Tag Archives: lord of the rings

Riders of Rohan – War Steeds

Some random bullet points, mostly for friends of mine so I can point them at this as a War Steed introduction.

  • You get access to War Steeds by doing the Epic quest in Riders of Rohan.  Volume III, Book 8 to be precise.  You can work through that Epic line as soon as you have access to Rohan, it’s well worth doing, because it has some of the best Epic ‘story’ quests since Moria.
  • You seem to only own a single steed.  It shows up as a mount in the regular Skill | Mount window, near the bottom.
  • When you first get the steed, it’s a Medium war steed.  There are three types, Light, Medium and Heavy.  You are not restricted to any one kind regardless of class, but some might suit certain classes better.
  • The factor which determines whether you have a Light, Medium or Heavy is which Mounted Combat Traits you spend points in.  There are three lines, Light, Medium and Heavy and as soon as you spend your first point, your steed converts to a Light, Medium or Heavy steed (medium seems to be the default).
  • You can reset the points for a few silver, so it’s not a permanent thing, you can switch between different kinds of steeds for different kinds of situations.
  • There’s a new legendary item, Bridles.  Bridles come in three flavours, light, medium and heavy.  You can equip one at a time, they apply their benefits regardless of the type of mount (so a Light Bridle works even if you’re on a Heavy Steed), but obviously, because the traits vary, and the items affect the traits, a Light Bridle will offer more benefit on a Light Steed.
  • Riding the horses is much tougher than travel horses at the start, so they won’t replace them straight away (maybe ever).
  • Your steed has armour and morale, and damage is absorbed by the steed during combat protecting you to some extent.
  • All classes get a new set of mounted combat skills (must be purchased), you don’t fight using your own regular class skills.
  • Steeds earn experience and level up, allowing you to spend more points on traits.
  • Quests offer XP, Legendary Item XP and now Steed XP.
  • You appear to earn Steed XP from kills even while not mounted, but at a reduced rate.
  • Mounted, Steed XP is equal to Item XP from kills, unmounted it appears to be worth around 1/3 that of item XP per kill.
  • Steed XP appears to be earned on all kills, not just quest related kills.

Enedwaith – aiding the Grey Company

I don’t know if The Lord of the Rings Online is the best massively multi-player online roleplaying game (MMO / MMORPG) in the world, but it certainly has two very strong things going for it.  Firstly, the lore is rich and engaging and immediately familiar for many people while still having depth and being able to surprise, and secondly it has a lot of free content.  Not free because the game has gone ‘free to play’, but free because on a reasonably regular basis new chapters are added to the ongoing Epic quest, and those chapters often bring new areas in which to quest, without subscribers having to pay anything at all.  That model was started early in the game and continues even now.

Lothlorien was added for free post-Moria (it was initially intended to be in the Moria expansion I believe, but grew too large and was at risk of taking up too much resource).  And while Mirkwood was a paid for expansion, the game has just seen its latest free content – Enedwaith.  There’s a full developer diary article for Enedwaith which pretty much covers it, but I wanted to write my own little half review here, as well.

If you don’t want to see the full map, don’t follow the jump!
Continue reading Enedwaith – aiding the Grey Company

Lord of the Rings Online – Outfits

Personalising your avatar in an on-line world is big business.  This is obvious to anyone who’s wandered around Second Life for more than 10 minutes and seen the millions of purchasable ‘looks’, or spent a few hours creating their own rock legend in Guitar Hero 5 (a huge collection of menu options for changing everything from how pointy your chin is to which way your nose curves).  In those games however, the look is purely cosmetic.  Those of us who play Massive Multi-player Online Roleplaying games (MMO’s, MMORPG’s, MMOG’s, whatever you want to call them) have different needs from our character’s equipment.

Traditionally your equipment both defines how you look and how you perform.  Armour provides protection from enemy damage and improves your innate abilities, weapons affect how much damage you deal, and accessories (jewellery, shields, and other esoteric items) provide magical benefits beyond your wildest dreams.  Sometimes, they also make you look good.

Wearing a newly acquired and hard won breastplate with pride because those around you can tell what it is and where you got it is fine, until the colour clashes with your hair or your choice of boots.  And should Hobbits be penalised for not wearing any shoes while other races benefit from run-speed enhancements or other funky abilities?

