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What We're Not Getting
First off, the bad news: LotRO: Rise of Isengard introduced exactly zero brand new skirmishes. For those of us hoping that Turbine would develop some new battlegrounds to play through, we'll probably have to wait until the next update, rumored to be coming out in December. As far as group content goes, there's only one new raid, the 12- and 24-man dragon Draigoch.
Thankfully, Turbine didn't leave us completely out to dry. They scaled up all of the skirmishes and many of the classic instances (Great Barrows, Annuminas, and the School and Library at Tham Mirdain) to level 75. While we've been playing all of those instances for at least three years, I think most players would prefer having the option rather than no group content at all.
Considering massive changes in monster play and crafting and the new large scale battle tech Turbine demonstrated in the Wulf's Cleft epic book instance, it's a little strange to think that they didn't produce any new instance clusters, lengthy raids, or even a single new skirmish for us to play through. However, there are some pretty significant changes to the skirmish system, detailed in this LotRO: Rise of Isengard skirmishes guide. While Turbine may not have released any new group content, some of these changes make the skirmishes already available worth running in a raid.
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Making Raids Relevant Again
Fortunately, raiders still have cause to rejoice. Besides Draigoch, Helegrod was scaled up to level 75 although the "24-man" Thorog fight only requires about 15 players to defeat. On the skirmish side of things, Turbine finally gave 12-man skirmishes loot tables, rewarding players for grouping up and taking on some of those harder instances.
Each skirmish has a daily quest which can be completed for skirmish marks, but you can only roll on loot from the 12-man raid chest once a week. However, each 12-man raid skirmish also includes a repeatable quest which resets on Thursday at 3 AM EST with raid locks. However, none of these skirmishes provide raid locks, so players who have already completed "Trouble in Tuckborough" once this week can continue to play through it - they simply can't roll on loot until the following Thursday.
The weekly quests drop three superior fourth marks each, helping players earn the 96 total superior fourth marks required for the Rise of Isengard raiding armor. The chests drop the usual assortment of relics and runes for your legendary items and weapons, but they also drop teal armor and jewelry (there are some teal weapons too, but they're mostly common damage from what I've seen).
The armor drops are decent, especially if you don't already have the PvMP armor or Draigoch helm and shoulders, but remember that you'll be sacrificing set bonuses. Skirmish jewelry, on the other hand, is the best in the game. Every piece is unique, so each player can only own one of each. Loot tables are common in skirmish campaigns. For example, the five Mirkwood skirmishes share the same loot table, so you have a chance to win the same gear out of any of them.
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A Fresh Face
Before Rise of Isengard, there was little enough reason to run any skirmish in a raid. Besides the difficulty of getting enough people together to run through the instances, there simply wasn't any incentive to go through the hassle. Raid skirmishes only dropped an extra 150% skirmish marks before, and most players preferred to run them solo since skirmishes are both easier and faster by yourself.
I enjoy having the ability to run instances and other content solo, but any MMO needs engaging group content if it's going to keep me coming back for more. LotRO has had a shaky record in that regard in the past few years, and many players were disappointed to find out that Rise of Isengard would be releasing no new fellowship instances at all. Draigoch is entertaining and moderately challenging (most raids managed to beat the dragon after one or two nights of attempts), but the dungeon has no trash pulls and only the single boss. Many players yearn for a return to the days of Carn Dum and Fornost (Turbine, won't you please scale those instances up to 75?), but providing incentives to players to play through the group content currently available is a step in the right direction.
Having played through each skirmish in a 12-man raid twice now, players will definitely enjoy the extra challenge. Most raids only set the difficulty to tier 1, but I'm looking forward to tier 2 or even tier 3 - not for the extra few skirmish marks those difficulties offer but the simple challenge involved. A decent raid shouldn't wipe in a tier 1 instance, but there's not much opportunity to sit back and let other players shoulder the burden either.
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Is Raiding Necessary?
Turbine has pushed towards more solo content over the past few years, first by adding solo instances in Moria, then by creating the inspired buff for epic content. Finally, skirmishes scaled up from solo to 12-man, but most players opted to play through by themselves. For gamers who have stuck around since the open beta days, it's disheartening to remember how little group content there is now compared to the glory days of Shadows of Angmar.
Raid skirmishes can't fix LotRO's lack of group content on their own, but they should tide players over until the upcoming December update. Considering how easy raids are to create and fill up with PUGs, everyone should be willing to give it a go. I see groups advertising open raid slots every single night, and skirmishes are more popular than the more difficult Draigoch raid right now.
However, raiding is by no means necessary, so casual players who prefer solo content shouldn't feel any pressure to join 12-man groups. The crafted gear isn't quite as good, but it's still very solid overall. The second age legendary weapons and items available in 6- and 12-man instances provide about 20% more DPS over third age weapons, but I never had any issue killing mobs when I was stuck with a third age sword. If you're getting bored with soloing skirmishes however, try the 12-man versions out. It's more entertaining to kill stuff in a group, and the loot is well worth your time.
- Turbine, Inc. Lord of the Rings Online: Rise of Isengard. Turbine, Inc., 2011. Microsoft Windows.
- Images from LotRO.com