It has been about six months since The Lord of the Rings Online™ Volume Two: Mines of Moria™ launched, and I have been paying attention for about half of it. I did a series on my return to Middle-earth, leaving off about half-way through exploring Moria. Having had enough time to get burned out, what is my view now?
First, Moria really is a great locale. It is a huge space with a great deal of diversity. There are lots of interesting things to see. There are living flames, transparent spiders, giant turtles and toads, ancient ruins, waterfalls, an underground grotto, fungal invaders, and bottomless pits.
There are many quests and more than enough content to hit level 60. This includes several epic books, finding the parts of an ancient statue, realigning mirrors to bring light to the depths, following riddles all the way to Lothlorien, and fighting many goblins and orcs.
Once you run through those quests, you have probably done most of the fun stuff. It may go a bit past 60 if you spent your early 50s completing the Shadows of Angmar™ content, but the content at level 60 is less varied and interesting than the content at level 50. Mines of Moria™ pushed the endgame out a few weeks, but killed it in doing so.
Let’s hit a few more points before talking about the level 60 content.
Since Mines of Moria™, the game has been a technical debacle. The only kinder way to say it is, “They’re trying,” which might be a further insult given the results. Developer research found that water is causing enemies to enter anti-exploit mode, which explains the extensive uselessness that is Evendim. Server stability has been horrible, which the developers attribute to the solo instances. Characters frequently freeze, go linkdead while able to talk, and experience rollbacks. Servers have crashed and needed many resets.
These are the continuing problems, beyond the new problems introduced by Book 7. Most of those have been fixed by now, although some remain (orcs with no money, elites with no drops, enemies that count for the wrong deeds, crafting items that do not exist). Every developer comment I have seen says that fixes for Book 7 problems will in Book 8, in months. So the best case scenario is trading the existing bugs for whatever the new Book 8 bugs are, with those to be fixed after the next expansion launches. That’s the best case scenario.
While we are on the subject of Book 7, it stands as a pretty update that is probably the weakest the game has had. Its major addition was a low-conflict zone with a new reputation grind, one that you grind by picking flowers and cleaning “orc filth” from the river. The Battle of Lorien was a good addition, and I still need to kill that turtle someday.
The epic books for Mines of Moria™ are mostly solo content. There are three group quests, one of which is three instances, so let’s call it five. The story is moderately interesting, weaving a few good parts together. You get to be the hero, mostly, although the more recent books have the “NPCs take charge at the end” theme that the second half of Shadows of Angmar™ did. There is one really good session play quest, assuming it does not break.
Most of the other quests lead you through the zones well. There are many orc and goblin encampments, some of them in conflict with one another, and your quests tour you through them. You also see bug nests and deep-claw dens, but Moria is light on wildlife. If you are tired of bears, bears, bears, Moria is light on bears.
The new classes are fun to play, but may not fit well in the world. The Rune-keeper is a Sith lord with healing spells. The Warden is a tank that rarely seems to be allowed to live up to its potential, but it does get a big bag of tricks like the Captain.
The big new mechanic is the legendary item (LI) system, and it exemplifies the good and the bad of Mines of Moria™: fun the first time or two, wearying to grind to completion. You get your first LI in Volume Two, Book One, and it is a great one. You get multiple, high rank legacies, and it is level-appropriate. Leveling up your first weapon is great, another set of rewards for each enemy killed. Once you level up a few times yourself, you will want a new weapon: higher DPS and a higher potential LI level. This begins the real grind, because the estimate is 200-300 Third Age weapons to find one with good ranks of good legacies, ignoring the chance of getting a Champion’s Dagger of the Third Age. Then earn more than a million item experience points to level it up. Then combine thousands of relics and settings to get high-tier ones to slot. Repeat to whatever extent is necessary if you want a Second or First Age LI, although that First Age is a 1/week attempt on the Watcher (and now the turtle). If you are willing to go through all that, you can end up with a really great, top tier weapon that could last you until the next expansion in six months.
Oh, and this obsoleted almost all late-game crafted weapons in the process. Sorry, crafters.
The other big endgame grind is getting your radiance gear. The Watcher has a dread aura of doom, so you need the radiance equipment to stand up in its room. You get one piece by completing hard mode in each of six instanced dungeons. Or rather, one person gets one piece. The giant spider does not take that long, but the Sixteenth Hall can stretch towards two hours. Call it an hour average. If you assume success every time, no downtime for AFKs and such, and no time for getting groups together, that means 36 hours of running those instances before you fight the Watcher, plus whatever time you need to complete quests and deeds in there.
