LOTRO Legendarium: Is Lord of the Rings Online’s new birding hobby a flight of fancy?


My father-in-law is an obsessive birdwatcher. He took it up as a hobby a few years ago, and now he travels all over the country looking for specific, hard-to-find fowl to scratch off his immense checklist. He loves taking pictures of them and geeking out over particular finds.

I’ll admit, it’s not a hobby that I quite share, although I do understand how the combination of searching and collecting is addictive. Perhaps I’ll find more enjoyment in a virtual form of it when Lord of the Rings Online adds birding as a second hobby this summer. The question is just how engaging, how niche, and how immersive this activity will prove to be.

While SSG isn’t quite ready to do a full preview — including screenshots, videos, and a UI — the studio did lift the secrecy surrounding the new birding hobby on last week’s livestream. Orion sketched an outline of how birding will work, bookending it with the caveat that it’s still under development with some parts that haven’t been fully decided.

As the game’s second hobby, birding isn’t meant to be a major character-developing system. It’s something to do on the side, for fun and mild rewards. Like fishing, this hobby offers an opportunity to take a break from the questing-combat loop to pursue something… relaxing.

The idea is that players will be searching for particular birds across all of Middle-earth during their travels, save for particular zones where no bird would likely travel (presumably such as Moria). By using a combination of bird calls and some sort of instrument (spyglass?), players can zero in on a particular flighted creature and check them off on a new collections panel.

The studio did confirm that there will be a leveling and reward track for birding, so as you hunt down the 600 (!) or so birds added for this system, you’ll get some unique goodies out of the experience. Orion also talked about how, as with fishing, the studio will most likely add birding-specific activities to LOTRO’s various festivals. He also mused about possible migrations and other ways that this system could be expanded.

All in all, I kind of like this idea for many reasons. First of all, it’s very fitting with LOTRO’s focus upon Middle-earth as a real place. It’ll make us notice birds as something other than the occasional combat target and give us a reason to revisit older zones when we need a break from questing.

Hobbies should be absolutely chill, and this should sit right next to fishing as a supremely leisurely activity, albeit one with more travel. Of course, the make-or-break point is how difficult it’ll be to engage in the minigame mechanic and track down particular birds. If this hobby tips too far into “annoying” territory, it could push people away. If it’s easy to use and delivers those little doses of feathery dopamine, then it could become a new fad.

The big question is whether the larger LOTRO community will take to birding or reject it. I think it has a good chance of fitting in with this crowd. After all, we have a tradition of eschewing combat for the most serene and most renaissance faire-like activities, from concerts to chicken runs to treasure hunting. Ignoring the threat of Mordor for a bird hunt seems right up our collective alley.

I’m also hoping that this is successful enough to encourage SSG to occasionally produce even more hobbies. I’ve always thought that this portion of the game was highly underdeveloped with a great amount of potential, and we do know that the studio had a second hobby concept in mind when it chose to work on birding first.

What do you think about birding? Is it too much of a flight of fancy, or will we be happy to wing it when it comes with Update 41?

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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