Over the past weekend, I finally had time to give my fledgling Hobbit Minstrel some time. With my daughter at my side, I ventured back into the Shire for the first time in many years.
And let me tell you that when they say you can’t go back again, they don’t have MMORPGs in mind, because jumping back into early level zones can often be like a time machine or time capsule. It’s even better, in a way, because it triggers a flood of long-dormant memories that you may have thought were completely forgotten.
As I downshifted from the crazy huge conflict of Gondor and Rohan vs. Mordor back to the pastoral hills of the Shire, it was as if I had stepped into another game entirely. This is the LOTRO I fell in love with back in 2007, a slower paced intro zone that was more concerned with running mail, retrieving pies, and uncovering squirrel ghosts than it was fighting through armies of foes.
One of the reasons why the Shire works so very well — more so than the other two starting zones of LOTRO — is that it paid careful attention to all of its parts, not just one or the other. The Shire feels BIG and diverse, which is not exactly something we usually associate with newbie areas. It’s much more focused on the life and times of its inhabitants than being a carefully designed battleground. It has just as many non-combat quests as combat. And the sound and music design is simply sublime. For however many nights it takes you to get through all of this content, you feel as though you’re an inhabitant.
I think then-Turbine could’ve made an interesting niche MMO that existed fully in the Shire, with new and rotating quests to keep occupants interested. I remember there used to be a kinship (still might be) where all of the members never left the zone. They did the quests, roleplayed, and simply enjoyed Shire life.
I’m not going that far, of course. It’s quite liberating to ignore virtues, but I am still paying rapt attention to class and racial deeds. Also the quests — my goal with this character is to just do them all, even if (when) she outlevels the content. I was enjoying being a tour guide to the Shire to my daughter, who was negative three years old when this game first launched. We were “ewwing” about how the swamp slugs turned into green goo when killed, cheering when I defeated a stone troll, and laughing about all of the weird Hobbity bits. I found myself taking a lot of the same screenshots I’ve probably taken years before, because you simply can’t be in this zone and not want to fully document everything.
To keep things interesting with this character, I’m concentrating more on being a clothes horse. I made her vault as large as possible and will be saving some of my favorite outfits that she gets from questing and drops to pull together her own outfits (for this character, I’m ignoring my wardrobe to simulate starting from scratch). I also have a few housing items already, but I don’t think I can get my house until level 15 anyway, so no rush there. I’m hoping to get enough rep to get into the Mathom House and pick up some other cosmetics by the end of the zone, so we’ll see.
For all of my intense familiarity with this zone, at least there was something new: the Bingo Boffin quests. I’ve never played these and went through the first two missions as I puttered about Michel Delving and Tuckborough. The character seems a complete doof, especially with that hairstyle, but I’m on board with the light-hearted world-crossing antics of a Hobbit adventurer in training. Even if the quests don’t amuse me, there are barter items to get, and I’ve got my sight set on a hatrack for my future abode. Oh yes, it will be mine.