Today I feel like gushing a bit about Lord of the Rings Online’s North Ithilien zone, because I feel like it’s one of the most attractive (definitely in the top five) zones in the game right now.
I wasn’t expecting too much, since other Gondor zones ranged from “adequate” to “battle scarred,” but this one really surprised me. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t really paying attention when it was first added to the game (not having been playing at the time), or perhaps it’s because this zone shares a mountainous border with Mordor, a land not renowned for its pristine beauty.
But North Ithilien? It has been a joy to quest in, just for the uplifting visuals.
The zone is a strip of land that rests between the mountain range and the Great River, so there’s a pretty severe downslope going from east to west. It’s kind of a Swiss Alps meets Mediterranean atmosphere, with great vistas around you most of the time.
Going about this zone, I’m reminded of one thing that LOTRO does really well, which is to create outdoor spaces that feel more wild and natural than what I usually get in MMOs. Lots of varied and leafy undergrowth, interesting trees, and landscape that looks like something that formed over time rather than cooked up in a dev lab to be jigsawed together with other random areas.
My only complaint about North Ithilien (other than the whole flower picking thing, but that’s another post) is that the river gorges and rocky terrain can make it a little more difficult than I’d like going north to south or vice versa, especially when off the road.
Can’t have a LOTRO zone without ruins, even in the “Garden of Gondor!” I always try to envision what these places looked like in the height of their glory.
I love good examples of environmental storytelling, like in this area. There are burned tree trunks and mounds of bones, but all of it is overgrown, suggesting a nasty battle and possible Orc occupation a while ago.
Orc runes carved into one of the trees. Wonder what it says (“GROK WAZ HERE!”).
This troll must’ve been caught unaware in the sunlight and turned into stone. You can see that the moss has started to grow on his chest, suggesting that a good amount of time has passed.
I feel that the zone is hard to capture in screenshots… it just feels much more pretty and alive when you are there.
Meanwhile, Gandalf turns to the north — to the Black Gate and our destiny. It’s a sober reminder that the beauty behind us may be our last for a good long time.