaching level 5 can learn to play musical instruments, including Bagpipes, Clarinet, Cowbell, Drum, Harp, Horn, Lute, Pibgorn, and Theorbo. Using keyboard macros, instruments can be played in real time on three octaves and abc notation, with the music broadcast to nearby player characters. Players can also play pre-programmed pieces from user-created .ABC script files using the game's music notation, similar to MIDI files. Players often hold impromptu public performances, in solo or as bands at places such as The Prancing Pony Inn in Bree. Communities also regularly organize music events and mini-concerts such as "Weatherstock": Woodstock above the Weathertop.
The Lord of the Rings Online received wide universal acclaim thus far, as reviews continue to appear since the game's initial release.
GameDaily awarded the game 9/10, praising its rich, fantasy-themed universe, well-integrated trait and title system, and a story that remains true to the works of Tolkien. Yahoo! Video Games wrote a review with few negative mentions, awarding the game a score of 4/5, while Computer and Video Games called the game an essential purchase for Lord of the Rings fans, scoring the game a 9.2/10. Eurogamer scored the game a 9.0/10, calling it tough to resist. GameSpy gave it 4.5/5 stars, claiming the game "opened up Middle-Earth to the masses" but commented negatively on its weak PvP content, while GameTrailers awarded it 8.5/10, citing its interesting tweaks to the MMO genre. IGN ranked it a similar 8.6/10, praising it for its solid experience, though criticizing it for its lack of major improvements to the genre. The New York Times called the game "a major achievement of interactive storytelling, the first game truly worthy of the ‘Lord of the Rings' franchise and a must-play for just about anyone with an interest in Tolkien or the future of online entertainment." In a GameSpot review, the product was awarded an 8.3/10, praising its appealing polish and intriguing Monster Play feature. GamePro's review gave it an overall 4.25/5, pointing out how engaging the epic quests are, as well as how faithful to the novels the game managed to stay.
In August 2007, Codemasters announced that The Lord of the Rings Online had received five Golden Joystick Awards nominations for the five applicable categories for the game, and in October 2007 that it had won the "PC Game of the Year" at these awards. It won the same award again on October 2008.
In 2010, RPGFan's Adam Tingle named The Lord of the Rings Online the best MMORPG of all time in a top-10 countdown while RPGLand gave its "Best Free-to-Play MMORPG" annual award. That year, the NPD Group reported that the game was "the third most played massively multiplayer role-playing game" with Turbine citing their free-to-play model as the reason for the growing subscriber base.
In January 2011, PC Gamer chose The Lord of the Rings Online as the MMO of the year. Praise was given for treating fans to two new Epic Books worth of quests, two added regions, expansion of in-game events, improved UI elements, and the revamp of the character creation and starter regions. Also noted was the success of the move to free-to-play, stating Lord of the Rings Online is "quickly redefining the way a successful subscriptionless MMO is run."
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