By Jim Moreno
I have played my share of games, specifically including MMORPGs. I honestly couldn’t venture a guess as to how many there are currently live and in development, but even with my lust for this genre, there’s no way I’ll ever get to play all the ones I want. Each one seems to offer something new and interesting to me, and all the ones I play now hold some individual speciality. Sure, World of Warcraft claims a massive and unmatched player base with whom I can group with at anytime. Ultima Online is still going strong now eleven years after creating the genre, and will always hold a most special place in my gaming heart. EVE Online remains an increasing favorite all the while doing everything it does on a single game realm, a highly notable accomplishment. A couple newcomers to the market, Age of Conan and Warhammer Online, and at least two in development – Stargate Worlds and Star Trek Online – are keeping my attention even though I have yet to quest in their lands. So many games, so little time.
Treading stealthily amongst the MMORPG market with the skill of Gollum himself is The Lord of the Rings Online. Without a doubt, LotRO is my most favorite, the one MMORPG that rules them all, in my opinion. As I mentioned, other MMORPGs have one or a few gameplay aspects that keep me logging in, but only LotRO holds that unique quality of entertaining and challenging me every time I play. Therefore, I must say I was much more than delighted to accept the offer to delve into the closed beta for the next LotRO expansion, Mines of Moria. Over the last few weeks, my respect and admiration for Turbine’s recreation of Tolkien’s Middle-earth has grown quite a bit. That’s not to say I think it’s the perfect rendition, or that it’s even a perfect game. But that’s getting ahead of myself. Let me just begin by sharing where I started in the closed beta, in Eregion, at the camp Echad Dunann, just outside The Walls of Moria.
“Soon, Master Elf, you will enjoy the fabled hospitality of the Dwarves! Roaring fires, malt beer, ripe meat off the bone. This, my friend, is the home of my cousin, Balin. And they call it a mine. A mine!” – Gimli, son of Gloin, from the movie The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
My beta subscription came stocked with two characters, an elf hunter and a dwarf guardian, both level fifty. Neither of those races or classes have I played to any noteworthy degree on the live servers, so I was and still am quite ignorant of their skills and abilities. I selected the elf to play in the beta, chosen with a simple d10 roll. After a cursory glance at my inventory and equipment, I approached Rathwald, the dwarf standing guard at the entrance to the Walls of Moria, who started me off on the journey with Volume 2 Book 1, allowing me to pass through the entrance behind him.
Once within the Walls of Moria, I quickly set about assisting the dwarven expedition with gathering supplies, repairing their mining equipment, locating some missing dwarves, and undertaking a recon of a local half-orc encampment to bring back information about them. It wasn’t long before I found myself sloshing along the swampy bank of The Black Pool, up to Durin’s Door, the very entrance into the Mines of Moria. One of the final tasks was to help the dwarves pick away and remove the rubble which blocked Durin’s Door, finally allowing access to the Mines. It was then that the Watcher of the Pool chose to show itself by ferociously attacking us. Me and my trusty bow did what we could to help fend off the attack, and after it was over and the Watcher beaten back into the depths of the Black Pool, Durin’s Door was opened and I entered with the dwarven expedition into the Mines of Moria.
Amazing! If you’re like me and hungrily fed on every MoM screenshot you could find online, then I think you’ll be equally floored as to just how little justice they do when compared to seeing Moria for yourself. First off, the Moria zone is HUGE, on both horizontal and vertical planes. Nine separate regions make up Moria, and the extraordinary and extravagant dwarven craftsmanship is portrayed throughout. In all my gaming years, I have never before seen such beautifully detailed graphics for an underground location. Rivendell still gets my vote for the most spectacular area in any game I’ve played, ever, but Moria runs a close second. The degree that the dwarves have dug into the earth and rock are astounding, and still have me wondering just how so short a race could dig to such height and depth.
Durin’s Threshold, the first base of operations inside the Mines, has quests which provide guidance and knowledge to last over the entire time here, and set the stage for other quests that can be found at other expedition camps. For one, since this is an expedition to reclaim what was dwarven property long ago, the quests take the form of running supplies to other chambers where the expedition has a foothold, combating the orc, goblins, and other nefarious denizens who now infest Moria, studying the local wildlife, exploring long-forgotten rooms and retrieving relics of ages past. One of my favorite quest lines is locating and investigating a series of mirrors that run throughout Moria in an effort to see if they can shine some much-needed light across the entire zone.
