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Less is More
The changes put forward by Siege of Mirkwood are nowhere near the size and scale the previous expansion, Mines of Moria, offered up. This, combined with its smaller price tag, may lead many to dismiss Mirkwood as a mini-expansion, but that would be premature. While it’s true that the level cap is only up 5 and only one new zone of content has been added, Mirkwood introduces both lots of little improvements and a whole new way to play the game.
This new feature is the skirmish system, which puts a twist on how the game is played and is being promoted heavily by the developers. Basically, skirmishes are quick, combat orientated, semi-randomised instances that can be played solo or in a group. They’re designed to compliment traditional methods of levelling, and thus can be accessed from nearly anywhere and at any time in the game world. They take place in a variety of locales and offer up all sorts of different rewards for participation. You even get a special NPC soldier that fights alongside you in skirmishes. This soldier can be heavily customized both in gameplay terms to compliment your character’s own abilities, and in aesthetic ways to make your new comrade stand out from those of your fellows. The skirmish system is a fascinating idea, and while only time will tell if it proves to be popular the amount of attention that’s been put into it is obvious. Everything from the unique enemies to the menu system has been carefully polished, which makes the skirmish system an appealing part of expansion.
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Into the Forest
Of course, the real focus of the expansion is the titular forest of Mirkwood, and that’s where veteran players will be doing the majority of their adventuring. One immediately receives two different impressions upon visiting Mirkwood, one positive and one negative. On the plus side, Mirkwood is very impressive visually. Players are introduced to the region in an instance that involves an army of elves essentially storming its beaches. Of course, you’ll be doing much of the grunt work, but having NPCs running around and fighting to control camps and forts really makes you feel like you’re in a war zone. It’s a pretty dark and grim one, but that’s what Mirkwood is: a dreary, depressing forest. That idea is captured well, both during the initial landing and later on as you explore the area in full. There’s a variety of well designed locations, such as a spooky swamp and a ghostly town, and they all succeed in capturing the dour vibe that Mirkwood should give off.
Unfortunately, once you get past the impressive visual design you’ll discover that not much has changed in terms of gameplay. The quests that Mirkwood offer to players are nothing you haven’t seen dozens of times already, whether you’re asked to go kill a bunch of orcs here or go gather some resource over there. Now, that’s pretty standard stuff for an MMORPG, and it would be unfair to criticise an expansion pack for maintaining a genre convention. However, questing in Mirkwood just feels like a grind. When we first entered Moria it felt like an adventure, where every quest was designed to show off the massive, foreboding dungeon. By contrast, Mirkwood’s quests appear to be designed in order to mindlessly shuffle players to the level cap so they can enjoy the latest instances and raids. That doesn’t mean the gameplay in Mirkwood is bad, far from it. It just feels as if it fails to take advantage of the setting, which is a shame to see.
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The Little Things
Like any expansion, lots of little updates and improvements have been made. None of these are essentials, but they’re nice touches to existing parts of the game that help enhance the experience just that little bit. First, you’ll immediately notice the changes to the combat animations. This doesn’t have any impact on gameplay, but combat looks much smoother and more fluid. Awkward and abrupt shifts between animations have largely been eliminated, which is a welcome change.
Players will also be glad to see that mounts are now skills instead of items. It sounds like a minor change, but it both clears up inventory space and gives your horses and goats a much nicer interface. That’s not the only change to the user interface, as the row of menu buttons on the bottom of the screen are now customisable. This means you can get rid of the useless buttons that bring up individual inventory bags and replace them with say, the new skirmish menus, or the legendary item panel.
Speaking of legendary items, they’ve benefited from some improvements as well. Weapons of a higher level are now available, to compliment the level cap increase. In addition, some of the less popular legacies have been removed and replaced with more useful ones. Most notably, new items have been added to give you greater control over customising your legendary weapon. So if you get a weapon that’s close to perfect but has just one flaw, you now have the chance to tweak it instead of tossing it and gambling on a new one. It’s a simple but useful improvement to a system that’s very important to high level characters.
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Siege of Mirkwood delivers pretty much everything an expansion pack is expected to. With a new region, a brand new mode and lots of little improvements it enhances an already enjoyable MMO with more great content. Despite that, it still comes across as a little underwhelming. Mirkwood is definitely fun, but it also feels like a lost opportunity. Rather than really enhance and add to Lord of the Rings Online like the previous expansion did, this one merely tweaks it. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but let’s hope it doesn’t become the norm for future expansions. Still, if you’re a fan of the game then there’s little reason not to purchase Siege of Mirkwood. Just don’t expect anything revolutionary from it.
A look at the Lord of the Rings Online second expansion: Siege of Mirkwood.