Lord of the Rings online offers a system which allows characters to both personalise their look, but also benefit from the best equipment they can acquire using the outfit system.  In my inaccurately named ‘short review of Lord of the Rings Online‘ I commented that I’d not had room to talk about the outfit system, and so this post is filling that gap.

When the system was first introduced it was only open to characters who had made level 20, until then, your appearance was decided by the equipment you were immediately wearing.  Now however, as long as you’ve had any one character reach level 20 or beyond, all of your characters can use outfits.  It’s a nice touch.  The outfit system basically gives you 2 extra inventory layouts (outfit 1, outfit 2) covering the visible items – head, shoulders, gloves, legs, feet, chest and back (cloak).  Weapons and shields are currently excluded, and since you can’t see jewellery that’s not included either.

The system lets you cosmetically equip items in the various slots, the item actually moves back into your general bag inventory, but the slot now retains the appearance of that item.  You can destroy / sell the item itself and still retain the look.  You then choose which of the three outfits you want to show to the world, your regular appearance based on equipped items, or outfit 1 / 2 from the cosmetically equipped items.

So you’re free to wear the most effective equipment even if it makes you look like a jester who’s done too much acid, while still maintaining some sense of style with one or other of the outfits.  Maybe you have a casual look for lounging around the Prancing Pony or your Kin House, or two different armour sets for looking mean and really mean.  You might like to look like a Pirate on Thursdays but have your regular hunting garb on the rest of the time.   Lord of the Rings online allows  you to hide / show various slots too (so you can turn off your hat indoors), and this works just as well for outfits.

If you kept the original item that you have cosmetically equipped, you can replace an outfit and get it back at a later stage, however if you sold / destroyed the item and replace it in the outfit system as well, you have to find another one before you can cosmetically equip it again in future.  To go with this system, Turbine have added a lot of purely cosmetic items to the game.  Hats, cloaks, and various pieces of clothing which offer no character benefits but which look pretty or high quality or unique.  Sometimes these are player crafted or reputation related purchases, and sometimes they are creature drops or quest items or special event rewards.  There are various NPC vendors around the world who also sell items such as backpacks (instead of cloaks), quivers, and other purely cosmetic items.

Overall the system is flexible enough to give you options, but restrictive enough that people don’t end up with 200 outfits and you’re never sure who is who.  It allows you to customise your appearance, wearing a matching set of armour which looks good but might not present the best stats, and allows roleplayers to engage in more realistic activity (you tend not to sit in the bar in full plate with a face visor unless you’re expecting it to be invaded by 200 orcs).

My previous experience of appearance was EverQuest where you were tied to how your gear looked, although you could tint the items (and you can dye items in Lord of the Rings Online), and people spent a lot of time and effort carrying around sets of gear so they could change how they looked.  It consumed bank / bag space and was a pain in the neck.  Lord of the Rings Online’s solution is much more preferable, allowing you to look how you like but not forcing you to waste bank space.  It’s easy to use, quick and fun.  I’m sure people would like further outfit slots, and I know I would be interested in allowing weapons and shields to be outfitted cosmetically, but despite those missing features, it does work.

Here’s three screenshots of one of my characters in his three different outfits.  The first screenshot is how the character looks wearing his actual gear (he has a full set of matching armour, so doesn’t look too bad at the moment),

actual equipment

The next shot is wearing the Heavy Armour set from Forochel (thanks to Grete, who worked to earn the reputation to make this armour in-game),

forochel set

And lastly, his previous look, using a faceplate helm (which his beard ruins) and a set of armour he crafted,

faceplate set

He doesn’t have a casual outfit at the moment – but then when you spend all your time killing orcs in Moria, who needs to wear a shirt.

Lord of the Rings Online – a review – part four

Welcome to the fourth and last part of my short (yeh yeh) review of the Lord of the Rings Online (you can find parts one, two and three behind those links).  As Grete said while she proof read the third part for me, it’s not really a review, more of an introduction to the game.  Generally I agree, although I could argue it is a review, but not a critique.  Either way, it was a little longer than I expected when I decided to answer Ottaro’s original question.  Hope you found it useful.

