The Lord of the Rings Online: Mines of Moria Preview (PC)

Along with the one on one interview with Jeffrey Steefel, Strategy Informer was also lucky enough to be part of the first UK hands on session of Turbine's new LOTRO expansion – Mines of Moria. Journalists and fan base alike were treated to a 45 minute presentation, along with the chance to try out one of the two new classes and explore the Mines themselves. The talk was also given by Steefel, and he talked us through what he called a “full-featured retail expansion” and not just “another update” like some people thought this would be.

The first thing they emphasised is that Moria is not simply a dungeon, it's not an added instance or a 'crawl' – it's a whole new world, just underground. Turbine has actually used it’s improved engine to create Moria as if it were another landscape. Steefel even goes as far to claim that you can walk from one end of Moria to another without teleporting (like you would when you enter a house), something that “no other MMO or RPG can do with a space this big,” he says. Whilst taking us on a tour of the mines, Steefel explains how they've expanded on both the books and the films, and have created sections that have only been hinted at in Tolkien Lore so far. No specifics were given on this front, but just take a look at the map and you'll be able to see how much of Moria has been covered. Looking up to the ceiling, you can barely see the roof, with only a few beams of sunlight shining through. Moria is so big that it has its own transport system, although unfortunately you won't be able to take your horses or ponies inside. You can also see, throughout the surrounding architecture, different stages in Moria's development; from the early settlements from Durin's age, through to more 'modern' constructions.

That's not to say that they've only stuck to the mines. The expansion will include the rest of Eregion, the region introduced at the end of the original game, and parts of Lothlórien, a region on the other side of the mountains where the Lady Galadriel resides. As the development team works on more books, more of Lothlórien and beyond will be open to players. The development team have also been creative with the different kind of monsters you encounter in Moria. Tolkien mentions briefly 'nameless' creatures from the 'nameless pit', and Turbine has really taken this on board and come up with some radical new mob designs that are unlike what you would normally see around Middle-Earth.

Other features that are more to do with the core gameplay have also been brought including two new classes: The Warden and the Runekeeper. The Warden combines a mixture of melee with ranged combat, specialising in spears and javelins. Their unique UI style is that of the 'gambit' system, where a Warden-player will execute specific moves in a specific order to unlock a more powerful move – depending on the level between 3 and 5 gambit 'slots' which combine to make a particular move. Playing the Warden during the hands-on, the concept seems to work some of the time. The gambit system itself, whilst technically sound, lacks a little bit of flair, and a lot of the special moves are a bit underwhelming. Still, there's enough time for Turbine to fine tune the game, so perhaps the Warden will be improved.

The Runekeeper is the closest thing this game has to a 'mage' or other generic magic-class. The way we understood it, 'magic' is a very controversial topic within Lord of the Rings canon. Nevertheless, the Runekeeper is quite unique as it can serve both a damage -per-second and a healer role, although not at the same time. Using an 'attunement' meter, players can align the character by using moves from one type or another, and the more they use of one type, the further towards that category they move, and the more powerful abilities they can field. The alignment also only lasts for that immediate battle, after which your Runekeeper resets itself to neutral. Whilst we unfortunately didn't get to have any hands on time with the Runekeeper, it does seem the more dynamic off the two new classes, as it provides both a depth and flexibility rarely seen in a fantasy-based MMO. Both of these new classes are available from the beginning as well, so players wanting to start again can choose them from the start.

The other arguably 'major' change to the game is the introduction of 'Legendary Item Advancement System'. At first glance you might think that this is simply another tier of item rarity and ability, but Turbine has actually tried to engineer it so that it is actually a bit more than that. Designed to emulate the famous items you know and hear about from the book and films such as 'Sting' 'Glamdring' etc... The 'LIA' system allows you to create your own item of legend that you not only can carry about with you and show off, but also advance and evolve along with you so that it keeps up with your level. This again is another feature that Steefel claims is not in any other MMO, and it if done right this could add another dimension to the later stage gamplay, as players can then start creating their own 'legacy' within the game.

