In about a month, Lord of the Rings Online’s progression servers will unlock their first expansion and take us deep into the mines of Moria. It is then that these players, both new and old, will face the same underground gauntlet that all others have experienced since its release in 2008.
So which is it: amazing or agonizing? In today’s column, I’ll be looking at both sides of this expansion and revealing why these differing viewpoints can co-exist even in the mind of an individual player.
An amazing achievement
Even back in 2008, the sheer scope and vision of Moria had a lot of gamers picking their mouths up off the ground. A massive fully underground dungeon consisting of multiple zones had never been attempted in MMORPGs, and people were pretty impressed that Turbine managed to pull it off. Not just a venture into one of the more iconic locations in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Moria also gave players a night-and-day change from their previous adventures through Eriador.
From the moment you enter one side of the mountain chain to the day you leave it, you’ll be in for weeks if not months of questing, navigating, sight-seeing, deed hunting, and combat against the forces of darkness. It was a vastly different realm than the Shire, Trollshaws, and Eregion, as Moria mostly lacked trees, sunlight, and a horizon. Instead, players were plunged into caverns and Dwarf architecture, lit by crystals and marked by pathways, chasms, fire, and water. There was no doubt that when you enter Moria, you knew you weren’t in the same-old areas as before. This was something wholly new.
To this day, Moria’s unique setup and its immense scope has cemented it as a favorite to some veteran LOTRO players. The places found in this underground kingdom continue to be so unlike everything else in the game that it’s a wonder to explore and enjoy. Plus, the Foundations of Stone remain one of the creepiest places in the entire game to date.
An agonizing journey
Conversely, not everyone appreciates Moria. The core issue for many is the sheer length of this interior journey. There’s something psychologically oppressive to remain indoors without any sight of a sky or hint of nature. After extended stays in Moria, even brave souls found themselves clawing the walls and bemoaning the length of the trip. The saying goes that you’ll enter Moria in awe of it and leave running away from it. Well, I just made up that saying, but you understand the gist.
Moria’s omipresent gloom isn’t the only problem at hand. Navigating a multi-tiered realm with only the terribly limited “hand-drawn” map can be a nightmare, as is some of the backtracking and occasionally downright ugly areas. Plus, what is up with Dwarves never putting handrails anywhere? If you haven’t fallen to your death a half-dozen times in Moria, you really haven’t been there long at all. And if you lack a good goat, you could find yourself jogging all over the place.
Then there’s the push for legendary items, which the expansion promoted pretty heavily. Having LIs clutter up your inventory and quest rewards soured some players’ feelings on this zone, especially considering how poorly the system has aged.
A flawed gemstone
The Moria we have today isn’t the same that came out in 2008, of course. The developers have done a couple of major passes to the graphics and layout of these zones to make them more attractive and user friendly. Having gone through Moria multiple times, I can say that it may not be my favorite, but it’s nowhere near as frustrating as it used to be.
So can an area be both amazing and agonizing? Absolutely. I feel this way in Moria as I play tourist with my screenshot key and then fall into a bottomless pit while cursing whatever Dwarf happens to be closest. It probably got very old for those chain-running multiple characters through it, but for a once-in-a-while journey, Moria does exactly what it was created to do. We can’t help but imagine how Frodo and his company felt going through this place, cut off from the civilization that lay behind us and confronting the inky black unknown ahead.
It’ll be fascinating to see how the progression server communities — which feature a mixture of long-time players and fresh faces — handle Moria when they dive into it en masse next month. I expect some good-natured moaning and groaning, but I’ll bet that Moria is a lot more palpable when you have the companionship of hundreds of others all around.