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[PC] LoTR Online: Mines of Moria (CVG 18/12/08)

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[PC] LoTR Online: Mines of Moria (CVG 18/12/08)

Post by VampiricPadraig on Mon Jan 05, 2009 8:40 am

There are a lot of good things to say about how Turbine have approached The Lord of the Rings Online's source material. They have carved from Tolkien's words a remarkably individual game world that not only bears very little resemblance to the ridiculously popular films, but also to any other MMO in the industry.

Say what you will about how the gameplay in LOTRO is similar to that of World of Warcraft, but what makes this MMO special is how well it immerses you in a quality atmosphere. And Moria is, frankly, the most atmospheric game world I've seen in a while.

Bizarrely, you actually start outside Moria, and unlike WOW, EverQuest, Ultima Online or any other MMO, you spend a fair amount of time unlocking the expansion's extra content. It's somewhat of a large-scale tutorial for the new legendary items, weapons that level with your character (see box out), as well as a scene setter for the rest of the expansion as you fight The Watcher in the Water and break through the Hollin gate.

Most of this takes place in cinematic solo instances where the Watcher's slightly underwhelming tentacles whip at you and drown your dwarven allies, until you can come back with your well-levelled weapon and fight it back into the depths.

Luckily, you can put away your thesaurus of the mundane once you enter the halls of Moria, as Turbine have made one of the most astonishing in-game areas ever. This sounds hyperbolic until you travel around the titanic interiors of Khazad-dûm, riding through hallway after hallway of ruined dwarven masonry. Everything - even the most benign hallways housing your average merchants - seems to tower above you and stretch off below you in a way that I imagine MMO developers have been wanting to do for years.

Even though you know, deep down, that the huge drops below you lead to nothing and that the hallway ahead of you probably just has more goblins in it, Moria succeeds in instilling true dread, giving you a stomach-churning romp to level 60. This expansion recreates that horrible uncertainty from the days of Ultima Online, where you'd creep down a hallway unsure of whether you were about to get ripped in two by something in the dark. It's varied too, with the expected instances including some awesome historical quests - including a battle against a Balrog and others - that let you understand how Moria became the way it currently stands.

Players can also start playing as a Runekeeper or a Warden, LOTRO's two newest classes. The Runekeeper is a classic magic user class, focusing on either doing massive damage or healing their teammates, with each damage/healing spell making its particular school more effective. The Warden strings together abilities to activate gambits, that can be offensive or defensive depending on what you choose to make each one with. They're both interesting additions to LOTRO, and their utility shines in both solo and group situations.

This is all good, but once in Moria there's a certain point you shouldn't travel alone. This is both for your safety and your own enjoyment. Attempting to frolic around this expansion like a whimsical knob-end can and will get you killed (trust me, I've tried it). Turbine have made Moria inhospitable to an extent - while you won't get killed in the safe areas, travelling outside of them on your own is a risky, slow-going business, and only when you can team up with one or two friends does the world really open up.

While it sounds obvious considering that Mines of Moria is a high-level expansion, it's not a forgiving solo product. This isn't to say it's impossible to go it alone, and it's certainly not like Vanguard or Age of Conan as far as solo-unfriendliness, but there's so much content that is both more enthralling and fun when you've got back up.

As the first paid-for expansion that Turbine have done for LOTRO, Mines of Moria shines. While it's hardly the most revolutionary product ever to be released, what it tries to do it does well. There may be extra levels to grind through, but MOM's treats are in the form of juicy lore and an actual storyline that digs hungrily and deeply into unexploited Tolkien myths. If you're into LOTRO, you should be buying this immediately, and if you're not, now might be the time to sign up.

Rating: 8.5


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