Legendary items are found or earned the same way as any other item, but before you can do anything with them you must first visit one of the two new NPC Vendors in the game. The Forge Master will identify newly found legendary items, and combine materials to make new ones. The Relic Master will break down items you don't want into components, which can then be infused into items that you do. (Legendary items can be armour as well.) These items have certain 'legacies' that are attributed to them, and these rank up as you us the item. They can also be named by the player, and fall under the same rules and conventions that that everything else named does.

For all of its good intentions though, this system seems to fall prey to any other similar mechanic. Eventually a player will come across a weapon that is better, stronger etc... And might end up swapping it out with their current weapon. Even though the fact that the item levels up with you, unless it levels up faster than you, it may not work. Also, the fact that you have to essentially 'grind' the item to improve it just adds to the amount of time you have to grind, which has proven to not be a selling point for MMOs. Still, this is counter-balanced by the fact that there are certain rare drops that will simply add XP to your item without you having to do anything – it's all really a matter of how well Turbine has 'balanced' the game.

The whole idea of these items being 'legendary' can also seem a bit hollow, as these items are naturally bound to the player, and so the only way you will know or hear about a particular one is by physically finding someone with it. A true item of legend would eventually end up out of the hands of the person who owned it, and end up getting passed down either though kinships, or simply being found by someone else. This idea of 'player legacies' has a tremendous amount of potential which Turbine is possibly not quite tapping into to enough at the moment. If they manage to do so, they really could make LOTRO stand out above the rest in the same way WAR is trying to do with 'public quests'.

A long with these main additions, Turbine have also raised the level cap to 60, and improved the graphics engine slightly to cope with the new landscaping and lighting dynamics needed for the Mines itself. They've also improved the Trait and Deed system by adding in 'sets' which, a player collects more of, to give you bigger bonuses (like a raid set). The 'Player vs Monster Player' mode has also been expanded to include new game modes, new balancing dynamics and few other tweaks to make it a more worth-while experience. The classes themselves have also been tweaked so that they are more balanced.

All in all, it's looking good so far. Turbine is doing a lot of new things, which is good for an expansion, and it's doing them (more or less) right. The build we saw was only a BETA build, so a lot of elements still needed polishing, but there's no reason why this can't be a success with the core player-base, as well as attracting new players. To those who are not quite at level 50 yet, don't worry, you won't need the expansion to keep playing. There will be another free update to bring you nearly as far as the mines, and then you will need the expansion in order to go any further. Stay tuned as we bring you updated impressions from the closed BETA session currently being run in Europe.

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By Wowerine (SI Elite) on Oct 02, 2008
I like LotR games. And this one looks very good, even tough I don't like MMOs, so I'm afraid I will have to skip this one. Too bad.
By BlitzKrieg (SI Veteran Member) on Oct 05, 2008
me to, LOTR is what i consider to be one of amny of the best games ive ever played.
By ravensworth (I just got here) on Oct 17, 2008
Lotro is a different animal than WoW or WAR. The roleplaying exploring aspect of the game has a far greater influence on most of the player base. It is NOT a gear Centric game. Endgame is still raids and dungeons and PVMP. BUt it is also deeds and titles and Pub Crawls and live player bands. I Love WAR and I Love lotro. But they aren't really designed for the same audience.

Slaying an 800 Lb Gorilla like WoW is going to take something incredibly new and exciting. I remember when it release my guild said lets play it for a little while then go to EQII. I know alot of people that started that way or were not MMO players but were Warcraft RTS players. EQII never achieved the market share that EQ had.

So someone will need and incredibly popular IP(Middle Earth is taken) and an incredibly innovative game design. Until then WoW will own the market.
By eloqui (SI Core Member) on Dec 14, 2008
I've read that this is one of the more well crafted MMOs, if not the most popular/populated. My questions is: does it take as much of a time committment to enjoy as some other games seem to demand? I have long shied away from MMOs too, for this reason.
By Dodger1971 (I just got here) on Mar 24, 2009
realy nice game to play but as normal not much attention focused on the casual solo players :( other than that its the best mmo ive played so far
By lordpain123 (I just got here) on May 12, 2009
yaot kamo wayong mga newbie!!!