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The Lord of the Rings Online: Mines of Moria review

Excellent
AT A GLANCE
  • Deepens original game
  • Deepens original game
  • Full of grown-up players
  • Unusual abundance of bugs
  • Questionable server stability
  • Hasn't changed the MMO grind

Launching an MMO expansion pack in the same month as Blizzard may seem like madness, but Lord of the Rings Online has a huge user base, well-defined and even innovative MMO mechanics, and the world’s best known fantasy world. There are vast swathes of people living in the Shire and loving it.

Mines of Moria picks up at the end of Volume One of LotRO. We’ve just said goodbye to the Fellowship in Rivendell, and that hastily assembled group of Humans, Elves, Dwarves and Hobbits was setting out on their fateful journey to Mordor. For the last few months, players have been sweeping up those unfinished deeds, crafting skill tiers and quests in a bid to be truly ready for the next leg of the adventure. That time has come.

This expansion has a lot to live up to: trying to remain true to the core game that’s worked so well so far, expanding the universe and with it the level cap from 50 to 60, and endeavoring not to unbalance it all in the process. But don’t even think that you’ll see the inside of Moria until level 50. That’s a long road to journey on, especially if you want to savor the sights and sounds of Middle-Earth along the way – and trust us, you’ll want to. For those Middle-Earth old timers who’ve been 50 for some months now, earning XP once more is thrilling, especially as this expansion also includes a vast new external region that leads up to the walls of Moria.

This region, called Eregion, has plenty of quests and foes to keep you occupied before you venture into the dark caverns. As you kick off Volume Two of the epic storyline proper, the final leg of your journey into Moria itself, you’ll encounter the Watcher in the Water, the foul tentacled beast in the lake near the Hollin’s Gate entrance to Moria. It’s this fateful encounter that introduces you to the new ‘Legendary Items’ system. Thanks to the implementation of Legendary Items, Frodo’s got ‘Sting’, Gandalf has ‘Glamdring’, and we’ve got ‘Stabatha’ the legendary dagger.

These are exactly what they sound like: unique and potentially powerful items, starting out fairly ordinary, but which gain experience and level up just as you do. It seems complicated at first, but looking at the Legendary Items panel we were soon able to customize our dagger into a weapon we were proud of. Each item is class-specific and can be upgraded to specific roles; a dagger that does vicious damage to orcs, for instance. You can carry up to six on your character at any one time.

With so many combinations available, you might decide that your new item isn’t what you had hoped for. No problem: you can get them ‘deconstructed’ into their component parts via a Relic Master NPC, or trade them at the Auction House. Even if you’ve spent some time leveling an old item you no longer want, deconstructing it will result in ‘Heritage ‘Runes’: a way to transfer some of its experience to a more favored item.

The really good news is the Legendary Items are not exclusive to Moria, and can be found throughout the game. Nor are they exclusive to hardcore players: they can be found in most PvE areas, and of course you can always search for exactly the item you’re looking for at the Auction House. Once you finally get into Moria you’re in for a treat: Turbine has worked hard on the capabilities of their engine to render interior spaces and this work has visibly paid off. LotRO has always been a pretty game; the numerous exterior landscapes have always looked as Tolkien described, and the large interior halls, mines and long dark corridors of Moria follow that precedent. And there’s plenty to keep you occupied as you work your way through the myriad rooms and regions, with around 600 new quests and another 300 new deeds and accomplishments, plus some great new raid options.

The 12 player raid to battle the ‘Watcher in the Water’ is likely to become a favorite over the coming months, but it’s the single-player storyline quests in the dark places of Moria that will keep you gripped. Turbine have come up with inventive ways for you to experience key parts of The Lord of the Rings that you wouldn’t normally be involved with, such as a time travelling story arc where you experience the original uncovering of the Balrog through the eyes of one of Dwalin’s minions. There are so many wonderful moments to be experienced on your own personal journey through the game – and each respectful to the source material – it’s hard to even scratch the surface in our own hallowed pages.

While two new classes have been introduced with the Moria expansion, it’s too early to predict exactly how they fit with the rest in terms of similarities, or what they might bring to fellowship grouping or larger, longer raiding teams. The facts are these: the Warden, a medium tanking class with standard ranged attacks via javelins and stronger melee abilities when you’re fighting toe-to-toe, seems like a fun and balanced soloing class. This class has a new attack system called ‘Gambit’, which allows you to use a main hand weapon, shield, and taunt in set combinations to deliver either impressive damaging blows or defense and opportunities to heal.

