This is why I feel like a kid again as I spent the last couple days exploring the new Haunted Burrow in Lord of the Rings Online. While some see the notion of a haunted hobbit hole silly, lore-breaking or a frivolous waste of time, I think it's one of the best virtual haunted houses I've ever seen. As one person Tweeted, "It's like Scooby Doo, but with Hobbits and no Velma Dinkley!" The only complaint I have is that I truly wish there was more of it, and more to do in it.
Instead of handing you a guide to the Haunted Burrow -- A Casual Stroll to Mordor covers all the bases, and TheREALify has a great map on the forums -- today I thought I'd just share my thoughts on each of the wings of the house and the little details that truly make this place shine. Take my hand and don't be scared...
...oh mercy me, what WAS that noise!?!
The basic premise of the Haunted Burrow is that Bilbo knew treasure-hunting relatives and neighbors would come to explore the cellar where his vast fortune was rumored to be kept, so Bilbo left them a little surprise and adventure with scares and secret places. With a few exceptions, such as the scared hobbits, the Haunted Burrow is unpopulated, although traps and gizmos abound.
When you first enter, the Main Cellar will be your nexus point for most of the other wings. While most people run through this area without stopping, there really is a lot of cool little nooks and crannies to check out. Two of the pictures -- the warg and the goblin -- feature eyes that move if you stand in front of them long enough, and although they're hardly hidden, the "secret" bookcase doors lend a mysterious vibe to the whole place.
One thing you'll find is that each of the wings has one debilitating effect to slow you down in some way. For the Main Cellar, it's patches of purple smoke that induce a temporary blindness. No way around them, usually, so just plow through and rely on your mini-map when it happens.
Another clever way that Turbine's devs will mess with you is by mislabeling doors. Not all doors that say they're going to a wing actually go there -- some just throw you right back into the same wing you're in. Fortunately, once you've run around the place a few times, you quickly figure out which are the useful doors and which are the deceivers.
What I really want to know is what is up with the "Cloaked Figure" that sits on a chair in the middle of this wing. No quest that I know of leads you to him, and the most I've discovered from research is that he might be the fake "Black Rider" that features in one of the Budgeford quests. If you know more, please enlighten us all in the comments.
In the north-west section of the Main Cellar is a "Mystery Door" that's not so much "mysterious" as it is "a door just like all the other doors." I guess the name is supposed to compensate for its door-like conformity?
In any case, the Mystery Door leads you to the informally dubbed Mystery Wing, which is an oddity in comparison to the rest of the Haunted Burrow. For one thing, it's warmly lit and features no spooky decor whatsoever. For another, no quests will lead you here, leaving this place squarely in the domain of explorers.
However, the Mystery Wing is fast becoming the most-visited section of the Burrow, solely due to three chests that sit around a crackling fireplace. These chests can be opened once per hour for a handful of Festival Tokens (typically one per chest, but sometimes you get more) as well as the possibility of other festival rewards, such as housing decorations. Because of the extreme lack of effort it takes to just check these chests once an hour, you can easily stock up on tokens to buy everything your heart desires before the festival ends.
The Mystery Wing also features a second door that sends you upstairs to the front of Bilbo's House, which is a great way to get out of the place quickly if so desired.
People seem to dislike the Basement the most out of all the wings, and I can understand why. It's more of a maze than the other wings, and its distraction technique -- green fog that obscures your vision and sometimes makes the edges of your screen gum up -- isn't pleasant when you're trying to get from point A to B. Goo, slime and stink are everywhere, so don't even think you're going to get through without getting pukey.
However, the Basement is a necessary stop on the tour, especially when you consider that it has the best treasure chest in the entire Burrow. This "poorly hidden chest" is stowed away behind a wall of fake kegs that's right in front of you when you enter the area. If you do nothing else in the Haunted Burrow, make sure to stop in and loot this chest once a day (it's on a 24-hour timer) for a pile of goodies including tokens, decorations, one-shot items, and a small chance at the coveted skeleton horse mount.
Although I didn't like to dally in the Basement longer than necessary, I did find a couple other points of interest, such as a second wall of fake kegs (and a not-so-scary ghost behind it) and a well that probably has a long-dead Hobbit girl crawling out of it, bent for revenge, every seven days.
I... don't really know what to make of the Attic. It's... OK? I honestly felt let down with this wing, because there really isn't a lot here. Just one big room, a couple barrels, and a chain. Wow. I am quaking with fear now!
The only thing the Attic sports that you won't see elsewhere in the Burrow is a swarm of bats that will swirl about you to impede your progress.
The Creeping Wing is a lot like the Main Cellar in look and feel. Every once in a while you'll be swarmed by ghosts who will make you cower in fear -- big sissy that you are -- and there are a few hanging cages with skeletons that I didn't see anywhere else in the Burrow. This lends the question: Where did Bilbo get these skeletons? Do we want to know?
Probably my two most favorite decorations in the entire Burrow are the kegs and chests that fake goblins and ghosts pop out of, respectively. Even after a dozen or so run-throughs, I still jump slightly when one of these goes off while I'm not paying attention. A lot of that has to do with the fantastic sound design that is incorporated into the effect -- it really sounds like something you'd experience in a real-world haunted house.
If I were the type to throw a Halloween bash with my kinship, I'd strongly consider the Creeping Wing as an ideal location, mostly because it has a big room in the middle that looks like it's ready for a party.
In MMOs, my constant refrain is "Spiders. Why'd it have to be giant spiders?" There's something about the larger version of our friendly arachnids that induces a wonderful skin-crawling effect, and that's never so much present as in the Cobwebbed Wing. Occasionally, a ghostly spider will ambush you, knocking you to the ground and covering you with webs. Awesome, Mr. Spider! Thank you for your hospitality!
While the big spiders are the centerpiece of this wing, if you pay careful attention you'll see live spiders come down from the ceiling on a strand, hang out for a bit -- disappointed, no doubt, that I didn't run my face into their fangs -- and then zip right back up.
There's also a secret sliding door that's seen nowhere else in the Burrow, although I've yet to see anyone get sliced in two when it snaps back into place.
You must be this short to enter this ride
Overall, the sights, the sounds and the variety of quests that have you running through the Burrow numerous times make for an engaging experience, the likes of which you'll not see anywhere else in Middle-earth. That said, I've already started to wonder what they could do to improve on the Haunted Burrow for next year.
I'd love for Turbine to include more secret doors and passages that are truly secret instead of blindingly obvious when you stumble upon them. Mini-games might be cool as well, and is it too much to ask for a Doom Buggy to give us a ride around the place?
Perhaps it is... perhaps it is.
When not clawing his eyes out at the atrocious state of general chat channels, Justin "Syp" Olivetti jaws about hobbits in his Lord of the Rings Online column, The Road to Mordor. You can contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.