LOTRO Ered Luin
As I moved on to my second starter zone in Lord of the Rings Online on my mission to complete every quest in every area of the game, I was in for a rude, if expected, awakening. In comparison to the Shire, LotRO's Ered Luin is lacking across the board. It's hard to imagine that the game's most eastern zone, which houses not one but two racial starting areas, could turn out to be a snoozefest, but I'll let the title of this article do the talking for me. I wanted to have 10 highlights of each zone for this series and could barely get to seven.

The problem here is multifold. In trying to cram both the Elves and Dwarves into a relatively small (if tall) zone, Turbine didn't allow for the space to develop either race's culture before throwing them together in the middle for an awkward social dance. The races aren't allowed to really establish their personalities, either, leaving the Elves to start shining in Rivendell and the Dwarves in Moria. Finally, many of the quests are so dull and forgettable as to prompt players to race through the area to escape to more interesting locales.

It's not all a loss, of course. Some of the areas are quite scenic, and I do actually approve of the concept of setting up the conflict between Dwarves and Elves. If anything, the taste of ideas here almost begs for the area to be significantly expanded so that these concepts could be played out and the respective Elf and Dwarf habitations could be given more life.

In the end, I recommend that visiting travelers, adventurers, and treasure-hunters pack a light lunch and plan to get the following seven activities done in a half-day's span.

Ered Luin map
1. Wave bye-bye to the Elves (since they're not going anywhere)

Welcome to southern Ered Luin, where everyone says "y'all" and lavender and pink is the color scheme of the day. It's also where the Elves are packing up to leave, but they've yet to go as far as a single step since their introduction in 2007.

But who knows? They could be leaving any day now! So get in your fond good-byes to Mr. I-Never-Met-You-Before and his brother, Sir I-Think-You-Left-The-Iron-On.

2. Wine tasting

For a race that's supposedly hell-bent on evacuating Middle-earth, the Elves don't seem in any particular rush to do so. Oh, sure, they make lots of noise about it, but then they have plenty of time to plant vineyards and ask you to go "weed" the goblin infestation from them. Because heaven forbid Elves can't get drunk during their sea voyage.

There's a few quests to be done here, all of which will make you feel used and cheap, as if a friend is imposing too much on your relationship but you're too polite to call him on it. Sure, Elfie, I'll go get your liquor. Hang tight. I'll be back in a jiffy.

An interesting postscript to these quests comes in the form of a letter in which an Elf kindly delivers a bottle of fine vintage to you, without so much as carding you. Uh... cool?

Dorf corpse
3. Kitty rescue!

As I have to remind myself frequently, the journey of the hero often involves humble beginnings. Even so, playing nursemaid to a kitty chafes the ego. Really, LotRO? There's nothing more pressing than finding a lost kitty-cat and then scrounging for some kibbles? OK, then. Off I go! Here, kitty kitty!

In all fairness, if this were any other MMO, this quest chain would've rewarded you with a non-combat kitty pet. Just sayin'.

4. Discover the wimpiest Dwarf ever

I always love quests in which the giver is like, "So-and-so's gone missing, go and find him!" because I always wish there were an option to respond, "If you care so much, WHY ARE YOU STILL STANDING HERE?"

Anyway, a Dwarf is missing. No, I didn't get his name, but I'll never forget him due to the fact that he's probably the biggest wimp in the game. You hack 'n' slash your way to this guy through thickets of spiders, thinking all the while that he's probably pinned in by the Spider Queen or something... but no, he's cowering from a giant mosquito.

Seriously.

I strolled up, gave a couple of blasts from my can of OFF, and all was right with the world again. When we walked out of there, I instructed him to walk 20 paces behind and never make eye contact until I could drop him off at the babysitter's.

5. Plug a hole

Heading up to the starting lands of the Dwarves is, in my opinion, a dull experience. You would think that with their home city and the opportunity to establish the Dwarven culture strongly, northern Ered Luin would be a haven for Dwarfism (um, that might not be what I think it is), but honestly it's just a lot of very rote quests with little substance to them.

However, one short quest line is notable for the fact that you're tasked with plugging a whole bunch of leaking holes that are threatening to flood the downstairs areas of Thorin's Hall -- something you'd think would be higher on the authorities' To Do list. I must've run past these leaking holes a hundred times wondering if this was it, if today the leaks would finally burst and the canal would drown us all. Wouldn't that be a shock if Turbine pulled that off one of these days?

The broken shield
6. Uncover the treasure of the locked vault

A Dorf in Thorin's Hall has a simple request of you: Run all over the zone collecting four gears apparently placed by a scavenger-hunt-loving madman. Each gear found necessitates a run allll the way back to him, which is why I've never stuck out this quest chain before. But this time around, curiosity got the better of me, so I gritted my teeth and stuck to it.

It turns out that the gears work on a lock on a vault smack in the middle of the Dwarves' HQ, and once you get them all, you get the pleasure of unearthing a long-lost treasure. Of sorts. I won't spoil what it is, but it's both under- and overwhelming. Hey, it made me feel a bit like Indiana Jones at the final moment, so I'm not complaining!

7. Engage in hot, sweaty vengeance

Askell in Gondamon is not having a good day. His brother's gotten himself murdered, but Askell is being held back from getting his due justice. So he enlists you in some vengeance-by-proxy by having you go and dismember his brother's killer. Well, the "dismember" part may be optional, but I believe in being thorough.

In a land of wine-sipping Elves and too-proud Dwarves, it's refreshing to have a guy point at you and go, "Kill them all. And may Aulë sort them out."

What's even better is that his bloodlust isn't sated, so he turns you into the Dwarven version of Batman, carrying on a crusade against the forces of darkness as a vigilante. I'm always game for that. 'Cause I'm BatHobbit.

When not enjoying second breakfast and a pint of ale, Justin "Syp" Olivetti jaws about hobbits in his Lord of the Rings Online column, The Road to Mordor. You can contact him via email at justin@massively.com or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.

This article was originally published on Massively.