As I mentioned on my other blog, Kate and I decided a week or so ago to try out some new characters in Lord of the Rings Online (our MMO of choice) so that we could explore the changes/improvements to the ’starter’ areas in the game. Kate likes playing elves (*shudder*) and I like me some Dwarf action (yay!), and they had revamped the whole Dwarf/Elf starting region of Ered Luin fairly recently, so that was kind of a no-brainer.
(Also, I made up a kind-of solo character to check out the starting Man region of Archet/Combe/Staddle, because I’ve always liked that area most of all, and they updated it, so I was basically checking out two areas. No revamp changes had occurred in the Shire at all, because (a) the designers were really happy with that area and (b) so were the players — therefore, we made up no new hobbitses. )
We were VERY favorably impressed with the new regions, both with the changes and the characters we made up, and played them during most of that weekend. Good stuff.
I think it’s safe to say that each starting region still has its own definable flavor (the dwarf/elf area feels older, more ‘epic’ in the sense that these are old enemies you are fighting, while the Men are facing new threats of their own devising, and the Shire bounders move slowly from the bucolic and quaint to growing awareness of the threats from without), while all the starting regions have been brought up to the level of quality seen in the Shire (up until this point, considered the best place to level new characters up, once you knew all the various areas well-enough).
And then came Bree: the great melting pot of all character activity from level 15 to 25, where everyone’s time line finally merged for the first time. It’s always been a decent area, but there were still a few notoriously annoying, deadly, or just plain aggravating elements of the region.
But that’s normal, right? There’s always going to be some annoying stuff, right? That’s a given.
I don’t think that anymore.
Kate and I had already played through the starting regions a week or so ago; the conclusion of which sent us off to Bree to speak with a ranger by the name of Strider. Having just explored the improved Ered Luin, we decided to let the characters sit for a week in Bree without taking any quests until Book 8 dropped, because we heard they were doing a full-bore revamp of the Bree area.
It was SO WORTH IT.
Without a hint of irony or sarcasm, I can say that the revamp of the Bree area represents the finest revision and improvement I’ve ever seen in any MMO. Period. Full stop. The way they have streamlined the storylines and quests in the area should quite simply become the new gold standard for zone design in MMOs.
If you haven’t played LotRO, you should try it out, just to play through as far as the end of the Bree story arcs, which take you into the Barrow Downs and some truly epic quests.
If you played LotRO in the past, but don’t at the moment, do yourself a favor and try it out again for a month. Start over with a new character. Play whatever you want, it is all good.
If you’re just starting LotRO, like our friend Rob, I envy you – you never had to deal with with that crappy quest down at the South Greenway Barricade… you never got ripped to pieces by the deathtrap meat grinder of the original Old Forest (or bored by the more-recent, dumbed-down version).
If you’re currently playing LotRO, make a new character and experience the new content in the old areas you think you know so well. You. Will. Love it.
So… back to what I was saying… Book 8 came out yesterday, and (after logging in all our other character to reap the benefits of the great quality-of-life tweaks to gameplay), we logged in our “littles” to resume play in Bree. By the end of the night, we’d made it through the new “Grimbriar” quest hub, Adso’s camp, dipped our toes in the (new) Old Forest and wrapped up with the middle Chapters 6, 7, and 8 of Book 1, which took us into Buckland at the edge of the Shire – and what a change Buckland has seen. Wow.
They revised the Old Forest (which I didn’t think they’d bother messing with, as it’s already seen one revision) and somehow – magically – found the perfect sweet spot between the original Old Forest (horrible death trap, but cool) and the more recent version (sadly, laughably harmless).
The Southern Barricade along the Green Way with that one miserable mission that no one wants to do? They fixed it. It’s so much fun now.
It’s all just… so much fun.
Right at the end of the night, we noticed we both had a message in the mail. I won’t say what the message was, except that it was from an NPC we (as players) were very familiar with, and who our characters had not yet met. The letter made the both of us stop and just stare at each other and say “That… is so. Fucking. Cool.”
And it was. It really was.
I cannot WAIT to really delve into the Old Forest now. I am practically VIBRATING in anticipation of the Barrow Downs. These are two areas of the game that, while cool, I have always tried to minimize contact with as much as possible.
No more. Bring it on. I may not be ready, but I am excited.
Kudos, LotRO Dev Team: you knocked it out. of. the. park.