Mines of Moria Play Session
By John Funk
Though I'd seen a demo of the new LotRO expansion Mines of Moria on the show floor at PAX, I hadn't been able to play it for myself. Even so, the preview build had certainly captured my interest and I was rather looking forward to getting a chance to check out Moria in-person (well ... sort of). Aaron Campbell, LotRO's Live Producer, was gracious enough to give me a guided tour through some of the new content.
I logged in to an account with a pre-made character, a level 60 Dwarf Runekeeper. The Runekeeper is one of two new classes in the expansion, a caster capable of using both healing and damage-dealing spells. Campbell explained that since we'd be playing on the actual server used for the Moria Closed Beta, normal beta testers could see us, and see our fancy admin tags - so he apologized in advance for any "Can you give me awesome loot please?" requests I'd get. There are downsides to celebrity.
We started out by the eastern edge of Moria, near a bridge that led out to the Elven lands of Nimrodel and Lorien. No, not that bridge - the Bridge of Khazad-Dum was a bit further down the way. Not that players could use it, of course: Moria takes place immediately after the Fellowship of the Ring has fled the kingdom under the mountain, and said bridge had a severe structural failure due to Balrog-related complications. Whether by chance or by admin h4x, we'd only killed a few random enemies when we happened to come across a rare epic drop - a Supreme Tailoring pattern.
As we continued to make our way through Moria, Campbell talked about the goals, challenges, and solutions the Turbine team had faced with this expansion. The foremost challenge was, of course, making the space of Moria itself. Not only did they have to make it as gigantic and vertical as possible to be authentic to the source material, but they had to do so in a way that wouldn't kill the computers their subscribers were using. Moria is not built like a dungeon, but rather an outdoor landscape much like the rest of LotRO's Middle-Earth - it just has a floor and a ceiling.
While the technical specifics are a bit over my head, whatever they've done to create these gigantic, cavernous spaces has worked fantastically well. The PC I was playing on is certainly no slouch when it comes to gaming specs, but even so, I was impressed by how tremendously vast Moria seemed without running into any performance hits whatsoever. Moria doesn't just seem huge - it is huge. At Campbell's encouragement, I jumped off a nearby cliff and fell quite a distance; had I not been under admin invulnerability, I'd have been killed instantly upon hitting the water.
Campbell briefly led me through the 21st Hall, one of the primary social spaces in Moria. The Hall is the setting for the iconic scene in the book (and movie) where the Fellowship races the band of murderous Orcs, trying to escape. It, like the rest of Moria, is truly massive, with a forest of towering pillars that Campbell pointed out had been designed to reflect their age. Some of them were old and gilded; others were braced with wood - still tremendous, but not nearly as sturdy or ageless.
While the Fellowship passed through the Hall on its journey from Point A to Point B (to Point M), players will aid the Dwarves in setting up a more permanent outpost there and elsewhere throughout Moria. This particular social area, I was told, was a counterpart to the Rangers' Esteldin - a hub for players to gather, explore and adventure, specifically meant for characters in the mid-50s.
From the Hall, we instantly teleported to the Redhorn Lodes, located quite literally in the exact center of Moria. The Lodes were the old working environment of the Dwarves - one of the eponymous "Mines" of Moria - a primary resource-gathering space of the legendary civilization. At the moment, though, it's the hang-out for clans of Orcs bearing the White Hand of Saruman. Much of the storyline of Moria, Campbell explained to me, would have players dealing with several battling tribes: the local Goblins and Orcs who had already been there and indebted to the Balrog for their power, the White Hand of Saruman, and the forces of the Witch-King in Angmar, all of whom would be seeking to fill the power vacuum left by Gandalf's thorough smiting of said Balrog. There would also, he hinted, be some more horrific foes found far beneath the surface of Moria.
Unfortunately, whoever had taken Thalin the Dwarf Runekeeper on a trial spin before me had gotten him diseased, resulting in a nasty and distracting yellow border around the screen that we were unable to remove. Nor were we able to cure the disease itself, even with our awesome admin powers. So, Campbell was kind enough to provide me with another level 60 character, a Human Captain - who came equipped with some nice legendary items, giving me a chance to check out that new feature of the expansion as well.