LOTRO Legendarium: First steps into Mordor

Victory.

It’s a fascinating place to begin an expansion, really. Most games like to set up a new threat, pit players against impossible odds, and have them struggle toward a final boss in some distant raid somewhere. Lord of the Rings Online, however, enjoys bucking trends now and then, and no more so than with its new Mordor expansion.

The first few minutes revisit the conclusion of the Quest of the One Ring, with the surprising triumph of the Battle of the Black Gate, the eagle air-lift of Sam and Frodo, and the destruction of the Ring. Everyone is taken to a peaceful glade to lick their wounds, reconnect with friends, and savor the victory. Even the epic book, which we’ve been working on completing for 10 years now, has come to a conclusion. Shortest expansion ever, right?

A peaceful prologue

In a way, I admire the design decision to kick off Mordor by wrapping up Frodo’s Quest. Players experience the grand finale of the story during the Battle of the Black Gate — a near-hopeless battle that turns triumphant when the Ring is destroyed from afar. After a daring last-minute rescue, everyone is taken to the gorgeous lands of North Ithilien for a time of reflection, and it’s here that the epic book comes to a close.

It might seem strange to begin an expansion this way, but for Lord of the Rings Online, it makes a whole lot of sense. Timeline conflicts and lore restrictions kept players from charging into Mordor alongside Frodo and Sam as previously unknown bodyguards. It wasn’t our quest and that wasn’t our struggle. They had to do it alone. Plus, can you imagine if the whole expansion was leading up to the destruction of the Ring? It would be a prolonged effort to which we already knew the ending, and would probably serve to be more frustrating than fulfilling.

A shift into the unknown

That’s why I’m really digging the fact that the start of Mordor is an actual new beginning of sorts. The country is being given its own unique “book” in the story of the game, and players heading into the diminished (but not docile) former stronghold of Sauron have no idea what to expect. While there is more of the books to visit, for the first time in a long time, we are off the beaten path of Tolkien’s narrative while still adventuring through his world.

What nasty projects did Sauron leave behind? What forces remain? What does Mordor look like up close and personal? What secrets are there to uncover? Is the land redeemable? Not knowing can be thrilling, especially after having many of the MMO’s major story beats “spoiled” by the books.

Similar to how the Dwarves launched an expeditionary force into Moria after the Fellowship passed through, so too do the Free Peoples start making in-roads in this hostile region. This way there are some familiar and friendly faces along the way, which keeps an already oppressive realm from being too overwhelming.

Marketing mismanagement

I want to take a step back from the overview of the expansion here to talk about my experiences from launch. First of all, it pains me to say that Standing Stone Games did a pretty lackluster job with marketing this expansion. This being Mordor and all, the first expansion for the game in four years, the studio should’ve gone all-out with promotions. Unfortunately, this studio and team never seems to have the resources or talent in that area, and as such we got one of the absolute worst trailers I’ve ever seen — not just for LOTRO but for video games, period — and very little launch hype outside of the immediate community.

Where were the developer diaries that this team used to do? Where is the soundtrack release by Chance Thomas? Where were the ads? And why was testing rushed? It all points to an indie studio that is taking on a monumental task of building an expansion without having anything extra left over to promote it. And that was a shame.

Baby steps into hell

I only got a couple of nights to play before writing this column, due to the early week delay that pushed the launch to Wednesday. And I’m not the type of player to blaze through content, so I’m still slowly progressing through the starting area. But my first first impressions? Mordor is actually engrossing while also being an area that will kick your butt upon initial contact.

Until I started getting new gear (and I recommend following the main quest lines for a while for these rewards before returning to do side quests), I seriously struggled. Mobs were hitting very hard, due to the new light/shadow mechanic and the content being balanced around a much higher item level. It was good in that it made me take Mordor seriously as a dangerous zone, but it also hampered my enjoyment by being frustrating and slow at the start.

