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?
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.
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.
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.
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.