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Standing Stone Games | Official Site
MMORPG | Setting:Fantasy | Status:Final  (rel 04/24/07)  | Pub:Daybreak Games
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Mordor: Iconic Moments, Great Ideas, But a Little Lackluster - Edit

Written By Joseph Bradford on August 18, 2017 | Comments

Mordor: Iconic Moments, Great Ideas, But a Little Lackluster

“Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
     Seven for the Dward-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
     One for the Dark Lord on his Dark Throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
     One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
     One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.”

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The Lord of the Rings Online has a long history of putting players into iconic moments and settings from J. R. R. Tolkien’s legendary legendarium, and this tradition continues with the release of Mordor, the long-running MMORPG’s newest expansion. Taking place following the events of the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, LOTRO wastes little time reminding players that indeed, within the Land of Mordor, the Shadows still lie.


The Black Land of Mordor

Slight Story Spoilers Ahead

With this being the first expansion to launch since Standing Stone Games was formed, a lot is on the line for the studio to perform - and also show that LOTRO still has a vibrant and long future ahead of it. However, the setting and place in the timeline of the War of the Ring have had some fans worry that there won’t be much else to do after Mordor. However, once you start to play the content and see how much Standing Stone has poured into each quest, these fears do start to alleviate some. The Lord of the Rings Online for much of its ten year history has proved it can carry stories in Middle-earth without having them directly tied to the Ring, such as the release of the Mirkwood expansion, and content releases in the early days of Lotro such as Forochel or Evendim. The War of the Ring doesn’t need to be the anchor for Standing Stone to create good stories - though it will be interesting to see how they move forward with new areas and content after players have simply walked into Mordor.

Think about it this way - had the expansion not started with the Quest of the Ring coming to a close and instead had players helping Frodo and Sam with their quest, the ending of the Mordor storyline would have already been decided for any book reading or movie watching fan of the story. By wrapping it up early on in the expansion, the unknown of the Black Land hangs over the game, making for a more enjoyable experience into the unknown.

“Frodo and Sam gazed out in mingled loathing and wonder on this hateful land. Between them and the smoking mountain, and about it north and south, all seemed ruinous and dead, a desert burned and choked.” - The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, “The Land of Shadow”

Mordor itself is beautifully crafted. It actually evokes the same sense of foreboding that long-time LOTRO players might have reserved for Angmar back in the early days of the games life. However, while Angmar felt wild, untamed and unpleasant, Mordor feels downright corrupted. The land feels ancient, scarred and rotten, and the landmarks that dot the Mordor landscape show years of decay and neglect by the Orcs, Trolls and Uruks who have inhabited the land for generations. Large fortresses such as Cirith Ungol and Durthang overlooking the dale of Udûn dot the landscape as you explore past the Black Gate and the Morannon. Iconic sights such as the ruins of Barad-dûr or the oppressive sight of Orodruin make walking about Mordor enjoyable - as enjoyable as the Black Land can be, that is.


The Ruins of Barad-dûr

Mordor is about as straightforward a zone as any in LOTRO, however, and this is some what disappointing, though I’m sure many will disagree. Since the only logical way our adventurers are really able to get into Mordor is as a result of the Ring being destroyed, you would think there would be more panic in the Black Land. However, things seem to just be humming along for the Orcs and those who are still there. Personally, I was hoping for more disarray in the areas, but it’s a minor annoyance.

One thing that Standing Stone Games got right are the fortresses within Mordor. Durthang is incredible to see, and the first steps I took as I walked up to the ruins of Barad-Dûr sent a chill of both excitement and creepiness down my spine. The Black Gate also is much like what I pictured while reading the books: tall, grim and oppressive, seemingly leeching into the mountainside rather than having been built centuries prior.

“Therefore they made that League which is called the Last Alliance, and they marched east into Middle-earth gathering a great host of Elves and Men; and they halted for a while at Imladris. It is said that the host that was there assembled was fairer and more splendid in arms than any that has since been seen in Middle-earth, and none greater has been mustered since the host of the Valar went against Thangorodrim.” - The Silmarillion, “Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age”

One of the major additions to The Lord of the Rings Online is the new High Elf race. This is one of the weirdest additions to the game since the Beornings (which is another subject entirely) since giving LOTRO’s RP community, many people were already tracing their characters back to the Calaquendi via Lorien or Imladris origins. However, it seems incredibly out of place to introduce a brand new race this late in the game specifically.

If you do decide to start with a High Elf, you will be treated to one of the most fun intro quests the game has thrown at players before. In perfect fashion, the game sends you to the Battle of the Last Alliance, placing you in the same epic battle of the Second Age with Erenion Gil-Galad, Elendil, Isidur, and more. In fact, fans of the Lord of the Rings will recognize quite a few faces, though they might have slightly different titles during this battle (I’m looking at you Prince Thranduil!). From there the game explains how you are still around and kicking in Middle-earth towards the waning days of the Third Age and throws you into the adventure proper. You can either level the hard way, or if you choose you can use your Aria of the Valar (assuming you have one) and jump right into Mordor proper. I chose to keep playing with the Elf I created at Lotro’s launch ten years ago - Eldalye an Elvish Hunter from Lorien (by way of Gondolin after its fall), but I did fiddle with the High Elf a bit and I do like some of the racial traits the Calaquendi have to offer.


Elendil and Gil-Galad parleying with the Nine Nazgul

There is a Racial out of combat resurrect skill that can come in handy after a long battle. I do feel it’s a little off to have cool down of 30 minutes since it is out of combat only, however. High Elves also can earn a crowd control skill, which can come in handy on the plains of Gorgoroth when you’re staring down a few drakes and orcs barrelling at you and your fellowship.

And in Mordor you do want to group up, though the game does seem to be at odds with itself here as well. There is a markedly obvious spike in difficulty in Mordor that has seen more impromptu grouping in fortresses and more than I’ve seen since Moria launched, but there are also so many quests where the developers force you to go solo. It’s somewhat infuriating since it takes away some of the social aspects of a multiplayer game for no discernible reason that I can see. This type of disconnect can get annoying when you’re in a groove with a really great pick-up-group and all of a sudden you’re forced to break fellowship and go your separate ways due to a solo part of a quest chain.

The new Allegiance system is also a mixed bag for me. On one hand it’s pretty cool to see the peoples of Middle-earth rebuilding and ensuring the hard fought victory will last. You can join factions which represent the Free Peoples of Middle-earth: The Realm of Gondor, The Court of Lothlorien, Durin’s Folk, and Hobbits of the Company. However, in practice it doesn’t feel like any more than just a more advanced reputation system. 

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