In the latest installment in the Lord of the Rings Online, fans and players alike finally get the chance to run around the Tower of Orthanc fighting orcs and confronting Saurman head on. Though the expansion is a big step forward for the franchise, it still falls short of toppling my personal favorite, the Mines of Moria.
The expansion is still jam packed with content however, featuring three new regions, a ton of solo content, an all-new 24 man raid against the biggest dragon I’ve ever seen and a lengthy addition to the epic storyline. What it suffers from is innovation. While the adventure was fun and enjoyable, most of what you see in Isengard is nothing that we haven’t seen before.
The one thing that never disappoints in a LOTRO expansion though is the story telling. As usual, it is a major focus this time around and it’s obvious they spent the most time in this particular section of the game. At this point in the story the Fellowship of the Ring has left Galladhrim. You are among the many Rangers marching south towards Rohan to assist Aragorn in the fight against Mordor.
Problems arise however while you attempt to march through Dunland. Saruman has begun amassing his army and has corrupted most of the Dunland clans in the surrounding regions., urging them to fight you and the other Rangers trying to pass by. Without spoiling the outcme for you, I will say that it is rather long, spanning 30 missions.
The thing that killed Turbine’s expansion was the lack of any new mechanics. Any innovation seemed left out as well. With Moria we saw a revolutionary idea with the addition of Legendary Items. The ability to level and customize your weapons was a real game changer in the MMO genre. The expansion also brought two new classes, the Rune Keeper and the Warden. Mirkwood brought us the Skirmish System, which allowed us to enter instances anywhere in the world. Isengard sadly brought nothing. No new mechanics or classes.
In terms of innovation, it only brought “potential.” Turbine is trying to push the boundaries of how many characters can be on a screen at once in an MMO. They want to capture the battles fought in Middle Earth in there enormous scale. With Isengard, we saw a hint at how this would work and play out, but it wasn’t anything mind blowing. Besides, we only got to see it a few times.
Another blatant deficiency was the lack of group content. Almost every single quest in Isengard could be done by yourself. This is an MMO, massive online multiplayer! When I play an MMO, I expect lots of group content and hope to meet a lot of new players. In Dunland, the largest region of the three, only one spot had quests that I actually needed a group to complete. That was it. In another area called the Pit of Iron, the quests could be done solo, but if you don’t want to tarry in there for too long, it’s best to blow through it with a friend.
In terms of end game, we get one new raid and that’s it, nothing else. Granted it is the largest and coolest boss character we’ve got to see in LOTRO to date, it just isn’t enough. A full expansion should be equipped with at least one new instance cluster. Plus, not every player has the time to do a raid. Many like to jump in and run a few, quick three or six man instances and then jump off.
The new set of armor that is given for the raid has only two exclusive pieces to the set, the helm and shoulder pieces. The rest can be acquired through old skirmishes and scalable instances. Turbine’s idea was to scrap new content and force us to play the old stuff. I am personally highly against that. I’m done with the old content; I’m ready to move on.
Isengard still delivers a bunch of cool things though. We get a new level cap of 75, an increase of ten. Virtues have been raised to a new cap of 12. We got three new massive zones, more quests, more class skills, an entire new crafting tier, and more. Many of the classes in Isengard were heavily changed, but much of the response from players has been “a change for the better.”
Turbine has also removed the stats cap for all classes, meaning that any type of stat such as might can now surpass 650. If you read between the lines, I think this change was more of a way to attract more players to buy stat tomes from the in-game store rather than a change for the players. Another big change is the pooling of useful stats. Burglars and Hunters now deal damage entirely based off of agility.
The graphics in the game are pretty much the same as they’ve always been. The incorporation of Direct X 11 did virtually nothing aesthetically appealing, but for a five year old engine it still manages to pull of some “wow” moments. When you compare the game with other newer MMOs such as Rift or SWTOR, you can see signs of its age.
The three new regions however all look very good and are very expansive. The landscape in each region has a very nice, natural transition from one environment to the next and architecture transgresses from ancient human, to elven very nicely. It all fits in.
LOTRO is now four and a half years old, yet it still manages to hang in there with the rest of the MMO market thanks to wonderful storytelling, good combat and expansive regions. The Rise of Isengard has its own fair share of ups and downs, but in the end, I had a good time playing through it all. For any player of LOTRO, the expansion is definitely worth clocking back into the game to simply check it out, but if your already burnt out on LOTRO, then there is nothing real exciting here that would change your mind. Besides, if you aren’t level 65 yet in LOTRO, none of the content here is available for you. The expansion is strictly for high level characters only.