This week marks the debut of the Farmer's Faire, the game's sixth festival. It's an incredibly odd duck of a celebration, marking neither real-world season nor game milestone. Instead, it's a fun-for-its-own-sake bash involving food, Hobbits, more food, more Hobbits, and acid mushrooms. The sheer number of times LotRO has made me drunk or stoned against my will is tantamount to drug abuse, I say.
So let's sift the wheat from the chaff and figure out what parts of this festival are worthy of inclusion -- and what should've been left on the brainstorming table.
"So... Farmer's Faire? What's that?" some of you might be saying. If you don't count a quick dev diary, this new festival kind of sneaked up on the playerbase. As it stands, the Farmer's Faire is a different type of in-game celebration, untethered from real-world schedules. Instead, it's best seen as a slice of life of the always-hungry Hobbits as they gather together for cheerful gluttony.
For us, the Farmer's Faire is a festival in its infancy; it's still small, with more promise than purpose. There's certainly enough to keep you busy, to be sure, but the main attractions are tame compared to normal festival fare. Think of it as a pleasant summer side diversion and you'll get along with it just fine.
Really, any excuse for gobs of players to head back to the nostalgic lands of the Shire is great by me. Once there at the festival, there are three basic categories of activities in which to partake: quests (and their related deeds), two minigames, and the standard festival horse race with a new mount model. The quests and minigames reward you with special currency to spend on the exciting cosmetic pieces and housing items on sale.
After an introductory tour of the festival, you'll be dumped in Bywater (the staging ground for most of the event). Near to Bywater is a fishing quest hub by the small stone bridge, and here you can attempt to complete deeds and earn some currency by challenging Lady Luck to a fish-off. In the village proper are a variety of tasks, ranging from taking care of the mayor to resupplying food to -- and I kid you not -- working a 15-minute shift at an apple stall.
OK, I'm all for roleplaying, but this was a letdown. I hoofed it from the Great River in anticipation of festival antics and excitement and instead was thrown head-first into the Middle-earth equivalent of a minimum-wage job. Yeah, I know most of the quests we do in the game are just glorified jobs, but there's no pretense here. It's "you came to party? Forget that -- you work."
Working is not was a festival is, in my mind. This is a festival about food. I should be chucking apples at donkeys and engaging in pie-eating contests and the like. I should not be asked to man the counter at Shirebucks while all of the virtual NPCs enjoy the fun.
I know I'm being humorous about this, but I really do think this is a tonal misstep for the festival. These quests, by and large, are uninteresting and lack the creativity I've come to expect from places like Winter-home and the Haunted Burrow. You should never ask your players to come have a good time and give them little else but work as a reward.
Of course, you don't have to do any of this, and I probably will not be after this initial round. Fortunately, there are more engaging ways to get the festival currency.
In Bywater are two horses that take you to the farms of Sanderson and Maggot. Each of these places features the festival's main games. Sanderson has an egg scramble, an event in which players run after chickens and attempt to scoop up dropped eggs before others get them. It's very much shades of the shrew-stomping event from the spring festival, although I found the drop rate to be on the low side. If you get fewer than five eggs, you get only one token per egg. If you get five eggs, you get 10 tokens. There are also special eggs for deeds and bonus tokens.
In short, it's fun to watch but a little frustrating to try to complete. The drop rate on the eggs really needs to be increased.
Far more interesting and better-designed is the mushroom hunt in Farmer Maggot's fields. In contrast to Sanderson's scramble, I really dug this event. For starters, Maggot and his dogs are iconic in The Fellowship of the Ring, and giving us the opportunity to be mischievous mushroom-snatchers is delightful fanservice.
When the event starts, the camera pushes in on you so that you can't see over rows of plants. This is to keep you from pulling the camera out so that you can easily discover where all the mushrooms are, but at the same time it's really annoying and hard to see in anything other than first-person mode.
You've got to find eight mushrooms before the time runs out, and on top of that, you need to constantly evade Maggot's three roving dogs (which show up as eyes on the radar). As if that weren't enough, some of the mushrooms are laced with drugs and can make you shrink or grow or who knows what else. I didn't have a lot of problems completing a run and felt as if it was 10 tokens easily earned.
So here we come to the paragraph I wish I didn't have to type up. Once again, Turbine's keeping us from endlessly running these two events by gating them behind festival tickets. Yup, the same tickets from the Anniversary Festival. You get three a day for free and then can buy additional ones for 100 TP a pop. Since there are no special rewards for these events, it doesn't make sense to pay money for them. But only three trips on the fun rides before being asked to go back to WorkLand? Meh.
And now we come to the payoff
While the Farmer's Faire gets high marks from me for an interesting theme, the mushroom hunt, and some of the humor, overall it feels like a shadow of the Summer Festival (which is coming up in just a few weeks). It doesn't mean it's without redemption, however; the rewards are more than worth a few shifts at the apple stand.
Turbine really went all-out to create a collection of awesome cosmetic gear and house items, so there's a lot of new stuff to shop for. There's a bunch of masks akin to the ones that we've seen for the Fall Festival, and I'm absolutely in love with the chicken head mask. The pig head mask looks like it came out of The Shining, however. The chicken coop and hooded leather cape are also on my to-get list.
I'm interested to see how the Farmer's Faire develops in the future. A few more minigames (maybe something involving, I dunno, gardening?) would go far to shore this up. In the meanwhile, I encourage you to check out Casual Stroll to Mordor's excellent Farmer's Faire guide for a complete rundown of the quests and rewards.
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.