The Road to Mordor: Happy fifth anniversary, LotRO!

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Great Ghost Bear, has it really been five years? Why... it must have been, although it truly seems like yesterday that a magazine article caught my eye about an upcoming game based on Lord of the Rings. Just yesterday it was, when I called my brother-in-law to tell him that he could drop his World of Warcraft subscription because something better was on the horizon. It wasn't but a day ago that we Founders jumped into the head-start and power-leveled all the way to 15.

Let me tell you, those Tuckborough Library raids were brutal back then!

So it has indeed been five years since Lord of the Rings Online released, a half-decade of Middle-earth stomping, Brandywine swimming, and Weathertop free-climbing. I can't even believe that this is the third such anniversary that I've covered for Massively; boy, how the time flies.

Perhaps to make up for last year's lackluster and flawed anniversary celebration, Turbine's pulled out all the stops to make LotRO's birthday an event to remember. We've got a lot to cover and plenty of fireworks left to shoot off, so let's get to it!

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Out of the ashes of the Grindaversary comes triumph

Last year's so-called "grindaversary" put a sour taste in many players' mouths when they should've been supping on the finest of ales. After that event limped to a halt, I remember sincerely hoping that Turbine would learn a lesson or two from the hastily thrown-together event and produce something worthy of the game's other festivals.

Hopes and horses make dreams come true, kiddies, and that's where we are today: A dream has come true. As of this past week, the Anniversary Celebration has taken form as a full-fledged member of the exclusive Festival Club. When I read the developer diary on it, I kept going "Yes, yes!" to myself because this is exactly what needed to happen. LotRO needed to either dispense with the half-hearted anniversary attempts or else do it justice. I'm glad to see Turbine went with the latter.

So while fireworks and birthday cake might not be the most original concepts for an anniversary, they're still welcome and keeping in line with Gandalf's side business in the books. While fireworks are the centerpiece of the event, there's plenty to see and do while the celebration goes on.

Postmaster Part II: Return to Sender

Everyone remembers -- fondly or not so much -- the postmaster quests that are encountered first thing in the Shire, so it's kind of fitting that mail delivery make a return for a LotRO anniversary quest. There's two, actually: one that has you delivering a chain of presents (netting you several anniversary tokens and the new cape) and another that asks you to find unopened party invitations that are lying around Bree.

It's a small thing, but I found I laughed in delight when I saw that not all of the letters were tucked away on a stair or the ground; on the contrary, several are fluttering about in the breeze, usually being chased by several players who are attempting to frantically click on them before they get out of range.

While this, and most of the other anniversary quests, is on a repeatable cooldown, Turbine does give you the option to end the cooldown immediately with a LotRO store purchase. That's up to you, but personally, I think there are enough ways to get anniversary tokens that I don't feel the need to spend actual money on this.

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Gandalf, fire-bug

The glue that holds this celebration together comes in the form of several fireworks events, the two biggest of which are in Bree and in the Shire. It's here you can join in with not just spectating at stellar light shows but firing off Roman candles and the like yourself. Bree's got a game that is reminiscent of the festival dancing challenge: An announcer tells you to fire off a specific color (or in an attempt to trip you up, anything but that color), and you have about fifteen seconds to do so. Do 10 in a row without messing up and you'll pocket a pair of tokens.

The Shire's fireworks are simpler -- much, much simpler. The Hobbits simply want a huge show, so you and your companions have a few minutes to set off as many firecrackers as possible. If you hit some invisible threshold, you all win!

Gandalf's lurking about in the Shire as well, and he sends you off on a quest to light fireworks at various nostalgic spots from the early game. While the reward for doing so really wasn't worth the effort (unless you're a complete and total title junkie), any reason to visit Tom Bombadil and Weathertop works for me.

Were fireworks the right choice for this festival? While they certainly aren't as complex or strategic as some of the other festival activities, I think that they're perfect for this short celebration. It's mindless, giddy fun to watch dozens of fireworks shoot into the night air, and I had a really hard time stopping myself from taking too many screenshots.

Presents? For me?

Of course, everyone was probably most excited about the presents, and it's here that Turbine really outdid itself. There are real-world prizes to be won, loyalty gifts for long-time players and subscribers, the return of monster drop tokens that can be exchanged for goody boxes, and plenty of rewards to spend those anniversary tokens on.

As a player since launch, I logged in to find my inventory brimming with five gift boxes, not to mention that I could change my portrait to look fancier than usual. Considering that I had over 70 anniversary tokens stored up from previous years, I didn't have to wait long to go on a shopping spree, either.

I definitely like the loyalty goodies, although the new cosmetics that can be purchased by anyone are by far my favorite. The fireworks cloak looks awesome when dyed, the me-in-a-box gear is hilarious (even if, as someone said, it would make Tolkien turn over in his grave), the fireworks backpack awesome, and I'm actually digging the fireworks face guard as a piece for my heavy armor outfit.

You can also purchase all the housing maps for your home, which completes a nice deed and gives you an additional reward (pro-tip: Maps can be shared, so team up with friends to collect 'em all). Other than that, the only housing items I saw were a toy windmill and a larger windmill for the front yard. Both are excellent.

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Five years, five festivals

Probably the best part of the anniversary festival something that's true of any other festival: It calls players "home" for some time together as a community. Too often we're all scattered about Middle-earth on our journeys, but when a Festival hits, everyone makes a bee-line for the lowbie lands and is reminded why this aspect of the game is so special.

So am I tired of LotRO after five years? Not at all! Through its many ups and downs, I've enjoyed the ride and still get something out of this game I have not found anywhere else. Here's to you, Middle-earth. May your foot-hair grow long and curly, and may your pipe-weed box never become empty.

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.