Ah, Mirkwood; vast forest inhabited by elves, orcs, spiders, and crazy adventurers. Previously it was the occasional holiday vacation spot of Hobbits and Dwarves, but now it has been besieged by the invading forces of the Free People who seek to root out the forces of evil from Dol Guldur. But as someone who went through Mirkwood right after its release how does the area hold up? Is it still the fun playland I once remember, or will it send me running to Enedwaith or even deeper south into Isengard?
The answer? To tell the truth I’m undecided. Mirkwood sure does have its charms which include plenty of action, an in-depth story , and the immersion of feeling like you’re in a confrontation (at least later in the book). But there are down sides too. There are still a lot of landscape quests that are in the spirit of “Kill Ten Rats”. (Not that there is any game out there that I know of that totally avoids these kinds of quests, but sometimes enough is enough. At some point killing bats and spiders becomes old and your blade thirsts for the taste of orc blood!) But thankfully there aren’t many of those quests in Mirkwood outside one certain area and most pertain to the story that Turbine weaves so well.
When first stepping into Mirkwood you actually are entering an instanced version of the Mirk-eaves where you are just beginning to storm the area. When Goldenstar and I originally entered this area after the initial release we were actually overwhelmed by the orc population. It seemed that we were constantly being overrun by spawning orcs and dying repeatedly. However, I have to say that this time around I had no problems as a Champion. In fact, it was 100 times easier than I previously remember. After completing the introduction story and moving into the actual landscape I still found that the adventuring here had a good flow. It was interesting to delve back into the story of an invading force scouting the land and I really felt that I was being generally guided on my way to 65.
However, it was after I moved onto the next area at The Haunted Inn that I began to have some doubts. My main complaint was how I was continuously being sent back and forth between the Haunted Inn and Dannenglor. I understand that there were some compelling stories being told, but at the same time 3-4 trips back and forth start to make for an angry Dwarf. Nevertheless I can’t argue with the experience or state that I was bored as the story and content kept me fairly entertained. Eventually I moved from The Haunted Inn with my spirits in-tact on to Estolad Mernael in Drownholt and found myself longing to move on almost instantly.
My issue with Estolad Mernael is not that it is the basic “go here, kill something, come back” quests, but that it is surrounded by a large number of stealthing predators who always seem to knock my off my mount without fail. It really makes for some difficult travelling situations and inevitably I became so frustrated that I gave up and ran back and forth to my quest destinations in most cases. Mercifully this area does not have a large amount of quests and I was able to move onto Ost Galadh and back into the main storyline of Mirkwood; the Epic Story.
In the Middle of Things
Ost Galadh is the central hub of Mirkwood and I was happy to be in a location with a Vault and crafting area once again. And after finishing the menial “Kill Ten Rats (Bats)” quests I found myself adventuring north into the Scuttledells and enjoying myself once again. The story was picking up, the Epic Story was moving along and I was happy. I didn’t even mind the break from orcs and enjoyed squashing some big, nasty spiders along the way. All too soon though I was moving beyond Ost Galadh into the East to Thangúlhad and into the front lines of the conflict.
Now as strange as it may be I ended up loving Thangúlhad quite a bit. Although there are a lot of orcs and other nefarious minions of Dol Guldur walking around, it is nevertheless a lot of fun. I mean this is what are in Mirkwood for isn’t it? And I enjoyed every minute of it. My only complaint in this area is actually related to the Epic Storyline. For me it seemed that there were some long stretches of inaction in the story and then suddenly there are some back-to-back skirmishes that ended up wearing me out a bit. Now it’s not that I have anything against the skirmishes in general, it was just that they seemed to suddenly sprout up all at once. And yes, I know it makes sense from a story perspective; you don’t break down someone’s gates and then yell “Hey, I’m tired, but I’ll be back tomorrow, OK?” But from a gameplay perspective it was several long instances that had to be completed in a row. To be fair though, if I wasn’t in a hurry to get to Isengard I probably wouldn’t have minded as much, so take that into account.
In the end, I did enjoy my time in Mirkwood. It was definitely a different experience than being in Moria and made for a good disconnect. But it definitely didn’t have the same impact on me that Moria did either. And although Turbine might be tired of hearing it, Moria just has this epic quality about it that seems to make a lasting impression while Mirkwood’s impression leaves me merely satiated for the time being. Regardless, I still plan to make it a stop on most of my characters’ journeys, but it will be interesting to see as time goes on if Mirkwood remains a steady stop on most people’s leveling journey.