It also means that winter holidays are hitting most major MMOs, including our beloved Lord of the Rings Online. This year, the Yule Festival is marked by the addition of a whole new area -- Winter-home -- and players are already neck-deep in the quests, snowball fights and theatrical hilarity. Turbine's done a spectacular job this year infusing a lot more life and fun into the festivals, from the shrew stomping this past spring to the Haunted Burrow this fall. Winter-home is, in many ways, a perfect capstone to a terrific year for the game, and it's a pretty enjoyable event from what I've seen so far.
So grab that cute Hobbit or Dwarf and join me as we travel to the merriment of Winter-home this week!
Winter-home: A nice place to visit
There's been some grousing in the community over speculation that we may not see any new zones until Rise of Isengard comes out next fall. While I don't personally subscribe to that notion -- I think we'll see one or two additional areas leading up to the expansion -- it's a nice consolation prize to get this holiday zone, a first for the game. While the area surrounding Winter-home is nothing to speak of, being a Misty Mountains-type valley with a few quest objectives, the town itself is a delightful display of winter cheer, decorations and celebration.
Of course, as you soon realize, not all is well in Winter-home. It's a classic "rich vs. poor" scenario, straight out of Dickens or Pretty in Pink, with the wealthy of the town oppressing the workers in order to turn a higher profit from tourists. As one of the said tourists, you're caught in the middle of this situation, asked to carry out tasks for both sides and ultimately make a decision about whom you support.
It's interesting to see how this scenario has galvanized LotRO players. Some treat it just as another series of "To Do" quests, some have expressed irritation over the treatment of the poor (I've seen hilarious comments to the effect of "Turbine hates poor people!"), and some have had their morals tested by the tasks at hand. Is it OK to pickpocket the rich to feed the poor? Is it wrong to evict beggars from the town just to get a quest completion? Should I give my hard-earned tokens to the poor for no substantial reward other than feeling good?
While the whole situation is almost cartoonish in its moral extremes, I have to applaud the writers and designers who have made us mull over the choices we make, why we make them, and what might be the greater good.
Break a leg!
Of course, Winter-home isn't all about dreary moral choices -- there's partying to be done! Everybody's been buzzing about the Frostbluff Theatre, which hosts a brand-new feature in the game: the ability to join and participate in a short play, "The Curious Disappearance of Mad Baggins." Via an ingenious system that uses a trio of player "stand-ins" to emote (either correctly or not) during the performance, the story changes a bit each time. Meanwhile, out in the audience, anyone attending can throw flower petals or rotten fruit at the actors when the situation warrants such drastic action.
Theater buffs will enjoy the references to Shakespeare, while Muppet lovers will certainly get a kick out of the Statler and Waldorf substitutes that heckle from the balcony. And who doesn't enjoy slinging rotten tomatoes around?
It's all silly fun when you think about it from a min-maxer hardcore perspective, but this is one of those things that I point to when people ask me what makes LotRO so dang special. The game isn't just about grinding your way to the top so that you can raid forever, but about the wonderful world that Tolkien created and Turbine enhanced, where some folks still know the joy of getting off the leveling rails to simply enjoy a virtual world.
While the bar brawl didn't make it back in time for the festival (aww...), Turbine did include two other challenges for players to conquer.
A little north of the town is the snowball battlefield, where a nasty free-for-all erupts every few minutes. It's pretty straightforward: Just make snowballs from piles of snow and then wing them at anyone who dares come in your range! (Pro Tip: Ctrl-Tab is great to target nearby allies.) While it's therapeutic and fun the first or second time around, I found myself wishing for a bit more out of this. There's little competition -- and after all, this should be a fight! If you could dodge the snowballs, if they gave you debuffs of some sort (other than occasionally rooting you or knocking you down), if there were a scorecard, or if you could make snow forts... yeah, it could become something. But right now, the snowball fights gets a solid C on its report card with a note of "Shows Potential."
Somewhat better is the eating contest, which has you staggering from picnic table to picnic table and gorging yourself on bread, mushrooms, eggs and "mystery drink." The more tables you get through before the timer runs out, the more coins you get. I did about 10 of these in a row (if nothing else, the "Feast-Beast" title you can earn is awesome, in my opinion) and found that to win, you need a bit of strategy (eat berries, mushrooms and eggs while avoiding the rest) and a bit of luck (you need at least one mystery drink and for the good foods to spawn without getting nabbed by other players) to fully complete it. If you're looking to stock up on festival coins as quickly as possible, the eating contest is the way to go, especially since you can repeat it as often as you like.
By chomping through the quests and participating in the events, eventually you'll be able to buy all of the cool rewards. Convert your coins to tokens (Albert Yule at the entrance of the town can do this) and then head to the Frostbluff Theatre, where the concessions Hobbit will gladly unload outfits, housing decorations and even titles in exchange.
There's also a new Yule Festival mount -- the Glittering Yule Steed (sparkle pony jab, anyone?) -- as well as two cosmetic outfits that can only be attained by completing 30 quests in Winter-home. Depending on whether you side with the beggars or the wealthy, you'll get a shabby outfit (which is still kinda neat) or a luxurious dress/robe. Because you can only do this once, the smart strategy is to get the poor outfit with one character and the rich one with another, and then throw both sets into your wardrobe.
As usual, A Casual Stroll to Mordor has an excellent Yule Festival guide up, so there's no excuse to be sitting in your Hobbit hole muttering "Bah, humbug!" I'll see you there!
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 email@example.com or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.