4. Other Stuff

There’s the stuff that makes up a game (the content, the system, the graphics) but there’s also the non-stuff or maybe the quantum-stuff which is much harder to pin down which makes a game worthwhile and gives it longevity.  I’ll talk about those things here, I’ll give you a list of all the stuff I remembered I hadn’t spoken about, and I’ll finally (thank the Greek gods finally) wrap up.

4.1 Immersion

A game can’t be totally responsible for your eventual immersion.  People with hectic lives will find themselves being dragged out of the game, or distracted and not able to ‘lose themselves’ as easily as people in quiet households.  Some people find it easier to focus on a single thing and immerse themselves for many reasons than other people.  But a game must certainly take some responsibility for enabling that immersion.  If the game constantly drags you out of the action because of the control system, or if the information on screen is so anachronistic that it constantly reminds you you’re playing a game then it’s always going to be harder to feel fully involved. If the graphics on the other hand are impressive, representative and make you feel like the world could be real, then it’s going to be easier.

Add to this the other players and to a lesser extent the other non-player characters and how they behave.  If the players around you are constantly discussing their mortgage or car purchase in an easy to read channel, or the NPC’s act dumb all the time, then suspension of disbelief becomes harder and harder.

How then does LoTRO rate?  Well firstly you need to remember I’ve played exclusively on a roleplaying designated server, and that means people are pretty keen on keeping out-of-character chat to a complete minimum and limited to the /ooc channel only.  In that respect, it’s very good, people try hard to talk in-character in fellowships or in /say and there’s very little non-IC chat to remind you about the bills you should be paying.

Alongside the well behaved players, we have NPC’s in LoTRO that sometimes call to friends for help, sometimes run away to shoot at you from range and sometimes call you names during the fight, it’s not going to win AI awards but it certainly helps.

Finally, the beautifully rendered world sucks you in, and before you know it you’re staring into fires in Goblin Town feeling the warmth and wondering if that smell is roast pork or maybe, just maybe, somewhere, a Hobbit is being turned into dinner.
Continue reading Lord of the Rings Online – a review – part four

Lord of the Rings Online – a review – part three

Welcome to the third part of a short review of Lord of the Rings Online that I hope I can keep to four parts.  Parts one and two have come before this one (I like a traditional numbering scheme) and part four is on the way.

3. Technology

With any luck, this part will be short!  The content and system behind an on-line roleplaying game combine to make up much of the overall experience.  Certainly for many players those two things are enough to decide the fate of a game.  However, how the game is actually presented on the screen and how the different technology elements work can also make or break a game for quite a large section of the player base.  That’s what this part is going to talk about.

3.1 Interface

The interface is the window through which we look at the game and the system through which we control it.  Bad interface design has killed games in the past and will sadly kill games in the future.  I freely admit I struggled with the LoTRO interface at the outset.  I was very used to EverQuest after 7 years, and I wasn’t at all sure about changing.  Over time though I have gotten used to it and while there are features which annoy me there aren’t any show stoppers.  Discussing the interface in full detail would take hours and thousands of words, I’m not going to do that so I’ll just give you a general feel for it.

The interface is actually several elements,

  1. how do you control the game
  2. how does the game display information to you
  3. how does the game handle chat
  4. how can you configure those three things to suit you

3.1.1 Control

I’ll handle control first.  Basic movement in LoTRO is pretty standard, cursor keys or WASD for moving around, combinations of keys to look around rather than turn.  You can use left mouse button + mouse to turn and right mouse button + mouse to look.  Holding down both mouse buttons makes you move in the direction your character is facing.  You can mix and match all those combinations.  Anyone who’s played a FPS or a recent MMORPG will find using that control system easy, it’s pretty standard these days.  You can position the camera either floating behind the character (3rd person) or inside the character (so the game is 1st person).  I played EQ in 1st person but for some reason LoTRO works a lot better for me in 3rd person and I’m pretty used to it now.

Continue reading Lord of the Rings Online – a review – part three

Lord of the Rings Online – a review – part two

This is the second part of what started out as a small review of Lord of the Rings Online and has turned into an epic monster.  You can check out the first part back here, and parts three and four are coming up after this one.  This bit (part 2) deals with the system aspects of the game, i.e. how things work.

