Every once in a while, it’s a lot of fun to sit down and rank things in your favorite geeky franchises. A while back, I did a ranked list of Lord of the Rings Online’s festivals, a list that is now obsolete due to the addition of a new festival and the merging of two others. But still — that was fun!
For this ranking, we’re going to start at the bottom of the group and move toward the top. I am not going to include anything outside of named expansion packs, as much as I’d like to make Gondor an “unofficial expansion” at this point. So here we go, the seven expansions from worst to best.
There is no doubt that Standing Stone Games was very ambitious with Mordor, creating the notorious land of the enemy post-One Ring destruction and roping back in composer Chance Thomas, but the end result was the mother of all volcano zones. It was ugly and oppressive, it had far too few stable masters, and it was a long, trying slog to get through. It definitely didn’t help that SSG refused to grant players the new race, High Elves, as part of the standard edition.
Rise of Isengard
Mordor is the only expansion of the game I actively dislike, so these next couple entries are ones that I have mixed feelings about. Rise of Isengard was serviceable but honestly not that exciting. We mucked about with various barbaric tribes for a while, got a meme or two out of the deal, and called it a day. The best thing about this expansion was becoming a prisoner of Isengard for a memorable stretch, although some folks really hate that part.
The problem with Helm’s Deep wasn’t its zones or story. In fact, getting western Rohan was a treat, with great scenery, Edoras, and some fantastic storylines. The problem here was that the studio went all-in on epic battles for this expansion’s climax, and that system bombed pretty much as hard as anything in the game ever did. The devs expected us to grind epic battles for jewelry, but after going through them just to progress the epic story, I think many of us said, “Thanks but no thanks.”
At least as of 2020, we have the option to skip these battles, so that does help address this weak flaw.
I really debated putting Helm’s Deep above this one, but I’m going to give the edge to LOTRO’s most recent expansion because it really is quite good overall. It’s Mordor 2.0 in a way, done with a tighter focus and a fascinating crawl through a city of the dead, coupled with a trip back in time to see what Mordor looked like before its fall. The expansion also added a new race, the Stout-Axe Dwarves, and included that with all the editions.
Siege of Mirkwood
OK, if there’s going to be a controversial entry on this list, it’s sure to be this one. Some people really, really do not like Siege of Mirkwood, claiming that the studio created half of an expansion. And that’s true: This pack only really covered one zone. But the reason I have it as my #3 pick is that it’s a fantastic zone with a lot of variety, great scenery, and a strong story. Plus, this expansion added the skirmish system, which actually did offer a whole lot in terms of replayability and fun.
Riders of Rohan
While mounted combat never rose to the expectations that were set before it, Riders of Rohan succeeded on nearly every other front. It brought us into this wild, open land, made us fall in love with its beauty and culture, and delivered some of the game’s best music to date. It was such a terrific addition to LOTRO as a whole and a significant rise in quality over the lackluster Isengard chapter.
Mines of Moria
Yet for the top spot, I’m going to have to give it to Mines of Moria. LOTRO’s first expansion tackled one of the books’ most famous locales, and it did it in a way that we’ve never seen in video games before. In fact, it’s probably still the biggest fully underground realm an MMO has ever developed. Top that with the (controversial yet back then, lauded) legendary item system and the Rune-keeper and Warden classes, and you’ve got an expansion worthy of the crown.