In what promises to be quite the busy year for Lord of the Rings Online, the game’s first content update — Wildwood — arrived earlier this month. New content is always welcome, but this is a particularly curious addition to the game. It’s the first time that we’ve seen the dev team add in a zone that wasn’t at the top of the game’s current level tier. In this case, Wildwood expanded Bree-land significantly to add a level 45 questing area.
A wilder land indeed
Before I go into my thoughts on this matter, I do want to say that I’m not complaining in the least here. Wildwood is a decent, if not that spectacular, experience. If you like Bree-land and it’s woods, then you’re going to get more of that here — just, you know, wilder. Rockier and more off the beaten path.
It’s certainly packed with a whole lot of stuff to do, mostly in the form of long quest chains and repeatable tasks that pop up around certain enemy camps. You know, go kill this many Orcs, grab their supplies, and come back tomorrow to do it all over again.
The land itself is pleasant and not too difficult to navigate. It’s not really packed with milestones or stable masters, though, so expect to do some serious riding while you’re here. A lot of the quest theming here concerns helping nature, rebuilding Trestlebridge (if you sign up with that), and going on wild hunts.
There is also a missions NPC who offers repeatable 10-minute (or so) excursions, perfect for short-duration gameplay and chasing some of the barter rewards on offer.
What is the Wildwood here to do?
As I was trotting about and going through the questing motions here, the question of Wildwood’s purpose kept nagging at me. Clearly, this isn’t meant to be for high-level players (except the missions, which scale up automatically). And I didn’t really encounter crucial narrative that suggested that this area is filling in a gap that’s been long neglected by the game’s storytellers.
Nor is Wildwood really that necessary from a cartographer’s point of view. I’m all for expanding more and more of LOTRO’s amazing world, but there are plenty of areas in Eriador that are just blank spots on the map waiting for attention. Bree-land was already plenty big and pretty complete in and of itself.
So the obvious answer is that either the devs thought that this would simply be a fun addition — or that Wildwood was needed to help with a sticky spot in players’ leveling journeys. They have access to all sorts of data and metrics that I do not, so it’s entirely possible that they looked at where players were slowing down or struggling and determined that this level 45-50 segment was a problem.
A change of perspective
I don’t think this completely holds water, though. For one thing, LOTRO is shameless with how much XP it gives players these days. It’s honestly really hard not to level — so much so, in fact, that many players take advantage of the Stone of the Tortoise to turn off leveling when they’re in danger of overshooting a zone’s content.
Prior to Wildwood, players had plenty of options in the 40-50 range. Typically, you’d go from Rivendell into Misty Mountains for a while, and then split your attention between Angmar and Forochel (the latter, by the way, is an excellent and unique questing region). Then you’d be ready for Eregion to get you to 50 and ready for Moria. So there’s plenty of XP in all of that, not to mention skirmishes and tasks and whatnot.
But the more I think about it, while Wildwood might not have been strictly needed from an XP gap perspective, it might be very welcome from a tonal perspective. Misty Mountains, Forochel, and Angmar are really not everyone’s favorite places, giving players a choice between a whole lot of snow (with the first two zones) or an unrelenting ugly landscape (Angmar).
Wildwood, on the other hand, is a trip back home. It’s revisiting the Bree-land that we’ve all known, just a little bit tougher. It’s got the cheerful forests, the no-nonsense mobs, and a welcoming atmosphere. When one considers that at level 50 you’re plunged into dark underground caverns for a good while, leveling here might be a way to stock up on the sunshine before spelunking.
In any case, the world of LOTRO is a little more full — and wild — than it used to be. It does give me a little bit of hope that the future might hold additional developments in these regions!