One of the great things about Lord of the Rings Online is how committed Turbine are to providing free content. They've added two new land masses, many new quests and innumerable polishes. So what can the game's first proper expansion pack do to justify its greater-than-zero price?
The name should be enough for most fans: Mines of Moria. If you haven't heard of them, you're playing the wrong game. Seriously, bugger off and play Guild Wars, your kind ain't welcome. Here be the Balrog - and not the guy from Street Fighter.
The Epic Quests have always been the spine of LOTRO: story-driven adventures that run parallel to Frodo & Co's journey (and are now narrated by Galadriel rather than Gandalf, who is voiced by an actress who sounds in no way like an impressionist doing Cate Blanchett). What a shame then that the first missions of MOM consist of killing a few crows and delivering some packed lunches. Fortunately it gets better fast.
Past the slightly drab Eregion lie the Walls of Moria, with an expedition of dwarves looking to reopen the Mines and find out what happened to Balin's party. They're working to unblock the Hollin Gate (which Tolkien fans will be happy to hear only glows in moonlight), and have many missions to give you in the mean time. Once you venture into Moria though, there's no going back.
An attack by the Watcher later (and some hasty cries of "run away!") our character got something new: a legendary item. These weapons can be levelled up, and indeed before entering Moria you have to get this weapon to level 10.
Fortunately this didn't take long, and soon I was facing the Watcher again, determined to send him back into the abyss. The proper battle against him was far less exciting than its first surprise attack, and consisted of a few tentacles that disappointingly waved about. For a battle with such a build-up this was quite an anticlimax.
Venturing in through the now open Gate, the first word out of my mouth upon seeing Moria was "wow". No, I don't mean World of Warcraft, I mean the good kind of "wow". Moria is a truly impressive place. Detailed pillars, huge statues, vast areas, high stairs... and that's just the entrance hall. Things only get more impressive as you go in. I honestly thought it was better than the version in Peter Jackson's film.
Getting through the long dark realm of Moria takes hours and hours of gaming, not to mention going up a few levels now that the level cap has been raised to 60. "Bugger that," I thought, "I want to see Lothlorien." Taking the Steve Hill approach, I just legged it from every single enemy and made my way with barely a passing glance at the wondrous architecture. It took me bloody ages, but with some really determined cowardice I made it.
Lothlorien, once reached, is actually something of a disappointment. Its few trees and tiny population pale in comparison to the grandeur of the Mines. Turbine, quite rightly, have concentrated their efforts on the titular location. And it shows. With my speed-expedition curtailed, I explored the two new classes, the Warden and the somewhat controversial Rune-Keeper.
The Rune-Keeper makes use of an 'Attunement Bar', which means the more you use your Offensive powers in a round, the easier to use they become, with Defensive powers becoming harder to use, and vice-versa. These abilities have caused no end of distress among the fans, as Tolkien only ever granted Gandalf and his kin magic.
The Warden, on the other hand, is another tank class but gets extra unique powers by mixing up certain other moves. Both new classes are a lot of fun, but only time will tell if they'll fit (or at least be accepted) into an already well-balanced game.
The only problem with Mines of Moria is the current lack of players at the moment. Granted, the thing's just getting going, and in time the areas will fill with adventurers. When it gets released and the players flood in to explore Moria, we'll bring you our final verdict. For now, these mines are rich with new content: a must for subscribers.