LOTRO: Mordor Preview
I decided to take a look at the second Mordor preview today, that is currently available on Bullroarer test server. Due to technical issues, I could not initially log into the game. The game client stuck at installing “pre-reqs”. However, by the evening SSG had resolved the problem and I managed to successfully login and copy my level cap character from Laurelin. Access to Mordor is via a teleport horse at the Slag-Hills. As with Helm’s Deep and the Battle of the Pelennor fields, this system of transitioning between multiple phases set at different times, can be a little confusing. Irrespective of this, it was rather droll of SSG to have Boromir as the NPC that bestows access to the Mordor quest line. I subsequently spent several hours touring the region. This post is specifically about my initial impressions of the area and is not a critique of all the new features and systems.
The first thing that struck me about Mordor immediately after the fall of Sauron, was how dark and gloomy it was. I’m sure lore experts will correct me if I’m wrong but wasn’t the storm of Mordor supposed to dissipate after the ring was destroyed? I was hoping that the smoke and dust from the ruined Morannon would lift as I travelled into Udûn and beyond. Sadly, this was not the case. Mordor is dark, smokey and depending upon your monitor and graphics card, a strain on the eyes. I had to pull the curtains in my office to be able to see clearly. LOTRO has several other regions that have low lighting and are dismal; Moria and Angmar. However, visibility is still sufficient to navigate. Mordor is very much like Mirkwood, as in it’s not just dark but blurry.
Standing Stone Games have a lot of placeholder NPCs at present. I found myself battling a Blackwold Ruffian at one point, which was somewhat incongruous. But as the expansion is work in progress one has to expect such workarounds. The architecture of the region is in the same idiom of the Dagorlad and Angmar. It looks appropriate but a lot of assets are simply being reused. There are some new beasts roaming Gorgoroth, such as the Sulokil but most else are just variations on existing themea. Rock worms and fire drakes make a return, along with Fire Grims and Fumaroles. There is a swamp like region to the South East of Mount Doom and the area around Cirith Ungol is heavily populated by the Spawn of Ungoliant. Straying from the road or approaching enemy camps triggers the new Light of Eärendil/Shadow of Mordor system. This is a buff/debuff mechanic that isn’t fatal but does diminish your stats.
From what I have seen so far of Mordor, it certainly seems to fit the aesthetic described in Tolkien’s source text. Once you’ve initially gotten over the excitement of simply walking into Mordor, it really becomes apparent that SSG have provided more of the same. That’s not a bad thing per se. The formula has proven to work. Mordor will have some subtle differences from other zones in LOTRO and bespoke mechnics but it will ultimately have Epic and standard quests, rep factions and new items to obtain or craft. For me, the real test will be how engaging the narrative is, now we have stepped beyond the canonical story. The dark and oppressive nature of the new area may also be an obstacle for some players. I certainly do not see myself engaging in lengthy gameplay sessions as did in Northern Ithilien.
As of yet, SSG have not mentioned a price point for the Mordor expansion. They’ve also not yet clarified some details regarding various new game mechanics. The allegiance system for example seems to be an advance variation of a reputation faction. There is also no news on alleged instance cluster and whether it will be included in the expansion or come after. The price may also be an issue. Although the overall Mordor map looks big, much of it is a rocky barren wasteland. I hope the areas to the South of the Sea of Núrnen are more temperate, as these are supposed to be fertile and the bread basket of Mordor. I do not want to pay an excessive amount for a potentially un-diverse region. Hopefully further information will be forthcoming shortly.
I remain for the present, relatively optimistic about this pending expansion as we’ve not had one for several years. It should be remembered that not every LOTRO player has level cap characters, so for them there is no immediate need to buy more endgame content. The introduction of a new race is therefore an interesting development and I shall write more about this in my next blog post. It’s appeal to altoholics is a practical source of revenue for SSG. I’m also looking forward to the revised character animations and aesthetics. LOTRO was never cutting edge with regards to its avatars so an overhaul is more than welcome in my opinion. In the meantime while we await more news and a third test build, here is a small gallery of screen captures taken throughout Mordor today. Please note I have adjusted the brightness, as they were incredibly dark.