It seems like only yesterday we were clamoring over Update 15, Central Gondor and roving threats but the armies of Mordor are slowly marching on and we’re progressing to a point in the Lord of the Rings Online where we will assist the Riders of Rohan in their passage through Far Anórien, the land between the white mountains and the mouths of the Entwash that connects Gondor to Eastern Rohan. Currently on Bullroarer for testing, Update 18 brings us the mysterious, forested region of Taur Drúadan and the variable and illuminated topology of the Beacon Hills. Below is a preview of the sights we’ll see but if you’re only interested in screenshots, there are plenty of those at the bottom.
Heading west from Talath Anor, we reach Taur Drúadan, a dark, rocky and forested area amongst a hostile backdrop. The first enemy I faced here looked like a faceless from Moria but I was soon met with even more unfriendliness when I stumbled upon a camp of Variag from Khand at the beacon of Amon Dîn. Navigating this area was treacherous and replete with pitfalls (literally), but the winding passages soon led to the host of the Rohirrim poised to head into Gondor. Further west there is a second beacon at Nardol and a quarry immediately south with more of those ugly nameless lying in wait.
Then we reach Drû Bhûta, home of the dancing, naked dwarf-like creatures. The Wose people or Drúedain are an ancient folk from the First Age who have since died out except for two known locations, this forest at the base of the White Mountains and in the far western reaches of Gondor on the sea shore past Dol Amroth. We’ll also come across many of the Púkel-men monuments created in their likeness which I still hope with come to life at some point.
Let’s move onto the Beacon Hills, a land which leaving out a single letter from its name turns it into the delectable and savory Bacon Hills. Contrary to that imagery, the Beacon Hills are merely that – lots of hills and lots of beacons, four to be exact. Buttressing the White Mountains is Rimmon Quarry, similar in structure to Nardol Quarry but with fewer deplorable evils walking the surface. At the center of Firien Wood on the banks of the Mering-stream, which defines the boundary between Rohan and Gondor, lies the beacon of Halifirien. In the north are the Mouths of the Entwash, a swampy area with a nice view of the Falls of Rauros and Amon Hen. The Variag have camps dotted up and down this land likely in an attempt to prevent the Rohirrim from answering the call of Gondor.
Now when they said the land of Far Anórien was a barren buffer zone between two kingdoms, they weren’t exaggerating. There are no large settlements with crafting stations or vault access and very little respite from the harsh wilderness. You’ll find Ost Rimmon and the War-stead of the King’s Men simple checkpoints in this area, but Minas Tirith will remain the alpha city in the region. Think of Far Anórien as a location for expeditions from the capital. Never minding the War of the Ring timeline, of course.
Consistency is the world-building team’s greatest quality, for better or worse. The scenery melts together from one area to the next even if there is a stark contrast at the Rohan-Gondor border evident of lands built long ago in development cycles vs lore age. The character designs of the Wose and Variag are welcome additions to the LOTRO bestiary; I’d love to see the sketches that the artists worked from.
But the village of the Drúedain, while rife with new textures and objects, still feels ordinary. Patrolling NPCs with seemingly no purpose to their life but to walk up and down a well-beaten pathway and groups of Wose youth shooting the breeze on a bridge next to a waterfall. I’m sure I’ve seen that same scene somewhere in Gondor. Oh, and don’t get me started on the labyrinth of invisible walls along the banks of the Entwash at the northern border of Far Anórien. It would please me greatly if they resorted to non-immersion-breaking landscape obstacles instead.
Despite this, I’m still excited to explore this region through its quests and storyline at least once even if I likely won’t get there for some time. Though if I don’t need the region to get to level 105, it may get skipped in favor of more prosperous activities like doing the laundry.