Cody “Micajah” Bye, Managing Editor

The era of modern fantasy is in love with the idea of dungeon
exploration. From Robert Howard’s Conan to the epic tales of
R.A. Salvatore and Drizzt Do’urden, fans of contemporary
fantasy have made it abundantly clear that crawling through the depths
of a dark cavern in search of treasure is appealing to their whims.
Whether it’s the fear of the unknown or the idea of hidden
caches of gems in the mysterious confines of these caves, one thing is
for certain, the love of dungeoneering is not lost on the modern
fantasy gamer.

How often have we – as gamers – looked forward to
our upcoming trials and tribulations within an instanced dungeon? Or
maybe the long, arduous raid encounters are more your style where you
delve deep into the heart of your virtual world in search of the
biggest, toughest, and meanest bosses around. All of the elements of
dungeon exploration are within almost every massively multiplayer
online game, and we love to partake in whatever dungeons the developers
can create for us.

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Up close and personal with the Lord of Fire and Shadow.

All of these previously mentioned encounters pale in comparison to what
J.R.R. Tolkien devised in his first book of the Lord of the Rings
trilogy. The Mines of Moria is a deep, dark, and thoroughly enormous
place, and it is large enough to go beyond the bounds of mere dungeons
and become a world all its own. So when Turbine declared that they were
making target="_blank">Lord of the Rings Online, everyone
was truly anxious to see what the developer would do with the Mines of
Moria. It took a number of months, but eventually we received our

Frankly, the developers at Turbine have truly made something remarkable
with their Mines of Moria expansion. Although I've been in awe of
graphics and environments in the past, the artists and designers at
Turbine have truly set a new standard for dungeons and indoor
environments in online gaming. From the moment you enter Moria, you'll
see what I mean.

For over an hour, the crew at Turbine guided our Ten Ton Hammer
staffers through the depths of Moria, even delving into the deepest
recesses of the world where none should have dared set their hands
against. As you've probably guess, the Lord of Fire and Shadow awaits
you in the Mines of Moria, and href="" target="_blank">we
were able to get an exclusive peek at the massive demon just for our
readers! Once you've picked your jaw off the floor, continue
reading for my thoughts on this upcoming expansion.

Exploring the Depths

Our first stop in the Mines of Moria was - ironically - the First Hall,
and it instantly took my breath away. As a reporter, I typically record
all of my interview / tour sessions, and literally the first words out
of my mouth were "Wow." Unlike other indoor content that I've seen in
other massively multiplayer games, the sheer scale in this first area
was incredibly. As I ran through the hall, it was almost overwhelming
to try to gauge just how enormous the environment was compared to my
character, and I continually moved my point of view to see just how
large the area was. As you can see from the href=""
target="_blank">screenshots provided by Greg "Darkgolem"
Stanley, every piece in Moria is absolutely huge and
absolutely beautiful.

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The majesty of Moria is evident in this screenshot.

When I asked Jeffrey Steefel, Executive Producer of Lord of the Rings
Online, to describe how they created this world, his answer was very
candid and open. "It seriously forced us to make some enhancements to
our technology," Steefel said. "It was something we'd never done
before, and we believe that no one has really done something like this
before, at least not in an MMO and probably not in an RPG either."

"What we did to allow our technology to make these huge cavernous
spaces was alter the technology so that the ground players are walking
on is actually landscape terrain and the ceiling above the player is
actually inverted terrain," Steefel noted. "We make two pieces of
terrain and actually put the world between them. This allows us to
treat everything in the world - walls, floors, ceilings - as landscape.
It has physics. It has form. It's not skydome textures."  

And the proof of Steefel's claims were staring me right in the face as
I ran throughout Moria. Even with the game settings cranked up to the
max of the DirectX 9 settings, I never dropped below 30 frames per
second until the few times that I fired up FRAPS to catch a video. Even
then, the strength of the Turbine engine was evident throughout the
demonstration. Turbine's technical team should be proud of this
particular achievement.

As we walked, Steefel explained some of the basic philosophies upon
which they created the entire Moria expansion. "We're not building a
series of dungeon spaces that connect up to create the land that is
Moria," Steefel said. "Moria is an entire city - an entire civilization
- that exists underground. That forms everything that we do in terms of
the space, the content we put in it, the creatures that populate it,
all that." To hear a developer discuss that type of thought process for
an area is relieving, especially when it comes to an area as loved and
cherished by Tolkien fans as the Mines of Moria.

The mines played a pivotal role in the first book in the Lord of the
Rings series, but they also held an amazing story of their own, and
Turbine has set their mind to crafting that story for everyone to
experience. "Everything in Moria has a reason to exist," Steefel
continued. "It all relates to the other spaces in Moria, the history of
Moria, and how this civilization grew and developed. You could go into
the Flaming Deeps and discover some of the areas where the Balrog was
and where they delved too deep."

Eventually, we reached the Bridge of Khazad-Dûm. Since the
players will be experiencing Moria after the passing of the Fellowship,
the Bridge of Khazad-Dûm has obviously been destroyed and
players can only glance across to the other side. As we approached a
group of monsters attacked us, and while these monsters did have some
similarities to the creatures that are seen outside of Moria, players
will be happy to learn that the developers have really taken the time
to make sure that all of the monsters found within Moria actually feel
like they belong. For instance, many of the monsters seen within the
Flaming Deeps seem to have their own inner glow, making them seem much
more in line with the entire environment that surrounds them.  

Again, as we journeyed through the heart of Moria, I couldn't help but
stop and stare every once in awhile at the amazing height and breadth
of the world around me. "Moria's a very vertical place," Aaron Campbell
said. "If you jump off a ledge you fall, and fall, and fall, and fall."
With that, I proceeded to quickly jump off the Bridge of
Khazad-Dûm and test just how far you can fall in Moria. Not
surprisingly, he was right. You fall for a long, long time before you
hit bottom. If you're interested, keep checking back with Ten Ton
Hammer to see an entire montage of Moria falling scenes within the next
few days.

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The creatures of the Flaming Deeps are certainly appropriate for their area.

Third on the walking tour of Moria was "The Cooling Chamber" where huge
flows of water were being pulled down into a larger piping system.
"There are actually several of these throughout Moria," Steefel said.
"They're needed to really cool the entire area since Moria is below the
surface and so much heat is constantly rising into the halls." Perhaps
out of every area that we saw on our tour, The Cooling Chamber was the
most intriguing in my eyes. While you couldn't actually jump into the
flowing water, just watching the movement was strangely hypnotic. This
only again served to reinforce the idea that Steefel mentioned earlier
in the interview, that every place in Moria had a distinct purpose.

On a random side tangent, the Turbine developers truly wanted to add
some spice to their Moria experience, and although the Balrog of
Khazad-Dûm had already encountered the Fellowship at this
point, the developers have devised a crafty way to allow the gamers to
experience this part of the Lord of the Rings story. In one of their
frequent "historical" instances, the players are allowed to jump into
the very history of Middle-Earth and experience what the Dwarves
encountered when they first unleashed the thread of the Balrog. Words
cannot do this part of the tour justice. My heart raced. My breath was
short. But I had just enough wherewithal to hit "record" on my computer
and target="_blank">capture the whole sequence for you to enjoy!

This concludes part one of our tour of Moria. Make sure you check in
with us in a few days to learn exactly what became of our intrepid
virtual tour guides. Were they consumed by the Lord of Fire and Shadow?
Or did they escape? Stick around and find out!

To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our Lord of the Rings Online Game Page.

Last Updated: Mar 29, 2016