The Lord of the Rings Online: Mines of Moria Review
By Chad Montague |
It's been a couple of weeks since Turbine first opened the Mines of Moria and, after sampling its delights, we're more certain than ever that it greatly enhances the already superlative experience of The Lord of the Rings Online. With new classes, new legendary items, new story chapters and one of the most iconic locations in the fantasy genre, it's a sure bet to please most MMO fans. You'll be stepping into the Mines of Moria as part of a dwarven reclamation project, intended to recapture and restore the Mines in the wake of the Fellowship's foundation-rattling passage through the ancient dwarven kingdom.
The content in The Lord of the Rings Online is more linear and more focused on narrative than you'll find in most other MMOs. Where games like World of Warcraft and Warhammer Online have plenty of interesting story arcs in their varied quest hubs, they tend to present them as independent theme parks; you show up, ride the rides and then move on to the thrills that are lying just down the road. Being based on the richest and most celebrated fantasy book of all time, The Lord of the Rings Online has more opportunity (and greater need) to connect all the elements of the story into a cohesive whole. To be fair, there are still plenty of interesting diversions and peripheral encounters, but the chapter-by-chapter progression of the story makes the overall context of your adventures just as engaging as the actual gameplay.
Collector's Edition Content The Lord of the Rings Online: Mines of Moria Collector's Edition comes in the book style packaging that we've seen in other MMO CEs. And though it's a bit smaller than most, it's no less attractive. The dark red color and raised texture of the edition truly gives it the feel of an old, well-worn book.
But it's what's inside the box that really counts. Inside you'll find three maps. One is a 22" by 22" cloth affair that shows all the key areas of Moria. While not particularly practical as an actual reference during gameplay, it has a certain charm. The other map, from the Angmar special edition, shows more of Middle-earth, from Eriador to Mordor, but it's far too small and blurry to be of much use at all. It seems odd that they included this, because the third map is basically a bigger, clearer version of the same territory.
If you're really into pretentious affectation, you'll be happy to see the CE includes a gold-plated replica of the One Ring. The publishers score big points for having the actual inscription stamped into the inside and outside of the Ring, but they lose points for making it much too small to fit the average MMO gamer's finger. Then again, given the corruption and danger that comes from actually using the Ring, maybe that was intentional. Since you won't likely be able to put it on your finger, the publishers were nice enough to include a necklace and a small leather pouch that is also suitable for holding dice or weed.
You'll also get an art book and a soundtrack CD. The art book is nice by itself, but it pales in comparison to the similar offerings we've seen from the World of Warcraft and Warhammer CEs, both in terms of the size and number of pages. The artwork itself is very good, but we wish there was more of it and that it was rendered at a larger size. The soundtrack CD is quite excellent and showcases the fine work Chance Thomas and Stephen DiGregorio did to add layers of mood and atmosphere to the game.
The Collector's Edition also includes a few virtual treasures as well, including three in-game tokens that you can use to claim some minor rewards within the game, as well as a special badge you can use in the LOTRO forums.
The only real kicker is that the Collector's Edition is a full forty bucks more than the Complete Edition. Ultimately, the soundtrack and the in-game rewards are the most attractive items in the package, but unless you absolutely have to have everything, you're better off going with the cheaper Complete Edition. The overall design or Moria is spectacular.Fortunately, this is a trend that has been amplified in The Mines of Moria. The expansion pack adds lots of atmosphere and detail to the game world in one of the whole genre's most ambitious and successfully realized locations, the dwarven kingdom of Khazad-Dum. The whole mission to reclaim the Mines has attracted not only the attention of the dwarves, but also a few of Middle Earth's resident villains who have sent their orc and goblin forces in to stake their own claims. The player's involvement increases from basic pest control duties at the beginning to uncovering the strategies and battling the bosses of the various factions. Along the way there are loads of quests that help you connect with the history of the Mines and, in a few rare cases, even take part in solo instances of Khazad-Dum's past. Of course, you can play the game just as easily by focusing solely on the objectives, but you'll be missing out on a lot of the story that gives the quests a sense of substance and significance.
There are three new areas in The Mines of Moria: the Mines themselves, and the bordering zones of Eregion in the west and Lothlorien in the east. Though the two outside zones have their own content, the real star here is the Mines. This vast, sprawling zone is easily one of the most impressive MMO environments we've ever explored, both in terms of overall layout and mood. The scale here is simply ridiculous and it's a credit to the art and technology teams that they've created a space that really feels like a giant underground kingdom. Even in the most open of areas, of which there are many, you never lose the sense that there's an entire mountain just hanging over your head.
Given the associations fans have with the book and the movies, it's commendable that Turbine has come up with a Moria that is at once both familiar and unpredictable. The dwarves' geometric stone work provides a sure sense of magnificence and history, with lots of little details that emphasize the disrepair and dustiness that have taken hold since the kingdom was originally lost. The areas controlled by the goblins are even more rundown and ramshackle, and this contrast works well to highlight the personalities and agendas of both races. Treasuries, libraries, throne rooms, waterworks and a host of other specific locations reveal that Turbine has tried to design Moria as a coherent, functioning kingdom, and not as an arbitrary collection of generic rooms.
Though you start out killing bugs and such, things get dangerous very quickly.The vast changes in scale and the sometimes twisted nature of the pathways and levels of Moria make it relatively easy to get lost on your way from A to B, and that provides a great sense of adventure and uncertainty. Winding your way down dark, narrow tunnels or climbing massive wooden scaffolding on the side of a bottomless chasm, you never really know what you're going to find around the next bend or on the next level. And what's particularly great about this type of design is that Moria often reveals stunning vistas that give you a far off glimpse of an interesting area with no clear path leading there. It's almost like the game is daring you to find a way to the new location.
And obviously, the confusing and daunting architecture is only one of the dangers in Moria. Players will encounter a number of terrifying and deadly creatures right from the start, from the goblins who can swarm on a player at a moment's notice to the deep claws who can literally toss players right off the edge. From there players will graduate to even tougher opponents and even encounter a number of bosses who have their own dynamic strategies that change during the course of combat. Trying to read your boss opponent to find out just how best to attack them while also dealing with their hordes of rank and file minions requires careful attention and coordination.