So, we've already settled on a Hobbit. We'll choose a female Hobbit simply because, well, I'd rather not get into it. Let's just say, I like fury feet. Let's leave it at that. Now comes the time for class selection. The Hobbit has a few choices: Burglar, Guardian, Hunter and Minstrel. Personally, I have a hard time envisioning our Hobbit as a front-line tank or a sniper so I'm going to go cliché and choose Burglar. Burglars are capable solo players yet offer some great support in a Fellowship. With Class out of the way, now we can customize our little Hobbit. I hate to say it, but I think our Hobbit ended up being quite the cutie. This is starting to enter the realm of "freaky" and perhaps "perverse" but hey, it's the holidays! With that all set, let's enter Middle Earth!
An Ominous Beginning
We start in the post office, of all places, and we are promptly advised to leave and head down the road. So, stepping outside, we are quickly face to face with a black rider! Not 30 seconds into the game, unarmed, total noob (albeit a cute one) and we have a Nazgul on the road in front of us. Not a warming welcome. We are guided through a quick instance with Bounder Boffin where we kill some spiders and eventually encounter the rider again only to be saved by some skillful NPCs.
Now and for many of the levels to come, we will "Loot All" from everything we kill. Accumulating as much cash as we can isn't a bad idea and selling various spider legs, sticky webs, etc, will be helpful. Hopefully we'll never be in dire need of cash, but for now, let's pick everything up. We'll need the money to buy skills.
Ah, home at last!
After the brief instance, we find ourselves in Archet, the starting area for Hobbits and Men. We should also have dinged level 2. We can now head over to the Burlgar training and pick up "Disarm", which we should be able to afford. "Disarm" is a good skill that slows our enemy's attacks. We'll get into attacking flows in a minute, once we've been asked to leave town, that is. If you haven't gone the way of the Burglar, there are plenty of other good skills you can pick up at level 2 such as the Captain's "Devastating Blow" or the Champion's "Savage Strikes" which makes multiple attacks.
Our hero NPC, however, has gotten himself hurt in the cutscene and is sitting propped up in the middle of town. He proceeds to give us a few quests to talk to various people around town. His wounds are apparently serious enough to prohibit him from dragging his arse fifteen feet to do it himself but not severe enough to get anyone's attention. Last time I checked, he was still there, slowly bleeding out. Doesn't anyone see this? Anyway, a few short talk-quests later and we ding level 3. Wow. Piece of cake! We haven't even stepped outside and we're already half-way to level 5. Livin's easy when you're a Hobbit!
The not-so-wide world of Archet
At level 3 we'll finally get a quest to travel outside the walls of Archet. Granted, it is a mere fifty feet we have to walk to talk to a sheep farmer outside of town, but it's outside of town nonetheless. There is little you can do in the way of taking multiple quests. This one with the sheep farmer is a good start. The farmer is apparently having problems with wolves. He's a sheep farmer. That makes perfect sense an since we can see three or four wolves aimlessly roaming the hills around his farm, it seems very legitimate. So, after dispatching the requisite wolves, we return to the farmer. Now he wants us to track down and kill a Blackwold Spy. Huh? I understand what the wolves might want with his sheep but I'm not so clear on what threat the spies pose to his sheep. Maybe I don't want to know. Life in the wilderness is a lonely one.
So, based on nothing more than the word of a farmer a bit too attached to his livestock, we go out and kill us a spy. We're told to return to Archet (back that fifty feet) and finish this particular line of quests. We should be very close to, or have already dinged level 4. Level 4 is very important since it let's us purchase one of the more powerful skills in the Burglar's arsenal: "Sneak". This is the skill that makes us temporarily invisible to enemies allowing us to sneak up behind them and strike with "Surprise Strike," our first skill. "Burglar's Advantage" is also available for training at this point. We'll take that too. Level 4 is also very good to the Guardian giving them "Shield Swipe" a nice attack with both the shield and weapon. Minstrels feel the love too with the "Ballad of Swiftness" which not only increases your attack speed but does damage as well. Don't forget to "Loot All" from everything we kill and sell it in town. Mmm, blood money!
Helping out around town.
Apparently, the town Captain, Captain Brackenbrook, is now convinced that we're good for something and sends us to talk to his son at the Hunter's Lodge. Good. We'll take that but we won't leave town just yet. The town militia trainer, Constable Thistlewool, asks that we speak to the jailor, Ned Pruner. This is good since Ned will give us a quest to get some berries by the Hunter's Lodge. Sweet! A two-for-one! Constable Thistlewool has yet another one that asks us to talk to another farmer south of the Bronwe's Folly ruins. (Hopefully this farmer is not so attached to his sheep.) Ok, we'll take that one too because back by our wounded hero, Celadine Brandybuck wants us to collect some flowers that just happen to grow around the ruins. Another two-for-one! If we walk over to the Provisioner, Peg Pruner (coincidence?), she will give us a quest that asks us to collect boar's meat. Since the countryside of Archet is clogged with boars, and we have to wander to almost every corner anyway, we'll take this quest before we leave town. That should give us five quests to complete in one trip outside of town! The Constable Thistlewool will also give us a quest to kill more Blackwold Spies. We'll take it but hold off on this one for now. Let's get these easier ones out of the way first, level up to 5 and then tackle those vagabonds when we've got a level up on it.
