It stands stop a blustery hill, a wooden palisade surrounding a few houses and a small mead-hall. Stangard, Rohan’s colony across the Limlight, feels grander than this small mote which is the first settlement we encounter in East Rohan. Stangard is a statement of power and intent – Langhold is a place with no such pretensions. The thane is courteous and welcoming, though not one for ceremony. He is also conscientious and competent – amongst other things he has instituted a series of watch posts along the Anduin to keep an eye out to ensure no hostile force crosses into Rohan, and to give warning if such a force were to do so. Not that Langhold could stop an invasion, but it might allow the rest of the realm time to gather itself together to resist.
You can arrive at Langhold either my moving south from the Great River region, or by following the Vol III Bk 7 epic quest line. After receiving a fulsome welcome – where in a nice touch the aid you have given to the folk of Stangard is recognised – you start about the business of finding how you can aid the locals. At first this starts of innocuously with thinning the local Salamanders, and then amusingly getting involved in a child’s game. Turbine is always good at mixing in some “fun” into their quests at some point. In effect the game is kill ten rats, but it feels alot more fun. The story develops from there, with a trip to a bandit hold which speaks of danger. Then a tour of the watch-towers along the Anduin, and scouting out an Easterling encampment in the process of which one learns it is not just brigands and easterlings the men of Langhold face, but an alliance of the two led by a Nazgul. The thane’s children are full of fire and wish to stay behind, but are persuaded to go with the evacuation and look after the hold’s children.
Only a few short quests ago – probably less than an hour of real time – you were playing games with the children. It is these little moments in which Turbine’s storytelling shines through in a way is much rare (in my experience) with other games.
Given that we know how the story of The Lord of the Rings ends, and that LOTRO provides us with lots of heroic moments, it is sometimes easy to forget how desperate the situation is during the War of the Ring. In game even if we succumb a little to the long dark of Moria the chances are one will soon be returning to The Shire for a festival, or something similar. Yet the reality of Sauron’s opponents is probably best described by Galadriel when she greets the fellowship in Lothlorien:
“[Celeborn] has dwelt in the West since the days of the dawn, and I have dwelt with him years uncounted; for ere the fall of Nargothrond or Gondolin I passed over the mountains, and together through the ages of the world we have fought the long defeat.”
Langhold, ultimately, is another step along that long and weary road in which we tread as heroes in LOTRO. We leave Langhold a ruin, deserted, its ruler slain in its defence. Yet the heroes of Tolkien’s world are nothing if not defiant. So we regroup in the town of Harwick with a gift from the Thane’s widow – his warsteed with which to continue the war, and with which to seek vengeance.
The War has come to Rohan.