Skirmishes were a new type of instanced content that could be scaled in both difficulty and group size, both of which felt revolutionary at the time. They threw players into either an offensive or defensive quest, challenging the group to conquer piles of foes and continue to press onward by claiming flags, defending areas, and defeating optional side objectives. To make matters even more interesting, players got to bring along a soldier companion to assist, and this soldier could be modified and trained to become more effective.
People, by and large, really liked this system, but for whatever reason, the dev team didn’t push forward with new skirmishes in future updates and expansions. Like so many systems in LOTRO, it was left to stagnate.
And I felt that was unfortunate, because skirmishes had great potential and replayability, not to mention popular appeal. They were a great option for small groups and bored soloers who wanted a change of scenery. And the cosmetic rewards from the skirmish vendors were pretty great (again, in my opinion).
Now it’s nine years later in 2018, and Standing Stone Games has finally decided to dust off its skirmish system to do something a little different and unorthodox with it. Starting with the summer festival, seasonal instances have made their way into the game. Unlike past story instances, these piggyback on the skirmish system and use the same scaling technology and waypoint objectives that we’ve seen in the past. As we are rumored to be getting a lot more of these, especially with the fall festival, I was intensely curious how “The Perfect Picnic” would play out.
This quest uses the instance finder, which was a mixed blessing. On the up side, I appreciated the ability to jump into it wherever I was at without having to travel to a specific NPC. On the down side, it meant I had to use that unwieldy mess that is the instance finder. Seriously, that UI screen needs to be streamlined and revamped so bad. Was there any reason SSG couldn’t create an external button or two to launch these instances, perhaps from the quest log?
In any case, what we get here isn’t an intense combat instance, but rather one of LOTRO’s famously light-hearted romps. Here we’re tasked with escorting a food-laden pony through the Shire toward a picnic on a hilltop. Sounds easy enough, right?
Of course it’s not. It happens to be a hot day in the Shire (which was humorous to me, since the day I played this quest, we were suffering through a record-breaking heat wave in real life), and anything that can try to forestall that pony’s progress absolutely will do so. This means sweltering heat, nasty mirages, tempting patches of clover, and nosy Hobbits.
So much of this is buried in whimsy that it’s hard to analyze it logically. I mean, a heat wave that’s represented by balls of fire or a downpour represented by a sword-wielding elemental? It’s one of those “just go with it” scenarios.
Actually, it reminded me a lot of how LOTRO really tries to be imaginative within limits. Sometimes, as in the case in this skirmish, it is forced to use representational symbols for hard-to-see concepts like heat. I anticipated that the quest would involve more heat management (such as maybe walking instead of running or using water to cool down a heat meter), but in the end, it mostly came down to fighting or clicking on things before they could become a problem.
I did amuse myself by literally fighting fire with fire as a Lore-master. My fire-fu defeats your fire-fu!
The final section of this instance changed things up (and actually became interesting). Once a picnic spread is laid out, Hobbits, bugs, and rain try to come to ruin the food. The more food is ruined the less the end reward, so there’s a rush to run around and deal with these issues before they get to the picnic blanket.
So how does this shake out in the end? The Perfect Picnic is lacking the zest to make it truly memorable or enough variety to make it replayable. I wouldn’t want to do it again, especially since there are more efficient ways to farm tokens. I was hoping for more in-depth mechanics or better humor, but neither exist. Player strategy doesn’t really matter either.
At the very least, I can say that the use of the skirmish system for seasonal quests is functional and shows potential. If SSG can craft compelling stories with it and give us some variety within these instances, then I’ll look forward to trying the new ones out when they come along.