I am significantly behind the herd in Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO) since I took my prodigal sabbatical just a little after Enedwaith’s release. I think what really ran me off was the early parts of Book 2 (Vol. 3) in getting the rangers to even get to Enedwaith from Eriador. In hindsight I should have enjoyed some of Enedwaith and then returned back to the epic line of quests.
I have just completed perhaps a third to a half of Enedwaith coming from the North downward as I haphazardly follow the Book quests. I must say that I am really enjoying the design of this zone. It feels like a refreshing return. There is the old comfortable with a bit of new flash. It is actually getting me pretty excited to hit Dunland, the next zone.
The story of Enedwaith is one of flux. Rangers in the Grey Company are traveling southward trying to ensure a safe route through tribal lands. The tribes are dealing with enemies and allies of the Grey Company, Saruman the White, and other tribes themselves. And, so far, the Enemy seems to have less of a stabilized power base than the half-orc companies in Eregion to the North. The theme of this zone is really well done, at least in the northern half of the zone. I will have to see if it changes as I hit the main town and a possible dwarven area.
In the Foridrith sub-zone at the far North end of Enedwaith, Turbine used some great phasing of NPCs. As I went out and saved Rangers, the would appear at the quest hub (Echad Dagoras) with more quests. By the time I had completed the hub I had saved 4-5 Rangers. It was really nice to see this effect. At the same time though I felt like Robin saving the Justice League. The Rangers are men of serious stature compared to me, and as good as the storytelling was, the system mechanics seemed tell a different story. I was the lackey, perhaps, to come slightly save the day.
For instance, one Ranger was harried by some evil wolves in the quest A Timely Rescue. Amarion sat on a boulder until I came along to free him from the dark wolves. I did so and we even killed a named black wolf. Then he sends me, from the safety of the camp, to go back to the Black Dens to kill another named wolf he failed to kill. From a story standpoint, this is great, and then I look at his mechanical legendary stature and double my hit points.
Anyway, the Black Dens themselves are a triumph in MMO design. Whoever designed them seriously took some of the blandish colors often found in vanilla MMOs, and turned it into a masterpiece. The Black Dens are a series of corridors, not unlike Pacman as far as branching is concerned. Also like Pacman, there are super elite shadow wolves that walk in a mostly counterclockwise direction. Players get a small warning of dread before the shadow wolf gets into attack range because it is really hard in the cramped corridor to see very far. Death, or at least a run with a frantic mashing of escape buttons, are imminent if a super elite shadow wolf sets upon a player. This was really exciting and tense.
I’ve already noted the lost hobbit colony, which is a nice joke piece set in the zone, and I am just beginning the dark Mournshaws before I head to the central settlement of Nan Laeglin. The Mournshaws are reminiscent of the eery forest of Mirkwood, but it feels like its own little subzone. Turbine seems to do really well with environmental design. Each subzone has a definitive feeling that really emphasizes the subzone’s theme.
I plan on taking my time as I head towards the shinier Dunland region, but for right now it feels pretty good to be back in the game.