The Rune-keeper will likely be a slow burner for leveling by those already experienced in managing group ‘aggro’ while soloing. He’s very lightly armored and armed with runic abilities to either attack or heal. As you deal damage or heal yourself and allies you’ll temporarily specialise in that path using an ‘attunement meter’. As you chain attacks or heals it allows you to access more powerful skills in that line. Heal, and you’ll get better heals. Fight, and you’ll get better at fighting. Certainly the Rune-keeper has the potential to be a powerful ally for those into raiding, as the extremes along either path will be quite telling in a monster mash-up. The Warden seems like a good compromise between the ‘Guardian’ and the ‘Hunter’, but time will tell which ends up being a popular choice.

When you’re not vanquishing evil in the deep places of the world, you can choose to spend some time making the most of the new enhancements to the crafting system. We’ve always found this to be a worthwhile and satisfying pastime right from day one; those of you new to Middle-Earth will soon be making useful items, and all basic ingredients are now available from any crafting vendor, which helps the process run smoothly.

Once you reach Expert level in your chosen profession, you can join a ‘Crafting Guild’, which will give you access to exclusive recipes. Your progress in this guild is measured according to your reputation within it, so keeping them happy will improve your standing, thereby unlocking access to new recipes that greatly enhance your abilities. A ‘Supreme’ tier of mastery is waiting to be achieved; the items produced being appropriate for those above level 50. If you’ve improved your reputation with your Crafting Guild far enough, you’ll even be able to produce special Class items, Legendary Weapons, and items that can boost the speed of leveling that new Legendary Item.

Another interesting change is the representation of the ‘Traits’ system. Traits are special character abilities, such as increased might, agility, or even a propensity to be protected from wounds or disease, etc. These traits are slotted to your character by visiting one of the many Bard NPCs in the game, but you can only have a certain number at any one time. Standard traits, called virtues, are common across all characters, but other traits are based on your class, race and so-called ‘legendary’ traits for completing certain deeds of derring-do. The traits themselves are not new to LotRO, but the new multi-tabbed window to represent them is certainly a welcome addition.

Turbine have done an amazing job in expanding their game while being mindful about not unbalancing the core Angmar experience or leaving vast swathes of Middle-Earth deserted as people migrate to the new areas – a problem many MMOs have suffered from. In Lord of the Rings there’s always a good reason to head back to the original areas, not least to complete deeds, build up traits, access key crafting halls and go trading at the Auction House. There’s always something to do, and it isn’t all about fighting evil.

Moria is not without its faults: the first week of release saw an unwelcome and unusual abundance of bugs. Server stability has been a little bit questionable, with dumps to Windows, characters getting stuck in doors and finger-tapping waits while the game attempts to clean up your connection when you reconnect. These are not uncommon issues for MMOs to experience during the post-release blues of a major update, and given the game’s previous level of bulletproof reliability prior to Moria, we expect Turbine to stamp on these flaws promptly. But it still leaves us wondering darkly if this expansion was rushed to release to coincide with Wrath of the Lich King.

And as a final grumble, for all the well written and entertaining quests here, there’s still the traditional MMO grind fare of kill X number of things and recover X number of body parts. That said, we’ve enjoyed our time in Turbine’s Middle-Earth for months now and have no intention of leaving the Fellowship to journey on without us. See you in Mordor.

Dec 4, 2008

More Info

Release date: Nov 17 2008 - PC (US)
Nov 14 2008 - PC (UK)
Available Platforms: PC
Genre: Role Playing
Published by: Turbine
Developed by: Turbine Studios
Franchise: Lord of the Rings
ESRB Rating:
Teen: Blood and Gore, Use of Drugs, Use of Tobacco, Violence
PEGI Rating:
12+

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10 comments

  • skeaneuk - December 10, 2008 1 p.m.

    Im afraid I have to disagree with the above comments by davideyound 1 - 12 to 18 hour installation time. You read that right. When you initially install the game, it does not let you play until it installs more than 27,000 updates, taking a total of 12 to 18 hours of instant internet connection in a fast line such as DSL or high speed cable. This is totally wrong if you buy MoM, the disk comes with both SoA/MoM on one disk and takes about 30-45 mins to install and to update. 2 - In order to play at all, you must agree to a monthly fee ON TOP OF your purchase price. All comparable fantasy action games are free to play offline and many are free to play online as well, and you can install most in a few minutes. Most MMO's have monthy fees, Warhammer/WoW/AoC, and how do you expect to play an MMo offline. Do you know what you are talking about, I doubt it. As far as MoM goes it is a great addition to SoA, and as far as Im concerned it makes WoW look very amateurish, just like the previous poster.
  • davideyoung - December 10, 2008 5:57 a.m.