2. System

It doesn’t really matter how much awesome content there is in a game, if the system behind it sucks like an open chest wound.  People will only put up with so much pain to get to the content they enjoy.  Systems have come a long way since the early online roleplaying games which extolled the virtues of lots of hard work for small increments in power.  These days developers realise the casual gamer market is just as key to the success of a game, and people with families can’t commit to six straight hours in front of a keyboard every night.  Systems have developed that allow casual gamers to get the most from games but still offer opportunity for complex character development and fine tuning.
Continue reading Lord of the Rings Online – a review – part two

Lord of the Rings Online – a review – part one

splashscreenOttaro was asking how much I liked Lord of the Rings Online (you can read his comment here), and rather than write a 400 word comment I thought I’d write up a more general review. Only it got out of hand so I’m breaking it up into individual posts.  This is part one which has an introduction and covers the game content.  Part two looks at the system behind the game, part three covers the technology of the game such as the graphics engine, the user interface and so on, and part four provides my overall impressions, a look at the social elements in the game and how immersive I find it.  I reserve the right to completely change all that once I actually write the articles and find I’ve waffled endlessly about something else.

Background

So that you can get an idea of where I’m coming from with this review, here’s some information about me.

I played EverQuest for something like seven years.  I played as a new player who knew nothing, as a player in a big casual guild who sometimes got groups with guild members but often grouped with random people, as someone who ended up in a raid guild one expansion behind the curve, as a ‘hard core’ grouper doing the hardest group content (at one point), as a casual raid-force leader, and all levels in-between.  At one point I cared about the ratio of hit points to AC as a warrior, I cared about the amount of avoidance and shielding I had.  I spent time looking at upgrades and trying to work out how to gain tiny incremental benefits.  I had three maximum level characters (when 80 was the maximum level) and one of them had every useful AA (my warrior) before the last expansion came out.  Eventually I just got tired.

I love fantasy and sci-fi, and I deeply love the world that Tolkien built and the characters he wrote about.  I love the Lord of the Rings story, world, characters and mythos and I have done so since I was 11 or 12.  However, I’m no serious scholar of Tolkien and Middle Earth, so if I think things aren’t in the lore but they are, don’t have me shot.

Before I stopped playing EverQuest (EQ) I’d tried a few other MMORPG’s, EverQuest II (EQII), World of Warcraft (WoW), Star Wars Galaxies (SWG), Guild Wars (GW), Dungeons and Dragons Online (DDO) and Lord of the Rings Online (LoTRO).  I had the LoTRO account for over a year, playing on and off before I finally stopped EQ and LoTRO was not the cause.  I fell back into LoTRO when I wanted a social on-line game and found that EQ was just too much.

I am very much a casual LoTRO player.  I spend some time solo,  most time with my wife and every now and then a little time with a few friends.  Sometimes we group, sometimes we just chat while we all do our own thing.  Before the release of Moria I had a maximum level character (50), but it had taken over 12 months to get there.  I’ve tried all the classes to some level or another and all the races.  I have never raided, and have spent very little time in the elite dungeons (top end content at various levels).  I don’t look hard for item upgrades, when I get gear as rewards I make a snap decision based on which seems best using a bit of guesswork.  I’ve read something like three articles on the web to give me a very basic insight into choosing weapons.  I have very little idea how my character stats compare to other peoples, in fact, I have very little idea what my character stats are at all.

I play on a roleplaying designated European server (the European instance of LoTRO is run by Codemasters, I guess it’s licensed to them by Turbine, this means that we don’t always get all the features, like my.lotro.com for example).  The roleplaying server keeps the number of trolls in the out of character chat down to a minimum.  Although I don’t roleplay in any real sense I do act in-character as much as possible in the /say channel (i.e. the channel which emulates characters talking to those nearby) and if you want lots of roleplaying it’s there for the taking.
Continue reading Lord of the Rings Online – a review – part one

Take a ride on the Moria-go-round

I’ve played a lot more of Moria since I wrote my first mini-review and have seen a lot more content and thought I’d post a quick second review of the expansion.  When I wrote the first article I’d completed most of Eregion and had seen Moria.  Now I’ve spent a week exploring Moria, and have seen about three-quarters of the major locations and quested heavily in nearly half of them.

