The Road to Level 75
The Lord of the Rings Online's third expansion, Rise of Isengard, officially launched Tuesday, September 27. That was the official launch, but it actually went live Monday afternoon, and while some of us waited (im)patiently for the updates to finish downloading, loads of people got an early start in Dunland. In my own experience, the patching process took around 8 hours or so, but many of my friends assured me that their patching only took 30 minutes. I was finally able to log in just after midnight - technically, Tuesday morning.
I decided that the first toon I would run through the new content would be my Hobbit Hunter, Gunkydoc. He's been my main for a long time and is my most "familiar" and complete character. He required the least amount of preparation according to our Preparing For Launch Guide - he has lots of money, plenty of potions and other consumables, excellent gear, and all but 4 of his Virtues are already 12 or higher (12 being the new cap for Virtues). Just before the servers went down Monday morning, I parked him at Nar's Peak in Thror's Coomb in Enedwaith, which is where Volume III, Book 3 finishes.
For his first login, Gunkydoc mysteriously received several thousand XP, auto-completed all the newly-split Moria deeds, and had a bunch of Skirmish Marks refunded. Several skirmish traits have been consolidated to reflect the changes to stats, and the ones he had equipped for his Herbalist soldier were refunded.
Step One was refitting his Legendary Items, all of which had their points reset. Gunkydoc has an amazing level Second Age crossbow that he got well before the standardization that came with Free-to-Play - it has 7 legacies instead of 6 (four Majors, three Minors), and I prefer that one to the level 65 First Age crossbow he has as a backup (four Majors, two Minors).
Step Two was visiting Harndirion to pick up the new mid-level skills, Split Shot and Hunter's Art.
Split Shot is... not great. It's an area-effect induction skill that hits several targets within 2m for modest damage. 2m is a very small area, and the lengthy induction makes it not particularly suited for a mid-combat skill while soloing. It's more useful in a group setting where mobs will be tightly-clustered around a tank and the Hunter has time to pull back and make a long-induction shot. On the one hand, it's nice to have an option for AoE attacks that build focus. On the other hand, a 2m radius is of limited utility.
Hunter's Art, on the other hand, is awesome. This one uses 3
Focus and does moderate damage, but the real magic is the
self-stacking buff it applies according to the Hunter's stance.
In Strength stance, it adds +5% to ranged damage; Precision
stance causes this skill to add ~+730 Finesse (at level 65); and
Endurance stance causes it to add ~+200 in-Combat Power
Regeneration (at level 65). This buff lasts for 20 seconds, and
the skill has a 10-second cooldown, so Hunters can stack the
buff twice by using this skill in regular rotation (meaning +10%
ranged damage in Strength, ~+1500 Finesse in Precision, ~+400
ICPR in Endurance).
These skills, and all the other new skills, tweaks and changes,
will be discussed in greater detail in our (soon-to-be-updated)
Step Three was to retrain my Skirmish soldier by buying the newly-consolidated skills. I could have left this until later, but the skirmish camp was right there, so I went ahead with it. Once I was all straightened away, I started Volume III, Book 4 - back to Corunir at Nar's Peak, then on to Lhanuch.
On To Dunland
The epic trek to Dunland can take one of two paths - either to the Bonevales or to Trum Dreng, depending on which Ranger you elect to help. I chose the path through Trum Dreng, which is the western edge just south of the Mournshaws in Enedwaith - the paths are more straightforward there, and there are no annoying wights. In Trum Dreng, the members of the Stag Clan are at odds with members of the Dragon Clan, who have shady dealings with the White Hand. This is where you will first see Turbine's much-touted phasing technology - as you follow the story in the region, events unfold that change the town and its inhabitants. The White Hand's treachery becomes plain as the town of Lhan Tarren burns and its elder is slain... but someone new to the area will be able to interact with the elder, and none of the buildings will be on fire.
The epic quests for Book 4 are more "MMO" than "RPG." Typically, you will be sent to an area by the quest giver and instructed to help the inhabitants as much as you are able. When you're done, you move to the next hub and do the same thing there. "As much as you are able" is a fairly broad and open-ended guideline - you can skip through and thumb your nose at the Dunlendings if you want, or you can attempt to do every quest in each hub before moving on. I took a fairly thorough approach, attempting to do as much as possible at each quest hub before moving to the next to advance the story.
