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Monday, 10 July 2017

LOTRO Scavenger hunt review


Earlier this year, Lord of the Rings Online hit its ten year mark - a respectable age for an MMO. I wrote a lengthy game review in its honour. In-game the feat was celebrated with the annual anniversary, but this time around, something new was introduced alongside it: the Scavenger hunt. At the time of writing, this event is nearing its end (13th of July, 2017). It's time for a review.

Reception and criticism

Upon release, the Scavenger hunt's reception was mixed. Some players reacted with "is this all?", without specifying what they would've expected instead. Others were disappointed that the hunt involved a lot of pointless clicking and riding around - a complaint that amused me, if truth be told. The aim of the hunt is to look back at the past through reliving past moments. And - let's face it - a lot of LOTRO's gameplay does involve clicking, killing things and riding around. Complaining about this boils down to complaining that LOTRO is LOTRO. For some rose tinted glass wearers, LOTRO's throwback in the past became a bit too real.

Another complaint was that some of the quests could not be completed by low level characters. On the one hand, I sympathize with this: nobody likes being excluded. On the other hand, I wouldn't want the Scavenger hunt to suffer quality-wise to accommodate everyone. Part of the fun is that it looks back at the entire ten years of content, and the majority of those years was spent adding high level content. Besides, if you'd want a level cap for the quests, at what level would you put it? Regardless of where that would be, some people would be left out.

One of the places that needs visiting in the Scavenger hunt: the Tower of Ecthelion in Minas Tirith

It is worth noting that the LOTRO developers addressed this criticism by altering some things, so at least one quest of the early years can now be completed by adventurous low level players (upon which the next year quests can be accepted). In theory, it is possible for all players outside the introduction instance to travel to high level areas, such as the Dead Marshes. Because enemies will have a huge aggro range for low level players, it's probably advisable to bring a high level friend to clear the area, though. 


My experiences

When I took my first glance at the ribbons hanging at the Party Tree (granting the Scavenger hunt quests), I was impressed by the extent of the event. Each week, a new "year" was introduced, containing three quests, making for a total of 30 quests. And most of them wouldn't be easy to complete without a guide, and take some time to complete.

One of the quests for each year is themed around the memories of a LOTR hero. These included cool references to the books; I don't think I'd enjoyed the quests as much if I weren't a Tolkien fan. For example, Year 6, themed "Legolas", asks you to kill 41 orcs in a Helm's Deep epic battle. My boyfriend and I grinned when we found that Year 7 was - as we had predicted - Gimli themed and asked us to kill 42 orcs in Helm's Deep.

Another reference was paying a visit to the Writer's Club in the Bird and Baby Inn, based on the group Tolkien was in. The hobbits are named after its members: Ronald Dwale represents Tolkien.

Typical LOTRO landscape in the Shire

The travelling thoroughly tested my knowledge of virtual Middle-earth and was a lot of fun. Contrary to most, I don't like to speed things up by using guides; I'd rather take it slow and experience the things as they were intended. This meant that I had to look around and search for things, and, as a result, inevitably spent time taking in LOTRO's beautiful landscapes - which is never a bad thing. Sometimes I even chose to ride my "slow horse" to enjoy the scenery. The fast, "drunk horse" (a.k.a. war-steed) just annoys me, as it lags out and gets stuck behind fences. 

Goats in Rohan, a Bird in Tuckborough and "The Bird" in the Ettenmoors

Some Years had a truly creative approach. I had two favourites. First off, one that sent us to /pat animals all around Middle-earth. We had to dig deep into our memories to think of where these enemies would be. I proudly remembered that there was a Squirrel on one of the island to the far north of Bree, so off we went. Unfortunately, it seemed the developers themselves hadn't thought of this Squirrel, because the quest didn't update when I patted it. We also had to pat a Bird. What better place to go than to The Bird, the PvMP meme, in the Ettenmoors? Unfortunately, this one didn't count either. My boyfriend saved the day by remembering there was a Bird in Tuckborough, from all the times he did the skirmish Trouble in Tuckborough. This Bird did count. Eventually, we managed to find all animals without outside help.

