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Rise of Isengard
Up to the September 27 release date for Rise of Isengard, a lot of misinformation was circling around on the Internet. Early sources indicated that a new PvMP zone similar in scope to the Etternmoors would be released, but Turbine squashed those rumors early on amidst reports that PvMP would be going free to play. This is not the first time that a new PvMP zone failed to materialize (Mines of Moria was also supposed to release a new PvMP zone back in 2008, but that never happened).
Also, many players were confused about the three PvE zones Turbine was advertising: Dunland, the Gap of Rohan, and Isengard. Another map was released, showing the Gap of Rohan and Isengard as mere sub-zones of Dunland, so players weren't sure if they were getting one new zone or three.
Even the release date seemed a little off. Turbine announced that the servers were coming down on Monday, September 26 instead of Tuesday, September 27, as all previous advertisements and promotions indicated. Hoping against hope, players began asking the devs in the LotRO forums, but confusion remained even after Turbine employees stated that Rise of Isengard would be live once the servers came back up on Monday.
As with most big MMO updates, RoI had its share of server problems starting out. Many players were queued up for four hours or more in an attempt to enter the game, but login sever issues seemed to be mostly resolved about 8 PM Eastern that evening. With Isengard finally live, it was finally time to see what was new in Middle-earth, and the changes are covered in this guide to new content in LotRO: Rise of Isengard.
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Level Cap Increase
Thankfully, Turbine decided to raise the level cap to 75 this time, a full 10 level increase instead of the 60 to 65 bump players received in Siege of Mirkwood. Instead of feeling slightly stronger like I did when I first hit 65, my characters are much stronger. I'm rocking roughly 50% more DPS, 30% more morale, and increased mitigations on my champion.
With the Rise of Isengard level cap increase at 75, Turbine also removed stat caps. Stats have traditionally been capped at 10 x your level, so might, agility, etc. were capped at 650 at level 65. Those caps are gone, and it's pretty easy to get your main stat (might for champions and captains, agility for hunters and burglars, and so on) to 1,000, and many players stack those caps to 1,400 or more.
However, stacking those stats carries a significant penalty by forcing you to sacrifice your other stats. Increasing my champion's might and melee offense rating caused my critical rating to drop for example. While your primary stat should be your first priority, you may be able to balance your stats out more than you think without sacrificing your primary stat.
Turbine also added finesse, a new statistic found under your critical rating in your character panel. Finesse reduces your opponent's avoidances (block, parry, and evade). It's not necessary for standard PvE content, but Turbine hinted that it will be helpful in boss fights. Of course, it should help a lot out in the Ettenmoors, the PvMP zone.
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Expanded PvMP Options
Finally, PvMP (player versus monster player) went free to play, opening up the Reaver class to F2Pers. The other monster classes are available for purchase with Turbine points, and they remain available for subscribers and lifetime players. The Ettenmoors have been pretty stagnant since the Delving of Fror went live about four years ago, but Turbine is shaking it up by opening up the only PvMP zone to everyone.
However, monster players can now purchase all of their skills with Turbine points regardless of rank. You can still earn infamy and level up the old way, but having a complete skill set immediately available should help new players out tremendously. Some skills, like the reaver's 200% speed charge, are necessary for some classes to be effective at all. Also, the October 19 patch increased morale regen by 40% and DPS by an impressive 20-30%, helping balance the two sides out.
Not everything is up for sale though. Passive skills, often granting increased stats and regen capabilities, still require infamy ranks. The difference between a high ranked monster player (known as creep to LotRO players) and a low ranked one is still night and day. The former might have 12,000 morale, but the latter will probably have about 2/3 that. Also, skills are fairly expensive. It's unlikely that most people will be willing to purchase more than one or two skills given the cost.
On the free people's, or freep's, side, players can upgrade their existing level 65 PvMP armor to the level 75 set for free, and many of the cloaks, jewelry, and weapons have been updated. Other than that, the freep experience remains largely unchanged.
Rise of Isengard also revamped the Ettenmoors quests. Before, taking keeps and turning in quests usually only gave some tokens of valour (which can be turned in for the Glan Vraig loot chests) and some destiny points, which you can buy temporary buffs with. Now tyrant quests will also provide tyrant crests and chieftan brooches, which you need to purchase the armor. Also, every quest provides either 60-100 infamy or renown, depending on your side. The only downside is that Ettenmoors quests are now on a daily cooldown, which resets at 3 AM Eastern.
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But Where's My Group Content?
Dunland is a very fun, very smooth place to level. Especially when you hit the Gap of Rohan with the various Rohirrim camps and then Isengard itself, LotRO once again feels very connected to the vision that Tolkien presented, a connection to the books that was arguably growing thin with Siege of Mirkwood and later Enedwaith. Not since Lorien was released did I feel as if I were actually experiencing Middle-earth. The atmosphere in Dunland, the Gap of Rohan, and Isengard is terrific, and the War of the Ring finally feels like it's gearing up to be a global conflict.
However, one aspect of the game seems to be missing: group content. The 15 or so skirmishes have all been scaled up to level 75, and many of the classic instances too, but the only new group instance is the 12- or 24-man raid Draigoch, which is simply one boss. There are no new fellowship or small fellowship instances, and the only new fellowship quest is the Culling Pit around level 70, which has a group of six adventurers battling a series of difficult enemies in an arena setting.
However, all hope is not quite lost. There's a new update rumored to be coming out in December with a bunch of new instances, hopefully an instance cluster similar in scope to Dol Guldur or even Moria. Why they wouldn't release one or two new instances with Rise of Isengard still confuses me, but better late than never when it comes to group content.
Bright Hub's complete coverage of The Lord of the Rings Online's newest expansion pack, Rise of Isengard, starts right here. Learn about the level cap increase, new raids, and class, skirmish, and crafting changes in addition to the upcoming update in December.