I don’t know if The Lord of the Rings Online is the best massively multi-player online roleplaying game (MMO / MMORPG) in the world, but it certainly has two very strong things going for it. Firstly, the lore is rich and engaging and immediately familiar for many people while still having depth and being able to surprise, and secondly it has a lot of free content. Not free because the game has gone ‘free to play’, but free because on a reasonably regular basis new chapters are added to the ongoing Epic quest, and those chapters often bring new areas in which to quest, without subscribers having to pay anything at all. That model was started early in the game and continues even now.
Lothlorien was added for free post-Moria (it was initially intended to be in the Moria expansion I believe, but grew too large and was at risk of taking up too much resource). And while Mirkwood was a paid for expansion, the game has just seen its latest free content – Enedwaith. There’s a full developer diary article for Enedwaith which pretty much covers it, but I wanted to write my own little half review here, as well.
If you don’t want to see the full map, don’t follow the jump!
Getting there is pretty easy. From Mirobel in Eregion, head over the river and continue south east. You’ll pass through some of the regular Eregion creatures and eventually into an area populated with level 65+ enemies. Just after that you’ll pass into Enedwaith itself and the map will update.
This the full map for Enedwaith, and it’s a pretty big outdoor location.
As you can see, there are seven named regions on the map, and if you look closely you can find five locations with stable-masters. The whole area reminds me a lot of Evendim and the North Downs, in fact, it’s almost like they smooshed the two locations together and drained the water out of them to make Enedwaith. There are a number of very distinctly different areas within the overall place, the Mournshaws are very claustrophobic, the Gloomglens a frustrating warren of canyons while Fordirith, the Windfells and Nan Laeglin are rolling hills and feel very much like Evendim. The Lich Bluffs are reminiscent of Parth Aduil in Evendim and Thror’s Coomb is a wilderness of Giants and Drakes and reminds me a lot of the Misty Mountains – probably because the mountain range down the south-east edge is the Misty Mountains.
The Grey Company, a group of Dúnedain of the North, need to travel to meet Aragorn, and to do so they must pass through Enedwaith. You, being a mighty hero, must run errands and collect rocks or something, in order to ensure their safe passage. Well, it’s a bit more involved than that as you can imagine, but that’s the basic reason for being here. The region is under threat from Saruman, and you must win favour, or at least grudging acceptance from the local inhabitants in order to clear the way for the journey of the Grey Company. The rangers are spread throughout the area, scouting (as they do), and you join up with them, rescue them and scout for them in a collection of quests that cover the whole area.
Lothlorien introduced, or at least refined and cemented, a system of repeatable quests giving out reputation and tokens. In combination those two things allow you to barter for rewards and interesting items. That was very much evident in Mirkwood, and it’s even more prevalent in Enedwaith. It’s a little frustrating, having yet another set of barter tokens, but I understand the desire to keep the rewards specific to effort in a particular area. The Enedwaith rewards include emotes, mounts, equipment and the usual consumables. I’m in two minds about some of the emotes, is golf chip really in-keeping with the lore of Lord of the Rings? There are two factions in the area, the Grey Company which you earn by helping the Rangers, and the Algraig which covers the non-hostile locals. Both sets of reputation have their own vendors, but share the same tokens (thankfully).
There feels to be fewer repeatable quests than Lothlorien and the format more closely resembles Mirkwood. However, it is much easier to earn large numbers of the higher value tokens if you can gather a few friends together because there are more than half a dozen small-fellowship repeatable quests in Thror’s Coomb – this is most welcome.
It’s abundantly clear that the Lord of the Rings Online development team now know that most players will solo most of the content, only grouping if they have to. Sure, some prefer to group, but they’re clearly in the minority. The quest structure in Enedwaith often goes like this, quest -> solo instance -> quest, or solo instance -> quest -> quest. In other words, if you’re in a fellowship you’re going to spend a lot of time running around, disbanding, doing an instance, re-grouping, and then some more running around again. Only Thror’s Coomb contains creatures which require a small fellowship, the rest of the location can be handled solo at the appropriate level, although different classes may handle some quests better than others.
