Lord of the Rings Online has always lived in the shadow of World of Warcraft, its main competitor. Which is a shame, as LOTRO is an excellent game in its own right.
Mines of Moria is the latest addition, and like all expansion packs – especially ones for long-running MMOs – the content is geared towards more experienced players. Veterans now get the chance to raise their characters from level 50-60, as well as pocket a host of new goodies. But the obvious attraction is exploring the mines themselves.
And like the original game, Tolkien's world is brought beautifully to life. Huge staircases, looming statues, eerie lighting — LOTRO fans will love the exploration. But as you'd expect from content aimed at top players, this is a challenging environment with numerous enemies awaiting your sword. And ideally your friends too, as grouping up with one or more players is highly recommended.
One step into Michel Delving and you'll quickly notice the unique music system implemented in the game. People are often standing around holding their lutes playing Stairway to Heaven or Row, Row, Row Your Boat. The ability to play notes directly into the game world has been implemented, albeit not in any way comparable to MIDI-driven music software.
While the graphics and landscapes and sky effects ("ooohh, pretty rainbow!", "wow, look at that flock of birds in the sky!") are very impressive, I must concede that the animations such as those of wildlife and monsters are not flawless, particularly where the beasts are idle. But these animation deficiencies are made up for when in combat, with few exceptions. For example, one of the Mature Bear attacks is simply a deep inhale, followed by the loudest bear growl you ever heard, as your character's hair stands on end and the steam from the bear's lungs fills the screen. Or, witness the presence of a Black Rider, and suddenly the screen starts zoom-blinking (very cool effect) and you start to see flashes of The Eye. These are player experiences that go a long way toward immersion of playing agaisnt NPC enemies.
There is an adequately diverse crafting system that would seem interesting but for the fact that it is a money sink. During the betas, farming in the Shire was lucrative, but profitability was dropped by the developers after players showed up in droves to stand around the workbench processing seeds.
The quests are plentiful to keep you busy indefinitely, so long as you are willing to leave the local vicinity. By the time most of the basic quests are completed in Eriador (which will take at least a couple months for most casual gamers), a free expansion will be offered in June. The quests are not typically grinders. For example, in The Shire, some of the quests will involve sneaking past Nosey Hobbits or Hungry Hobbits to deliver the mail or a mushroom pie from one town to another. One quest involves sneaking past a rooster to pick up chicken eggs. Another quest is to simply catch a little kid at midnight pretending to be an evil monster. Of course, these are "safe" starter quests; otherwise, there are plenty of quests that, for example, involve fetching a stolen item from a monster encampent, or killing off a monster boss. (As with some other MMORPGs, one learns that in these dangerous types of quests it is best to find nearby players and create a fellowship, since the power of two is better than the power of one, and success of one typically means success for the other as well.)