Plus, those signal flags are incredibly tricky to spot. If you’ve done this quest, you know what I mean. Nothing like doing a scavenger hunt across mob-packed camps.

As a player who is greatly impacted by his environment, I’m concerned that Mordor will get to me after a while. At least for now, the novelty and the interesting sights — such as mechanical forges and the far-off sight of Mount Doom — is helping to stave off that feeling.

The increase in difficulty and the influx of players led to a lot of people grouping up, formally or informally, and I took advantage of this as much as possible. I would definitely recommend trying to seek out a partner for the first few hours, at least. I was diving down into the underbelly of a forge when I came upon a friendly Hunter who also was trying to figure out the use of four cursed stones. The environment broiled me alive, unfortunately, and I discovered that resurrecting sent me all the way back to the beginning of the zone with a 15 minute run ahead of me.

But what was nice is that this player, upon seeing that I didn’t have any more time that night, promised to send me a letter to tell me what she found out about the quest if she solved it. This game has such a great community.

With a full book to conquer, five regions to explore, 300 or so quests to complete, and the whole new gear grind ahead of me, I will not be lacking goals in LOTRO for a while. I’m looking forward getting to a point where combat isn’t a pain and seeing what mysteries that Mordor has to offer. Hopefully the next time we speak, I’ll have a much better grasp of this expansion and its ins and outs!

Every two weeks, the LOTRO Legendarium goes on an adventure (horrid things, those) through the wondrous, terrifying, inspiring, and, well, legendary online world of Middle-earth. Justin has been playing LOTRO since its launch in 2007! If you have a topic for the column, send it to him at justin@massivelyop.com.
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30 Comments on "LOTRO Legendarium: First steps into Mordor"

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Fred Douglas

I liked the ending. I know some people thought it was too a abrupt, but this story was always mainly about the hero of Eriador.

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Loopy

I’m still long ways away from Mordor (lowly lvl 30 here), but the expansion did spark my interest in the game.

My only question is: what happens after Mordor? Is the game done after this? Are there more official stories to be told after the defeat of Sauron and the One Ring, or are we going to be heading into the retcon territory? Or will the game simply shut down after couple of years?

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Mush V. Peets

After Mordor, we’d be headed into uncharted territory. The eastern lands of Rhûn, sun-scorched Harad to the south, even other continents… All open for expansions. They already did the ice-lands to the north, never covered by the books, so I don’t see why they can’t go further east or south… or west. Remember, after Ar-Pharazon did this thing, the Undying Lands of the Elves were pulled off of the face of the “Earth” and replaced with completely new lands. We have no idea what’s out there.

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draugris

What i like the most is that people start to help each others again. When i was in trouble some folks come to me helping me out and i did the same when i noticed that somebody was overwhelmed by enemies. Parties are formed naturally, you just start to run around with other people. It really feels like in shadows of angmar again 10 years ago and that is great imo. LotRO becomes a bit less a single player game for overland content.

What i don´t like is the starter experience for mordor. If you do not have really high level gear and don´t use the pocket item you get from the first new chapters you will have a very hard time, at least as melee. The mobs are minimum lvl 106 there, a few 107. The difficulty then is imo borderline not fun anymore. They should at least at the start made it so that the mobs are on the same level as the players. And they should explain that Light of Earendil mechanic and the consequences of that better at the start.

Things get better when levelling up and when the first gear drops, then difficulty is perfect. So far i like the new expansion. The setting and the flair fit the environment, mordor is a depressing place and i find myself often porting to imladris just to enjoy the trees and the music and the sunlight prior calling it a night and logging out.

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MesaSage

It’s not just in Mordor. It’s happening throughout Middle Earth and it’s refreshing to see.

mosselyn
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mosselyn

I mostly agree with this analysis, except that I was a bit disappointed in the conclusion of the Epic. I didn’t expect to fight Sauron or anything like that, but even in terms of cut scenes, if felt a bit meh. Kinda like that gawdawful trailer, but not as bad. These guys usually do better story telling than that, so it felt a bit phoned in.