As normal, the quests move you reasonably well from area to area with introduction quests, some meat, and then a ‘time to move on’ style quest. You do get some choice after the first three quest camps of where to go next, but almost everyone will start in in Fordirith, complete some stuff in Windfells, before moving to Nan Laeglin. After that, you can pretty much choose to quest in the Gloomglens, Mournshaws, Lich Bluffs or some areas of Thror’s Coomb. Most locations have a mix of local residents and rangers and a mix of quest styles as a result.
Again, the quests remind me very much of Evendim and the North Downs, due to the mix of locals and Rangers.
Enedwaith has a reasonable spread of enemies, wolves (in several forms), the dead (wraiths, ghosts), dragons and their kin, giants, goats (including huge black killer goats), men of all variety and a few other things thrown in for good measure. There’s a good selection of things to test yourself against and although they’re reasonably trivial in small numbers, it gets tough quickly if they build up. There are some new abilities thrown into the mix so it pays to check the buff icons your target currently has active. The Stags in the Gloomglens are particularly amusing.
The Good Guys
One of the best things about Enedwaith is teaming up with the Dúnedain once again. Not just any old Dúnedain, but the very same ones you helped in the North Downs, Evendim, Angmar and the other dark places of Middle Earth. Turbine had to come up with a way of handling the changing world pretty early on, the Fellowship can’t be in Rivendell and in Lothlorien at the same time. The solution is a mixture of sophistry, story telling and a reliance on our desire (as players) to believe. NPC’s are hidden away in Rivendell so you don’t accidentally bump into them, or when you enter a particular location you are specifically reminded of the date and how it is in the past. But there’s no getting around the fact that in Bree, Aragorn is in the Prancing Pony for many players, while others talk to him in Rivendell and yet more are speaking to him in Lothlorien. It’s part of the game – and so it is that while some people are helping Mincham clear the North Downs of The Dead, others are helping the very same Dúnedain clear The Dead from Lich Bluffs in Enedwaith. Once you accept the paradox, it brings an amount of continuity to the play that is very enjoyable. Several of the Dúnedain actually make reference to your previous actions, and Mincham makes a joke about being forever involved with you and The Dead.
Apart from the Rangers, there are many Men in Enedwaith, not dissimilar to those in Forochel or Angmar. Barbarians, but at one with the land, struggling to survive in a changing world. They really don’t trust you – but they are beset and your assistance is grudgingly accepted.
What about the Epic?
I haven’t touched at all on the Epic storyline in Enedwaith, because of all the things in Lord of the Rings, the Epic quests should be discovered and enjoyed first hand.
So that’s a lot of rambling as usual. Is Enedwaith any good? Well firstly, let’s not forget it’s free. Secondly, according to the developer diary it’s bigger than North Downs in terms of quests and deeds, which is pretty good going. It certainly feels huge, riding across it takes a long time and moves you through a lot of different landscapes. Thirdly, compared to Mirkwood it’s a positive and happy place and much brighter. Frankly, I was tired of the darkness of Mirkwood and getting out into the sunshine was a vast improvement.
There is a little humour in the quests, there’s some very interesting Middle Earth history (in the context of the game, I have no clue if it’s true to Tolkien’s history), the quest dialogs are interesting, if the actions are a bit repetitive. Some of the solo instances are challenging and novel, and like Evendim I enjoyed the connection of Men and Elves from Middle Earth’s ancient past.
Yes it’s good. It’s fun, engaging and sometimes challenging. It’s smaller scale than Mirkwood but then it doesn’t need to provide 5 new levels, it’s certainly a happier place than Mirkwood.
Go to Enedwaith, aid The Grey Company in their heroic quest to come to Aragorn’s aid. They need you. Middle Earth needs you.