Wednesday, 11 March 2009


An old western libel, no doubt invented or at least perpetuated by French restaurateurs, would have it that Chinese banquets, though impressive in quality, quantity and variety, somehow leave the diner with a feeling of emptiness, as though he had partaken of an oddly unsatisfying fairy feast. I have often thought over the last few weeks that in that sense, the Mines of Moria have much on common with that mythic Chinese banquet…

Make no mistake: there can be no two opinions about the quality of the graphic design. Almost three months down the road, I still hold by the view I published here last December: “This is by far the most impressive game environment I have ever seen. For once, the pre-launch hype didn’t lie. The Mines of Moria are breathtakingly grandiose and wonderfully imaginative”. The problem is that after a few weeks, the game started feeling repetitive, and, like the aforementioned fairy feast, oddly unsatisfying. And judging by the comments of other players (thoughtful players whose judgements I respect), I was not alone in feeling disappointed.

Why? I don’t think there is any single reason for this sense of flatness, rather a whole series of minor reasons. First of all, perhaps, the almost universal disappointment provoked by discovering that the eagerly awaited legendary weapon system was nothing of the sort. Secondly, the absence of a good, meaty twelve-man raid involving a series of bosses – another and better Rift, in other words, which one could really sink one’s teeth in. Now I know that long-term raiding isn’t necessarily everybody’s cup of tea, but the thing about the Rift was that it kept an awful lot of players beavering happily away for well over six months. Third, the way reputation with the dwarf factions turned out to be, well, almost completely useless, with the exception of the Hunter and Warden quick travel skills. Fourth, the pointlessness of mounts in a dungeon environment, in which a rider gets knocked off his goat roughly every twenty paces. Fifth, the excessively fast levelling between levels 50 and 60, which meant that players stopped gaining experience points after completing no more than half the available quests.

At the end of the day, and despite the excellent Eregion prequel, this was, after all, largely a dungeon crawl. And the problem with that is that dungeon crawls are, by their very nature, overtly linear; despite the many nicely executed larger areas such as the Waterworks, one still had a sense of being herded along far too many dark, narrow passageways. As a result, the relief one felt at finally emerging into fresh air at the Dimrill Dale was palpable, and very real (so kudos to the designers for that!). On balance, I suspect that had MoM shipped, as originally planned, with all or most of the Lothlórien content included, it would have made for a much better balanced game. Hopefully, Book 7 will help restore that balance.

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