LOTRO: Revisiting the Haunted Burrow

With a desire to take a small break from the general oppressiveness of Mordor and feeling in the spirit of the Halloween season, I took a jaunt back to the Shire to revisit one of my favorite haunts in Middle-earth: Bilbo’s Haunted Burrow.

It’s been literally years since I’ve been back here. The year it came out, I was all over the Haunted Burrow for the better part of a month and most likely completely burned myself out on doing all of the quests and whatnot. So this time around I was more interested in being a tourist than a dedicated adventurer. Fortunately, the Haunted Burrow caters to both.

I still maintain that the Haunted Burrow is one of the best MMO haunted houses ever designed. It’s rather compact and oddly themed (being in a Hobbit hole, which are usually known for being quite cozy), but the intimacy of the rooms, the vagueness of the maps, and the disorientating navigation all work to make this place feel much bigger than it is.

It’s not a quiet place, I’ll admit that right off the bat. There are screams and jump scares and noises galore no matter where you go. No music; the soundtrack is all special effects and ambiance, which works well to create a haunted house-like feel. There are secrets everywhere, including hidden doors, secret chests, and misleading doorways. A smattering of scared hobbits are wandering about, and some of the tricks that Bilbo left behind can stun, startle, or mess with you.

I just enjoy looking around. It’s all slightly tacky and not-so-serious, which is exactly how I like my Halloween decor. This place does make me wonder how messed up Bilbo was to create such a place with the sole intent of sparking an adventurous spirit in his fellow hobbits. I think he should’ve been a lot more concerned with liability rather than inspiring his friends, because this place is a death trap waiting to happen.

Here’s a detail I never noticed before: A mounted warg head where the candle produces smoke out of the nostrils. Two minutes later, this whole place is aflame (I bet), but it’s worth it for that special effect.

There are many quests to run in the burrow and I vaguely recall getting quite good at them so that I could rack up a lot of tokens. The lazy man’s way is to only pop in and grab the four free chests (the three hourly ones in the “safe” room and the daily chest in the basement).

It would be cool if the devs would somehow expand this place or add new content to it, but I’m content to see it come back every year and offer a scary yet controlled space for us weak-spirited trekkers to explore.

Advertisements

Going on a Hobbit trek in LOTRO

In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit.

This hole, in fact. Bag End. And it’s here that marks the beginning of both popular Middle-earth tales. Recently in our house, we’ve started reading an illustrated version of The Hobbit. I’m taking my time, doing about 15 minutes and a few pages at a go, making sure that the kids are tracking what’s happening. Oddly enough, they are totally crazy about the *songs* that are in the book and my singing interpretation of them. I’ve had some requests for encores. Anyway.

So as part of feeding into the imagination and excitement of this book, I took my kids on a Hobbit tour of LOTRO. We’re only to Rivendell in the book, so I made sure not to jump past that to any story spoilers. But we did head over to Bag End to poke around in Bilbo’s old home.

By popular demand, we had to go visit “Bilbo’s trolls” in the Trollshaws. Lots of laughs were had at the thought of birds pooing on these statues over the years.

I had a thought, since we had just read this passage, and wondered if there was the cave that was mentioned as being nearby. The one where Bilbo gets Sting and all that. I had never thought to look before, but this time I poked around…

And lo and behold, we found it. Cooking pots and all. I was pretty impressed that it was not only there, but that you could see the keyhole in the middle. Alas, there is no way to get inside, but I’m pretty happy to see it there.

Next stop was the Last Homely House in Rivendell. My daughter was disappointed that there weren’t silly Elves hanging out in the trees singing down to us as in the book. Gross oversight there, devs!

And we made sure to say hello to Bilbo, old Hobbit that he now is. My kids agreed that he did NOT have a sufficient amount of hair on the top of his feet, but oh well.

Back in Bree, I noticed that the stage near the Prancing Pony has a Hobbit-themed backdrop with the whole Smaug encounter. Thought that was pretty cool.

