It's a windswept night and you're a hobbit trudging along a strange road with a few of your pals and a weird guy that's ok if you happen to like human rangers. Up in the distance looms a mountain with a flattened top and standing stones perched on the flat height like jagged teeth. You know the mountain don't you. It's Weathertop and the first time I wandered into the Lone Lands in LOTRO and saw that pivotal mountain rising up out of the land I had to stop and marvel at how perfectly the devs made it.
Questing on and around Weathertop still sticks in my head as some of the most awe inspiring moments of the game for me. For the last year I've been hanging out in the mines of Moria which, while grand and truly massive, are dark, creepy, decaying, crumbling and filled with a lot of stuff that wants to eat a tasty little minstrel snackcake. So when the new expansion came out and it brought us into the area of Mirkwood I was a bit underwhelmed. Yay. More dark and depressing places. Woot. More grey on grey environments. Sigh. Places like the Shire and Weathertop shine like jewels in my ingame memory as I slog through another rancid pool of bubbling mud and target giggling orcs that shout, "Die!" and "Kill Heeeeemmmmmm" in a frenzy of gender ignorance as they stab at me.
After a bit of questing and my usual "run the entire area of the new map to open up every overhead view I can as well as get all the horse travel locations" escapades I headed back into 21st Hall, the central spot in Moria to repair, sell, check the auction house and just breath easy in a safe corner for a bit. But hmmmm.. what was this? A big new area chock full of NPC vendors all offering pretty shiney sparkly stuff? Yes indeed. I found the skirmish camp.
Skirmishes are new. They're instances that you order up like ham and eggs at a diner except you get a way bigger menu than they offer you at Denny's. On top of that, you get a buddy to come fight with you. Yep. You get your own NPC teammate that sticks with you and fights or heals or whatever you want. Interested? I thought you might be.
There are 3 parts to the skirmish process. Part one is you set up your NPC soldier. You can make them a tank, a healer, a caster, a dps ranged, a buffer.. basically any of the classes in the game. You can also get them traits that are attacks, heals, buffs etc and you can make them particular races or dress them up like 3 dimensional paper dolls. I made a tank since I'm a healer and yes, I picked a hobbit lad to champion me. I know what you're thinking - how can I fight with hobbit feet as fine as his so close to me, but I'm a woman of focus and I do just fine.
Part two is you pick your skirmish. There's a join window that lets you determine if you want a group skirmish, a solo skirmish, what level range you want it to be in and which particular skirmish set up you'd like to use. I noticed one titled "Stand at Amon Sul" and it tickled the back of my mind a bit so I chose it in solo form and headed in. A few moments later I was standing on Weathertop. Windy, stormy skied, Weathertop and I nearly shouted outloud with surprise and, well, joy.
Part three is the skirmish experience itself. Every skirmish has an objective that is spelled out at the beginning. You'll need to defend a town, or clear a camp, or find items or any number of things. While you're doing the objective there are usually waves and waves of bad guys coming to wipe you out. You've got your soldier that you brought with you and any NPC's that are part of the skirmish scenario and you just do your best to stay alive and reach your objective.
"Stand at Amon Sul" took me by surprise as far as location but then it really got me with the actual experience of the skirmish. Check this out. I'm on Weathertop and there is my lil fearless Warrior Soldier Tank hanging out and ready to fight. There's also another NPC that is a ranger and my instructions are to defeat all foes that attack and keep the ranger and myself alive. There's a central bonfire in the middle of the area with two torches as well as 5 unlit bonfires in a ring around the outer edge of the plateau. I learn that the bonfires can be lit with the torches and when lit they add a buff that assists myself, my warrior hobbit and the ranger.
Since I can't direct the ranger and my warrior has no "light bonfire" command anywhere that I can find or ever have seen it's up to me to light fires. So I happily do so as a distant horn sounds in my ear, I'm warned that bad guys are starting their attack, and the ranger starts notching his first arrow. The torch gets lit at the central fire and then carried to an outer bonfire to light it. There's a timer on the torch so if I'm lucky I can get 3 outer fires lit with one torch run. I'm feeling like this is a breeze, fighting the first wave of batlike things and skeleton guys when suddenly, the first bonfire I lit goes out. Yep. The bonfires are on a timer and so I'll need to keep running around and relighting them if I want the benefit of the buffs.
Which, by the way, I want. Distant horns are sounding faster and faster and wave after wave comes at us. 3 to 6 at a time, with me healing and dps'ing, my warrior guy bravely facing ghouls, ghosts, skeletons, bats, firebirds, and more in an escalating series of more and more mobs. I'm tossing out a heal to the ranger (he has to live, remember?) and saving my lil warrior's skin then yelling at some zombie looking thing and stunning him for a few as my crit lands. And did I mention I'm running around lighting bonfires in the midst of all this...
A brief pause as I learn that we've beaten back the first wave of attacks (FIRST wave? Wha????) and then it's round two. Then three. I'm ready to run down the mountain and strangle that blasted horn blower. Then notice is given that a particularly mean fellow is taking the stage and we're fighting a boss as I'm healing, dodging, attacking, lighting, healing and somehow the 3 of us down the boss and fight off the swarming adds at the same time. I swear I /hugged the ranger when it was all over. I lived, the ranger lived and my lil warrior guy lived and I was cheering and hollering and having more fun than I've had ingame in the last year.
Skirmishes. Love 'em. Try them out, let me know which ones you like best, and what soldier you're using. And if you don't play LOTRO you might want to check it out. Few things are more fun than a night on Weathertop, fighting ghouls and keeping the wonder and magic of it all alive.