Lord of the Rings Online: Siege of Mirkwood Beta Impressions

The holiday season comes earlier and earlier each year as lights are strung up and store shelves flooded with merchandise and decorations.  Some gamers are preparing for an early Christmas as...

The
holiday season comes earlier and earlier each year as lights are
strung up and store shelves flooded with merchandise and
decorations.  Some gamers are preparing for an early Christmas
as developer Turbine gets set to launch the newest expansion for style="font-style: italic;">Lord
of the Rings Online, The
Siege of Mirkwood, but are fans of the series
getting their hearts desire or just another lump of coal in their
stockings?

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Notable for being one of the first AAA
titles to release an expansion
in downloadable form only, many critics assume
this to be a mini-expansion. Luckily for us, this isn’t so.
Mirkwood is a full blown expansion that adds not only considerable
story based content, it is the conclusion to the events that were began
with the Mines of Moria expansion, it also introduces some game
altering new features that add a much needed extra layer of depth to
the game.

The expansion launches with a scripted event that takes the players to
the shores at the edge of the forest once known as Greenwood the Great.
This looming and ominous forest has been corrupted over the years by
Sauron’s taint and is now an almost visual representation of
the fiend’s heart, black and twisted.  Once you help
the elves establish a beachhead it becomes the introductory quest hub
and the launching point for the adventure into the forest.

Quests in Mirkwood are plentiful and story driven and they range from
the typical kill and gather to keep sieges with NPC
assistance. Questing here does a great job of pacing you
through the game and moving you along to the next area or part of the
story and while most of it has been soloable thus far on my hunter, I
would have liked to have had a fellowship to tackle some of the more
intense quests, but I am getting well acquainted with the various
respawn graveyards throughout the area, so I guess there is an
exploration upside with that. I was a relative late-comer to beta so I
didn’t have the advantage of a larger pool of same level
folks to explore and quest with, but the community is amazingly
friendly and I have been able to take advantage of their knowledge base
and tips to help balance out the lack of comrades.

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Trash mob placement throughout the forest is reminiscent of style="font-style: italic;">EverQuest
more so than some of the newer games, and you really need to proceed
with caution in many areas. While some ADD gamers may find this
annoying, it adds to the immersion and the overall feeling that
Mirkwood is no place to be after dark. (A special thanks to Turbine for
helping me relive memories of Kithicor Forest from EQ1). From random
patrols that seem to always show up at the
worst times, to stealthy
mobs that tease you with a glimpse before pouncing, the area is teeming
with challenges that enhance the sense of dread that is the hallmark of
both the Tolkien based work and some of the more difficult areas
elsewhere in LotRO.
 
I haven’t been able to hit level cap yet, so I have little
experience in the new instances, but I did get to run through them with
a game developer a couple weeks ago in our href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/76046" target="_blank">live
preview of the content,
and they look awesome.  With only a couple weeks left in beta
I am scrambling to hit the cap to run instances with a fellowship. Long
time players will enjoy the new dungeon without a doubt, and top end
players will enjoy the hard mode versions of these
encounters.  Hard mode is initiated, in the three player
instance, by lighting a challenge brazier in the corner of the room.
Lighting the brazier calls forth all three of the bosses without any
trash waves, but you face all three bosses at the same time for an
intense fight that tests your strength and coordination as a group.

Besides the heavily story driven quests and raids, there are two other
main focuses of the expansion, besides the obvious five new levels and
accompanying traits,  and they are the Skirmish system and a
revamp to the legendary item system with a new way to earn slots for
the weapons.  The more important of these two is the Skirmish
system, as it can be game changing depending on your playstyle. And
while the item revamp is a welcome change, it isn’t as
groundbreaking for LotRO as skirmishes are.

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Skirmishes are instanced encounters
that can be done in every
fellowship size or solo and feature some highly innovative features
that are sure to become a popular addition to the game. Skirmish camps
are located outside of each major city area and feature vendors where
players can redeem the marks they earn in the instances. These vendors
run the gambit from refreshments and reagents all the way to legendary
items.  Probably the most intriguing aspect of the system is
that you don’t need to be level capped to participate; quite
the opposite really, as players can hop in as early as level thirty and
start earning marks and learning the system.  
 

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As an on-again, off-again player of the game, I have been impressed by
just about every aspect of this expansion but the selling point really
is the skirmish system. For those that remember the Lost Dungeons of
Norrath in style="font-style: italic;">EverQuest,
this has a very similar feel to it but has the
benefit of time and is infinitely more accessible.  One very
specific aspect of the skirmishes that are a boon to all players - the
solo minded player even more so - is the ability to call forth an NPC
companion to help you on your way to victory. These summonable helpers
are much more than token pets; they pack some firepower and can
actually help turn the tide in a tough scrape. The companion mechanic
is a good one and a great way to assist the soloist. It is an idea that
will no doubt continue to gain traction in MMOGs and be even more
widely used than it is now by games of the genre.

Perhaps I have developed an acute immunity to the normal detractions of
beta tests and the expected amount of bugs, glitches, oddities, and
trivialities no longer register on my radar, but I have found this beta
to be surprisingly fun to play and have never experienced the sense of
tedium that I normally associate with play testing. The enhancements to
the game, the further deepening of perhaps the deepest story in MMOGs
to date and the introduction of the skirmish system have given me new
hope that LotRO can remain a viable player in the MMOG scene and
perhaps even transcend its past accomplishments with renewed popularity
much like DDOU and AoC are experiencing. 


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