Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Land of the Spray Tans

I've now reached that point in LOTRO where I have overshot my in-game zone purchases, but the Epic Questline is current and goes through that area.

Dunland, Dunland, Dunland!
The place where I most want to be!
(Apologies to Monty Python.)

Oh, I've had that happen before --as a free account, that happens rather frequently while I frantically grind enough Turbine LOTRO Points to purchase the next zone-- but I'm now at an intersection between a couple of expacs as well as the main game.

Enedwaith could be purchased by itself and wasn't linked into the Mines of Moria expac at all; it was kind of a bridge zone between the main game and the Rise of Isengard expac. But Dunland itself is not only the main Rise of Isengard zone, it also contains hooks for Riders of Rohan. It feels distinctly weird to have a zone that had an incredibly minimal impact on The Lord of the Rings itself* be such a crossroads for the MMO.

"I'm looking for a place to get a spray tan. Who does yours?"
"I don't need to tell you anything, Duvodiad."
And if Enedwaith is any indicator, the Rise of Isengard expac (and Grey Company Epic Questline) marks a crossroads in the game engine itself. It was released a year after Cataclysm, and like that expac for WoW, it also makes heavy use of phasing in game to push the story along. I also noticed that the questing itself was more streamlined and less old school, which indicates to me that Turbine learned the same lessons that Blizzard did (and implemented in Wrath and Cataclysm), but with the notable exception that they didn't tear down and rebuild the entire Shadows of Angmar "Old World".**

I tried screen capturing the "fading" that I've observed in Enedwaith when I pop out of the crafting hut in Lhanuch to no avail, but if you've been there late in the questline, it's like riding up to the Wrathgate in WoW and seeing things flicker into the proper phase, only on a smaller scale.

Who knew they ate burritos in Dunland?

Enedwaith --and Dunland, to be honest-- feel smaller in physical size compared to other LOTRO areas. The devs seemed to make up for that size issue by cramming in more enemies per square inch, and also making them respawn much more quickly than before.

That said, I enjoyed what I've seen so far of these zones. Turbine had made a smart development choice to make the Dunlendings more nuanced than Tolkien did. In the Tolkien universe, the "uncouth" Dunlendings were lumped into the larger group of Men that would have been called Easterlings in the First Age, and people easily swayed under Morgoth and Sauron.*** But Turbine went a different route, showing that the Dunlendings are far from a monolithic group, and have various levels of trust and suspicion with Saruman. The only unifying part of their culture is their dislike for the Rohirrim, who they feel displaced them from their rightful lands.

I keep wondering whether some of the Dunlendings will make the mental leap from "Saruman lied to us and manipulated us into fighting alongside him" to "what if Saruman is manipulating the Horse Lords as well?" But I suspect that might be beyond their reach, given their longstanding feuds with the Rohirrim.

But until I grind enough LOTRO points****, I'll be running around taking screenshots.

"Got any sunscreen?"
"Really, Duvodiad. Is that all you think about?"
"Have you SEEN my skintone? I burn and peel!"

*Even in the Appendices, whereas Forochel and Angmar had a decent amount of impact in the history of Arnor/Arthedain. The Silmarillion and Unfinished tales focused more on other parts of Eriador than Dunland itself. Like its people, Dunland is pretty much a forgotten zone.

**Yes, I'm aware that Turbine reworked the quests in the older zones to make things more streamlined; I noticed that when I came back to the game after minimal involvement since 2010 or so. That said, Turbine did the smart thing and didn't blow up the entire area, ruining the timeline in the process.

***As opposed to the "noble" Edain, who fought alongside the Elves and from whom eventually sprung the Numenorians/Dunedain and the Rohirrim. The difference between the two groups was simple: Numenorians followed Elros to Numenor at the dawn of the Second Age, and the Rohirrim (as one of the Middle Men) did not.

****Actually, I'm not too far off, so here's hoping.

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