First LOTRO expansion announced

The Mines of Moria due this autumn.

Lord of the Rings Online developer Turbine unveiled the second volume of the Tolkein-licensed massively multiplayer RPG at Connect 08 in Birmingham today.

Speaking at the Codemasters Online Gaming event, executive producer Jeffrey Steefel said it will be titled The Mines of Moria and is down for a release before the end of the year. It will be the first of a series of planned yearly updates to Lord of the Rings Online.

The Mines of Moria will take high-level players out of the kingdom of Eriador and into the goblin-infested underground world, formerly a dwarven kingdom, just after the Fellowship of the Ring has passed through it in the events of the books. The Mines will be a reproduced as a single, continuous space in the game.

Players will face off against bosses famous from Tolkien lore - The Balrog and The Watcher. Steefel promised fighting the former in particular would be an "unforgettable" experience, but he didn't explain how it would fit into the official Lord of the Rings continuity.

Ten new levels will be added to the game, raising the cap from 50 to 60. In addition there will be two new classes, the Warden and the Runekeeper. Steefel refused to elaborate on these, promising more information in the coming months. They sound like a tank and caster to us but that's just a guess.

A new Legendary items system will also be introduced. This will essentially allow certain equipment - armour, weapons and shields - to develop its own advancement path alongside the player character, gaining experience, deeds and legacies, and becoming an intrinsic part of high-level players' character builds.

Other features announced include a large number of instances for groups of 3, 5, 12 and 24 players, new monster player scenarios, a new system of leaderboards and achievement rankings, dynamic lighting effects, more environment-aware AI, and a chance to join the Fellowship in Lorien, tying players even more closely into the Lord of the Rings storyline.

To promote the new expansion, Turbine has just launched a website: unlocktheminesofmoria.com. You can register there now for a chance to play though a web adventure that will unlock in-game deeds and items for your LOTRO character, as well as previewing the events of the new volume. The first web minigame, King Under the Mountain, launches on the site on March 31st.

Steefel also mentioned that LOTRO would be launched in Russia, China and Korea this year, and provided some details of the next free updates to the game - Books 13 and 14. Book 13 will feature a new region, the introduction of a hobby system with fishing, and improvements to the game's 'looking for group' interface.

Look out for further updates from Connect 08 - including more on Lord of the Rings Online and NetDevil's space combat MMO Jumpgate Evolution - in the coming days.

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