By Jim Moreno
I have played my share of games, specifically including MMORPGs. I honestly couldn't venture a guess as to how many there are currently live and in development, but even with my lust for this genre, there's no way I'll ever get to play all the ones I want. Each one seems to offer something new and interesting to me, and all the ones I play now hold some individual speciality. Sure, World of Warcraft claims a massive and unmatched player base with whom I can group with at anytime. Ultima Online is still going strong now eleven years after creating the genre, and will always hold a most special place in my gaming heart. EVE Online remains an increasing favorite all the while doing everything it does on a single game realm, a highly notable accomplishment. A couple newcomers to the market, Age of Conan and Warhammer Online, and at least two in development - Stargate Worlds and Star Trek Online - are keeping my attention even though I have yet to quest in their lands. So many games, so little time.
Treading stealthily amongst the MMORPG market with the skill of Gollum himself is The Lord of the Rings Online. Without a doubt, LotRO is my most favorite, the one MMORPG that rules them all, in my opinion. As I mentioned, other MMORPGs have one or a few gameplay aspects that keep me logging in, but only LotRO holds that unique quality of entertaining and challenging me every time I play. Therefore, I must say I was much more than delighted to accept the offer to delve into the closed beta for the next LotRO expansion, Mines of Moria. Over the last few weeks, my respect and admiration for Turbine's recreation of Tolkien's Middle-earth has grown quite a bit. That's not to say I think it's the perfect rendition, or that it's even a perfect game. But that's getting ahead of myself. Let me just begin by sharing where I started in the closed beta, in Eregion, at the camp Echad Dunann, just outside The Walls of Moria.
"Soon, Master Elf, you will enjoy the fabled hospitality of the Dwarves! Roaring fires, malt beer, ripe meat off the bone. This, my friend, is the home of my cousin, Balin. And they call it a mine. A mine!" - Gimli, son of Gloin, from the movie The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
My beta subscription came stocked with two characters, an elf hunter and a dwarf guardian, both level fifty. Neither of those races or classes have I played to any noteworthy degree on the live servers, so I was and still am quite ignorant of their skills and abilities. I selected the elf to play in the beta, chosen with a simple d10 roll. After a cursory glance at my inventory and equipment, I approached Rathwald, the dwarf standing guard at the entrance to the Walls of Moria, who started me off on the journey with Volume 2 Book 1, allowing me to pass through the entrance behind him.
Once within the Walls of Moria, I quickly set about assisting the dwarven expedition with gathering supplies, repairing their mining equipment, locating some missing dwarves, and undertaking a recon of a local half-orc encampment to bring back information about them. It wasn't long before I found myself sloshing along the swampy bank of The Black Pool, up to Durin's Door, the very entrance into the Mines of Moria. One of the final tasks was to help the dwarves pick away and remove the rubble which blocked Durin's Door, finally allowing access to the Mines. It was then that the Watcher of the Pool chose to show itself by ferociously attacking us. Me and my trusty bow did what we could to help fend off the attack, and after it was over and the Watcher beaten back into the depths of the Black Pool, Durin's Door was opened and I entered with the dwarven expedition into the Mines of Moria.
Amazing! If you're like me and hungrily fed on every MoM screenshot you could find online, then I think you'll be equally floored as to just how little justice they do when compared to seeing Moria for yourself. First off, the Moria zone is HUGE, on both horizontal and vertical planes. Nine separate regions make up Moria, and the extraordinary and extravagant dwarven craftsmanship is portrayed throughout. In all my gaming years, I have never before seen such beautifully detailed graphics for an underground location. Rivendell still gets my vote for the most spectacular area in any game I've played, ever, but Moria runs a close second. The degree that the dwarves have dug into the earth and rock are astounding, and still have me wondering just how so short a race could dig to such height and depth.