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Minecraft Mod Examination: The Lord of the Rings Mod
When I think of the possibilities for Lord of the Rings mods for video games, Minecraft used to not be even register as a possibility. Yes, even before this mod was started several structures from the movies were built and shown off online, but so were buildings and even characters from hundreds of other series, from 8-bit Theater's Black Mage to Star Trek's Enterprise. But while such objects were buildable and looked fairly natural in Minecraft, the idea that one would build a specialized Lord of the Rings mod just seemed a little odd to me. But I'm glad I chose to look into this mod, because it is one of the most intriguing and multiplayer-friendly mods I've encountered so far.
While many "series" mods simply add in monsters or items from whatever series they are based off of, mod developer Mevans chose to add in the entirety of Middle-Earth, including several parts of the world that Tolkien barely touched and that Mevans has populated with characters and creatures from his imagination. The current world map covers the main continent of the Lord of the Rings, from the Shire all the way down to the tip of Far Harad at about one-twentieth of the size of the "real" Middle-Earth, and all of it is surprisingly beautiful. He has managed to figure out several tricks with the landscaping that are currently exclusive to the LOTR mod, including simplistic roads crossing most of the areas of the world, randomized locales allowing for great variety of landscape types even within a single biome, and a great total increase in the number of biomes available for use. This last part is especially important for both players and Mevans himself as it means that he can vary the world not only by the basic countries such as Mirkwood, the Shire, etc. but can add in multiple sub-biomes for each, and that players who wish to enjoy both Middle-Earth and the Minecraft Overworld can still utilize biome-adding mods such as Biomes o' Plenty or Twilight Forest without conflict.
Just adding landscapes would fail to capture the feel of the Lord of the Rings, but thankfully Mevans included a large array of factions, including all of those who played an important role in the books, most who played a fairly small role, and three, the Half-Trolls of Pertorogwaith, the Dwarves of the Blue Mountains, and the Orcs of Angmar, who played such a tiny role in the books that I had to look them up to remember they existed at all. But these races are not simply walking decorations or monsters to slay, they are fully-functional factions who can be allied with and utilized in multiple ways whether one wishes to be good or evil, and thanks to each faction being independent and carefully thought out, forms of neutrality are available as well. A player can become friends with the High Elves of Lindon while aiding Mordor in its war against Gondor thanks to the distance between them, and being a friend of the Gundabad Orcs does not mean that the Hobbits will even care about your wickedness as long as you do not harm one of them. It is even possible to be loved by all factions if one does enough peaceful quests for each group.
Yes, quests are in the game, though currently only the smallest type, known as mini-quests, are implemented. These are quests that one can receive from any NPC in game, and when talking to them they can request a job from you in exchange for some coin and respect from their faction. These quests are simplistic but nice, and can cover nearly anything from slay _____ number of an enemy faction, to collect __ wood, or even "go make me a pie" if you are in the land of the ever-hungry hobbits. Once you accept a quest the NPC will lock themselves to their current location and never despawn unless slain, mark themselves on the mods rather well-designed map, and if the player has a Red Book(collected from the first chest one finds after entering Middle-Earth, or made with a gold nugget, red dye, and a book) the quest information is marked within.
But these factions have several advantages beyond quests, they can provide useful allies as well. Each faction has a recruitment officer who is spawned in specific structures dependent on the race, and these officers can sell the services of that army's soldiers if you have the money and are well enough respected by that group. One can develop a large army of guards of several types, from tiny little Hobbit Sherrifs to enormous Trolls and use them as bodyguards, order them to protect your home, or make them attack any target you point at. And as of the most recent update these soldiers can be split into several squadrons if the player wishes, allowing for each group to be commanded separately. And if the player is seen as a truly worthy ally one can buy a "Horn of Conquest", which allows a player to trigger an invasion from the race that they are allied with.