I loved the quest, but I was a bit disappointed with the animals that should've counted, but did not. Most people will probably look them up so don't care, but if you do take the time to figure it all out by yourself, it's a bit of a bummer. I've bug reported the missing animals, so hopefully they'll get added for next year's edition.

The Snowman in Ered Luin

My second favourite was the Year 9 Trifles quest, that sends you off to find curious places. Most of these I already knew, such as the Crazy Cat Lady's house and the Turtle House in Bree (see below), Goldilock's House in Rohan and the Killer Rabbits. Luckily, my boyfriend remembered the location of the Sandcastle in Evendim. Some places were still a surprise. For instance, I had never seen the Snowman in Ered Luin. We searched for 15 minutes in the northwestern part of the map - it was a great feeling when we finally found it!

The Turtle house in Bree

Because the Scavenger hunt is a lot of work, I only did it on one character: lore-master Ravanel, my main character that I created back in 2007. Especially in her early years, I played her as a completionist, finishing every quest I could find for the sake of it. So it was a surprise to bump into one or two quests that I had not done yet. One of them was the turtle soup quest chain (I could be wrong, but I don't think it was in the game when I did the Bree quests originally). I was positively surprised by the cuteness of the quest!

(Quest spoiler: you need to collect turtles for soup, but the quest gets a twist when the quest giver gets filled with remorse at the sight of the cute little things. He decides to keep them instead, and now his whole house is filled with little turtles, as you can see on the pictures above.)

1... 2... 3... Bottoms up!

I also enjoyed the drinking quests, because they were pretty fast and fun in a role-play kinda way. It's funny to go outside and see your surroundings turn into hazy sepia tones. A pro-tip for the tavern crawl in Eriador: while you're at it, buy the special beverage(s) at the inn keeper and drink 'em to complete the hidden deed.

Other random fun moments:

Eavesdropping in Bag's End; bowing to Gaffer Gamgee, bringing a beer to Rosie Cotton ("I wish Sam had never left!"). Aww, the feels.

On my way to the Prancing Pony, a group of seven roleplayers were performing music at the stage. When I passed an hour later, they were still playing. I couldn't help but join in and show off my dance moves. 

Riding through Lothlórien, I accidentally discovered the Garden of Memory and completed the Wanderer of the Golden Wood title - apparently that was the last one I needed.

And then the level 60 bounty quests! I had totally forgotten this was a thing. Back in the day, people used to pick up all the bounty quests in Esteldín and group up with a hunter to earn quick item experience. For a while, you saw people calling out for it in chat every day. It was a nice daily ritual and you could run into a bunch of nice people.

Exploring Carn Dum by warsteed

One thing I like, is that the event does not require any particular feats of skill. For instance, you don't need to complete any instances on tier 2 challenge mode etc. Mostly, the hunt requires perseverance and patience, because it's a lot of work, and probably a lot of looking up things for players that are not deeply involved with the game. 

The quests that required instances left me with mixed feelings. Not because I want to qq about instances being involved: they are an important aspect of the game and it would be silly to leave them out. However, since instance scaling is done poorly in LOTRO, redoing them did not give a similar experience as it did back in the day. My boyfriend and I simply blasted through them with the two of us - even the raids. (Admittedly, riding on a warsteed through Carn Dum was an interesting new experience.)

The dragon Draigoch, just before becoming targetable

The only thing that we couldn't duo that was required were Draigoch and the Ost Dunhoth Fear Wing, and that was only because of mechanics requiring a certain amount of people. It's worth noting that you don't need to be able to defeat these bosses; you just need to target them and use an emote. But in order to get to Durin's Bane (Fear Wing), you need to defeat the Wound Wing, and for that one you need six players to set off the mumak race. Similarly, Draigoch only becomes targetable after the fight is initiated, and for that you need six people to break through the floor.

Draigoch is peeking through cracks in his cave, looking for a player to roast

The latter provided for an interesting pugging experience. Some of our pugs were clueless. Of course we had the obligatory player that got caught by Draigoch in the initial part of the encounter every time - at least that's the old time experience. But we did the best we could to talk them through everything, and they were so thankful for having people to guide them. One of them told us afterwards that they had been afraid they wouldn't complete the hunt in time because of the instances. As someone who has cleared all group content in LOTRO (apart from the Pelennor raid on tier 2), it's easy to forget how scary that prospect can be.

