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Siege of Mirkwood Basics
The first thing to note is that the level cap will be raised to 65, once again allowing your characters to gain experience. They’ll primarily be gaining it in the titular new area, the large forest of Mirkwood, which will offer over one hundred new quests, including an extension of the game’s main storyline. Players will also earn access to new skills, traits and virtues that will allow for further customisation of their characters.
The legendary item system introduced in Mines of Moria is also receiving an upgrade, so it’s not just your character that you’ll be able to improve. Legendary weapons can now get as high as level 60, and players will be given additional options on how to use them with new titles, legacies and a forth rune slot. Players who are into crafting will be given additional options in customising crafted legendary items, further enhancing their flexibility.
One hundred plus hours of content has been promised for Siege of Mirkwood, which means that players will have plenty of new gameplay to look forward to. Some of the biggest new additions are outlined below.
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The Skirmish System
Aside from the land of Mirkwood itself, skirmishes are the biggest addition being introduced in this expansion. Put simply, skirmishes are a series of twelve, semi-randomised and scalable instances that offer unique rewards and new ways to level up. Every skirmish can be fought by one, three, six or twelve players, starting as early as level 30. The difficulty and amount of enemies faced in skirmishes will be scaled so groups of every size and level will have an optimal challenge. Players will also have some control over this, being able to increase or decrease the difficulty as they feel is necessary. In addition, both the enemies fought in each skirmish along with optional objectives for the skirmish can change, providing a unique experience nearly every time a battle is fought.
Even if you choose to fight a skirmish solo you won’t be going it alone, as every player will be able to create and manage a soldier to fight alongside their character. Soldiers are only useable in skirmishes, but they are highly customisable. They can be assigned traits and can have their appearance altered, and while you cannot directly control soldiers in combat the way in which you build them beforehand will go a long way towards determining how useful they are. The more skirmishes you complete the more powerful your soldier will become, and you’ll also be able to make your soldier stand out more from those of other characters.
Skirmishes are expected to take around thirty to forty minutes each to complete, and can be accessed from anywhere in Middle-Earth. You can enter a skirmish from anyplace you like, as can any allies you choose to fight alongside. When the skirmish is complete, you’ll all be returned to your original locations. This makes the skirmish system a very accessible new way to play LOTRO.
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Instances, Raids and the Epic Storyline
Siege of Mirkwood will introduce three new three person instances, one new six person instance, and a twelve person raid. The raid takes place in Dol Guldur, which for those not versed in Lord of the Rings lore is one of the fortresses of the big bad guy Sauron. Unlike most of the raids introduced in recent free updates that simply involve a single boss fight, Dol Guldur will be a lengthy and challenging experience featuring multiple bosses and high level rewards. The four new instances will all be located in the area around Dol Gudur, suggesting that all of these new areas are intended primarily for characters that have reached the new level cap of 65.
As for the game’s main storyline, Volume 2, which began in the first expansion released last year, will conclude inside of Mirkwood. The final act of Volume 2 is expected to offer a large and varied amount of content, and the epic storyline is slated to continue with the start of Volume 3, which will be released as a free content upgrade a few months after the launch of Mirkwood.
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The Little Things
Aside from all the new content, various minor changes and improvements are being introduced. While these new features may be overlooked by some, they should streamline and further enhance the LOTRO experience, allowing both new and old content to be enjoyed more efficiently. Two of these changes are of particular note.
First is a change to how mounts are used: they have been changed from items to skills. This means that mounts no longer take up inventory space, that players can talk to NPCs and vendors from their mounts, there are less restrictions on what areas mounts can enter, and you can ever name every creature in your stable. This means a lot less constant and tedious mounting and dismounting, a convenient feature for adventurers.
Second is the addition of account wide storage space. Currently, players with multiple characters cannot move any items between them without a great deal of hassle, and many items are permanently stuck on one character. Now you’ll be able to share some items without the need to switch back and forth between characters, which should come in handy for those of you who like to keep a large collection of avatars.
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Conclusion: What to Expect from Siege of Mirkwood and Beyond
Siege of Mirkwood is expected to launch in the fall of 2009 at a base price of $19.99. It will be a digital expansion only, which means no boxed copies of the expansion on its own will be available, although for those new to the game it is likely that you’ll be able to purchase a box containing both the base game and the pair of expansions. Early upgrade offers will be announced soon, giving players reasons to pre-order a digital copy.
Between a large new quest zone, new raids and instances and the brand new skirmish system, Siege of Mirkwood seems to offer plenty of compelling reasons to pay the price of admission. With the promise that free updates will continue to be implemented after the launch of Mirkwood, it will be interesting to see what else the developers intend to do with the new features, as well as how the zone of Mirkwood will receive additional content. The developers certainly seem committed to keeping the good times coming in Middle Earth, which is good news for anyone who plans to purchase this expansion.
A look at the Lord of the Rings Online second expansion: Siege of Mirkwood.