Due to popular demand, we have 5,000 more exclusive in-game items for Lord of the Rings Online to give away. Head over to Eurogamers to claim your Hauberk of the Mithril Guard, for use on European servers, and then read on for our impressions of the beta test of the Mines of Moria, first expansion of the Tolkein MMO.
Turbine is, without a doubt, the most value-for-money-orientated MMO developer in the market. There are no more spoiled subscribers than LOTRO-ites, who wallow in a new bundle of content every month as part of their monthly tithe. Which is why it's slightly quizzical that Turbine would - at the most challenging time of the year in gaming, let alone on the doorstep of the Lich King himself - throw out its first paid-for expansion since Asheron's Call 2: Legions.
The answer is actually rather simple: scale. With the Mines of Moria, Turbine has extended Lord of the Rings Online beyond the Shadows of Angmar. While many expansions (including Wrath of the Lich King) try their best to create an 'open world', and, in the process, a degree of storytelling ability, the Mines of Moria so far gladly leads players by the hand to areas of interest without managing to lose the first M in MMO.
The expansion adds two new classes, The Runekeeper and the Warden. The former, as well as causing a great deal of gnashing of teeth with lore-purists, bears some resemblance to Warhammer Online's Archmage and Shaman. As an offensive or defensive magic class, the Runekeeper blows up things or heals them, and the more that they err on the side of each one, the more effective said abilities become. The difference between the Runekeeper and WAR's offerings, though, is their ability to push their abilities much further - over the course of a long-scale battle, you can become a powerhouse or an effective healer, sacrificing whichever ability is less important. This makes them quite fun to solo as, too - though their weak-arsed cloth garments make them rather precious in a scrap.
The Warden is an off-tank, damage-focused class that uses a big spear and a selection of "gambit" moves to do his damage - and activate specific buffs for both himself and his group. The big difference is the moves that he queues up to activate the gambit affect the outcome - adding taunting abilities to the queue and releasing your gambits adds greater threat to them, but lowers the damage, and building shield gambits can either heal your Warden or add to your defence.
The end result is a class that requires a great deal more timing than the others to play, as you're constantly building different abilities - and it only becomes more interesting as you are allowed to delete gambits from the queue piece-by-piece, adapting to each situation with the more powerful abilities (for example, using the more complex Area of Effect taunts could save your group). They're only able to wear medium-armour, though, and the lesser-prepared and more-brazen Warden (i.e. me) will find himself ground under-orc rather quickly.
Both of these classes are a joy to play - a pair of refreshingly-tuned hybrid-classes that require, if not a mountain of it, a degree of forethought, more so with the Warden. Whether or not you want to completely start over again to play as one is up to you - the hesitation there is that, frankly, you're picking up the Mines of Moria to see the Mines.
This is one of the immediate problems with the beginning of the expansion. The beginning actually takes place outside of the Mines, in Eregion, Rivendell and at the Hollin Gate. You'd imagine that the beginning of an epic incursion into the forgotten ruins of the dwarven kingdoms, Khazad-dum, would best even the first steps through Warcraft's Dark Portal. Instead, your first hours are spent farting around like an exterminator-maid, killing local animals, vaunting across the same bloody countryside, and, at one horrifyingly boring part, picking up sticks.