Looking for remembrances in the Eastemnet

Many quests send you off to look for "remembrances": glowy floating books that are found at meaningful places. I've heard a lot of people complain that these places don't mean anything to them; they miss an in-game explanation of what they're commemorating by going there. I don't mind it myself, because I believe everyone has their own, unique memories of places and one universal explanation couldn't do those justice. Often, a text pops up on your screen when you come near them, and the game lets you fill in the blanks. As I wrote earlier, I like to play actively rather than passively following a guide and clicking, and one of the most fun things of the Scavenger hunt has been to discuss past places and happenings with my boyfriend while traveling through virtual Middle-earth. I wholeheartedly recommend doing the Scavenger hunt with a friend, if possible, because sharing your memories with someone truly enriches the experience.

Rewards

My main motivation for doing the Scavenger hunt wasn't the rewards; rather, it was the achievement of completing it in its entirety. That's not to say there weren't any cool rewards, though! I've compiled some of them in this picture.

Stone of Erech; Little Old man Willow; Bill the Pony; Lore-master with two ravens; Dwarf Well; Caras Galadhon Mirror; Fishing Creel; Dwarf Well from above; Quiet Cow pet.

I enjoyed the pet rewards, although it was sometimes a bit hard to decide which character to give them to - I don't think I'll ever do the entire thing again, so it's a one time choice. Some of the rewards, like the Caras Galadhon mirror and the cosmetic of Legolas' cloak, were already available in the game. That's a bit of a shame, but I didn't mind it that much. Who knows, perhaps it helped out some people that accidentally destroyed them.

If you missed this year's (first) edition, fear not: the Scavenger hunt will return next year. Each year, a new Year with three quests will be added to the existing pile. Everyone, regardless of subscription status, is able to pick them up and join the fun, so you will always be able to get the rewards you want.

Conclusions

LOTRO's Scavenger hunt is no grand spectacle or loot fest, so if that's what you're looking for, you'll be disappointed. It is, however, a carefully forged opportunity to relive past moments in the game, some of which will surprise you. Overall, I'm happy to have participated in this cute and rich piece of content that fits seamlessly into the spirit of virtual Middle-earth.

8 comments :

  1. My main complaint about the anniversary event was that people who were lower than the Riders of Rohan expac --levelwise-- were unable to get very far in the event. I think I wasn't able to complete one of the triad's Year One events, and got up to about Year Three or Year Four on the others before I hit the wall.

    I was thinking that they would make the event mirror what players were able to complete in each "Year" of LOTRO, which would have gotten people who are in Shadows of Angmar to get to at least Year 3 or 4 before hitting the Moria expac.

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    1. "I was thinking that they would make the event mirror what players were able to complete in each "Year" of LOTRO (...)." This would definitely have been the most obvious way to go about it, and also what I was half expecting. The developers decided to go with a more original approach, though, and I don't mind it: this way, every year is a surprise, whereas otherwise you would be able to tell beforehand what the next year would be.

      Also, remember that LOTRO was released in 2007 and Mines of Moria in 2008 (albeit near the end of that year) - I don't really get where your idea that you'd get to Year 3 or 4 before getting to Moria comes from.

      I think all the negativity the LOTRO devs are receiving due to their design of the Scavenger hunt is unwarranted. It's not like there is no content designed for low level players: all festivals (and every single quest in them!) are accessible to all levels. The anniversary event itself is also open to all. In addition to that, the devs make *one* event that's targeted at a different audience (and with good lore reasons) and everybody goes apeshit. It's honestly a bit entitled.

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    2. Ah, for some reason I thought MoM was 2009/2010. I think that I've got my years off because of that gap LOTRO had after Mirkwood and Rise of Isengard.

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  2. I really hope to be able to participate next year, unfortunately my level is too low and I only managed to do one of the first Year quests.

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    1. Hopefully you'll be able to get some leveling in between all your hard studying. Have you already started your master's thesis?

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  3. I look forward to being high enough to do what I can of those next year (currently only level 42). I didn't realize they had made one doable for lower levels.

    Big surprise but I want Bill!

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    1. Haha. Yes, Bill is very cute! My Rohirrim loves having a horse with her even when she's not riding it. It's even more realistic, if you think about it. :D

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