So how is it holding up?

Moria

The first thing I want to say is that the music in Moria is just superb.  It easily makes the game a much richer experience and is both dramatic and appropriate.  The music changes depending on which area of Moria you’re in and gives you a sense of the danger or safety of the location.  The folk who scored this game deserve some recognition in an award.

Graphically Moria is as good as my first impressions made it feel, if not better.  The architecture is epic and grand, and while each area has a distinct graphical look and feel, they also fit well together and a number of themes are present (for example, huge dwarf face carvings, or columns of immense proportions).

I’ve included a short video to give you an example, I was going to use screenshots but as I say in the video voice over, they didn’t capture the grand scale, because until you see the camera rotate, you don’t always realise how huge everything is.

Running around the place makes you feel like you’re taking part in an enormous adventure, the re-taking of Moria is in your blood, and you’ll do whatever it takes to defeat the evil and help the dwarves win.

Speaking of evil, there’s plenty of it around within the halls of Moria.  Goblins and Orcs abound and they’ve been given a graphical facelift for their appearance in this expansion.  The goblins look even more like those in the Moria segments of the movie, and the Orcs are subtly different from those in the rest of the game.  The mines don’t have a huge range of other creatures within them, but there are worms, bats, beetles and other insects, frogs, salamanders, lizards, morroval, spiders (yes Oly, it has spiders) and wargs (so far).  A lot of the critters don’t attack on sight, but there are enough enemies that do to make running anywhere a challenge.  The intelligent creatures (orcs, goblins, morroval) are broken up into particular camps for the most part, while the other critters are spread throughout the mines in varying quantities.

The Moria area is broken up into 10 major locations, but they share the same chat channels (if you’ve played Lord of the Rings online you know that major locations such as Breelands or The Shire have their own chat channels for out of character, trade, advice, etc.)  This is useful because it ensures you can talk to players anywhere within the Mines, but that each location gets a detailed map and a different feel.   As well as the main locations there are instances and areas outside of the mines (other than just Eregion and Lothlorien).  Movement between locations is achieved usually through a narrow entrance (either a corridor or bridge), although this isn’t always the case.  Each main area has at least one horse master (although you use goats) and at least one main quest providing area (usually a dwarf camp).

So we get to the quests, the core of the Lord of the Rings Online and I have to say, Moria is just as pleasing in that regard as Eregion was.  The quests are engaging, usually make some sense and encourage exploration of the surrounding areas.  There is plenty of confusion caused by the use of multiple names for the same places (dwarven names and common names for example) which can sometimes lead you on a merry run around, but it all adds flavour.  Each major hub has a bunch of quests in the immediate area and they expand the lore and tell the story of the Mines.  As usual, there’s then one or two quests which send you off to the next major hub when you’ve finished the main lines in the current location.  However there’s nothing to prevent you running ahead and picking quests from any location, and in fact it does sometimes help because quest tasks do overlap every now and then.

I do have some issues with some of the quest rewards (mainly weapons) but I’ll cover that in the Legendary Items section below.  There is a new addition to the range of quest rewards – direct item experience which provides a nice boost to any legendary items you’re working on at the time.  My Minstrel has quested (casually, so no Elite instances) throughout all the previous zones including Angmar and Goblin Town, and the armour and jewellery rewards from the Moria quests are useful upgrades in most cases.

The quests cover the usual range of activities, helping people escape from enemy infested areas, killing various numbers of enemy creatures, collecting random pieces of paper or lost artefacts and helping the dwarves generally gain control of the surrounding locations.  There are some nice touches (and a feature of the LoTRo quest engine I love), for example you are required at one stage to recite a story in front of various dwarven statues to honour the builders of Moria.  In general the quest experience is high quality and engaging.

