I don’t think I can recall an MMO where I’ve seen players so incredibly excited to rush headlong into an ugly, oppressive, and nasty zone as I have this past week in Lord of the Rings Online. Heck, I’m even pretty excited, and I list volcano-and-ash zones pretty low on my list of video game biomes. I guess there’s something about Mordor, about what it represents and what we’ve been striving for over the past decade that helps to overcome these inherent drawbacks.
I love the premise here, which is basically, “There’s a land of monsters and dark terrors that just lost its supreme overlord. What happens next?” Again, that’s kind of a unique situation that’s not often explored in MMOs. Will there be a power vacuum? Will projects and plans put into motion before Sauron’s downfall still proceed? What does a country that harbors pure evil look like on a grand scale?
Poor marketing and a controversial pricing scenario aside, Mordor got off to a great start. I didn’t get quite as much time as I would have liked due to some long days and early nights this past week, but I certainly made headway into Udun. This first zone is — was — Sauron’s industrial complex, so lots of forges, billowing smoke, toxic runoff, and the like. It’s pretty mob dense, which made for slow going due to the big jump in item levels (questing gear went from 222 to 300) and the new shadow debuff that’s in the more oppressive places.
This meant that the ease of fighting as a Lore-master with an OP lynx came to a swift end, at least for the time being. Mobs were really tough, especially during the first night, and I experimented with my bear and eagle before returning to the lynx and playing it safe. It didn’t help that some of the quests were buggy (such as extremely slow-to-respawn NPCs for a surrender mission) and that a lot of objectives lay in the middle of crowded camps of enemies. As often as I could, I tried to stick near other players or group up. That helped a lot.
But I’m actually really enjoying myself, slow progress or no. It’s the first bona fide expansion since Helm’s Deep, but even that didn’t feel this grand or daunting. An entire expansion completely in the enemy’s territory is a challenge, and I want to rise and meet that challenge.
Oh! Let’s talk the avatar upgrade, because at least Man and Elf characters got those. It’s not a drastic overhaul — I don’t think it could or should have been, really — but when I logged in I found myself looking at a much more natural face with softer lines, more expressive eyes, and hair that wasn’t quite as blocky.
From listening to my kin, some were ecstatic over the improvements while others griped that it changed their characters’ faces too much (however, there is still the option to use the old graphics or to go to the barber and redo one’s face). The new female running animation divided people too; I personally like it a lot, but some seem to jeer at it. Guess you can’t please everyone.
Another small touch that I’m digging with this expansion are the audio logs, these little scraps of narrated lore that you find across each zone. It tells the backstory of that zone in small increments, and I hope that this sort of thing is spread throughout the previous zones as well.
My kids, when they’ve been sitting with me and watching, have done so with wide eyes and mouths pursed with trepidation. I think they really like the “safe” danger of dad heading into this dark place, and they get excited at pointing out each new threat that comes across our path. We made our way into the belly of a forge at one point, and my son recognized the great battering ram Grom (or its lookalike) from Osgiliath. Lore connection!
The more I go into Mordor, the more it’s really making me looking forward to replaying this entire MMO start to finish some day in the future on my alt. I know, that’s silly and massive and has a good chance of never happening, but there’s a spark that’s kindling again in my heart for this game.