While we have known for a long while that this was coming, the official announcement of Lord of the Rings Online’s 2019 expansion was exciting nevertheless. Standing Stone Games formally revealed Minas Morgul this past Wednesday alongside of Update 24.3, giving us a trailer, pre-orders, instant access to the new Stout-Axe Dwarves, and plenty of info about what’s coming our way this fall.
The key details
I have to admit that I kind of miss the old “BLANK of BLANK” expansion naming format that used to be the norm, but ever since Helm’s Deep, SSG seems content to give its expansions simple, location-based names. I’m not sure what “Minas Morgul” conjures up in the mind of the non-Tolkien expert, but it does suggest a sinister, death-related locale. It’s adequate, especially since the game and its developers have been pointing us toward this place for a couple of years now in anticipation of this moment.
We learned a lot — although not all — of the expansion details from the initial announcement and its follow-up FAQ. For starters, it looks as though Minas Morgul will release on October 29th, although there is that weasely disclaimer allowing for a delay up until the end of November if SSG deems it necessary.
We know that we’re getting 10 more levels for our characters, making a nice level 130 cap with presumably a few new class trait points to spend. Some fans are wildly excited that the expansion is coming with a huge number of dungeons: seven party instances and a raid against Shelob (all of which will come post-launch). There’s the new Stout-Axe Dwarf race, of course, 250 more quests, and the extension of the Black Book of Mordor questline.
What intrigues me the most is a mention of two regions: Mogul Vale (presumably the city) and Mordor Besieged. The latter sounds like a redressing of perhaps the entire Mordor landscape, which may account for the otherwise minimal number of new zones. All in all, it sounds like a solid, dependable content dump without any new systems or exciting changes.
The expansion editions come in $40, $80, and $130 packages, each including the new race, an extra character slot, and a few goodies. The higher tier ones toss in cosmetics, pets, steeds, titles, weapon aruas, and a Valar level boost to 120 for a single character. Prefer to buy the pack with LOTRO points? You’ll have to wait until March 2020 and save up 2495 LP for the buy. I appreciate that SSG showed pictures of the pets, mounts, and cosmetic armor sets to help players decide whether or not to make a more expensive purchase.
A teasing trailer
Standing Stone also pushed out a teaser trailer that showed off some of the locations of Minas Morgul. As expected, they’re all dark and sinister and not very inviting, but that’s to be expected of Mordor. At least it wasn’t the embarrassingly bad Mordor launch trailer of a couple of years ago. Sometimes a simple pan-and-scan approach is enough to excite the crowds.
One of the biggest missteps for Mordor’s expansion was that SSG had withheld the High Elf race from all but the priciest of pre-orders (or an a la carte purchase), which greatly angered players who expected the race to be included in the expansion proper. Thankfully, SSG did not make this mistake this time around as it included the new Stout-Axe Dwarf race into all of the Minas Morgul editions, even the base one. Even better, the second a player pre-ordered a pack, he or she had instant access to the Stout-Axes in the game.
While the Stout-Axe Dwarves don’t look radically different than their plain vanilla cousins, there is a sheen of graphical upgrade to their appearance and some nice options for those who would like to roll a shorter class. The Stout-Axes can be Burglars (a Dwarf first), Champions, Guardians, Hunters, Minstrels, and Rune-keepers, leaving only Captains, Lore-masters, and Wardens out of the selection. And while, yes, you can roll up a female, visually they are identical to the male model in every way.
Their racial passives include increased will, might and vitality, one-handed axe use, and some useful mitigations. They do have to contend, at least initially, with reduced vitality and fate. Their racial traits include a quick travel to Thorin’s Hall, fire mitigation, the ability to throw shadow resistance on a Fellowship, and (perhaps most interestingly) a skill to block attacks even without a shield.
While some people are crying “fluff” over what they see as minor tweaks, others are enjoying as another racial variant that gives them an excuse to play a different character experience.
My thoughts on Minas Morgul
My great hope with any expansion announcement is the reveal of an imagination-grabbing feature that instantly gets me excited to play it. There’s nothing like that here, not unless Stout-Axe Dwarves really rock your world (and I’m pretty neutral on them). Nothing here changes up the status quo of the current game, but rather the approach here seems to be delivering proven, well-crafted quests and areas for players who want to go on more adventures.
So while there’s some disappointment that there isn’t a tentpole feature with Minas Morgul, I’m not going to complain about what we are getting. Hopefully this expansion will hold a lot of thrilling moments and be less of a slog than Mordor was, and I’m always for increasing the power of my always-too-weak Lore-master to be able to handle difficult situations.
After the northern excursion of the past year or so, I think we have soaked up enough beauty and vistas to weather a giant haunted city of doom. Ever since seeing Minas Morgul from the outside in the Peter Jackson movies, I’ve wondered what it might look at inside of those desecrated walls. SSG’s designers have been doing outstanding work in creating the places of Middle-earth, and I have no reason to suspect that this won’t delight and awe me a bit.
All in all, a good start to the spotlight event of the LOTRO year. We’ll see how Minas Morgul plays out when it (hopefully) launches next month, but right now I find myself rather encouraged by what I’m seeing.