While the (hopeful) launch of Minas Morgul is still over a week away, players who have pre-ordered the newest Lord of the Rings Online expansion can experience one of the new features: the Stout-Axe Dwarf race. Included in every edition of the expansion, the Stout-Axe Dwarves have become the seventh official race of the MMORPG.
I did, however, go through the introductory experience which was tailored for the Stout-Axe Dwarves and explained how this distant relative to the Dwarves we all know and loved suddenly showed up on Thorin’s Hall’s doorstep. So today I’m going to take a look at that and see if this is partially worth the price of Minas Morgul’s admission.
Kill ten rats. Again.
I do want to say that the most enjoyable part of making a Stout-Axe was exploring all of the different character customization options. There were a lot of them, many boasting vastly improved face, detail, and hairstyles than we’ve seen on regular Dwarves. There’s also the option to pick a “female” Stout-Axe, although this is in name only; the game does not give us a female body option in the vein of the Dale-lands’ Dís.
Unlike the outdoorsy beginnings of the rest of the races, the Stout-Axe Dwarves begin in the deep dungeons of Barad-Dur — Sauron’s headquarters in Mordor. This isolated Dwarf race has become a prisoner of the Great Eye and are being worked to death in service of the Enemy.
It’s not a cheery start at all but rather reminiscent of the imprisonment under Isengard during the epic story. Killing rats, clearing away rubble, and making swords for Orcs to use on the good guys is pretty dull, even if it’s appropriate for the setting. At the very least, the quest density is tight and this portion zips along fairly quickly.
The great escape
The introduction storyline picks up when the Stout-Axe Dwarves make a break for it while Mordor is distracted. From here on out, everything is forward momentum as the Stout-Axe picks his way through the raging battle, tries to hide using a suit of Orc armor, and encounters a bit of fanservice.
Yes indeed, we get a cameo from everyone’s favorite fish-eater, who is making a break of his own. It’s a nice moment that is in line with the lore, and considering how much the Stout-Axe Dwarves toe the line of acceptible continuity, it’s needed to connect us with the larger story of the War of the Ring.
There’s a showdown with a wonderfully detailed Uruk-hai boss who proceeds to thrash three Dwarves at once. I was pretty sure I could have taken him even still, but the game forced me to run away while leaving my two friends behind to cover my escape. I’m a hero!
The tutorial quickly fast-forwards to Ered Luin and a different storyline entirely — that of the Dourhands, who re-encounter a resurrected king of old and begin their descent into evil. I felt that this was rushed and a little out of place, as was the subsequent arrival in Thorin’s Hall. Before I knew it, the tutorial was over, I had reached level 6, and the game plopped a bunch of gear in my lap and set me on the same course as the regular Dwarves.
It’s not a bad opening, but it is unbalanced with the first half being very detailed and well-plotted while the second half is “here’s some more stuff and ding! You’re level 6, leave now please.” At the very least, it’s a shorter introduction section than the regular races, allowing new players to get to adventuring far faster than otherwise.
Of course, it’s a long journey back to Mordor from Ered Luin, and longer still to the new expansion. I doubt my Stout-Axe will ever make that trip, but I’m sure more than one stumpy Dwarf is going to have a great time slicing and dicing his (or her!) way to the endgame.