Though raids do not play as massive a role in LOTRO as they do in some other online games, they are nevertheless very much the core element of most players' gaming experience; two years on, it seems a good idea to take a look at how LOTRO's raids have stacked up. First of all, what exactly is the definition of a raid? A raid is an example of an instance - namely, a copy of a building, a dungeon, or other location activated by passing through a portal, which allows an individual or group to take part in a private adventure, segregated from the main game and undisturbed by other players. A combat-based instance designed to be experienced by between one and four fellowships is called a raid.
So far, and ignoring the PvP raids in the Ettenmoors, LOTRO has included five proper raids; a sixth, Filikul, was to have been packaged with Vol.II/Book 7 but proved buggy when released in the States. The first to be released, Helegrod in the Misty Mountains, was a 24-man raid (four full fellowships). A vast, sprawling affair, it included nine bosses culminating in the undead dragon Thorog. Players could choose in what order to attempt some of the encounters, and even experienced groups needed at least two evenings to complete the raid. While the raid was visually impressive and offered a good variety of combat experience, it was never as popular as it deserved because of the extreme difficulty of getting together as many as 24 determined players. It also suffered from an odd system of rewards, including titles for defeating bosses which were effectively limited to just one of the 24 participants, and above all armour set drops which were class-specific; this made it virtually impossible for anybody to put together a full set of Helegrod armour, which until the advent of MoM was probably the game's second best after the Rift set.
The other two 24-man raids to date have been Bogbereth and Ferndur, both in Angmar. The first is a quick and easy single-boss attack on the spider queen of Torech-i-Bogbereth, near Garth Fornir. With unimpressive rewards, this raid ended up being farmed for its decorative trophy by 12 or fewer experienced players. The second targets Ferndúr the Virulent, Master of Imlad Balchorth, and is a fair bit harder, but it too could be completed with 12 players; again, it offers no particular rewards beyond a trophy, and it seems likely that many players have never tried it. There have been no more 24-man raids since these two, nor does it seem likely that there will be.
The Rift of Nûrz Ghâshu, the most extensive and, as many believe, the best-designed raid to date, came in with Volume I/Book 11 at the end of 2007. A 12-man raid, it included eight separate bosses leading up to Thaurlach the Balrog. Killing Thaurlach was a long and complex operation for most kinships, with a steep learning curve, but it was a fascinating experience and the rewards, the best set of armour and the best weapons in Volume I, were well worth the effort. Even more than was the case in Helegrod, teams had to learn the different tactics necessary for each boss and the usually very specific actions required, and raid leaders found themselves stretched to the maximum keeping all the balls in the air. One of the great virtues of the Rift was that it managed to balance the different classes, all of whom were needed at different times. It also kept many players happily busy for at least six months, if not more.
The fifth official raid is the 12-man Vile Maw in Moria, which it's probably fair to say is the least-loved and most badly designed to date. Many players have hated the grind of assembling the six-piece set of Radiant armour without which the raid cannot be attempted, the location is minimal and unimpressive (a single room full of water), the fight with the Watcher seems, once you work out the tactics, rather tedious and mechanical, and it can only be completed once a week. Finally, compared to the splendid Thaurlach, the Watcher seems cartooney and lumpish. Not, on balance, a success. Also located in the Waterworks of Moria is the new Filikul raid, which involves killing the turtle Nornúan. Since it's not yet accessible in Europe, I can't comment on it, but - a turtle?
Though it is not officially considered a raid, I would certainly include among them Barad Gularan, a combat instance fully as complex and demanding as any raid. Six bosses must be killed, of whom the last, Udúnion the Rogmul, offers what I believe to be one of the hardest fights in the game, largely because of the split-second coordination called for. Finally, the Delvings of Fror in the Ettenmoors are home to one of the nastiest and probably least visited bosses in the whole game, Gaergoth the Unbound. Gaergoth is another Rogmul, only this one is at l.63 and has over 500,000 morale points; considering that he drops nothing better than four Luminous Stones (though this may have changed recently), it's hardly surprising he's not the most popular holiday destination in the game...