I worry a bit about Udun suffering from the same problem as the GW2 HoT release: A high level of difficulty at the start can cause players to get discouraged and quit. The difficulty ramp when you step into Mordor is pretty steep if you’re not sporting top end gear with a goodly portion of Finesse.

I welcome the increase in difficulty, but getting from 105 to 106 was an exercise in pure pigheadedness. It wasn’t vile, but it wasn’t terribly fun, either. Resist, resist, resist….Oh, hey, look, one spell finally landed! It gets noticeably better once you hit 106, but I just think setting it to be that painful right away was a bad call.

The scenery is awesome, as always. I do wonder, though, if it won’t feel mighty oppressive if that’s all we see for a year or two. I hope they find a greener, lighter place for an update, eventually.

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starbuck1771

I knew my class and didn’t find Udun that hard. As for the writing and video you got to remember they don’t have the resources they had when attached to Warner Brothers.

mosselyn
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mosselyn

I’m glad it was easy for you. I know my class, too. Been playing it since 2009. Until I reached 106, it was pretty tough going for me. Not impossible by any means, but just this side of not fun. For every L2P master saying it’s easy, I’ve seen someone saying it was tough sledding.

I don’t object to the game getting harder. It was silly how easy open landscape questing had become over the years. It’s good they ramped it up. I just think the ramp from 105 to 106 could stand to be a little shallower.

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outbound_flight

From everything I’ve been hearing, it sounds like the general impressions of Mordor so far are very positive, and a breath of fresh air after the last couple expansions didn’t quite hit the mark. Some people were angry at the avatar revamps, but most have been living with the same avatar for a decade in some cases, so it’s understandable.

But I do agree on the third point: SSG really stumbled with this launch. They seemed to be doing everything right in the beginning. Lots of livestreams, an open beta, bringing back folks like Thomas Chance for the soundtrack and Ted Nasmith for the key art. The High Elf controversy and their steel-trap silence afterwards was very annoying. And I have no idea how the launch trailer was met with any approval internally, let alone approved and launched in 480p.

I really want to see SSG keep making strides to become a more consumer friendly company, and that would mean being more transparent with their intent (like the High Elf stuff, bundle rewards, etc.) and eventually consolidating their content into fewer purchasable packs.

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starbuck1771

While it is sad Samwise got killed unlike in all the other lotr media . I would like to say welcome to the new Epic. The Black Book of Mordor.

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Halla-Zayeron

He didn’t get killed?!? The skill was just called murder because that’s what Gollum planned to do (but failed). He’s alive only minutes later standing over Frodo in the bower.

mosselyn
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mosselyn

Lol, thank you for that. I’ve seen a couple people mention Sam getting killed, and been like “Did I watch the same story??”. Thought maybe it just whooshed right over my head somewhere along the line.

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Paragon Lost

Yep, we the adventurers are the clean up crew. ;)

::wanders in with a mop::

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Jeremiah Wagner

Oh man , a game that is difficult at the end game area?!?! What is the world coming to!

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starbuck1771

see not that hard

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Paragon Lost

No healing pots or buff removing pots on our bar? Casual! ;) I love playing my champion as a tank as an aside because it annoys folks. He’s supposed to be my main alt and gatherer for my other characters but over the last ten years he’s almost more of a main instead of an alt. lol.

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starbuck1771

Yeah Champ is my main I have been playing one almost 12 years now. Champ is what I mainly played during the SoA Alpha and Beta. I can play all classes and Races but prefer my Champ because I have a soft spot in my heart for it. BTW I rarely use healing pots thanks to Bracing Attack and LI’s which heal me. :P http://lotro-wiki.com/index.php/Bracing_Attack

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Paragon Lost

Yup, Bracing attack is a part of my rotation on my champ. :) I just was giving you a hard time cause you know, it’s fun. heh. Somehow the champ grew on me over the years. Though I am a mechanics junkie at heart so I love to mess around with all class mechanics. :)

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starbuck1771

It’s not that hard. The secret is know your class and make sure you upgrade the proper stats for your class and race. If your not heavily armored group up with a friend. I walked into Mordor at level 106 as a freshly rolled High Elf Champion a class I know very well and had no problem killing stuff. I completed a few quests but left Mordor to level prospecting so I can mine nodes there as well for my weaponsmith crafting.

