Despite my unashamed love for Lord of the Rings Online it is still an MMO, and as such there are still wonderful incongruities that leap out suddenly and often unexpectedly, knocking me from the horse of immersion and into the cloying dreary mud of reality that lies beneath its feet.
One such curiosity, which I experienced recently, gave me cause to stop and ponder. I had just completed the run from the Ford of Bruinen in the Trollshaws to the entrance of Rivendell, and had made my way slowly down the winding path that leads towards the home of Elrond & Company (est. 1697). The path is lined with trees that cleverly block the view of the valley to all but the most persistent of observers until the player is close enough that, assuming you have a decent drawing distance set in your graphics options, your view of the valley becomes unobstructed by trees just as the bulk of Rivendell’s buildings ping into the back of your Z-buffer.
The majestic waterfalls around the Last Homely House sparkle in the soft sunlight that always seems to smile upon the elven city, and the delicate otherworldly architecture whispers hints of the secrets of many ages that it has known. The elegant haunting music of Rivendell begins to sigh its way to your ears on the gentle breeze, and all of nature seems bent on welcoming you with peace and love into Middle Earth’s last haven of calm and tranquillity.
“HI! WELCOME TO ELRONDLAND. HERE’S A MAP AND A TOKEN FOR THE RIDES. YOU HAVE A NICE DAY NOW!”
Ok, so I’ve exaggerated the actual message, but you should expect that of me by now, after all I’ve been exaggerating things for nigh-on a million years now.
I think the phrase, uttered by an elf who stands forever immobile at the first junction on the path into Rivendell, is actually a simple “Welcome to Rivendell!” perhaps there’s an ‘adventurer’ tagged on the end, I forget, but it was enough to slap me out of my sense of awe and wonder and into a Mighty Boosh-like dream sequence. In it I pictured the welcoming elf as one of those people you see just inside the turnstiles of amusement parks, where they offer a hearty welcome, give you a map of the park along with some vouchers for tacky items in the souvenir shop that only require you to spend another fifty pounds there in order to qualify for the promotion, and perhaps shepherd you towards a pair of people dressed in giant costumes representing the theme park’s main characters, which can only have been designed by an individual who hates children and is bent on scarring them for life by creating eight foot tall versions of popular cartoon characters with gaping hungry maws and dilated crossed eyes fixed in a malignant insane stare that screams bloody murder. I pictured my character standing between a giant Elrond with a slightly lop-sided head three times too big for the body beneath it, and an equally engorged Galadriel with impossible breast dimensions packed into a dress that was too small to be considered anything other than slutty. Our elf greeter hurriedly snaps a photo and hands me a ticket to collect the picture in an hour from a booth outside of the Last Homely House, and I’m given pointers on my map to the main attractions around the zone, and told to get to the Last Homely House as quickly as possible because it’s the most popular ride and the queues get very long fairly soon after the park has opened.
I look around in a panicked fashion, expecting to see a herd of other adventurers all making their way down the path, balloons and candy floss in hand, shuffling past one another and parting, like rapid waters past a mid-stream boulder, around those adventurers who have stopped in the middle of the path to attend the mini adventurers sitting crying in their armoured prams. It’s just me, however, and a slightly bewildered elf; he cowers away from the angry red-haired lady on a horse, who points her sword at him and shouts “I DON’T WANT MY PHOTO TAKEN!” before snapping out of her trance, sheathing her weapon and trotting off slowly and slightly embarrassed towards the city of Rivendell waiting quietly below.
Looking on the bright side, the next time that elf decides to offer a vapid and hollow greeting to a passing adventurer, it might only be a subtle hand wave from his hiding place behind a nearby tree.