LOTRO is pure torture

Well THIS is another fine mess you got me into, Puddleglum! Thanks to you and Mr. Squirrel here for sitting idly by while I was captured and am now being tortured. Fun times. Can’t wait to write it all down in my diary. If I have opposable thumbs left at the end of the day, that is.

FLASHBACK: Two hours earlier.

I log into Lord of the Rings Online, feeling a little under pressure (internal pressure) to keep moving in this hellhole of a zone. I’ve arrived at the very doorstep of Naerband, the supermax prison that towers over the landscape, but for the past few nights, I haven’t seen any groups coming or going. I wait for an uneventful half-hour to see if I can find a partner to blitz through this place, but no such luck.

Time to do it the hard way.

I summon Puddleglum, who has become my go-to pet in Mordor as of late. The Bog-guardian actually tanks well while putting out some respectable ranged damage, and that translates into personal survival. After a light snack, we head inside to see what there is to see.

Lots of internal fire damage. I’m guessing that stone isn’t flammable and that this is in part the result of Mt. Doom blowing its top. Still, lots of creatures hanging around in a half-burning jail. Might be time to evacuate, is all I’m saying.

Naerband is big, one of the public dungeons that Mordor seems to prefer, and without any companions I play it safe with pulls. Fortunately, for all of its ominous presence, it’s not as hard as I first thought. I’m able to carefully take down guards and progress at a slow and steady pace, working my way through the pocket full of quests that I picked up earlier on.

I do that trusty dungeon strategy of always hugging the left (or right) wall and seeing where that takes me, and lo and behold, I end up mapping the full place and finishing up all of my quests. Two hours of blood, sweat, and tears, but it’s a satisfying experience. Plus, I always like checking out prisons in MMOs. Devs get creative in these spaces.

That’s when some kid gets captured and I rush to his rescue, only to be captured myself. Looks like I’m doomed for some rack action while my faithful pets look on while I scream at them to disembowel this Orc, but nothing doing. I anticipate coming out of this a few inches taller than when I started.

But then the Human Torch shows up and nudges the warden to find more fuel for her fire, so I’m let off the hook. Seriously, at this point I need a well-organized chat to keep track of all of these post-Sauron villains. I’m guessing “always on fire yet still walking around” means this one is a pretty serious threat, but I’m not able to take her on. Not yet.

Instead, I am given the opportunity for a jail break, which is at least the second large-scale one I’ve participated in in this game (thinking back to Isengard). At least I’m not mopping up Orc puke and backtracking constantly this time around. And at least getting out of here means that my sentence at Naerband has been commuted — time to continue on with my journeys!

My six favorite LOTRO zones

Quick list today! Out of the roughly 30 or so regions that make up Middle-earth in LOTRO (so far), here are the six that I enjoy the most — aesthetically, design-wise, and for questing.

1. The Shire

Sure, everyone says the Shire, but that doesn’t make it any less of a personal favorite. The pastoral landscape, kooky inhabitants, low-consequence quests, and strong ties to the books all work together to make a zone that’s still a wonderful journey even today. Probably all of the testing and polish as a beginner zone helped too, eh?

2. Bree-land

The Shire gets a lot of the publicity, but I am also nearly equally fond of Bree-land. It packs so much into one zone, including marshes, the Old Forest, the Barrow-downs, farm country, ancient ruins, a shrine to Standing Stone, and oh yeah, a major city and the hub of Eriador. I love the little secrets found about here, like the graveyard and freeze tag.

3. Forochel

I love me some winter zones and neeeeearly put Wildermore here. That seems to make sense, since it’s a lot more Christmasy (if that’s a term), but I have an abiding fondness for Forochel that secured the spot. It’s just so different than the rest of the landscape, a frozen wasteland with water that will literally kill you, mammoths, and stark winter beauty everywhere. Oh, and the northern lights!

4. Southern Mirkwood

This is probably the most “evil” zone on this list, but I am so fond of it even so. Mirkwood has great atmosphere, a nice variety of locations, isn’t too difficult to traverse, and even has a haunted inn to boot. Perfect when you’re in the Halloween mood.

