If Lord of the Rings Online Approved Mines of Moria In November 2008, the expansion became one of the funniest and most controversial in the game’s history. To this day, some players love the vast underground dwarf kingdom and its rich subject matter, while others find it claustrophobic and can’t get through it fast enough.
There is no doubt in my mind that the teachings and weight of Moria had a major impact on the creation and design of another subterranean expansion, coming 13 years later this month. SSG promised that fate of Gundabad wouldn’t be “Moria 2.0” but would have its own identity and feel.
Coming back to this expansion for my second playthrough lately, I felt like it was finally time to let my thoughts run wild on what makes it special Gundabad work as an expansion pack – and what it doesn’t do.
So let’s start with the whole Moria 2.0 thing, because I think comparisons are inevitable. In my opinion, it’s just impossible to create a second underground city of dwarves and make them so different that there is no overlap. There certainly is, and perhaps one of the most unfortunate connections between the two expansions is the restrictive zoning itself.
Moria had a problem with some of its zones being difficult to navigate, with lots of stairs, hard-to-see paths, and a shocking lack of railings alongside drops into the abyss. I always joked that midgets would obviously never have to account to OSHA because it wouldn’t stand.
Likewise, it is particularly difficult to traverse Gundabad in three of its zones: Mattugard, Deepscrave, and Clovengap. Each has its own problems, but Deepscrave’s sheer verticality and Clovengap’s tight spacing were pretty brutal at times, not to mention all the ups and downs of the stairs that dotted this entire cavern. I actually took a very long break from my Gundabad expedition on my first character when Deepscrave got so frustrating that I threw up my hands and said, “Forget that!”
Of course, if you play these zones often enough and obey the whims of the quest givers who send you back and forth so often, you’ll get to know the layout. But there are MMO zones where navigation is more intuitive than others, and Gundabad has a few delinquents in the pantheon LOTRO zones.
That criticism aside, as always, I have to give credit LOTRO’s World designer for creating a stunning mesmerizing world. Gundabad’s five inner zones and one outer zone are varied and thematically distinct, and I particularly have to commend Gloomingtarn’s basalt columns circling a lake and the Stone Pine Pit’s ability to convey a more natural cave feel. The whole place also felt more open and airy than Moria, with Clovengap being practically an outdoor region (with sky!) and Mattugard circling a vast bottomless chasm.
Coming back to Gundabad from my break I had no problem getting into the groove of the expansion and blasting through to the end. There’s great pacing and enjoyable storytelling here, especially with an apprentice dwarf trying to navigate the world and an encounter with an ancient, powerful being straight from the Silmarillion. Yes, the dwarves are practically wall to wall here, which might induce a bit of tiredness in the dwarves, since this is the conclusion of a fairly long storyline that started several zones earlier. But I like dwarves, and the time it took SSG to differentiate the factions and the tensions between them kept me eating popcorn and watching the action.
In terms of difficulty, Gundabad wasn’t too difficult. It certainly wasn’t release day in Mordor with its obscene mobs. There are a few places in this realm where you’ll run out of space to navigate, while there’s a ton of mobs around you that give you virtually no retreat if you need to. Still, in none of the regions was it harder than normal for me to make my way through the various groups of enemies.
That’s also a good thing, because I didn’t need mobs slowing me down while trying to find quest objectives. like that LOTRO’s The map function is terrible for each area with different levels and I would go up and down like crazy to find specific objectives in Mattugard and Deepscrave.
Oh, and a pro tip about Deepscrave: there’s an elevator. I didn’t find that out until I was two-thirds through the zone, and now I’m getting annoyed with all the stairs I took. So find this elevator and love it.
In total, Fate of Gundabad was a pretty decent, above average expansion. I really appreciate having a little more time outdoors (the hardy slopes were a refreshing break until frostbite set in) and it didn’t take long to feel trapped like poor souls did in Moria back then.
I’m impressed that a team as small as SSG was able to pull off a true expansion of this size. The scope, artistic elements, and sheer quest density must have been a lot of work, but the team pulled it off without the end result looking shabby and farfetched.
Your utility from Gundabad’s narration depends on how much you enjoyed the story of the dwarves, but even if you’re not at all interested, you can find delight in the sights and cosmetics (always in fashion!) hidden beneath the mountain .