LOTRO Legendarium: A look back at Lord of the Rings Online’s Fate of Gundabad


When Lord of the Rings Online released Mines of Moria in November 2008, the expansion became one of the most amusedly divisive in the game’s history. Some players, to this day, adore the vast underground Dwarven kingdom and its rich theming, while others find it claustrophobic and can’t get through it fast enough.

There’s no doubt in my mind that the lessons and weight of Moria informed a lot of the creation and design of another underground expansion that came 13 years later to the month. SSG promised that Fate of Gundabad wouldn’t be “Moria 2.0” but would have its own distinct identity and feel.

As I’ve been returning to this expansion as of late with my second playthrough, I felt it was finally time to unload my thoughts on what makes Gundabad work as an expansion pack – and also what it fails to accomplish.

Now we're gundagood.

So let’s start with that whole “Moria 2.0” thing because I feel that comparisons are inevitable. In my opinion, it’s simply impossible to create a second Dwarven underground city and have it be so different that there isn’t any overlap. There absolutely is, and perhaps one of the most unfortunate connections between the two expansions is the constrictive zone designs themselves.

Moria had a problem with a few of its zones being annoying to navigate, with lots of staircases, hard-to-see paths, and a shocking lack of railings next to drops into the abyss. I always joked that Dwarves clearly never had to answer to OSHA because this would not stand.

Likewise, Gundabad is particularly annoying to traverse in three of its zones: Mattugard, Deepscrave, and Clovengap. Each has its own issues, but Deepscrave’s sheer verticality and Clovengap’s tight spacing were rather brutal in spots, not to mention all of the ups and downs of stairways that litter this whole cavern. I actually took a very long break from my Gundabad expedition on my first character going through when Deepscrave frustrated me to the point of throwing up my hands and saying, “Forget this!”

Of course, when you play in those zones enough and obey the whims of questgivers who send you back and forth so many times, you do get to know the layout. But there are MMO zones that are more intuitive than others to navigate, and Gundabad has a couple of offenders in the pantheon of LOTRO zones.

That gripe aside, I do have to give credit — as always — to LOTRO’s world designers for creating a breathtakingly fascinating realm. Gundabad’s five interior and one exterior zones are varied and thematically distinct, and I have to give particular praise to Gloomingtarn’s basalt columns circling a lake and the Pit of Stonejaws’ ability to give off a more natural cavern feel. The whole place also felt more open and airy than Moria, with Clovengap effectively being an outdoor region (with sky!) and Mattugard circling a giant bottomless pit.

Once I came back to Gundabad after my break, I had no problem getting into the expansion’s groove and blasting through to the end. There’s some great pacing and fun storytelling here, particularly with a Dwarven apprentice who’s trying to make her way in the world and an encounter with an ancient powerful being straight from The Silmarillion. Yes, it’s pretty much Dwarves wall-to-wall here, which might trigger some Dwarf fatigue as it’s the conclusion of a pretty lengthy storyline that began several zones prior. But I like Dwarves, and the time that SSG took to differentiate the factions and the tension between them kept me eating popcorn and watching the proceedings unfold.

Difficulty-wise, Gundabad wasn’t too hard. It certainly wasn’t Release Day Mordor with its obscene packs of mobs. There are a few places in this realm where you run out of room to navigate while there are a ton of mobs all around you, essentially nixing a retreat if needed. Yet I didn’t find any of the regions harder than normal to cut my way through the various groups of enemies.

That’s a good thing, too, because I didn’t need mobs slowing me down while trying to find quest objectives. The way that LOTRO’s map works is terrible for any area with different levels, and I’d be going up and down like crazy to find particular objectives in Mattugard and Deepscrave.

Oh, and pro-tip about Deepscrave: There’s an elevator. I didn’t discover that until I was two-thirds of the way done with the zone, and now I’m kicking myself for all of the stairs that I took. So find that elevator and love it.

Overall, Fate of Gundabad was a pretty decent, above-board expansion. I appreciated getting some more outdoors time (the winter-blasted slopes were a refreshing break until frostbite set in), and it wasn’t so long as to make one feel trapped as poor souls did in Moria back in the day.

I’m impressed that a team as small as SSG was able to package together a true expansion of this size. The scope, art assets, and sheer quest density must’ve been a heap of work, yet the team pulled it off without the end result feeling shabby and derivative.

Your mileage on Gundabad’s narrative will vary depending on how much you liked the Dwarven storyline, but even if you don’t care for it one whit, you can find enjoyment in the sights and cosmetics (always the fashion!) that are buried underneath this mountain.

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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