5. Western Rohan

I almost want to put “all of Rohan” here but that’s probably cheating. I’m so darned impressed by how much attention and artistry was given to this country, and there are areas that take my breath away with how beautiful they are. Plus, the architecture looks amazing — I want a Rohan house darn it!

6. North Ithilien

Gondor has an interesting variety and some nice stretches of wilderness. But for my money, North Ithilien is the best of it all, a “garden” of beauty that stretches from the mountains of Mordor down to the river below. I couldn’t stop taking screenshots here, and I was glad to get such eye candy before heading into the ugly Wastes.

What are your favorite LOTRO zones?

LOTRO: Prison break!

Talath Úrui continues to cement its status as one of my most-hated zones in the game. Its higher difficulty level and incredibly unfriendly map design makes me pound my head on my desk more often than not. But I’m marching forward, ever forward, and this week I broke into a prison and then broke myself out again.

Let’s start by talking about the zone design. Talath Úrui skirts around the bottom of the exploded Mt. Doom, becoming an incredibly large if linear crescent that takes a long, long, long time to traverse, even on war-horse. To make matters worse, the zone’s sole respawn point, vendor, and stable master is alllll the way in the top left, meaning that if you die — and you will die, make no mistake about that — you get to experience the joy of one of the longest corpse runs in the game.

There IS a second milestone, although I largely suspect that it is a cruel joke on the part of the developers, since it literally sits in the middle of a field of lava way off the road and is surrounded by fire spirits and dragons. I can’t even, it’s so stupid.

Initially I was a little excited to head into Naerband. It’s a cool idea, some large prison fortress deep inside Mordor, and I’ve got a thing for cool MMO prisons. Plus, LOTRO does that thing here where it gives you four quests that can all be completed in the same area, which feels efficient and satisfying.

But once I got into it, I realized that I was in for a very slow slog. Despite being level 115, I am not killing mobs at any fast rate. Not even a medium rate. I see Hunters zipping through the area like manic pixie archers, and I’m slowly tossing fireballs and watching my swamp-thing spit out bees while reminiscing about the good old days when we could actually tear through camps like death machines.

I really think that this is going to have to be another one of those areas that requires some grouping action. What’s this going to be like in the future when players spread out and there aren’t folks running in and out of these zones all of the time? I pity future players trying to solo these places.

One of my small and enduring MMO pet peeves is when there are glitches with terrain. Floating bits of hills, grass that hover two feet off the ground, and this weird sliver-thing above. It always shouts to me “YOU ARE IN A GAME!” and breaks my immersion.

I thought it was highly considerate of all of these dead men to perish in the same exact pose for the sake of aesthetics.

Oh look, I’m dead again and running back! Sure hope those mobs don’t pull me right off of this horse while I’m trying to get by the way they did the last four times!

So unfortunately, I am just not having fun in this zone. Here’s hoping that I can get through it and on to more verdant lands sooner rather than much, much later.

LOTRO: Arena Fighter 2000

Before we get started with Syp’s Amazing Adventures of Catching Up, let’s talk about perhaps my greatest trivial pet peeve of the game, which is what I privately call the “Turbine Stance.”

You can see it in this accursed Elf’s stance above. It’s this absolutely bizarre way that the game makes many characters stand: Butt out, knees bent, arms flexing out, hunged a little forward. They all look like they got to poop, if you examine them at the right angle, and I cannot for the life of me understand why their center of gravity is not thrown off so that they just topple over. I really wish that they’d go back and give a lot of these characters different stances, because it’s always noticeable and weird.

Anyway, let’s get going!

Ooh! Giant spider about to eat annoying Elf, this is a very good start to this week’s adventures. It’s not Shelob, but one of her larger children who is going through a growth spurt.

