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The Lord of the Rings Online Nailed Moria's Sense Of Scale

By Joseph Bradford on August 16, 2019 | Columns | 0

On our recent Elder Scrolls Online livestream, myself and some buddies did a dungeon which took place in a massive underground building, almost cathedral-esque. Shank audibly said he could not get over the scale Zenimax Online Studios was able to create within the Vaults of Madness. I quickly responded saying nothing in gaming has compared to the first time I walked through the Doors of Durin and stepped foot inside Moria.

The Lord of the Rings Online: Mines of Moria was the first major expansion to hit the MMO since its 2007 launch and it brought with it perhaps one of the most iconic locations in all of Middle-earth. The halls of the Durin’s folk have helped to inspire some of fantasy’s darkest caves and dungeons across media, so Turbine, the developers of Mines of Moria, had to get the sense of scope and scale just right.

From the moment you step in Moria the scale is immediately made clear: Khazad-dum is a large place. As you continue through the Dwarrowdelf, you’re not only confronted by the immense scale of the mine, but also the winding maze that makes exploring them next to impossible. I remember when I first started trying to reach the Dolven View from Durin’s Threshold and it taking ages because I kept getting lost.

Moria presented to game developers with more chances to create iconic places within an iconic place. As exciting as it was to find Bag End in Hobbiton, it was also exciting to stumble upon the Chamber of Mazarbul, the location of Balin’s final resting place and the skirmish with the goblins and trolls in the heart of Moria. Since this takes place after the Fellowship has been through and the dwarves are trying to reclaim the halls of their fathers, you can find the ruin of Durin’s Bane – the Balrog of Morgoth (complete with its incorrect wings – Balrogs don’t have wings).

Moria was also inhabited during a time of great kinship with the Noldorin in Eregion. “Speak friend and enter” is written in Elvish and the password is the Elvish word for friend: mellon. Within Moria I remember stumbling upon a showcase of that friendship – Tharakh-Bazan. This is an area where trees and plants flourish and water flows. While currently its overrun by enemies looking to combat the dwarven reclaimers, I have to image that during the Second Age before the Dwarrowdelf fell it was full of food, drink and song.

Everywhere you turn in Moria you’re confronted with the immense sense of scale, adrift among a sea of stone. Great monuments to Durin and his folk are littered throughout the mines, some adorning the entrances to new sections, others crumbling along a walkway. One thing is certain, though: the developers wants to remind you at every turn the dwarves of old were stellar craftsman.

I remember watching The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring when I was 14 and the scene in Moria when Gandalf “risks a little more light” resonated with me. We were seeing the crown jewel of a civilization lost to the world. One of the descendants of that people was there, taking in the hallowed halls of his ancestors with the Fellowship. The music at that moment is absolutely perfect – it captures the sorrow, resilience, and eventual hopefulness of the dwarves in just a few bars.

The first time I walked through Moria and came upon the Bridge of Khazad-dum I had those same melodies playing through my head. This bridge linked the Western door of Moria with the First Hall which leads toward Lorien. The dwarves in The Lord of the Rings Online were slowly reclaiming the mines for themselves now that the Balrog was no more. Yet the bridge remained broken. Another path was discovered to get around the chasam and out the Eastern door  - which had none of the secrecy of the Western wall.

Leaving Moria once again reminds you of the scope of what the dwarves built. Two massive staircases leading into a doorway framed by Durin himself. Outside the walls are statues to dwarves and a giant relief on the mountain making sure nobody passing by would miss the door to Moria.

The Lord of the Rings Online may look dated by today’s standard. And yes, some newer dungeons in games might look visually more impressive. But there is something about the first impression Moria left on me that I cannot shake. No other game has come close to putting me in an awestruck mood when I first walked into an area like Moria did back in 2008. And I’m honestly not sure anything else will until we see Moria crop up in another game – maybe Amazon’s upcoming Lord of the Rings MMO? We’ll definitely have to wait and see. And while I mentioned quite a few places within the halls of Khazad-dum here, it only scratches the surface. Moria is well worth your time exploring if you’ve never experienced it before. Just make sure to bring your goat as a mine is no place for a pony.


Joseph Bradford

Joseph has been writing or podcasting about games in some form since about 2012. Having written for multiple major outlets such as IGN, Playboy, and more, Joseph started writing for MMORPG in 2015. When he's not writing or talking about games, you can typically find him hanging out with his 10-year old or playing Magic: The Gathering with his family. Also, don't get him started on why Balrogs *don't* have wings. You can find him on Twitter @LotrLore