The Mines of Moria released last year to a lot of hype within the Lord of the Rings Online community. Many people believed that the game needed rejuvenating, and what better than a massive underground city overrun with all kinds of foul creatures to do it? But the Mines themselves aren't what I'm going to talk about in this article. Many, many writers, bloggers and e-critics have commented on the Mines, what they bring to the game, to an old player, to a new player, to every man and his uncle. So I decided to take a different angle. What's it like for an old-time player to start again with one of the new classes introduced with the expansion? So this feature is my experiences as a (Dwarf) Rune-Keeper, starting from scratch, seeing what's different and what's the same as when I started out two years ago, when I first entered the game as an Elven Hunter.
The tutorial instance that you play as a Dwarf is different from the Elven one, but takes place nearby (just down the hill in fact). It's a totally different storyline however, and gets the LOTR fans interested by involving the player with Gimli and Gandalf. The Rune-Keeper, from the outset is pretty distinctive. It's most like the Lore-Master, but still, is a very different creature. That's reassuring - it doesn't feel like a re-skinned class. As well as the different "feel" it certainly has a distinctive sound, one that my kinmates and fellows have complained about upon many occasions. And, after playing the class for myself, I can certainly see how it could grate on you. As ever, you start with only a few skills, to prevent a new player becoming too overwhelmed. Interestingly enough, new players are encouraged not to start off with the Rune-Keeper - in the character creation screen they are cited as "Advanced". So far, however, they've been fairly easy to play, but they do have an interesting mechanic that could develop into something a little more complicated as they gain more skills.
The introduction quests are practically the same as the Elven ones, with a few minor differences. The quests act as a basic, not too rigorous introduction to the game, and although a little repetitive for a players leveling a second character, you spend so little time here it's not a big deal. It's a good looking area, but not as nice as many zones you encounter later on in the game - Evendim being my personal favorite. When playing a second character, I find myself rushing the quests a little, which is a shame, but I don't feel the same excitement when I know where the story's going. Typically I don't play alts, but typically I don't get as involved with a game as I've gotten with LOTRO. For some people it's almost part of their MMO routine - level up main character, then start on the alt straight away. I don't understand that vein of thought, but I guess that's just due to my play style.
I guess the biggest jibe I have with the Rune-Keeper is - where do they fit in with the lore? Now I'm something of a Tolkien geek - not a fanatic, but I like to see people who base their products on Tolkien's work to respect it; not to make up their own versions that they think better than the original. One of the starter skills for a Rune-Keeper is called "Fiery Ridicule" and the skill's description says "The ridicule a Rune-keeper writes hurts more than a mundane scribe's ever could." This just doesn't sit well with me. Nowhere in the Lord of the Rings do we see rap-battles. I don't recall a single "Yo Momma" insult in the books or the films. In all seriousness, the battles in the Lord of the Rings are fought with swords, arrows and, at their most extreme, fire and explosives. Yes, Gandalf and Saruman can use magic, but Tolkien explicitly limits it to them and very few others. In fact, the whole subject of trying to reconcile the lore with the game makes me a little unsettled. I think I need to go and see a shrink - confront those demons before they drive me crazy.
Your Country Needs ... Rune-Keepers?!
However, all this aside, there does seem an ironic aptness to the Rune-Keeper being drafted in at this late stage in the struggle for Moria. Clearly attempting to reclaim what was "once theirs" using only their preferred warriors - Guardians, Champions, Hunters, and as a last resort, Minstrels - wasn't successful, So, now, they call upon those lesser-known, and lesser-liked "warriors", the Rune-Keepers, to form the back line of their fighting force.
Now the Fun Begins!
So, after completing the introduction quests, and uncovering the truth about the Dourhands, you start book one. This is where the game is quite different for me as a Dwarf, than it was as an Elf. Now, as I mentioned earlier, it was a long time ago I started levelling my original character, my Elf, so I struggle to remember the fine details of the quests I did at this level, but I certainly remember they took place at the southern end of Ered Luin and worked north to Gondamon. With the Dwarven quests, you basically work the other way, starting at the northern end and working south to Gondamon. The storyline differs too, if I remember correctly. Whereas the Dwarven quests are concerned chiefly with battling the Dourhand menace, the Elves, as ever, are more concerned with the deer that has it foot trapped in a bush. Both sets of quests are enjoyable in their own way.
So Far, So Good?
As I mentioned earlier, the Rune-Keeper has a very distinctive "feel". However, "feel" aside, it doesn't play drastically different so far, in the few hours of play I've experienced. Now, that's not a big complaint, as, all battles at this level are just a case of cycling through skill 1, skill 2, skill 3 again and again. There's nothing more to it at these low levels. However, the distinctive "feel" is encouraging, and I hope that the class develops in complexity a bit more (as I'm sure it will) as I level, to provide a more "rounded" class.