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Ashfyn Ninegold

EEK!

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Michael18

It’s really interesting how they handle the conclusion of the epic book. With such an epic story as LOTR, esp. when it is told over the course of 10 years, it is difficult to keep people engaged once it ends. So it seems like clever narrative design to place such a critical moment in the game’s life cycle at the beginning of an expansion, when they have the chance to immediately follow this with building up a new story arc that fills the gap.

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Ashfyn Ninegold

I’m not there yet, but you’re right. If they had left it to the end of the expansion, players would have hung up their gear and pulled out their pipes and declared the game done. This way they bridge to the future of the game.

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zoward

I was seriously, seriously annoyed by SSG’s decision to push a major component of the expansion – the new half-elf race – out of the $40 base expansion and up to the $80 level, and was ready to walk away and look into buying it at all a year from now when the base expansion will likely be $20 or less. However, I haven’t spend a ton of money on this game given how many hours I’ve played it, and want to help keep the game (and company) afloat, so I ponied up for the base expansion on launch day, and then spent the day waiting for it to download.

I’m headed in for the first time right now – wish me luck!

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Mush V. Peets

The less Half-Elves there are running around, the better. There honestly shouldn’t be any running around having adventures in Middle-Earth during the time of the game, but if they want to throw them in as a premium feature, they can do that I guess.

cambruin
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cambruin

Pretty sure that the dictionary has a picture of SSG next to the term lackluster.

When it was Turbine the playerbase saw WB as evil, a bunch of suits with no affiliation to Middle Earth or the game whatsoever. Turbine did nothing to state otherwise, they let WB take the blame for anything and everything. And we raged on, crusaded like a bunch of religious zealots.
Imagine our delight when we saw how SSG managed to rid itself from the yoke of the evil overlords. Freedom! Turbine unleashed! That talent which was so bound, so restricted. Imagine the greatness we were about to experience.

Well… here we are. This is it. There never was no evil overlord. With the exception of MoL and the world designers, there never really was any talent involved. There’s no greatness. This is Mordor, the epic conclusion. Oh it’s epic allright…

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Roger Melly

Have you ever actually read the Lord of the Rings ( or even seen the films ) ? The game is restricted by the events in the book and to have loads of players roaming all over Mordor while Frodo , Gollum and Sam visited mount doom would be counter to the events described by Tolkien .

How can anyone say there never was an evil overlord when Sauron is the quintessential evil overlord and probably an influence on the creation of every single evil overlord in films , books and video games for the past 70 odd years .

Only someone who is totally ignorant of the story and the lore would expect to face down Sauron himself in a raid .

I’ve not actually played the expansion myself yet ( and it may very well be lackluster ) but the reasons for your criticisms of it are such that they seem to be a bit daft to me .

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Bryan Turner

If you read the comment like a person with a brain you would have seen he was dissatisfied with the talent of the Developers not the source material.

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Hirku

your criticisms of it are such that they seem to be a bit daft to me

Funny, I was thinking the same thing while reading your criticism.

cambruin
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cambruin

Are you honestly using the setting as an excuse for the quality and quantity of content? Wait, I’m sorry, I didn’t read your second and third paragraph, so before we take this any further, would you like to reread what I wrote? Cause I don’t think you understood -granted, no native speaker here, my apologies*

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Crowe

Cambruin — you were fine and I clearly understood everything you stated *and* I agreed. Your writing is much better than most native speakers! RM’s issues seem to be more with reading comprehension in this case.

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