Wait, invasion? Invasions are one of the two new randomly generated events that have been added in, and they can take place within most areas in Middle-Earth. When an invasion occurs a large weapon appears marking the spawning zone, and after a moment a large number of NPC's from a faction spawn in every few seconds to hunt after any of their foes. This goes on for several minutes, and can bring forth a completely ridiculous number of opponents for the unwary player. Such invasions can be avoided without much issue, but fighting them is well worth it thanks to the high amount of good items dropped by the average opponent and how much reputation a player will get from butchering the invaders.
But war isn't the only thing these factions bring for a player, all factions have specialized items such as customized and powerful armor or useful tools. The greatest of these is likely the Dwarven or Orcish furnaces, which can smelt four ores at a time, or the Hobbit oven which only cooks food, but can bake nine items at a time instead of a normal furnaces single slot. There are also a number of unique armor and weapons, such as elven blades which glow blue when orcs are near, or Morgal armor which withers those who attack its wearer. In addition some mounts are also restricted by race, such as the spiders of Dol Guldor and Mordor, and many races have traders who will buy and sell goods in exchange for silver coins, a new currency that can be collected either by mining silver, trading with NPC's, or doing the usual video-game standby and murdering your way into wealth. While it is possible to steal many of these items from the dead, the only way to make most of these yourself is to use a faction-specific crafting table, which is only usable by a player with positive reputation with a race. But not all of the additions brought about by this mod are tied to factions, there are several nice additions that you can access no matter who you work for, most notably pouches, achievements, and Fast Travel.
Anyone who thinks about just how large even a fraction of Tolkien's world would be realizes that a Fast Travel system is required for any kind of extended play, and Mevans has provided a good solution. When one enters a major area, such as the Shire, Gondor, or Near Harad, they gain access to several waypoints in and around the country, and upon selecting one of these waypoints on their world map they are asked to stay still for ten seconds, and then teleported to that point, regardless of where in Middle-Earth they are. Even better the player can set their own waypoints, the total number of which is limited by the game's configuration and how many achievements the player has done, though they can only set a waypoint to their current location so as to prevent them from simply passing over large portions of the world.
Pouches are another nice addition, though not one that is unknown in Minecraft modding. Pouches are essentially portable chests, allowing the player to fill one slot of their inventory with the pouch, and then that pouch with anywhere between nine to twenty-seven slots worth of items, depending on the size of the pouch. Smaller pouches can be combined with other small bags to increase their size, and all of them can be renamed. Unfortunately for those in the Minecraft overworld, pacifists, or those with terrible luck, these pouches can not be built and instead can only be found by pulling them off the corpses of slain enemies.
But achievements may be the most addictive part of Mevan's wonderful little mod. While many other modifications for Minecraft add achievements, they often only add between ten to thirty, and such achievements generally lack any actual use. Meanwhile in the LOTR mod there are roughly three hundred and fifty achievements spread out across several regions, and many more being added every patch. But their number isn't the only thing worth noting about this mod's achievements, they are actually used to increase your total number of waypoints. In addition to that, earning achievements can open up a number a shields which are free items that the player can equip through the mod menu that do nothing but show off the player's personal awesomeness to other nearby players.
And yes, as the reader may have just figured out, the Lord of the Rings Mod is fully multiplayer capable even in its beta state.There are currently several servers running for the mod, with the official one's information being recorded here: https://www.facebook.com/LOTRMCServer . There is some issue with lag on these servers, thanks to both the mod being in beta and the sheer size of created world, but if no one is currently generating new land the servers can often run quite smoothly. But more than simply being compatible with online play, there are several useful multiplayer oriented parts of the mod such as achievement-dependent titles selectable by a player and banners that protect areas from being altered by those the banner-placer does not white-list.
So to summarize, the Lord of the Rings Mod is an excellent modification worth checking out regardless of if you like Minecraft or Lord of the Rings. It adds a number of new items, several new mechanics, and a wonderful and immense new world to explore. Even in its current beta stage which lacks a large number of Mevan's end-goals, it is showing itself to be an excellent addition to Minecraft for those who love combat or exploration, and has cemented itself into my mod-list for the last several months.