Call me weird, but I am an absolute sucker for winter zones in MMORPGs. For me, the season of winter always evokes a lot of powerful feelings as the landscape is transformed, homes are a sanctuaries for warmth, and hardiness becomes a desirable trait. A zone filled with ice and snow screams to me desolation and death -- more so than a fire or volcano one -- but in a beautiful way.

It's no wonder, then, that I've become entranced with Forochel in Lord of the Rings Online.

Added to the game in April of 2008, Forochel became a bit of an anomaly in the LotRO experience. It was a (then) max-level area that was off the beaten path, created to cater to solo players seeking adventure. In fact, if the epic story hadn't taken us to Forochel in Volume 1 Book 13, I doubt many players would have sought it out on their own. It's a shame if that's the case, because Forochel offers both breathtaking vistas and a unique questing experience that should be encountered at least once in your LotRO career.
The looks

Some of LotRO's other winter-themed zones, such as the Misty Mountains and the northern Ered Luin, failed to click with me the way Forochel has. I think it's sort of how Eskimos have a billion different words for snow; a winter zone is not always equal to other winter zones. The Misty Mountains are foreboding and (dare I say) a little on the ugly side, whereas Forochel sparkles with beauty even as it's trying to kill you.

The northern lights ripples across the sky, the moon and stars loom overhead, pine trees poke out of packed snow and ice, and a glacier provides a symbolic barrier between the frozen north and the warmer lands of the south. The zone is dominated by the Ice Bay, around which cling little outposts of civilization as well as a great number of deadly creatures. If you like taking screenshots (like I do), then you'll be clicking away no matter where you go.

After World of Warcraft's Wrath of the Lich King expansion into Northrend, I feel as though winter zones may be considered passé in the MMO world, but I can't help but love how Turbine's artists poured a lot of love into Forochel (and hey, they did it before Wrath launched). It's loosely based off of Finland in both looks, culture and naming, although I wouldn't blame you for thinking "Inuit" and "Eskimo" as you spy igloos and snow sleds.

The feel

It's easy to describe the cold majesty of Forochel's looks; it's more difficult to communicate how the zone feels. But the feel of the zone is what hooks me, so I'm game to try.

Being at the literal top of the world and largely isolated from the rest of Middle-earth, Forochel has an "unspoiled frontier" atmosphere to it. It's rare to see other players tromping around, and you really do start to feel as though this is the fringe of civilization, a place that would've continued to have gone unnoticed except for a few events that drew the land into the War of the Ring.

While there are some hearty dwarves down south and one town in the north, the remaining inhabitants are an offshoot of man known as the Lossoth. Their unenviable task is to forge a life in an unforgiving place, but they shrug and do it anyway. I really love these noble barbarians who love Forochel as much as they rightfully respect it, and it takes a bit of finagling (read: quests) to thaw their attitudes toward you. Yes, that was a cold joke. Shoot me. The Lossoth tribe has a distinct visual style that you're not going to see elsewhere in the game, and dedicated captains can even build up enough reputation to enlist one as a herald. As a whole, they're a likable bunch, if a bit guarded.

While the zone is classified as a level 44-50 area, even as a level 52 I found myself over my head from time to time as I stumbled into a pit of giant ice wraiths or slugged it out with packs of LotRO's version of Yetis. Forochel isn't a cakewalk, but it is rewarding for those who put in the time to stick it out.

The cold

One of the most interesting aspects of the land is that the winter isn't merely set decoration, but a real and present force with which to contend. After the first time I tried to swim the Ice Bay and found myself dead within seconds from hypothermia, my guild laughed and told me that it's a kind of Forochel rite of passage to kill yourself in the frigid waters. For better or worse, this makes most all of the water in the zone a death trap that can drain your life away incredibly quickly. Adventurers are wise to watch their step at all time, lest they go on their last polar bear swim ever.

(Oddly enough, Middle-earth chickens are immune to the cold water. Go figure.)

On top of that, the developers gave several of Forochel's inhabitants the ability to give you a long-lasting frost resistance debuff. Fight enough of them, and you'll be wondering why you're taking more damage than normal. The only cure is to stand near a crackling fire for a bit, which makes outposts a necessary pit stop on your journeys.

The travel

My final Forochel observation is a negative one: the travel in the area is a pain the elf buttocks. It's a combination of many factors, including:

  1. You can't swim across the bay (like you would in Evendim, for example), which often eliminates the most direct path between objectives.
  2. Some horse travel routes and swift routes are unavailable unless you've done a certain quest chain or built up enough rep, which limits the usefulness of stables.
  3. At least for the epic book quests, Turbine's team got a bit sadistic in asking you to criss-cross the zone repeatedly. In many cases, the quest giver in the north-western section of the zone tell me to go alllll the way around the bay to talk to the chief in the town -- literally, the furthest place I could travel in the zone. Then the chief would say two things and send me back, sobbing as I stumbled back out into the cold. You guys couldn't get a telephone or carrier penguins or something?
  4. I really, really want one of those ice sleds and cannot obtain one. One does not simply walk into Mordor, but one may sled his way there. Whee!
Travel issues aside, I greatly enjoyed my time in this zone, and wanted to both share my thoughts and see if there are any other Forochel fans out there. If you're looking for an alternative to Angmar and Eregion in the upper 40's, you can't go wrong by taking a trip up to the frozen north!

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This article was originally published on Massively.
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