Legendary Items

I covered Legendary Items briefly in my previous post, having not had much chance to play with them.  Now I’ve had much greater exposure and I find them both over- and underwhelming.  The choice and sheer number of items is overwhelming.  A two or three hour questing session can result in 5-15 Third Age Legendary Items for myself and Grete which we split.  Maybe one or two of those are useful for our classes and the rest are for classes we don’t play.  On top of that we gather further items which can be traded in for Third Age Legendary Items that are always useful for our class.  So far, in about a week of play we’ve seen two Second Age Legendary Items (supposedly better than Third Age).  On top of the sheer number, each item appears to have randomly generated benefits, so they’re sometimes hard to compare.

If you can’t use the items you can break them down into Relics, and up to three Relics can be placed into an item to further improve it.  Additionally, the Relics can be merged together to make more powerful Relics (5 to 1).  You can be earning XP on up to 6 Legendary Items at a time, even if they’re not currently equipped.  Breaking down items one level after they’re reforged (every 10 levels) produces better rewards than if you had done them a level earlier (i.e. breaking them down at 11, 21, 31 is better than 10, 20, 30).  The rewards can include Relics, items which give item XP when clicked and Legendary Shards.

Add all those things together and it’s very easy to get overwhelmed with choice.  I had originally thought we would get a weapon and keep it for a long time, levelling it as we went.  However it’s clear we’re going to be switching weapons quite a lot early on, until maybe getting just the right one for a little while.  But basically, I find it all overwhelming.

And underwhelming?  Yes, because so far the Legendary Items don’t seem that fantastic.  Yes, they add bonuses you can’t get anywhere else, and some of those are cute, but I’m past caring about tiny improvements in stats on characters, I did that for seven years with EverQuest, now I just want to be able to survive the quests I do with Grete and friends and be able to complete the non-hardcore content.  So in some ways, the range of features on Legendary Items doesn’t impress me.

A final word on this, the reward everyone gets for gaining access to Moria is a Legendary weapon.  However, quest rewards further on inside Moria still give normal weapon rewards.  Those weapons are pretty impressive in their own right.  I’m confused about this choice, because I thought we were being encouraged to use Legendary Items as weapons, and yet a few quests in we’re being offered clubs and swords which far outstrip the DPS of the Legendary Weapons we’re wielding.  This confuses me a great deal and I’m not sure what the intent of the developers was.  Yes, some classes dual wield and so need two weapons, and someone suggested you could use a nice quest reward while levelling an inferior Legendary Weapon until it got better, but those seem like minor issues to me.  Either Legendary Weapons are where it’s at, or they’re not and the mixed message from the developers tarnishes this otherwise interesting mechanic for me.

Lothlorien

Lastly a very brief word on Lothlorien.  I ran my dwarf all the way through Moria and out the other side (and very scary it was too).  Lothlorien is initially blocked by another set of quests, in an area just outside the mines.  As I understand it, the Lothlorien area is quite small, the development team focussed their efforts on Moria (and did very well) and the larger Lothlorien will be the result of the next free book of material.

Conclusion

I am so happy with the Mines of Moria.  I think the development team did a superb job capturing the feeling and the scope.  With the exception of one or two minor flaws this expansion has been the best MMORPG I’ve ever experienced.

I spent the weekend in the Mines of Moria

Well, technically I spent the weekend in the surrounding parts of Eregion, but I certainly did step into Moria eventually.  The first full expansion of the Lord of the Rings Online has been released – The Mines of Moria.  I was pretty excited, I’ve always loved Tolkien’s dwarves and the body of lore they spawned in fantasy games like D&D, Warhammer, etc.  I tend to end up playing dwarves in many of the fantasy games I play, and the character I spend most time on in Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO) is a dwarf (guardian).

There’s something about the Mines of Moria that fills me with wonder and excitement both in Tolkien’s writing and in the movies.  It’s no surprise therefore that I was looking forward to this expansion for the content alone.

Since the initial release there has been a massive amount of free content released for LOTRO including entire new areas, hundreds of new quests, thousands of new items, recipes, and lore.  So you can bet any expansion you have to pay for is going to have to contain vast amounts of content to keep people happy.  Moria’s content covers a cross-over area Eregion (in Eriador), which leads into Moria and finally into Lothlórien (both in Rhovanion).  Eregion is a single ‘map’ location with four or five main quest areas.  Moria is a bunch of different map locations, each of which looks pretty big and enjoyably complex, although I’ve so far only seen the first area.  I’ve not been to Lothlórien so can’t comment on how large it is.