Of course, fulfilling quests is a way of getting players to roam, and herein is where I encountered my first trouble spot. To say Moria is a maze is akin to saying dwarves dig mithril – a gross understatement. Only slightly less bewildering than their ability to carve out such a wondrous habitat as Moria is how they were ever able to navigate it without so much as a signpost indicating location or direction. I know I spent the better part of my time in the beta completely lost, wandering into areas and encountering creatures way beyond my skill level. I mean, in all this time the dwarves have been digging, have they never encountered chalk? I do hope some kind of navigational aid is added to Moria in the very near future, but in the meantime, I guess it’s all part of the adventure, right? There are also plenty of ram-looking mounts available at a local stable-master to transport you to another camp, provided you can find your way to the camp in the first place.
The Mines of Moria is the largest and most prominent addition with this expansion, with maybe the exception of Lothlorien (which I and many other beta testers mentioned wanting to see more of on many an occasion), but it is by far not the only addition. MoM introduces two new classes, legendary items, new traits, titles, deeds, crafts, and all the accouterments that go with each of those, yada yada yada. I’ll save you the pain of rehashing every press release and developer diary about each new addition posted online since MoM was announced, and just mention a few things I evidenced personally.
My impression of the LotRO weapons and their crafting has always been higher than any other MMORPG I’m aware of, and that’s been made all the more so with the new legendary item system. In short, it mithrils! Get it? Rocks < mithril… Anyway, I was given my first legendary weapon right before entering Moria, along with a quest which helped explain the new system of how to level it, and introduced me to a couple new NPCs, the Relic-master and the Forge-master.
Over the course of my beta time, I visited these two each time I would loot a legendary weapon from a creature kill to have it identified or to reforge one, and if I didn’t want or need it, to have it deconstructed and using those resulting relic pieces to upgrade my chosen legendary weapon, or sold off for the coins. It may have just been the beta, but I had more than my share of legendary weapons drop from kills, which gave me the chance to really play around with the whole system. I’m not certain that the same drop rate will be employed once MoM goes live, so I would suggest reading up on it and paying close attention in game. It’s definitely worth it!
Starting up a level fifty class loaded with top-of-the-line gear was not as easy for me as I initially thought it would be, considering I didn’t know the skills and traits right off. I prefer to work up a character from the start, which I was able to do with the two new classes, Rune-keeper and Warden. Again, check the official LotRO website for in depth details, but I can say that I enjoyed both classes through ten levels, and their new combat systems (Attunements and Gambits, respectively) were not hard to grasp and follow for me. Sadly, legendary weapons don’t start dropping until level 50-plus creatures, so I missed getting to experiment with any legendary Warden weapons or rune-stones.
I think the Warden appeals the most to me, even though mine reminded me of a stand-in for an ancient era DeMille movie. Solo play with him proved a bit more intense than with the Rune-keeper, for the fact that it takes a quick memory to remember the correct combination at the precise time. As he levels up and gains more abilities, I can see it becoming a chore to keep all those combinations in mind, but that’s just me. Still, I like the class, and see some excellent potential for it to both regular players and roleplayers.
Me being old school fantasy, it’s still very difficult for me to wrap my mind around a magic-using dwarf. However, the dwarf Rune-keeper I rolled handled the position very well. I would recommend a dwarf for this class, since their natural sturdiness will come in very handy during combat. The only weapons they wield are rune-stones, and the appearance in between attacks is that he’s punching his opponent, or simply standing there waiting for the next attack cooldown to expire, taking whatever punishment is being delivered. The initial rune-stones I used worked very well, and it didn’t take long to understand the attunement system and use it properly. Even though Rune-keepers can heal, doing so on the fly and immediately after launching a series of offensive spells is a task with the way the attunement system works, making solo play much more of a challenge. I’m sure there will be many players who will greatly enjoy the Rune-keeper. Me, not so much at the moment.
There’s so much more I could say, but I would simply be speaking of what’s already been spoken at this point. I can say Mines of Moria continues and strengthens the vaulted impression I have for LotRO, to the point where I have no fear about calling it the best fantasy MMORPG yet created. I want to thank MoMs Kin for everyone’s invaluable help. A special thanks also to the elf Aginaridan, who toughed it out with me through the entire length of Moria to the other side and into what was available of Lothlorien. Over an hour of running, fighting, and retreating, yet we made it. What did we see? Oh, no, I will certainly not spoil any of that for you. Besides, tomorrow is the day, so I’ll see you in Moria!