As I stood before a shade in the middle of the Gladden Fields, a wave of excitement washed over me. One of the greatest strengths The Lord of the Rings Online has going for it is the world in which the game takes place. Middle-earth is still the undisputed king of fantasy worlds, its histories and legends feeling as real as the legends and myths in our own reality. LotRO leans heavily on this feeling of legend and nostalgia often in its story telling, and Minas Morgul opens up with a legendary meeting.
Oh, and be forewarned, there might be some spoilers ahead.
Minas Morgul is the latest expansion to The Lord of the Rings Online, and with it Standing Stone Games brings over 200 new quests, encounters, crafting and of course, the new setting itself: The Morgul Vale. Minas Morgul itself is a place with a rich history in the tapestry of Middle-earth, having originally been built as Minas Ithil by the Numenoreans in Exile, and it was ruled by Isildur, a name that brings much weight to the story as he was the one who cut the Ruling Ring form Sauron, kept it for himself and, in a way, set in motion the events that would transpire during the story of The Lord of the Rings.
Minas Ithil was captured during the wars with Sauron and the corruption turned it into a cursed placed. Minas Morgul it was now known, is a dark, cancerous place – and its fitting we find ourselves exploring this dark recess of Sauron’s power in the period after the destruction of the Ring. Just because Sauron is gone doesn’t mean his influence doesn’t linger.
Minas Morgul picks up right where the Black Book of Mordor left off after the Vales of Anduin addition. If you haven’t played the prior content, you are likely going to be lost as LotRO doesn’t do a very good job of recapping up to that point - which for a new player who takes advantage of the Aria of the Valar level 120 upgrade it will be a bit frustrating. Other MMOs, such as World of Warcraft have cutscenes that help to recap the previous expansion’s story - a way to refresh the minds of returning players as well as help out newbies jumping into the new content right away - LotRO however requires working knowledge of the story to that point.
Additionally, for an expansion that is named Minas Morgul, new players might be puzzled as to why the new additions kick off in the Vales of Anduin with the Beornings. Again, the story to that point lays it out, but it can be a bit jarring if you’re expecting going in and kicking down the doors of Minas Morgul. Thankfully, the story that unfolds, at least thus far in my playthrough, has been rather compelling. Suffice to say you’ll find yourself helping a shade recall events from the Second Age, 3000 years prior to the events in The Lord of the Rings Online.
As with any LotRO expansion there is a lot to do. In fact, it might border on too much without a lot of actual substance. Minas Morgul boasts over 250 quests, and not all quests are created equal. Some quests are your bog-standard slayer quests - go here and kill Wargs near the Beorninghus, or you might be tasked with taking out Spirits in the Gladden Fields as you uncover the identity of the Shade you’re searching for. Fetch quests also are aplenty in Minas Morgul, as I’ve found myself running around crumbling Second Age structures collecting wood and stone to help repair the ramparts.
This is nothing new in LotRO - the vast majority of quests in the long-running MMO tend to have you RP - they want you to feel rooted in the world itself by taking part in multiple different aspects of the story. One quest might have you converse with tired soldiers to rouse them into work. Others will have you simply stand on six separate ramparts and simply look out before you. These quests, while as I mentioned are designed to root you in the daily workings of the world, tend to detract from the overall experience. I find myself doing these quests simply to level up in order to help out with harder encounters later, but I don’t quite know if I’m having much fun while doing these.
LotRO’s strongest suit is the story - when you’re interacting with the great characters of Tolkien’s vast legendarium it’s incredibly captivating. Conversing with Glorfindel - an Elf who once fought a Balrog in Gondolin - or helping Gandalf search for more answers in The Black Book of Mordor remind me of why I’ve loved LotRO over the last twelve years. And while I’m still working through the Epic questline in Minas Morgul, I’m enjoying getting a glimpse into the past as the Second Age isn’t a setting explored by many other sources (though we will be seeing some of it in Amazon’s new show it seems).
I haven’t had too much time to dabble with a Stout Axe Dwarf just yet - I’ve focused on leveling my character I’ve played since the 2007 launch - I do plan on getting some time in with the leveling experience of this new race brought to LotRO.
Another major addition is the new Carry All item, a sort of crafting bag that in practice doesn’t feel as tight as it can be, especially when directly compared to other MMOs and how they handle crafting inventories. The Carry-all first of all takes up space in your regular inventory instead of being just a separate bag altogether, meaning you’re losing a precious spot in your already crowded bag. Additionally items can’t be crafted from the bag, you’ve got to move them over to your inventory to use them, which while a minor inconvenience is still, well inconvenient. This is especially when you consider that The Elder Scrolls Online not only lets you craft direct from the bag but also from any crafting material store in your personal bank vault.
The larger issue for me is that this is a once-delivery item and is not transferrable across servers. This means players who have prolific crafters on multiple servers - or even the Legendary Servers - those players will have to pick and choose which character gets the beneficial item they pre-ordered in order to get. It is bound to account so it can be thrown into a shared storage and used by all your characters on a server, but it’s disappointing that this isn’t something delivered to every character like steeds and cosmetic items are.
Thankfully, it does look like the team is receptive to feedback on this item and hopefully we will see some tweaking to make it better. And even with its faults it is nice to clear up space from the craft mats that would otherwise be in my normal inventory.
We’re just scratching the surface of what The Lord of the Rings Online has to offer with Minas MOrgul. Currently I’m level 124 and working my way towards the cap, so expect more impressions as we move towards our full review.