Moria Evaluation

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Now that I've completed a good portion of the Moria content, I'd like to take the time to evaluate the zone.

First, I have to say the visuals are stunning. I've always been impressed by the art direction in this game and add that to a very robust graphical engine and we can see some amazing spaces. Moria is definitely one of them, really emphasizing vertical space. However, traversing the space vertically is actually not nearly as prevalent as many previews stated, and what I initially thought. There are certainly places where you have to go around some obstacle by finding a way to go up and over or down and under, but overall there is not a lot of this sort of thing as one sees more and more of Moria. There is also forced verticality. For example, the Chamber of Crossroads should be directly above the Waterworks (if you've ever jumped down the well in the Chamber you end up falling into the Waterworks). However, how it's located and built in the game engine is actually not above the Waterworks. I understand why they did this from a technology standpoint but it is jarring when you realize what's going on. Having your technological limitations and "cheats" so obvious doesn't help immersion.

The quests in Moria are abundant. I mean, there are a ton of quests, many stories, but the predominant theme is purging Moria of the orc infestation. There are some nice jewels of quests such as the riddle quest line which breaks up the usual "kill 10 orcs" but on the whole most of the quests are more of the same - a quest line that sends you back and forth to the same area two, three, or even four times to kill, gather, or otherwise run errands for your quest NPC. This isn't a criticism because a lot of games do exactly the same. There are a host of general blogs out there that deal with this issue. For the purpose of this discussion I will just say that we're seeing more of the same, albeit very well polished, particularly the quest text. Each NPC has a personality and a story behind why he's where he is, what he's doing, and oftentimes you'll get flavors of relationships to other quest givers. I try to immerse myself into the this lore side of the quests to mitigate the somewhat repetitive nature of the quest structure.

The six-man instances in Moria have garnered a lot of attention - mainly because a lot of them were broken and players could use exploits to complete them easier than intended. They're all finally fixed (I think) at this point but there's still a bit of grumbling about the amount of time it takes to run through all of these enough times to get the radiance gear drop. I once had a goal of getting the radiance gear but realizing that I'm not that into repeating content over and over again, decided to drop the goal. I do want to run these instances insofar as finishing the deeds and quests within them, however. My impressions with the instances are fairly slim given I've only run two of them and none all the way through. There's nothing that stood out to me in particular, good or bad. Like any group content, you get a good thrill from a successful run and burned out on failures. What I did run seemed well constructed and challenging. Overall, good content to delay people from finishing the content too fast but not necessarily fun after you begin farming them over and over for your gear.

Ultimately any zone is made or broken on how I subjectively feel about it's place in Middle-Earth by the time I'm done. Before seeing Moria, my impressions of the place was dark and predominantly empty. Coming out I feel like I've been in a wholly separate and living world. Both of these are accurate assessments - particularly since the Fellowship's passing has stirred up trouble in Moria. Over all the feel of a dwarven kingdom in ruin is there but can be easily lost in the mechanic of questing. The quests should support the lore and atmosphere, and while they do, I think there's almost a quest overload. Not the number of quests per se but rather the repetition of similar themes over and over again pushes the player to slowly begin to ignore the flavor of what they're doing. I remember most of the questlines in Eriador, particularly the beginning quests since I've done those multiple times, but once in Moria I seemed to hit a wall of information that didn't stick nearly as well as the stories outside. I sort of got brain melt with all of it.

Overall, Moria is a wonderful zone, full of quests and beautiful spaces. There's a host of activities to keep the player moving through the halls. Well designed but the fact that it is in an MMO versus Middle-Earth is hard to miss. I think that's true for a lot of this game, now that I've been playing for so long. It's increasingly hard to push me into the wonder of experiencing Middle-Earth versus the excitement of experiencing more of a game. The latter isn't bad, but the reason I came to LOTRO was the former. I essence, my reasons for playing have been tempered and changed. My feelings about more are a good example of this. I think at one point I would have been more in awe of experiencing the space - and that was there in the beginning, but now I find I'm more focused on experiencing the content.

Moria verdict - Well designed space. Tried and true mechanics.

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