What makes a memorable quest? Here's my litmus test: When I sat down first thing in the morning, all bleary-eyed, to write this article, these quests bubbled up to the forefront of my mind. They've "stuck," for lack of a more precise term, in my head. They've made an impression, and because of that I feel they're among the cream of the crop in LotRO's repertoire.
For today's Road to Mordor, I'm going to simply list the first 10 most memorable quests that came to me. I actually was going to just do six, but couldn't stop myself there; I could barely halt at 10, if that gives you an indication. These might not be your most favorite quests or even the best in the game, but they've been the ones that have stuck with me through thick and thin.'
Warning: Past this point thar be spoilers! Beware!
1. Ghost of the Old Took
The Shire has a treasure trove of funny, quirky, and incredibly fun quests (along with... shudder... pie running), and I've already spent a week talking about them. However, I couldn't leave the "haunted" library off this list and sleep well tonight.
One of the charms of Hobbits is that they get so worked up over what turn out to be relatively piddly things in the grand scheme of the world, and so it is with Adelard Took, who is absolutely convinced that the Great Smials library is haunted by one of his ancestors. He has you going on a ridiculous chain of quests to appease the ghost, doing things like collecting pork chops and shooting off fireworks, but in the end it turns out that Grover is the monster at the end of the book. And the "ghost" is really just a hyperactive squirrel. Silly Hobbit, tricks are for kids.
Most of the time I don't give NPCs the time of day. They're disposable and often exist just to make a one-time cameo and then exit the stage. Doubly so for the death-prone Rangers. Yet in the middle of Volume 1 Book 11 comes a quest that made me sit up and actually care for these virtual beings.
The quest called Remembrance comes on the heels of a tragedy that strikes the good guys. A particularly nasty foe whom you imprisoned has broken out, killing a number of your allies along the way. Instead of rushing off to get revenge, you're tasked with picking up cairn stones and then attending a funeral. Honestly, I can't ever recall going to a funeral in an MMO, but this one gave me chills. It's a simple ceremony where the friends of the fallen recall the best aspects of the dead and you have to lay a stone down on each pile, but it was a moment of storytelling triumph for the game.
3. We Cannot Get Out
While Volume II of the epic storyline has plenty of boring quests that you merely slog through, it also contains several of the game's absolute best. Example A: We Cannot Get Out. Utilizing a flashback play session thingie, Turbine puts you in the boots of the last Dwarves in Moria as the horde of goblins, orcs, and trolls overrun the place. No matter how well you fight, you will lose the battle and go down swinging (because, of course, it's canon). The feeling it leaves you with is a great illustration of how it's better to have someone experience something than merely tell her about it.
4. The Dream Voice
There is actually a decent handful of quests and moments in LotRO that sufficiently creep me out, but for my money none so much as approaches the possessed Idalene in the Fields of Fornost. Just seeing a woman skipping amidst a barren, haunted wasteland while singing about flowers made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Really, that's the moment in every horror movie when the audience is shouting "RUN AWAY, FOOL!" But I can't. There's a quest reward to get.
Fans of the books who are overly eager to see their favorite characters in the game are usually in for disappointment. LotRO isn't so much about sticking to the Fellowship like glue, and moments when we bump into the cast and crew of the novels are spaced out somewhat. So it's a geeky kind of thrill to have a quest encounter with none other than Gollum in the middle of Trollshaws.
The fun part is that unless you're paying very close attention, you won't know that you're about to stumble upon Gollum until it happens. I have to say that I love the LotRO game model for this character, and his quotes are just spot-on. Fun stuff.
6. Frodo's Burden
Many players rate this quest as one of the game's most memorable, and it's easy to see why. Even though you don't really do anything other than walk (slowly) alongside Frodo as he ponders the quest of the Ring that's laid out for him, the quest does a superb job drawing you into the game world. For a moment in time you become a confidant for one of the game's most famous characters, and you get to see his vulnerable side. Not many MMOs would make a quest just out of walking slow and making it feel profound, but that's the genius at work here.
Last year's Winter-home added a wonderful (in my opinion) festival quest hub full of interesting activities and tasks. The centerpiece of this was one of the most unique game mechanics I've ever seen in an MMO: interactive theater. Whether you get called on stage to perform or left in the audience to watch, you have an active role to play in how things go down. I'm truly hoping that Turbine adds another play for this year's festival.
8. The Village Burns
Rise of Isengard has delivered several gripping quests so far in my playthrough of it, but I'm still haunted by one of the very first chains. As you help the village of Trum Drang, you end up encountering a widow, Blodwen, who married a villager in secret and was then left alone when said villager was murdered. You do the standard quests to gain her trust and take her back to the village, where these strangers take her in as one of their own. Happy ending!
Or... not, because a couple of quests later the vicious Dragon Clan comes into the place, burning and killing with abandon. You stumble onto the aftermath of all this and see Blodwen's body tucked into the corner of Trum Drang, a tragedy piled on top of a tragedy. Hit me like a sucker punch, that did.
Oh, how I love the Ale Association! It's really the closest you can get to playing a "bad guy" on the side of the Free Peoples, and many of the quests are as funny as they are mildly disturbing. My favorite is the one that has you poisoning beer for a group of taste testers (that then start puking like crazy), as it's not only amusing but has a timed element of stealth as well.
10. Before the Doors of Durin
Right from the very start of Mines of Moria comes a tense and exciting encounter at the gates. You know, where the Fellowship had a little tiff with some sort of octopus thing in the water. Well guess what you're going to be facing? That's right.
When I was on the phone with some Turbine reps a few months ago, I told them that I really loved how cinematic this quest was, what with the swooping camera going over the water and everything. The devs told me that it was actually really hard to do because the game engine wasn't designed to detach a camera from players, and they had to do every trick in the book to make it look like that (which is why we haven't seen much like it since).
So those are my 10 -- what are yours?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.