Remember that scene in the first Lord of the Rings film, where the Fellowship went into that massive mountain, beat up a Cave Troll and Sir Ian McKellen yelled: "You shall not pass!!!!!", before being dragged down into the abyss with the fiery demon Balrog? Of course you do, it was the best bit. Well, now players of The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar, the brilliant MMORPG based on J. R. R. Tolkien's ridiculously popular fantasy universe, can trot along and visit the scene of the crime themselves with the game's first expansion pack, Mines of Moria.
So, what's new for LotRO players? The headline new feature is the increase of the level cap to 60, which brings with it the expected new traits, virtues, skills and quests. There are two new classes as well. But really the star of the show is Moria itself, a game area so huge it pretty much dwarfs (ouch) any new game world area introduced by an MMO expansion. Never heard of Moria? The name Khazad-dûm mean nothing to you? According to Middle Earth lore, Moria was the dwarven capital city, carved into the bowels of the Misty Mountains back when the dwarfs were the baddest race in the land. Now, though, it's overrun with orcs and goblins, and, right down at the bottom, god knows what's waiting to gobble you up.
Why would you even set foot in such a place, apart from the obvious sight-seeing potential? For treasure and glory, of course. You're on a quest to reclaim the mines for the dwarves, a people buoyed by the Fellowship's success in getting through the place. Developer Turbine should be most proud of how well it's captured the immense vastness of the mine; something anyone who watched the film will know well. Indeed the first LotR film gives you a good idea of how the virtual version looks. Dwarven faces are carved into the outside rock, inside stone staircases keep you perilously perched above seemingly endless black depths beneath your feet. Gargantuan doesn't even come close to accurately describing just how big the place is.
It's as dangerous as it is big. Moria isn't for newbies, fact. Lord of the Rings Online is a very solo-friendly, story-driven MMO, but Moria is an incredibly tough environment to adventure in on your own. If you can't help yourself and enter on your lonesome, the goblins and orcs will probably gobble you up, spit you out and laugh at your pathetic efforts. With another player, though, Moria becomes a much more manageable proposition, and a lot of fun, with plenty of instances providing entertaining dungeon crawling (including some cult LotR battles and events from the past). The expansion is in fact the beginning of Volume II of The Lord of the Rings Online, with six new books.
Moria, though, is very much for high-end players. Indeed the entire expansion has clearly been geared towards providing new content to existing players. The two new classes will do little to tempt those who have passed on LotRO in the past. Rather they provide veterans with something new to play with. The Runekeeper uses, as you'd expect, runes to cast destructive or constructive magic. These spells increase in power the more you favour a particular side, but at the expense of the alignment you're ignoring. At higher levels, the Runekeeper becomes something of a viable ranged DPS class and a viable healer class, something you don't get very often in MMORPGs.
The Warden's a bit more complicated. It's kind of like a tank slash rogue class, in that it's got decent armour and decent damage per second potential. Its attacks are based on a Gambit system which allows you to let loose a powerful attack after nailing a queued up combo. There are loads of variations to the attacks, too, which makes the Warden, like the Runekeeper, somewhat of a hybrid class. Jack of all trades, master of none I'd say.
So, Mines of Moria gives players a whole new world, essentially, to explore, and two new classes to play around with, but that's not all. Turbine's also included the new Legendary Weapon system, which is probably the thing high-level players will get most excited about. Here you're able to turn in Old World weapons to a Forgemaster who will make them Legendary. These weapons then become almost like a second character, which can be levelled up with experience points just as your main character can. Legendary weapons even have skill trees, meaning, in effect, that your character has access to a new skill tree, adding even more variety to your play style.
Mines of Moria is a quality MMORPG expansion, no doubt about it. With two new classes, a massive new area to explore and the Legendary Weapons system, there's loads for fans to get stuck into. Some will bemoan the lack of attention given to bettering the PvP experience (what we can safely say is LotRO's weak point), but we'd say the biggest flaw with the expansion is that there's nothing here that will expand the LotRO user base. Indeed The Mines of Moria itself is only a valid area for exploration once you're a high level. Still, existing players won't care too much about that. For them, well, they're just happy the giant doors of Khazad-dûm are open at all.