LOTRO Legendarium: Exploring the bounds of Yondershire

    
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As I write this, I’m coming down off of the buzz that was Lord of the Rings Online’s 15th anniversary. All in all, I feel it was a celebration worthy of this MMORPG’s storied history, with the anniversary festival, dev diaries, soundtrack releases, and tons of free presents mixing together to make a heady elixir of fun.

But before I declared myself done with the anniversary, I turned my attention to arguably the centerpiece of this year’s event: The release of a brand-new zone — Yondershire — and the return to Hobbit culture, questing, and cuisine. It took me about a week to fully explore and scour this zone for all of its quests and deeds, and now that I’m finished with it, I have a few thoughts to share.

Before I get going on everything else, I wanted to get one slight criticism out of the way. Maybe I’m completely alone in this, but Yondershire simply did not feel like an extension of the Shire to me. Having gone through the Shire’s quest hubs more times than I can count, certain expectations were built up… and Yondershire did not quite meet these. It felt more like a somewhat generic Eriador zone with Hobbit houses plunked down.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that as much as I tried to give the zone a chance to build up its own identity and feel, it didn’t achieve this goal. Your mileage may vary on this, but in my mind, Yondershire isn’t Shire at all, nor is it quite as Hobbity as I was hoping.

Not that I wanted Yondershire to be a clone of the Shire, mind you. I was certainly open to some significant variations and an experimental approach, and you can see how the devs had fun trying out a different tack for Hobbit culture. I really loved the taverns and indoor spaces, which had more of “ye olde English hunting lodge” look than the cozy Hobbit holes of the past.

I was taken aback by how many Hobbits there are in the four main towns of this region. The population density is far higher than anywhere in the Shire (I didn’t mean to rhyme that), an observation that is particularly noticed when you do step into a tavern and see crowds of hard-drinking patrons instead of a handful of procrastinating workers.

I will say that Yondershire ended up being far bigger in scope and quest offerings than I had anticipated. My expectations were drawing off of Wildwood and the Angle, two other recent low-level zone additions that were nice, but they weren’t full-fledged zones in and of themselves.

That’s not Yondershire. Yondershire is pretty dang big. I know this because some of the quests annoyingly have me travel from corner to corner to corner, almost like the devs were spreading their hands and saying, “See all of this we made? See? SEE?”

Yes, I did see. There’s a decent variety of landscape, although it is more rugged than the Shire proper. Probably my favorite locale was Gamwich, a Hobbit village centered around a scenic pond and tucked into the woods.

And egads, the quests. There are so, so many of them, with several being parts of larger chains with some delightfully quirky storylines. There is the return of Shire traditions, like running the Quick Post or playing hide-and-seekers. There’s an amazing storyline involving Bingo Boffin and his extended family that totally made my day. There are a few bouts of hunting through ruins and rooting out ruffians. And there’s at least one very naughty goose on the prowl.

Starting at level 20, Yondershire offers a new path for leveling through that range. Instead of heading off to Lone-lands and North Downs after Bree-land, you now have the option to dither about with Hobbits for the better part of 10 levels if you so wish. It’s not the fastest leveling, but the sheer quest density means that you’re going to get a good amount of XP for the effort.

There are also plenty of deeds — and attached LOTRO Points — to grab here, even if you’ve over-leveled. In fact, I’d say that it’s worth doing even if your character is too mighty for Yondershire, for story, for LP, and for the Hobbit housing decor that you can purchase with high enough rep. I maxed out my reputation a bit before running out of quests, and I had a nice time equipping my house with some of these decor items.

I was a bit let down that the options at the vendor didn’t include the newer art assets that you can see throughout Yondershire, especially the ones on display in the tavern.

With colorful characters, gobs of storylines, and a returned to relaxed Hobbit adventuring, the Yondershire is an above-average addition to the LOTRO zone roster. It also pleasingly fills in the map space between Ered Luin and the Shire, offering yet more landscape continuity to this ever-expanding world.

Every two weeks, the LOTRO Legendarium goes on an adventure (horrid things, those) through the wondrous, terrifying, inspiring, and, well, legendary online world of Middle-earth. Justin has been playing LOTRO since its launch in 2007! If you have a topic for the column, send it to him at justin@massivelyop.com.
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