Khazad-Dum Awaits Seasoned Players, New Players Not So Much
Turbine has gone to great lengths to ensure that fans of Tolkien’s masterpiece aren’t let down in its massively-multiplayer vision of Middle-Earth.
And, it appears, they’ve paid the same attention to detail in their first expansion to their initial hit MMO, Lord of the Rings Online, with the expansion Mines of Moria.
There is a ton of new content available for veteran players in Mines of Moria. Starting around level 50, players are able to embark on uncovering the secrets of Khazad-Dum. It is important to mention that this expansion doesn’t just give players the ability to explore the depths of the great halls of the Dwarves, but also the areas that sit on both sides of its entrance. And, yes, there is a decent amount of content in these areas as well. While the inclusion of these areas may not seem all that necessary, it does vary the looks of environments a bit for the expansion, which would have had to transition from one type of cave look to another with them.
Mines of Moria is an expansion pack that serves as a great narrative addition to the original Shadows of Angmar, continuing Turbine’s dedication to storytelling. Nevertheless, with the addition of narrative cutscenes and specific subplots via quests, the Mines of Moria does a decent job at creating pacing for the players. Veteran players may resent the amount of time it takes just to get into Khazad-Dum, which does seem a little longer than necessary. Conversely, once completed, it does make getting to that point far more rewarding than if it had been accessible from the start.
The same standard MMO-like questing is, sadly, still very much alive in this expansion. Despite the periodic breaks for narrative cutscenes, players will be spending a majority of their time traveling between NPCs, delivering items, and killing varying numbers of enemies. Of course, this has become the traditional form of gameplay in most MMOs, so veterans of Shadows of Angmar, or any MMO, should feel right at home. And, while throwing in a little more innovation to this part of the gameplay would have been noteworthy, it makes sense to not deviate too much if anything but for the loyal player-base that is fine with it.
The expansion also includes two new character classes: the Rune-keeper, a wizard-like class that wields powerful magic, and the Warden, which is a spear and javelin class designed more like a tank. Despite the already-long list of classes present in the game, both the Warden and Rune-keeper carve out their own places. For example, the Warden has the ability to perform several attacks in a row to build up enough power to unleash a single, more powerful attack referred to as a gambit. While such a gameplay element isn’t new to the MMO genre, it definitely finds a place in Mines of Moria. Moreover, the Rune-keeper, which can be defined as either a healer or an offensive-style magic class, doesn’t seem too over-the-top, even considering the subtle role that magic plays in the original universe created by Tolkien. Of course, more diehard fans of the lore may have some issues in this case, but in terms of the gameplay elements the class brings, it isn’t really a bad thing.
The least attractive part about the two new character classes is the inability to start them at level 50 to play the expansion’s content. New players looking to delve into the expansion’s content will have to wade through the Shadows of Angmar content at first anyway, so picking either of these classes isn’t any different from picking the rest for them.
On the other hand, veteran players anxious to explore the new content will be at odds with the classes. Being forced to start from scratch to even sample the new classes is discouraging for veteran players. But, regardless of this inconvenience, it does provide them with a reason to explore the early content once again from a fresh perspective. The other downside to starting over is the decreased population of players in the game world. Most players who are still living within the world are ready, and were ready, to explore the expansion’s content from the day of its release, leaving the earlier areas of the game nearly barren. Even when exploring the early stages of the expansion, running into other players is a rarity.
Mines of Moria is also a game that demands players work together, even if just in small groups of two to three. There are plenty of solo-friendly areas and quests thrown into the mix, but most of the enjoyment to be had in this expansion is done in small groups. And, despite the game’s relatively low population, finding one or two more people to aid you in your quests isn’t terribly painful, although that isn’t to say it’s easy. Having friends you can count on to play with you is the surest bet in this case.
The enemy placement and A.I. in the Mines of Moria isn’t a groundbreaking step for the genre by any means. But, Turbine has ensured that all the traditional A.I. mechanics are available and varied to make for a variety of encounters. This is especially needed considering how heavily the game depends on its PvE and narrative and how it doesn’t really bring much to the table for players seeking more PvP gameplay.
From a design standpoint, the music and sound effects do their jobs. With thundering soundtracks that generate subtle moods of exploration, mystery, and danger, players should feel immersed once inside the expansive caves and tunnels. The game’s sound effects, however, were not quite as fitting. Even with high sound-quality settings, the combat effects seemed too subtle and lacking. Weapons impacts just didn’t seem strong enough when compared to the musical score or ambient effects that should have played as a backdrop. This isn’t to say that the sound effects are terrible. No, what they are, is average; they don’t take away from the experience, but they could do a better job of improving it.
Mines of Moria, if anything, is a visual masterpiece of world design. Sure, the areas outside of Khazad-Dum are what veteran players have come to expect from Shadows of Angmar. The rolling hills, country sides, and vibrant settings of the original are held in deep contrast to the dark deep of Moria. Turbine definitely ensured that they got this part right, designing the new areas to be awe-inspiring. This is immediately noticeable upon entering Khazad-Dum for the first time, and is reinforced as players progress through it. The Mines of Moria expansion may not necessarily be a huge graphics overhaul to Shadows of Angmar, but it doesn’t need to be because it still holds its own when compared to other popular MMOs on the market.
The Lord of the Rings Online: Mines of Moria is a fun and more-than-significant increase in content for its players. Turbine has definitely done a great job of capturing the epic nature of Khazad-Dum, especially when it came to its world design and visual style. Veteran players who have been waiting for more places to explore in Middle-Earth should not pass up the opportunities found in Mines of Moria. However, the expansion does little to entice newcomers to join the world, considering the only new content they could experience from the start are the two new character classes. Mines of Moria is a must-buy expansion for veteran players of the original, but it will not provide a lot of immediate satisfaction for people thinking about picking up both it and the original for the first time.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
A beautiful game that proves that great visual and world design can overcome and completely overshadow anything less than next-gen engines. 3.5 Control
Standard MMO controls and UI customization are present and easy to manage. 3.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Great musical scores are only hindered by less-than-great sound effects. 4.0 Play Value
Tons of new and rich content is ready to be explored, if only for veteran players at first. 3.8 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.