Ever since its release nearly 16 months ago, The Lord of the Rings Online (LotRO) has been one of the best MMORPGs on the market. It combines fluid gameplay with realistic graphics in one of the most recognizable fantasy atmospheres of all time. Their first “volume”, The Shadows of Angmar, allowed players to explore Eriador in all of its grandeur and frightening splendor. And now, coming this fall, Volume II of the story unfolds as the retail expansion, The Mines of Moria, will be released.
The developers at Turbine Studios, the group behind LotRO, know that without its players, there is no game. So periodically throughout the life of the game so far, the player-base has been given what the developers called “epic book” releases. These releases are fairly large in nature, and usually occur every few months. They have almost always added new areas of the map to explore, and allow the developers to introduce new characters, weapons, gear, and quests. It’s also a great way to make improvements within the game, like the ability to scale the UI, adding in and changing the existing graphic content and so on.
These epic book updates are free, and Turbine has said they will always be free. But the expansion coming this fall is going to be LotRO’s first retail expansion…meaning you will need to plunk down some additional cash in order to explore this new area and take advantage of all the new content.
Rryst, of “The Chasers” (one of the kinships within LOTRO) told me what he was looking forward to the most.
“Seeing Moria itself,” he said, “Who doesn't want to experience the 'dungeon' that inspired all others first-hand? The place Gandalf himself feared to tread. Turbine has thus far done a fantastic job on its play-spaces, the underground ones especially, and I'm very much looking forward to witnessing Moria. The thought of delving into its history, and future, through game-play is also very exciting. Some forward movement in the timeline is also very welcome. The Epic Books have done an adequate job in maintaining some momentum, but having the fellowship stuck in Rivendell for so long has grown wearisome. This push toward more content we're familiar with from the books is very welcome.”
Khazad-dûm is what the dwarves call Moria, and as Rryst says, it is the basis for many of the “dungeon crawls” of the past. Itself, it is a very large area of the map. It contains many large halls, caverns, chambers, mines and tunnels, and it will be full of Sauron’s minions to be sure. One thing that many players are looking forward to is fighting the Nameless of the Deep; the Balrog of Khazad-dûm. Many people’s favorite moment of the movie “The Fellowship of the Ring” was Gandalf’s stand against the Balrog on the Bridge of Khazad-dûm. You will get to see this bridge for yourself, as well as battle this mighty foe and try and bring him down yourself!
Another great character of Middle-earth lore that will be introduced is the ethereal Galadriel. Galadriel is an elf who was the possessor of one of the three rings of power. You will have the chance to aid Galadriel with this new expansion. Speaking of fellowships, another cool aspect being introduced with the Mines of Moria expansion is the ability to complete instances with 3, 5, 12 or 24 players. This gives you much more flexibility when it comes to your grouping in-game.
Aside from a massive new area of the game that will be opened up, there are many other changes which makes this release deeper and more detailed than any of the other epic book releases. There will be two new characters classes unveiled: the Rune-keeper (the game’s first true casting/magician/wizard class, differing slightly from the Loremaster) and the Warden (a sort of hybrid hunter-captain who would be more elusive than tank-like). These two new classes are the first to be introduced into the game since release, joining the other seven classes already available to the player-base.
As many players of LOTRO know, each epic book release has contained several quests which allow you to participate in the fellowship’s task of destroying the One Ring. With Mines of Moria, you will be able to experience the next volume in this epic journey, with six new books to work through as the Fellowship prepares to leave Rivendell and journey to Mordor. This represents a great step forward in the evolution of the story. Imagine if you will that we are over 16 months into the game itself and the Fellowship hasn’t even left Rivendell yet!
In the most recent epic book release, Book 14: The Ring-forges of Eregion, the Fellowship is gathering in Rivendell in preparation for their departure. Turbine has thought of a great way to make sure they move forward in the timeline of the story without leaving behind those new players who join the story from this point going forward. They are going to alter the quests just slightly to include special “rooms” within Rivendell that contain the characters of the Fellowship in their pre-departure states, while having the actual characters in different places within Rivendell in preparation for their departure to Mordor. It’s a great solution to the problem of having a linear game that must evolve without leaving newer players behind. Player immersion is a big concern to the developers at Turbine and with this worked out, you can rest assured that as you progress throughout the story, the characters you know and love will be right where they are supposed to be.
Another thing you can expect with the release is the increase of the level cap from 50 to 60. This is welcome news for the large group of players who have been a bit stagnated with their level 50 character(s). If you aren’t into PvMP play (Player vs. Monster Player, LOTRO’s version of PvP in-game), then once you get to 50, you only have a few options you can explore (although most are really rewarding). You can level up your reputation with the various groups within the game, gaining access to items that others with lower reputation can’t get. You can also work on crafting, which is a great way to explore your creative side. There are literally hundreds of recipes that grant you the ability to make some very cool weapons and gear. And of course, there are the numerous traits you can level up by completing the accomplishments associated with them. The trait system allows you to increase your stats without having to actually gain in-game XP. It’s a nice benefit for those players who reach the level cap and feel like there’s nothing left to accomplish. And of course, with the release of Moria, even those level grinders will have something to keep them busy for a few weeks.
Speaking of gear, another great part of the Mines of Moria expansion will be the legendary weapons and gear you can craft. These legendary items will level up as you do, and you can level up the traits and runic legacies of the item, allowing you to wield something as legendary as Bilbo’s sword Sting or Gandalf’s Glamdring.
Jaguire, another player with The Chasers, says, “I'm looking forward to the different combination that weapons and traits will now give you. This will, in a way, make it more of a personal experience. Up to now, every one basically had the same setup; one champion was pretty much the same (as another). Now with weapon experience and runic add-ons plus different ways to set up your traits, this will hopefully broaden the horizon for character development. Hopefully they will bring certain sets of runes to give you different bonuses if put them in certain order.”
As you can see, there are many things which make the Mines of Moria expansion worth a lot more than just your standard epic book release. Do I think that players will be willing for fork over $29.99 for the Mines of Moria?
Allow me to quote Bayland of The Older Gamers. “In the story arc, it (Moria) is where the reader becomes hooked by the struggle of the characters. Gimli finds the tomb of Balin, Gandalf falls, the Balrog falls, Aragorn steps into the leader role, Frodo reveals hidden strength and Boromir shines briefly before he succumbs to the lure of the Ring. Moria represents the first true step for LOTRO towards actually participating in the war of the ring. It is the crucible that forges the Fellowship. I expect LOTRO to be forged by this release. My expectations for Moria are high and the fact that Turbine is dedicating an entire expansion seems like the perfect fit.”
If anything has been shown to be the case since LOTRO’s release last year, it’s that the player-base is one of the most loyal in the business. And Turbine has a wonderful grasp on what Tolkien envisioned as Middle-earth. I expect that this is just the first of several retail expansions to come for LOTRO, and I look forward to experiencing them all.