Does “36 hours,” plus the list of assumptions needed to keep it to 36 hours, explain the problem well enough? If you really like one of the instances, you are in business. If not, well, good luck. The turtle sometimes drops radiance coins. I am not up to reviewing all six right now, although my same answer applies: fun a few times, wearying to grind repeatedly. If you are hardcore, you can get your full set in a week. If you are casual, and cannot assume a good group and success every time, you might get one piece in a week if you do nothing else in-game.
With a few exceptions for specialized uses of classes, radiance gear is the best around. The second best comes from other coins dropped in the instances. So this obsoleted almost all the late-game crafted armor in the process. Sorry, crafters.
(Which kind of made the new crafting guilds a mostly useless reputation grind, but it made the mid-level crafting grind more bearable by letting us run on two treadmills at once.)
Let’s tie this back to the technical problems. Exploits were left in-game for most of the time that Mines of Moria™ has been live. They were classified as “unintended behavior,” rather than “exploit,” so Turbine would not be committed to banning a lot of paying customers. Many people got their top-tier equipment with tricks that are now disabled, so you face a harder grind if you took one of the recent welcome back offers for the second half of Moria’s lifecycle. While the bugs existed and radiance coins flowed relatively freely, the second-tier armor was flagged Bind on Equip, not Bind on Acquire, so the industrious could also supply alts and such, again in ways that latecomers cannot duplicate. Most of those bugs have now been fixed. I don’t know if anyone has re-thought how hard hard mode really is, now that it must be played as intended; the initial developer indication was, “Hey, feel free to run out of hard mode if it’s too hard for you.”
Not that there is a “hard mode” switch you flip. Instead, you do something specific, usually leaving some enemy alive or racing a hidden time limit. The Sixteenth Hall has the most egregious hard mode: do not kill the 200hp bugs around the rather difficult end boss, so make sure everyone removes any equipment or traits that reflect damage on a block. Take those AE skills off your hotkey bar, because one mis-click means you spent the last hour(s) for very little. The Grand Stairs is also interesting for having quests that are mutually exclusive with hard mode.
This retrospective started fairly positive, but took a strong negative turn. And isn’t it odd to do a “retrospective” six months into an expansion? Those are all emblematic. Your first visit, stellar. Leveling 50 to 60, great. Visiting the radiance instances with a good guide, fun. Then you hit the endgame, such as it is, and it all turns to ashes. The LI treadmill is a mile long, and it is still a treadmill. The radiance grind will give you either your best friends or a list of people you want dead dead dead.
If you like lotteries, you will love these treadmills. Getting a decent 3rd Age is not that hard, just time-consuming, as you barter for level 59 LIs and deconstruct them (at item level 2-11) until you find two you like. You can even pick your weapon type. For 2nd Age weapons, take your 1 in whatever chance of getting one, then your 1 in 9 chance of its being for your class, then your 1 in something small chance that it is not a useless weapon type for your class (for melee classes), then your 1 in another whatever chance of its having the legacies you want, then your 1 in whatever else chance of their having decent tiers. If you farm something like a half-million level 60+ enemies, ones that are not coded to give no drops, you have a very good chance of getting a pair of good 2nd Age Legendary Items.
I can’t tell you much about the raiding, but it was just the one fight until last month, so meh. You’d be amazed at how many people have problems with “move as a group when the big warning text flashes on your screen.”
I can’t tell you much about the PvMP, but I have not been much interested with the balance around lately. Freeps had a large advantage, which I failed to exploit during the Hunter glory days, and now it looks like the creeps have a bit of a leg up. I have eaten only a few people.
So my current view is: resubscribe to get your level 50 character to 60, which should take a month or two. Finish your epic books and whatever quests look interesting. Unsubscribe, and maybe hit a few radiance instances in the days before your time runs out. Given Book 7, have no hopes for Book 8. When the next expansion launches, decide whether to exploit early or have somewhat fewer bugs sometime later. Based on Mines of Moria™, it takes more than six months to stabilize the servers from the initial expansion bugs, 4-6 months to fix the exploits, and 4-6 more months to fix the bugs.
My guess is that Turbine does not care about having a level 60 endgame. Level 60 is not the endgame, because the level cap will be raised within a year. It is a pit stop while the next paid expansion is completed. Level 50 had lots of content, because they needed to keep subscribers for the first year, but level 60 is just relying on the loot lotteries to keep people playing and paying.
The low level content is still as fun as ever, if you are comfortable with fewer groups and don’t need to go to Evendim. Bring your own group, or you can find them pretty easily for the major bottlenecks (epic books, instance dungeons), although don’t ask Ethic about the quality of the GLFF channel (and Landroval has one of the better ones, I’m told).
My wife has a much simpler barometer: “You sound a lot less happy on voice chat than you did in City of Heroes.”