I wrapped up Lhingris recently, and so far this zone is my favorite of all of Mordor. It’s well-paced, has a more varied landscape, and the quests and themes are pretty interesting. Seeing the loose alliance of spider and orc unravel put me in the rare situation of observing enemies turning on each other. It’s a slow burn to the final climax where spiders take over a sole orc fortress, resulting in a last-ditch effort to kick them out because… reasons.

AHH! SUNLIGHT! IT BURNSSSS

After Lhingris, I dinged 115 (finally) and took a break to run an alliance quest for the Dwarves. The new king under the mountain wanted me to establish contact with some of the other Dwarf bigshots around Middle-earth, so another tour was called for and off I went. It even took me back to Angmar, which continues to be a problem for this character because I never did the quests (epic ones?) to nullify the one-shot-kill power of the watcher statues there.

That done, I returned to Talath Úrui a few levels higher and a week or two smarter. I decided to ditch the annoying and somewhat unnecessary busy work quests and move on with the main storyline. This promptly threw me into the middle of a nest of Orcs, only I had the advantage of a flimsy disguise that kept Syp from being Syppressed. Thank you, I’ll be here forever. This is my blog, after all.

So when we talk about weirdly specific MMORPG quests that seem to pop up in every game, here’s one that we should mention: the gladiator chain. So many MMOs have, at some point or another, a series of quests where you enter an arena and fight a series of bad guys as a gladiator in the Roman coliseum of old. I guess it’s an easy chain to program and keep players busy for a while, and here I worked my way up as a “Master Mangler” over the series of three days of hard fighting on a bridge.

My only problem here was when two flimsy orc spawns fell into the fiery chasm below the bridge and wouldn’t die. I had to kill them to get the quest to proceed, so the only way I could even target them was by inching out onto abutments and flinging some embers their way.

I really should take a break at some point to trade all of these ashes and tokens for actual useful gear. Should research that as well.

LOTRO: Spidey-sense

It’s that guy! That guy from ALL the way BACK in the tutorial zone that you met for, like, two quests. And now he’s back for some reason, having hiked his way down to Mordor. Because he heard that there were spiders, and that cannot abide.

I won’t lie, I was getting pretty frustrated with LOTRO by the time I was in the thick of Talath Úrui. It was just kicking my butt all over the place, and I wasn’t having fun at all. So I heeded some advice to put that zone on hold for the time being and head over to Lhingris instead, which was reportedly easier, especially if one hasn’t yet hit the level cap.

This was a good move. I can confirm the easier difficulty level as well as a more streamlined questing experience. Plus, as a bonus, there are actual trees and waterfalls and ponds about, which is a first for Mordor in my adventures. Granted, they’re web-wrapped trees and fetid green pools of water, but after a few weeks in a volcanic wasteland, I’ll take it.

I even whipped together a new “practical adventurer” outfit. I wanted to use a twilight purple dye on it, but there was none to be found on the auction house, so I went walnut brown instead.

As my title indicates, Lhingris’ theme is “spiders, and lots of them.” It kind of picks up on the thread of Shelob from the books and extrapolates a whole spider society of sorts that was allied with Sauron. Now that he’s fallen, the spiders have broken faith with the Orcs and are turning on them left and right. I don’t feel a lot of sympathy for either side in this.

Going through this zone feels strangely apt for my life right now, because for whatever reason, we have spiders everywhere in our house these days. And since I’m the only human being in our house who does not scream loudly and flee rooms when one is spotted, I’m the one being enlisted to kill them on sight. So why not in a video game, too?

There’s even some nasty body horror going on here, as some of the spiders have “hollowed out” living Orcs with baby spiders laid inside their bodies. Guess everyone loves a good Aliens reference, eh? At least it’s only described, never truly shown.

I’ve actually enjoyed going through the zone, thanks to its manageable difficulty and top-to-bottom flow. It is a little odd how there’s no stable master anywhere in the area — or any camps of free peoples at all. Just two milestones and two friendly NPCs that pop up here and there. Makes for a more isolated feeling.

Oh and if you ever wanted to see a mostly naked Frodo, this zone’s for you. You sicko.