[LOTRO] Wintershome

Amidst all the Cataclysm excitement (has it really just been a week?) I slipped back to LOTRO this week for a visit. And I’m just in time for the Winter Festival.

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Now this one took me by surprise because usually the LOTRO festivals follow a sort of pattern. There will be events and dancing in specific party locations in the starting zones – the party tree in the Shire is a particular favourite. Then probably some sort of a pub crawl for the inn league too and maybe some extra horse racing.

But they have been really working on their holiday events over the past year. (One might argue that given the slow pace of content otherwise, it’s probably just as well.)

At Halloween, there was a hobbit instance. And now, at Winter Festival (which they probably should have called Yule, just for consistency) an entire new mini zone. It’s called Frostbluff, and .. I’ve no idea where it is in Middle Earth, just that you can get a horse ride there from the usual suspects. We talk a lot about theme park MMOs vs sandbox MMOs, but this area does actually feel like a small enclosed theme park.

There is some lore behind it, the town was settled by people and the mayor made his life’s work establishing a famous winter festival. (ie. he build a theme park.) I won’t quibble any more about the themeparkness because there’s a ton to do here, and from what I have seen so far, it’s nicely put together. Not only that but right at the beginning you are confronted with a sense of injustice, of wronged workers who are being starved so that the mayor can get rich from the tourist trade.

I’m not sure if this was intended but it makes me wonder if I am supporting The Man just by trying any of the winter games. Or will the devs let me show the miserly mayor the error of his ways and bring some winter cheer to the poor workers and their families. I kind of hope the latter … but this is a F2P game now, so maybe they are trying to subtly press home the idea that imaginary people suffer when we buy shiny ponies from the cash shop.

But then again, can I really pass up the chance to see Mr Shakesburrow’s acting company, the Green Lily Orators, Bards, and Entertainers (G.L.O.B.E) for short? (The theatre, incidentally, is very cool. Player characters take roles in the play.)

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This screenie is taken from inside the G.L.O.B.E theatre. Those are PCs in the audience and also on the stage; the audience is also prompted to throw rotten fruit or flower petals at the stage from time to time also depending on how well the actors perform, measured by whether they use appropriate emotes when prompted.

I am probably more morally torn by the introduction to this zone than I have been for the entirety of Cataclysm. And therefore I do want to spend more time there, figuring out what’s going on. Either way, this is definitely one of the coolest, most intriguing, and most expansive holiday festivals I’ve ever seen. A whole mini zone complete with storylines, activities, minigames and (of course) rewards … Yet, at the same time, it’s a strange theme park that isn’t very Lord of the Rings-ish in feel, even though they’ve really tried hard.

Maybe it’s just a paradox of holiday events that they will always tend to break the 4th wall, being seasonally themed amusement rides for players to correspond with RL festivals.

Having said that, some of the holiday rewards this time around are very cool. You could get a little stage to put in your own garden, to put on miniplays, and you can pick up titles such as “Star of the Show” or “Extra.”