    On Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO), it may be a nice game, but two reasons right off the bat it does not compare with the likes of WarCraft: 1 - 12 to 18 hour installation time. You read that right. When you initially install the game, it does not let you play until it installs more than 27,000 updates, taking a total of 12 to 18 hours of instant internet connection in a fast line such as DSL or high speed cable. 2 - In order to play at all, you must agree to a monthly fee ON TOP OF your purchase price. All comparable fantasy action games are free to play offline and many are free to play online as well, and you can install most in a few minutes. So if buying this as a "Christmas pick" for someone, you need to ask if it is worth them spending a day or more just waiting on the install and then paying monthly fees to access? This is a gift that could make the receiver angry if it is not EXACTLY what they want. It will cost them money and it an inconvenient amount of time, having nothing to do with the game play.
  • JohnandRoo - December 6, 2008 6:28 p.m.

    Quote "The colors in the screenshots seem especially vibrant. Is that a result of editing or does your game look like that all the time?" Um depends on what the weather is like and what your graphics settings are at but yeah most of the time. Weather varies from sunny, foggy, rainy, snowing (even blizzardy) with moving clouds and sun etc. Also you will see things like rainbows and birds in the sky. Even underground in Moria the lights from crystals and mirrors are particularly beautiful.
  • Defguru7777 - December 5, 2008 2:34 a.m.

    FIRST!!! How come you have "Deepens original game" in the You'll love section twice? Maybe I should re-read The Lord of the Rings.
  • JohnandRoo - December 6, 2008 6:24 p.m.

    I have to say....questional server stability is wrong imo. I have been playing the game for over a year and other than scheduled maintainance there really hasnt been too much unscheduled off time. Alot of people complain when there is rubberbanding from a new patch and then complain when they take the servers offline for a few hours to fix it lol. You can't have it both ways :P. Love love love! The expansion :). Turbine did a wonderful job and Moria is beautiful minus the bugs lol. But hey what do you expect underground. Hope you all go out and buy it if you havent already!! :)
  • caterpillarmilk - December 5, 2008 6:27 p.m.

    The colors in the screenshots seem especially vibrant. Is that a result of editing or does your game look like that all the time?
  • Amonceleb - December 5, 2008 3:10 p.m.

    Loving Moria! The two new classes are excellent additions to the game, and while some Tolkien purists have railed on the Runekeeper and it's lore-bending tendencies, it absolutely rocks the fun scale! The new warden, likewise, is an incredibly fun and challenging new type of character to play; the gambit system requires some additional strategy besides the usual button mash-fest. The expansion areas themselves are gorgeous! Eregion is rolling hills and quaint ruins of bygone ages. Moria is simply astounding in it's scale! It seems to sprawl in all directions at once, at you get the distinct feeling that you are walking through a place where a civilization lived and thrived for centuries. The architectural design is consistent, and consistently great! Once you manage to find your way through Moria, the region of Lorien is breath-takingly gorgeous, with gently undulating hills covered in thick golden malorn forests! The art direction team deserves special recognition for a great job on the new expansion. Most of the quests are quite fun, and don't seem altogether "grindy", although there's only so many ways of sending you out for pig parts or bug bodies. The Legendary Item system is outstanding and, once you get the hang of it, quite fun trying to level-up and get the most out of your newly forged weapons! If it's not quite what you want, deconstruct it, cannibalize it for juicy parts, and start another one! The stability issues and bugs are being addressed in a timely fashion; Turbine has been exemplary in identifying and fixing real game-breakers quickly. Once the stability and latency issues sort themselves out, Moria will be the smooth-sailing, extra fun smothered in win sauce experience it was meant to be!
  • sector7g - December 5, 2008 4:28 a.m.

    Besides the seeming lack of writting ability on the quests before entering Moria the expansion is great. I was annoyed that I had to go here kill this many orcs then when I turned that in I had to go back and kill this many more to get something from them. Had to do that in each stronghold in Eregion which got tiresome real fast. Overall the expansion rocks. Loving the Moria quests.
  • DeadGirls - December 17, 2008 9 a.m.

    I don't play MMOs anymore. But if I did, I would definitely play this game over WoW, AoC, or Warhammer. Honestly, this game makes WoW look like shit, and though it doesn't have quite as many players, the people who do play it are much more fun to be around. @davideyoung What the hell are you talking about? 1. Its a 6 hour installation at most unless you are on a dial-up connection. This is comparable to WoW which ALSO makes you download plenty of updates after the first install. 2. Tell me what MMO can, in your words, "compare with the likes of WarCraft" that is "free to play offline" and can be installed "in a few minutes". If you are playing an MMO offline you are not really playing an MMO, and while it is true that there are a few free MMOs, you DO get what you pay for. WoW has a monthly fee, and you have to buy TWO expansions (this is LotR's first) on top of the regular game.
  • aric - December 30, 2008 5:24 p.m.

    Do you get to play with others online? like people you dont know. Is that what it means by online gaming?

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