Visiting Bag End

I've been in a hard fantasy mood lately. Don't know why it is hitting me in the middle of summer as medieval fantasy gaming is usually something I save for Fall. Why? For me, when I think of the Dark Ages / Medieval periods of history - and when it comes to gaming, I find most fantasy titles to mix the two periods together - I also think of a time of figurative twilight, when everything is in decline and long dormant monsters begin to stir to the dirge of creeping despair. With that in mind, I find Fall to be the perfect seasonal counterpart for fantasy gaming, what with its darkening skies, chilly nights, and dying foliage. Part of the Earth is literally in decline during Autumn. Even the name "Fall" conveys this attitude quite accurately.

Anyhoo, my seasonal clock must be running fast because July has been a month of frenetic fantasy gaming for me. Of course, with over 8% unemployment, skyrocketing national debt, a crumbling culture, the possible collapse of the Euro (and western Europe?), Orcs on the march throughout the world (I'll let you interpret that one), and a possible second recession creeping ever closer, I suppose it is not unreasonable for me to want to experience a fictional world in decline as well (reality often influences my gaming choices). With that in mind, I have jumped into Lord of the Rings Online.

This isn't my first time with the game, so nothing really blew me away from the last time I played. In fact, I continue to be a little disappointed in how LotRO mimics World of Warcraft, as just about every other MMO does (ironic, considering how many MMO devs like to bash WoW). But for the fact that LotRO has a monopoly on bringing Tolkien's beloved high fantasy world to life, I would expect that LotRO would just be another forgotten WoW clone. Shame, that.

What is it going to take to get a non-WoW MMO?

 For example, can we at least abandon the third person perspective? Would that be so difficult? Considering the success of the first person Elder Scrolls franchise, I expect the first MMO to do so would be quite a hit. In fact, considering the fact that LotRO actually does let the player zoom into an almost perfect first person perspective, I find it bizarre that Turbine never went the extra yard and included a few hand animations to make it a true first person experience. Why not?

And don't even get me started on the remarkably dull quests found in these games....

Regardless, considering it is free, and it is the only Tolkien MMO in existence, I suppose LotRO is worthwhile for those reasons alone. So I will probably continue to dip in every now and then, even if LotRO just offers more of the same. And, if nothing else, the repeated in-game mention of the fact that "dark times are coming" does fit with my general fantasy mood.

LotRO can be quite the pretty game, too. For example, I was pleased when a quest sent me on a walk to Hobbiton, and I found Bag End. While I can't claim that I felt like I was actually there - largely due to LotRO's cartoony presentation (again, just like WoW) - I did sort of feel like I stumbled on a Hollywood set left over from the Lord of the Rings movies. Some shots:

The front of Bag End. You can see that the front door has been damaged by ransacking Wights.I wonder what they were looking for?

 My char posing in the shot. "Look what I did on my summer vacation to Hobbiton"!

The back of Bag End. Did Sam tend those plants?

I think those tents are where they had Bilbo's birthday party (he's "eleventy-one today!").

After doing my thing, I returned to Bree. Of course, I just had to have a pint of ale at the most famous eatery there:
Is the Prancing Pony Michelin rated?

So, yeah, that was kinda cool. Too bad it was raining the whole time, though, as I always imagined Hobbiton to be perpetually sunny.

Here's hoping that the real world doesn't become as dark as many of these fantasy settings.  Unfortunately, I can't get that optimistic about it just yet....


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