With the Fellowship well on their way to Morder, it's your turn to face the dangers of Moria
Earlier in the year you'll remember that Strategy Informer got a sneak peak of the new Lord of the Rings Online Expansion, Mines of Moria, as it was doing its UK 'tour'. Since then, this latest addition to the Tolkien based MMO has been through a BETA stage, before finally getting released last month. True to form, Turbine have taken the next chapter of their own Lord of the Rings experience, and crafted it into a form that's well worth spending the time and money on. Still, it must be noted that this expansion is mainly aimed at the high end players, and so there is little extra incentive for new people to get involved, bar two extra classes and some other general tweaks.
As you can probably guess from the title, the Mines of Moria takes place mainly in Moria. Specifically, some time after the Fellowship has already passed through as they carried on their journey towards Mordor. In actuality, the expansion adds in the remaining portion of the Eregion area, Moria itself, and some parts of Lothlorien on the other side. With the Fellowships passing, the Dwarves are now moving in to try and retake their lost home one step at a time, and as the player, it will be your job to help them. Turbine will probably keep up their policy of regular free updates between now and the next expansion, so it remains to be seen what new areas will be added on from here, but it will probably stick to Moria, and possibly some extra parts of Lothlorien.
A legendary Item isn't just for Christmas, It's for life
There are some creepy and ugly things beneath the mines...
Some of you may still be thinking at this point that the 'Moria' areas are going to be nothing more then an over glorified instance of Dungeon Crawler, but you'd be sadly mistaken.
As emphasised in our preview, Moria is a full blown extension of the LOTRO world and entering the mines is actually completely seamless (Bar the actual transition from the Shadow of Angmar content to the Moria areas at the very beginning.) From the outside, you can see the high peaks of Moria stretching up as far as digital rendering can take them, and as you take your first tentative steps through the lost halls, it's no different. Turbine have done a very good job at filling out the nooks and crannies of what is essentially an underground city, and with the graphical improvements they've applied to the game, it looks pretty slick. It's no EVE, but the visuals are there.
The two classes that have been added to the game fill in much needed gaps that the previous set up didn't quite cover. The Warden is a nice blend between a Ranger and the various warrior classes, although it doesn't specialise in either tanking or damage-per-second, which is an offset to it's flexibility. Don't expect to be leading the charge with this class, but its unique skill set and its 'Gambit' move combination system means that it's an interesting class to play around with, and one that is capable of tackling both the original and the expansion areas of the game.
Even though it takes a while, there is a certain epicness about entering the mines for the first time...
You shall not pass!!!...I've always wanted to say that...
The second class is of course the Rune-Keeper – the closet thing this game has to a Mage Class. 'Magic' is a controversial subject in Tolkien's universe, and anyone who is interested in such things can look at his work to find out his full take on the subject. Semantics aside, The Rune-Keeper acts and feels like your average Mage-class would. It's lightly armed, and relies on spell attacks to defeat the enemies quickly, making it ideal for the DPS role. The Rune-Keeper's unique combat mechanic is the 'attunement' system, where Turbine have tried to bridge the gap between the Mage and the Healer Classes. Depending of which type of spells you use – offensive of healing, will slide the attunement meter one way or another. The further into one side of the metre it goes, the more powerful the action that is available. Again, in terms of flexibility, this makes the Rune-keeper a very useful class to train up in, although again its perks are offset by its inherent class traits, and the fact that it can't do both healing and damage at once. It'll be interesting to see how the theory behind this class holds up in a high-volume mob situation.
With a new setting brings new perils, and in addition to the new classes and content, Turbine have introduced a whole new weapon tier system as well. Introduced to the player before they even enter the mines, the 'Legendary Item Advancement' system adds just a little extra flavour to high-end weapon crafting and use. Its core aim is to try and emulate that theme within the Tolkien universe of rare and unique weapons, whose connection with the wielder adds as much to its power as the weapon itself. (For example, Frodo's sword Sting.) Using new materials, along with some extra NPC vendors, players can actually forge and create such weapons and items. Not only will these items hold a leading edge of the current high-ends, but are extremely customizable, and actually level up in skill and abilities along with the player. You can even give them custom, although the same conventions that govern character naming still apply. This system also has the added bonus of reducing the rate at which players change weapons, as they are more then likely to keep finding newer and better kit to use. Even if you do find a legendary item that is better then yours in some ways, simply take it to the vendor, break it down, and then add those particular attributes to your current weapon.
There is a slight feel though the that whole 'Legendary Item' theme is a bit superficial, and that it is nothing more then just an extra weapon tier. Whilst the principle behind it is fairly unique, there isn't the 'word of mouth' network to back it up. Therefore, whilst your particular Axe (named Steve of course) may be the best weapon in the game, no one will no about it because no one will have the perception to notice. During the Interview we did with Jeffrey Steefel, he did mention that Legendary items would have a visible 'glow' about them, but that's it.
Someone's going to have a high electricity bill...
We did ask about going 'over' the mines, but it's not a possibility yet...
What else is there to say about it? Well the start area can be a bit frustrating, and a fair bit of effort is required to actually get into the mines. Still, you won't regret it, as Moria truly is a fascinating place. Keeping in close contact with the people in charge of the Tolkien world, Turbine have even managed to add and expand upon areas that were only ever hinted at in the books. Your adventures will lead you all the way into the deep dark reaches of the mines, and possibly all the way up to the top as well. Steefel has already said he wants to bring out another expansion in a years time, which will take the game up to roughly the same point as the end of the Fellowship of the Ring. A year can seem a long time to gamers, especially the dedicated ones, so it'll be interesting to see if Turbine can keep interest in the new content through their updates long enough so that players stick around when the next expansion arrives. That's not to mention the changes they've made to the Player vs Monster Player portion of the game, which even though is more of an overhaul than evolution, it's still important.
All in all, a decent expansion for a decent MMO. There's content here that could give even the World of Warcraft expansions a run for their money, and plenty to do within the Mines themselves. Two new classes also make starting from scratch worthwhile, and it will be interesting to see where the development team goes from here.
THE LORD OF THE RINGS ONLINE: MINES OF MORIA VERDICT
All in all, a decent expansion for a decent MMO. There’s content here that could give even the World of Warcraft expansions a run for their money, and plenty to do within the Mines themselves. Two new classes also make starting from scratch worthwhile, and it will be interesting to see where the development team goes from here.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Getting owned by the Balrog. How? You’ll have to find out…