Each of these areas clearly have a huge number of quests and the Epic quest line has been updated to include the fellowship activity in the new locations.  For casual players like myself at least, questing is the core of LOTRO, with most equipment, cash and experience coming from quest rewards, so whether an area is any good depends a lot on the quests, how they feel and how much they connect you to the Lord of the Rings lore.

As well as the new content, the expansion brings an increase to the level cap of 10 levels (maximum level is now 60), two new classes (Rune-Master and Warden), new skills, deeds and traits appropriate to the new levels and Legendary items.  A new rank of tradeskill proficiency has been added (supreme) and new tradeskill resources and recipes required for that, additionally tradeskill guilds have been introduced which provide another source of recipes and require the gathering of guild reputation.

So, there’s a fair amount of stuff, and since both myself and Grete were still feeling pretty under the weather on Saturday, we decided to stay in and ‘play a little LOTRO’, which translated to spending most of Saturday and Sunday trying out the new content.  Here, in no particular order, are my general thoughts.

Fixes

The best ‘fix’ in the patch for Moria is that quest items no longer take up inventory space, they go into a special ‘slot’ against the quest.  This is really good news, as I said earlier the core activity in LOTRO is questing, and that results in bags half full of half completed quest items.  You can have around 40 active quests and if they all require you to gather some things it can soon get hard to manage.  The new system frees up a lot of inventory space which is tightly managed in LOTRO and makes questing less painful.

Classes

I briefly played with a Rune-Master, levelling a character to 8.  I’m always impressed with the classes in LOTRO, given there are two main archetypes (caster and melee) I’m always amazed that each melee or caster class has something unique to differentiate it from the others.  No two melee play the same, and no two casters play the same.  Rune-Masters use combat or healing skills, and the use of those skills builds combat or healing counters which either improve or prevent other skills in the fight.  For example, in order to use some powerful combat ability you have to amass combat counters by using lesser combat abilities, but some healing abilities decrease combat counters and increase healing counters.  Some healing abilities can’t be used if you have any combat counters and vice versa for some combat skills.  The net result of this apparently complex but actually simple system is that during any single encounter the Rune-Master has to specialise in damage or healing and probably won’t be easily able to switch mid-fight.  This unique slant made for some interesting choices even at low levels, and I can imagine the scope at higher levels is even greater.

I haven’t played with a Warden, but the combat mechanic appears to allow you to build special attacks by combining earlier attacks.  Unlike previous classes which have defined routes to certain special abilities based on their skills, this appears to allow a more flexible approach to building a wider range of special abilities.  Grete seemed to enjoy it at low levels.

Eregion

This location is the introduction to the new expansion and is entered via the Trollshaws.  With the exception of some fellowship quests in an instance full of elite creatures, I’ve pretty much done every obvious quest, and it was really enjoyable.  The area is split into four main quest hubs, each progressing in difficulty and all having horse masters.  A progressive deed allows you to obtain swift travel between the hubs, with initial travel being slow and having to be opened by visiting the horse master at least once (standard LOTRO approach).

The area is pretty open, with a number of ruins, some mountains and dry water-bed features and is mostly green (grassland, trees).  In the south-eastern part of the area is a location which leads to another small map which contains the entrance to Moria and has the Black Pool.  I like the open nature of LOTRO areas, they don’t usually restrict your movement by anything other than increasingly difficult creatures to get past, and Eregion is no different.  The one exception is that it’s not possible to gain access to Moria until you complete the introductory quests in the Epic line (carried out in the little area mentioned above).

The general quests in Eregion cover the whole range of normal quest activity in LOTRO, and other than being made more difficult by the huge number of people present in the zone were fun to do.

The access quest line for Moria is fun and designed to be done solo (in fact, two stages have to be completed solo).  They take place in a special version of the Black Pool area with a whole range of quest NPC’s and mini-quest dungeons.  Once you get past a certain stage in this quest line you can no longer get into the special instance area, even if you’re in a fellowship with someone doing those quests.  This is a bit of an issue (especially when we didn’t realise it would happen) because you can’t help your friends out.  However, the access quest is soloable and not too difficult, it’s the other unrelated quests in that area that are tougher and have some decent rewards that might be more troublesome when 200 people aren’t doing it at once.