We leave Archet and head south to the ruins to collect our flowers killing any boars along the way and maybe a wolf or two for good measure. After we get the flowers, we keep heading south until we meet the farmer. He'll ask us to return to Archet but we won't do it yet. We have more to do while we're out. He'll also offer a quest to kill a particularly vicious boar. We can take it, and if we run into him, we'll kill him just like we do every other living thing out here. We'll accept but we will do that one later since it is a level 5 quest. Head northeast from the farm to eventually end up at the Hunter's Lodge. Our berries are growing around the lodge so we'll collect those. There are more boars in this area as well so we will indiscriminately dispatch these threatening bovine as we go. The guy inside the lodge asks us to return to Archet anyway. We should now have five quests that are ready to be redeemed once we get to Archet!
After all this, we should easily ding level 5. On a side not, I apparently was a wolf short since my cute little Hobbit had 1,699 out of 1,700 required experience. No kidding! I was 1 measly point short. So, a quick run outside and the merciless slaughter of 1 wolf later, I'm level 5 and much happier.
Tying it all up.
All that is left for us to do is to tie up some of these loose ends and finish out our time here in lovely Archet. We can start with some pork chops. Remember that other farmer? The one who isn't so attached to his sheep? If you took the "Bloodtusk" quest from him, we can go ahead and finish that. If not, head back south past the ruins and take the quest from farmer Springley. Bloodtusk is just east of the farm near a good sized pond. Why this able bodied man and his two or three hired-hands are incapable of taking out one sour-tempered pig is beyond me. Dispatch the pig and head north to the Hunter's Lodge.
There are some Blackwold Spies between old Bloodtusk and the lodge so we can assassinate, sorry, eliminate, the six that Jon Brackenbrook asked us to. When we get to the lodge, however, we won't talk to Jon just yet. We have two more quick quests we can do before finishing up in Archet. Ann Granger, who is standing outside the lodge's front door apparently lost her purse ... er, satchel. Not only are they Blackwold Spies, they're apparently Blackwold Muggers too! Truly, these are dark times.
Atli Spider-Bane also has a favor to ask. He asks us to kill some spiders and find a missing hunter. Hold on a second. His name is "Atli Spider-Bane" as in "the Bane of Spiders" or someone who is known for his killing of spiders. He needs our help or is he just ridiculously lazy? Either way, we'll take the quest from this slacker and head out to do his dirty work. The Eastern Way is just across the bridge making Atli's apparently laziness even more profound.
Dispatching the spiders is a fairly easy task but we should be careful to avoid being overwhelmed by taking on more than one or two at a time. They are fairly weak but unless we can heal ourselves quickly, we could find ourselves short on health and surrounded by large, bloodthirsty arachnids. Once that is done, we can head back and finish the quest by talking to Atli. Then, we head southeast to the ruins that are crawling with Blackwold Spies. Ann needs her purse.
We must tread carefully in this area since these spies will rally each other and we could be on the wrong end of three or four spies whacking away at us. If we proceed slowly, it shouldn't be a problem. Ann's purse, sorry, satchel, is not far inside the entrance on some crates. We can snag it quickly and head back to the lodge and return it to Ann.
Do you smell something burning?
With all these tied up, we can now talk to Jon Brackenbrook inside the lodge and take the Archet instance. The instance starts with us fighting our way into Archet, which is now in flames, a most unfortunate change of scenery. Once inside, we'll battle the traitor Calder Cob and his thugs. The Pruners have been pruned and hobbits lay strewn about, turned pincushions by fur bikini wearing Blackwold archers. As far as intro instances go, this one is pretty morbid.
A few thugs later and, lo and behold, Amdir is still alive. He's still bleeding too. Man, that's a really slow bleed. We put out some fires and the man gets up and runs to the next area where he is brought down by some requisite evildoer names Eogan. Lovely. Maybe he should have just stayed there and kept bleeding. We dispatch a few more spies and then take it to Eogan. He falls easily but then gets up again. Faker! He retreats but it looks like we're done here. A quick chat with Mundo Sackville-Baggins and Celadine Brandybuck and we're done with this instance and let loose in the open Shire.
A good ending to a good story.
As a Hobbit, we find ourselves standing in Little Delving standing in front of Mundo again, who is no longer cowering like a schoolgirl. Talking with him officially finished the instance and gives us our "Map Home". If you are playing the race of Man, you'll find yourself back in an uninstanced version of Archet with new quests to complete, boars to slaughter, and sheep to protect.
All in all, Archet is a nice romp through the Shire countryside. The quests are decent and the area is small enough to make completing those quests relatively easy. If you haven't played a Hobbit or Man in Archet, I'd suggest that you take the trip. The entire experience, which took us all the way to level 6, just like it should, logged only a few short hours and I was taking my time admiring the countryside and my cute, little Hobbit. Is this what they mean when they talk about emotional attachment to avatars? Well, with any luck we'll see our Hobbit jogging through the Shire soon.