Paying a visit to the Turbine booth at PAX, Jeffrey Steefel, the Executive Producer, gave me an in depth tour of the new Lord of the Rings expansion, the Mines of Moria. Unfortunately, the Balrog was out running errands, but we did get an in depth look at his home in the deep places of the world. He does promise that there will be an encounter with the Balrog at some point. The game, continuing on with its Book XIV occurs after the Fellowship has passed through the Mines. The dwarves are now trying to repopulate their old capital and it’s up to the players to help them.
The dwarven regions of Moria show an efficient and utilitarian beauty with towering columns and crystals that capture and magnify sunlight seeping down from above. This isn’t some close and narrow dungeon delving but a true city underground. Jeffrey explained that Moria was designed with terrain mapping both above and below to give the mines a truly magnificent feel and, I must say, they pull it off. Huge waterfalls plummet thousands of feet in one area, while in another the mines teem with lava flows. He also showed me the Endless Stair as it spirals up out of sight. He leap off the edge and plummeted for a good ten seconds before fatally striking the bottom (well, it would have been fatal if he weren’t in Admin mode). One truly impressive feat the Turbine team pulled off is that the mine is one single seamless region with the only zoning occurring at each end and for rare instances.
The expansion also has several other changes beginning with a new level cap at 60. There also is a new ability to forge legendary weapons. From time to time as you play the game, weapons will be dropped by monsters that have “legendary potential.” Taken to the proper NCP artisans will enable you to see what that potential is. If you like it, you keep the weapon. If not, you can have the artisans melt it down in a way that retains the essence of its powers to apply to another weapon. These legendary weapons gain experience just like players do and grow better over time. They also have slots where you can add essences to make them even better. One nice perk of this system is that it doesn’t nerf the impressive gear that players have already accumulated from the basic LOTRO game. Players can take this equipment to the dwarven crafters to get it reduced to powerful essences to improve their new equipment.
Another perk of the new expansion is the adding of two new character classes as well as two new slots for characters. The new classes are the Warden and the Rune-Keeper. The Warden is sort of a hybrid ranged / DPS / tank. His primary weapon is a javelin that he can throw or fight with in melee. As combat progresses and he uses various maneuvers he can unlock more powerful attacks. The Rune-Keeper is another borderline mage in a world where hardcore mages don’t exist. This class type is inspired in part by Galadriel and represents those with an understanding of runes and the powers of Middle Earth. The Rune-Keeper, like the Warden, can be very dynamic in battle. They have a DPS skill set and a healing skill set. As a fight progresses, the more DPS skills they use, the more powerful DPS maneuvers they unlock at the cost of losing healing skills and vice versa. This allows the innovative player to shift roles depending on a situation. For example, if you are going into an instance where the first fight needs all hands on deck, you focus on DPS to strengthen your attacks. Later on, when you are needed as a healer, you shift away to healing skills to flip your abilities. The skill sets don’t change quickly though, so Rune-Wardens need to plan ahead.
Other additions in the expansion include a refining of traits and more crafting opportunities including specialization and the ability to join crafting guilds. All in all it looks like an exciting new stage to the game. Jeffrey Steefel told me they have lots of room to grow in the future as well. They have plans for much broader PvP as the Fellowship nears Mount Doom. Mordor isn’t the only place they can grow too, there are also the vast reaches of Mirkwood and the Lonely Mountain.