But any time that we're anticipating a new expansion, there's a natural desire to want to look back and see where we've been in Lord of the Rings Online. It amazes me just how big this game's gotten since 2007, and now that we're on the cusp of seeing a full Rohan, I feel like I'm almost at the summit of an important mountain in the game.
So for fun and debate, I'm going to rank LotRO's four expansions to date, from best to worst, and share what I liked and disliked about them. This list comes with a caveat that I've never been much of a dungeon runner, so instances and raids do not factor into this ranking.
What was great about it: LotRO's one and only boxed expansion fulfilled expectations quite admirably by boasting one of the largest underground kingdoms seen in MMOs. It was quite stunning visually, a huge change from the been-there-done-that overworld, and had players going up against the Balrog and the Watcher. Having two new classes, legendary items, and an original score didn't hurt, either. It was a beast of an expansion, and something the game has yet to match.
Where it stumbled: While the quest flow and mob density are better now, they were sometimes atrocious (or at least annoying) as players stumbled around parts of this 3-D maze. It got claustrophobic for some, and kept us in there for far too long. Oh yeah, radiance. Man, one day when my kids are old enough I'll be able to tell them about what a mess that was. "I was there, junior. I was there."
What was great about it: There's so much to like about last year's expansion that I have a hard time condensing it to a paragraph. It truly brought us to a new part of Middle-earth in style, giving us key moments with the Fellowship while also thrusting us into the middle of an invasion. The visuals were fantastic, the soundtrack the best since the original, Fangorn absolutely rocked, and the storyline was pretty gripping. While mounted combat's worth is debated, I'm putting it in the plus column simply because it was a needed feature and a new gameplay system after a long period where we saw none added.
Where it stumbled: The story of this expansion starts really strong and Fellowship-centric, but loses that soon after. A lot of the progress through the region started to feel samey, with you going to a town, finding out what was wrong with the town, and helping the town. It's very Man-centric, so the other races took a backseat. There also wasn't much character growth and progress made considering that we spent 10 levels here. And Hytbold, while an interesting concept, was far too grindy to be likable.
What was great about it: I'm putting this in third place because I honestly like the look of Mirkwood. I think the devs nailed a creepy "old" forest without just rehashing what we've seen before. Skirmishes were a terrific system that added something additional to do from level 20 onward.
Where it stumbled: Mirkwood is a single zone and too small to qualify as a bona fide expansion, especially when compared to the others. It also is now a cul-de-sac in the game, going nowhere before sending you back from whence you came. And while I liked seeing Gollum again, the storyline was pretty forgettable and the epilogues requiring grouping were aggravating to the solo completionist.
What was great about it: Even though I'm putting this last, it doesn't mean I hated this expansion. There's a lot to appreciate, actually, including a compelling villain, the iconic tower, a few quests with choices, and a really cool sequence in the epic story where you're made prisoner and forced to live that way while looking for escape. Phasing was neat, too.
Where it stumbled: This was filler, plain and simple. The region wasn't defined at all in the books and ended up being a land of tribes that just bickered a lot. Little about it felt new or interesting, making this a speed bump before the game got interesting again. Personally, I had a hard time connecting with the region, only getting excited once I started to encounter the Rohirrim in the Gap of Rohan.
That's my ranking of the expansions and I'm sticking to it. How would you rank them?
When not enjoying second breakfast and a pint of ale, Justin "Syp" Olivetti jaws about hobbits in his Lord of the Rings Online column, The Road to Mordor. You can contact him via email at email@example.com or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.