Once you fully complete the quest, you gain access to Moria through a more general Black Pool area which I’ve not fully explored yet to see if the instances still exist as well.

The access quest is very atmospheric and without giving away too many spoilers you get to see some tentacled and flaming creatures of legend.

The rest of Eregion is populated with the usual range of LOTRO creatures, wolves, wargs, beasts, humans of varying evilness and origin, a new lizard model, crows and trolls.  My Minstrel progressed from level 48 to near 51 by completing most of the Eregion quests.

There are several key locations in Eregion that tie in with the Fellowship in the book, and they evoke enjoyable memories and make you feel close to the lore.

Moria

I’ve spent very little time in Moria so far, but wanted to give my initial impressions.  Wow.  Epic, huge, grand, amazing.  The entrance hall is epic and the subsequent locations are brilliantly visualised.  You get a real sense of the enormous scale of the place and the music is simply breathtaking.  If the questing and adventuring lives up to the visuals it will be fantastic.  We got totally lost three or four times trying to get from the entrance to the second secured location, and enjoyed every wrong turn.

Travel within the mines is achieved either on foot, or by goat ride between major locations once discovered.

Legendary Items

The biggest equipment change in the new expansion is the introduction of Legendary items.  Essentially, they are items which can be customised through the addition of relics, improved in power through the earning of experience and further customised by spending that experience on increasing special skill-based features on the items (like skill cost reduction, increase duration, increase damage, etc.)  The reward for the Moria access quest is a Legendary item and the quest involves learning how to improve it which is a good introduction.  Items gain experience through normal kills and through some quests, as well as via experience boosting dropped items.  The experience does not detract from the regular character earned experience, but if you have more than one item currently levelling they do split item experienced earned.

I won’t cover these in too much detail, suffice to say that they bring a big amount of customisation that some people will love and others will gloss over mostly, and increase the complexity and scope of high level characters.  I don’t know if lower level Legendary items will be added, although I suspect not from the lore given when you get your first one.  You’ll either love them or just cope with them, but you won’t be able to avoid them.

Tradeskill Changes

I have mixed feelings about this, because an early bug meant that my Dwarf Guardian had some of his earned tradeskill points removed and I had to spend 3 hours making things to get them back.  A new rank of tradeskill has been added (Supreme), which adds a new level of recipes and a whole new bunch of resources.  The resources seemed plentiful in Eregion, although there appear to be two or three ranks of new resources (this is different to previous skill levels), with the higher rank resources showing up further inside Moria and beyond only.  I do tradeskill more from an obligation to be at the highest rank, and because it gives some nice toys, rather than because I truly enjoy it, so I’m not the best person to review this addition.

I do like the introduction of tradeskill guilds, of which you can only be a member of one.  Each guild provides new recipes (mostly more efficient versions of existing recipes, or slightly better versions of the results) which have long cooldown timers.  They also introduction a range of guild token item recipes which are used either in the aforementioned new recipes or in gaining reputation with the guild, which is in turn required to buy further recipes.  The interesting angle here for me is that it provides a reason to go back and collect low level resources to make guild tokens and gain reputation.  Other people will consider it simply a straight time sink.

Conclusions

I’m biased.  I’ve loved the Lord of the Rings since I read the books.  I loved the movies.  I love the lore, the concept, the very idea of being within Middle Earth taking on Goblins and Orcs.  The Mines of Moria held special importance for me because I enjoy roleplaying dwarves, and the ideas of lost kingdoms, heroics and forgotten wealth inspire me.  There was never any doubt I’d buy this expansion.  With all that said, it had a lot to live up to, and so far it’s managed it quite handily.  Eregion was fun and challenging and the Moria access quest was interesting.  My first view of Moria was suitably awe inspiring, and subsequent exploration suggests there’s more to come.  The bug with tradeskills pissed me off at first, and I’m just about over it.  But it can’t quell the enjoyment I get from bashing orcs over the head and shouting Baruk Khazâd! Khazâd ai-mênu! with the iconic images of Moria all around me and the sound of drums in the deep.