Lord of the Rings Online: Mines of Moria (PC)

Written at launch, December 2008. No doubt there’s been many patches since!

Lord of the Rings Online arrived last year to much excitement. What could be better for the typical PC games player than an MMO set in the world of J.R.R Tolkien’s classic books? Well it seems, as usual, it was World of Warcraft. Luckily however, many stuck by Lord of the Rings Online and a surprising sleeper hit of an MMO emerged. Unlike World of Warcraft and many other MMOs, Lord of the Rings Online focused on its narrative, a somewhat rare thing in the world of MMOs. The main storyline, known as the Epic Quest Line, follows a series of books and chapters (quests in other words) which lead the player through a surprisingly tight narrative. It all made a pleasant change, and I’m pleased to say that like all good expansion pack, Mines of Moria builds upon this admirably.

Mines of Moria adds many features, many that are typical of a MMORPG expansion pack but all exactly what you would like to see. First of all the level cap has been increased to 60 giving veteran players another target to aim for. Most notably (especially if you’re a newcomer to the game) is the addition of two new classes: the Runekeeper and the Warden. Both classes are jack of all trades, masters of none in many ways. Runekeepers are very similar to magic casters. They use runes to cast spells and are able to use either healing spells or damage dealing spells. Using either increases the Runekeeper’s proficiency thus increasing their potency. However, due to the new attunement mechanics, it means you become weaker at the other type of magic eventually causing some of it to become unavailable, so it does result in having to choose a direction as it takes time to become accomplished at whatever you choose. The Warden class is more your brawler type class. It’s not strictly a tank class but neither is it a DPS (Damage Per Second) class. It uses a Gambit system which basically means you can line up combo attacks which can culminate in a special attack. The moves available range from damaging attacks to being able to self heal making the Warden quite a unique class. Besides the class additions, there is also a new Legendary Item Advancement System whereby each item gains experience alongside your character, so that the more they are used, the more powerful they become. As well as this, you can even name your items if you so wish, so yes you can finally have a weapon called ‘My massive tool’ if you wish. It’s all a very nice concept really, making your items actually feel like your items rather than just the same generic piece that everyone else could have.

Of course now you’ve got your level 50 character and the ability to have your ‘own’ equipment, you want to go exploring to level up, don’t you? Never fear, there’s a few new places to explore in the form of Moria, an underground complex within Middle-Earth (now you know where the game title comes from!). There are three new zones, with two outdoor zones: Eregion and Lothlorien but the shining jewel in the crown is the third zone, the mines themselves which are particularly impressive. They are imposing and even slightly unsettling. It really does feel like an underground kingdom and is foreboding for it. It reminds me of my old Everquest days where I really did feel like an inconsequential minion at times, easily swatted away by an angry monster. This also brings me to my next point; it’s not really a solo player’s place. It really does help to be in a small band of trusty people to explore such vast surroundings.

There is however a slight downside to all this. For those of you who love the Player Versus Monster Player battles, there is no new zone for this. You’re still stuck with Ettenmoors, however luckily it has been revamped a fair bit. Finally, it is now worthwhile for smaller PvP groups to play as capturing and holding camps is more possible. As well as this, Monster players get a ten level upgrade and a new trait system which can be used to customise their monsters. It’s a pity that there is no new PvMP zone but I’m sure it will be added in future expansion packs!

It all feels very much like a long running series of books, with Mines of Moria being described as Volume 2 and the expansion pack adds six more books to the main storyline. It might be a tad linear compared to Warcraft, but this is LoTR Online’s strength, it forms such a compelling narrative that you actually feel caught up in the world of Middle-Earth. Some of the instances are just so enjoyable, that they create such a unique and original experience. It makes a pleasant change to see a combination of the best elements of single player games (a powerful storyline) and MMOs (interactivity with real player characters and a consistent world constantly changing around you). I suspect the vast majority of hardened MMO players will be really surprised by this game and rightly so. It’s a refreshing breath of fresh air in a cluttered market. Will it cause me to jump ship from World of Warcraft? Maybe not quite, but that’s because I’d argue that it’s difficult to compare the two. Sure they’re technically the same genre, but it would be like comparing Duke Nukem to Half Life. Same concept, but one does it so much more intelligently with a much more detailed story. Ultimately, it all depends on your mood at the time and what you fancy playing. It would certainly be a tough call if I had to decide on only one. However, maybe my initial plan to spend the Winter in Northrend was a tad hasty, Middle-Earth has a certain something about it that I like.