Tuesday, November 29, 2016

"She has the heart of a dwarf, I will tell you that!"

At the hill’s foot Frodo found Aragorn, standing still and silent as a tree; but in his hand was a small golden bloom of elanor, and a light was in his eyes. He was wrapped in some fair memory: and as Frodo looked at him he knew that he beheld things as they had been in this same place. For the grim years were removed from the face of Aragorn, and he seemed clothed in white, a young lord tall and fair; and he spoke words in the Elvish tongue to one whom Frodo could not see. Arwen vanimelda, namarie! He said, and then he drew a breath, and returning out of his thought he looked at Frodo and smiled.

`Here is the heart of Elvendom on earth,’ he said, `and here my heart dwells ever, unless there be a light beyond the dark roads that we still must tread, you and I. Come with me!’ And taking Frodo’s hand in his, he left the hill of Cerin Amroth and came there never again as a living man.
--J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

It took a little over three months, but I finally finished the Mines of Moria (+ Lothlorien + Southern Mirkwood) expansion for LOTRO.

While the original LOTRO storyline, Shadows of Angmar, took a long time to really get going*, Mines of Moria starts off with a bang and then slows down into a long slog through darkness and the claustrophobic Khazad-dum.

Do not disturb the water.

Once again, hitting the L60 level cap meant that the story picks up in a way that plays to the strengths of Tolkien's creation. Interactions between Dwarves and Elves, the monumental task of actually cleansing the Mines (and what lies in the deep places of the world, as Gandalf called it), the complex nature of the Dwarves, and the omnipresent threat of Sauron all contribute to a well designed story.

Down there, you can see the camp fires of orcs.

While my few paragraphs are mostly spoiler-free, I will mention the obvious: the Fellowship's passage through Moria isn't referenced at all --after all, the Iron Garrison would have had no knowledge that the Fellowship went through the Mines-- until a PC reference is presented in Nud-Melek.

A view of the First Hall.

Lumping in Lothlorien into the Mines of Moria expansion as an additional zone to explore --similar to how The Firelands was added to WoW's Cataclysm expansion-- made perfect sense. I'd argue that while Lothlorien is larger in scope than The Firelands, it does serve a purpose as a spot for daily quests. Lothlorien also represents a spacing mechanism before the Epic Questline pushes on into Southern Mirkwood.

Across the Nanduhirion lies Lothlorien.

Again, Southern Mirkwood is an entirely new zone, much larger in scope than Lothlorien, but has fewer daily quests. It is primarily an end zone, allowing people to prep for end game fellowship quests and raids. Storywise, it is not only an End Zone for the Epic Questline, it provides an explanation for those who are familiar with the journey of The Fellowship: how is the Fellowship able to slip south along the Anduin River undetected by the obvious nearby presence of Dol Guldur and Orcs from Moria?

Even a sunny day can't drive away the gloom of Mirkwood,
in the shadow of Dol Guldur.

I remember reading in World Chat several days ago about how people liked Moria and Mirkwood at first, but after toiling in this zone for a long time without new content (sound familiar, WoW fans?) the expac began to really wear on people. I can see that happening, because it can be difficult to deal with the gloom of Southern Mirkwood --not to mention the Mines itself-- without needing to go periodically visit Bree or The Shire to enjoy the clear skies and happy faces of the NPCs.** Part of what made Shadows of Angmar better than the Mines of Moria is that the last half of the Epic Questline wasn't stuck solely in Angmar and Forochel***, but you traveled all over: Evendim, Bree, Ered Luin, North Downs, Lone Lands, Trollshaws, and Eregion. The nature of an expac is to focus on the new areas, but an expac such as the Mines of Moria is very limited in scope: you can't have the Epic Questline travel all over, because the action is all in Moria and its immediate surrounding areas. The Iron Garrison hails from Erebor and the Iron Hills, both areas far outside the scope of LOTRO.

Lothlorien is a pleasant diversion, but I miss the
sounds of Lake Nenuial in Evendim.

The timing of the Frodo's journey works against the Mines of Moria. Shadows of Angmar's latter half fits in rather neatly into the gap between when the Council of Elrond happened and the Fellowship exited Moria. As I'd previously mentioned, the travel involved in Shadows of Angmar isn't realistic (and neither is Turbine's condensing of Middle-earth into MMO sized chunks), but it does allow at least some time for the story to play itself out. The Mines of Moria doesn't have that luxury, as it has to fit into a much tighter time frame, so the game can't really afford to send you gallivanting across the length and breadth of Eriador.

At the end of the Epic Questline, I could really feel the atmosphere of Southern Mirkwood really wearing me down. And while I knew it was happening, I still wanted to push on to reach the end. The Epic Questline's end was a bit abrupt, but there were about 8+ Epilogues to fill in the gaps as to what happened after the final fight. I consider a few of them --and if you've played them you know which ones they are-- to be the true endings of this part of the story, leaving you feeling bittersweet about the whole thing.

Celeborn put it very well.

In a way, the ending of the Epic Questline in Southern Mirkwood surprised me a bit. There was a heavy reliance upon skirmishes to fill in the gaps, which is a departure from Shadows of Angmar. I don't think I minded too much, but it felt like there was an attempt to cut a few corners when it wasn't strictly necessary. SoA's endings weren't skirmishes, but they were instances you could relive via the Reflecting Pools around Eriador. In that respect, they felt more... well... personal than "just" a skirmish.

Having reached the end of the Mines of Moria expac, I know I've got another long slog ahead, this time to grind deeds so that I can start exploring into the lead-in to the Riders of Rohan expac, which I've been led to believe is the Cataclysm of LOTRO: the expac that broke the game.

We'll see about that, but I've got some time before I can find out.

Maybe I should wander Caras Galadon like the Fellowship did.
However, I do get a slightly uncomfortable feeling among
the Galadrim, like they're snickering at me behind my back.
Or that I'm like a puppy dog that they're playing with for a while.

*I'd argue that things for SoA really took off once you got to Gath Forthnir and reached the original L50 "endgame". At that point, the story had several twists and turns, involving back and forth across all of Eriador, until a satisfying (if saddening) ending is reached. I'd say that about half of the SoA story was told at the old "max level". I put that in quotes because you can keep leveling past L50, but the storyline was designed for L50. And I'm kind of grateful for that because of some of the areas you wander into in Angmar.

**The oldest mini-Red told me this story a couple of weeks ago about how someone came riding into Bree and started exclaiming in World Chat how wonderful and alive Bree was. "Been in Moria?" someone asked. "Yep," was the reply.

***Forochel gets depressing when the fog rolls in and you can't see more than a few feet in front of you. That happens in Evendim as well, but much less frequently.


  1. I actually think you might like Riders of Rohan. The country is GORGEOUS and feels huge and exploration friendly.

    1. I'm hoping I will. I'm presently grinding deeds to get Rise of Isengard (the expac apparently in between Moria and Rohan), so I've got some time yet. But being at L69, I'll be able to sneak into Rohan soon enough without worrying about being one-shot.