I hammered through Trum Dreng fairly quickly and moved on to Pren Gwydh, the central zone of Dunland. The big town there, Galtrev, is the region's core hub, and because it was incredibly busy that day, Galtrev was quite laggy. It's a good, big town with all the town services - maybe a little confusing to navigate, and definitely laggy, but you can find everything you need there. Some players reported client crashes when attempting to enter the trainers' hall, but I was able to enter and exit at will.
Opening day hurly-burly made some tasks an exercise in patience. A great many players were competing for the same resources - 10 people trying to kill the same 4 quest mobs, for example, or ninja-looting crafting resource nodes. I would like to appeal to anyone reading this: please don't be a jerk. Everyone's there for the same reason you are, mobs and nodes respawn, and it's not a board game where you win by getting to the last square first. Please be patient, try not to be a ninja and be respectful of other players. If someone is obviously working on the same quests as you are in the same area, try inviting him to a group or asking to join his group and work together. Everyone benefits.
That being said, Gunkydoc managed a fairly respectable haul of crafting resources his first day out without really trying. Skarn and Birch nodes are plentiful, and treasure items like chests, backpacks and corpses were pretty much everywhere and respawned really fast. Treasure nodes rewarded around 120 silver each, plus crafting items and vendor trash/task items (specifically Bent Maces - those were everywhere).
After Galtrev, the epic quest takes you to the northeast corner of the map to Tal Methedras. I found this area particularly amusing - the Dunlendings, unsure about whether or not they should trust the Grey Company, put the rangers to work picking apples, hauling bundles and performing other menial tasks that would have likely been assigned to players otherwise. Sweet, sweet justice. Some of the quest rewards here are outstanding, and Gunkydoc actually found a suitable replacement for the Leggings of the Great Bow that he has been wearing for over two years.
At this pace, I had reached level 67 and replaced a few pieces of gear with some new stuff. The gear I was wearing going into Dunland was the result of years' worth of grinding and toil and careful calculations, painstakingly assembled with the use of spreadsheets to build a solid, balanced raid-spec Hunter. I am very picky about Gunkydoc's gear - just because an item has 70 Agility, for example, does not make it desirable if it compromises Vitality, Morale, Power or other important stats. Gunkydoc never had "ultimate" stats - that was never the point. He's built for a solid balance between raw offensive power and long-term survivability. He was capped on Agility and Vitality prior to Rise of Isengard, so my goal was to find good, balanced gear that didn't compromise the build with over-the-top min-maxing. I found a few good pieces so far:
Now I need to find a good pair of boots to replace my Boots of the Great Bow, which I've worn since level 58.
With the changes to Virtues and removal of stat caps (as discussed in our Developer Diary Roundup) and the minor gear upgrade, Gunkydoc's stats got a significant boost - Agility is at 758 now, and Vitality at 795, both up from the former cap of 650. There are other players who are reporting primary stats in excess of 1000 already at level 67, but this comes at a cost to Morale, Power and defense - the really stacked gear has only a few high legacies, and the older gear typically has more bonuses in smaller amounts, but those small bonuses add up.
One of the most significant upgrades, in my opinion, has been the really excellent-looking new cosmetic items. I don't care to equip the new gear - the stats are good, if imbalanced, but not good enough to replace my older stuff - but I do love the look of it. I put together a new outfit comprised of all Rise of Isengard armor and cosmetics.
Shoulders: Scout's Weathered Leather
Shoulder Guards (undyed; quest reward from Trum Dreng)
Cloak: Dolen-clog (Evendim Blue; quest reward from Tal Methedras)
Chest: Reinforced Leather Dunlending Jacket (Evendim Blue; quest reward from Galtrev)
Gloves: Gloves of the Helmingas (undyed; RoI pre-order item)
Boots: Reinforced Leather Dunlending Boots (Evendim Blue; quest reward from Galtrev)
I was originally going to dye this outfit olive green for a nice ranger-y look, since it's the go-to color for Hunters everywhere. But one of the quests from Tal Methedras rewards the player with 5 red dyes and his choice of 5 Evendim Blue, Rivendell Green, Crimson or Black dyes, and I went with the blue because it reminded me of a beloved Hawaiian shirt of mine. Also, the markings on the hood look like flames. It's not particularly Hunter-y, but I think it looks awesome.
Onward and Upward
I soldiered on through Starkmoor, doing the
quests in Avardin. Two things are particularly
worthy of note here: this was my first encounter with Saruman
and his scintillating disco robe (a non-combat instance
involving the auctioneer), and, following that, I got a group
together and conquered the Culling Pit. The
Culling Pit is one of my new favorite things in Rise of
Isengard, a challenging instance-like non-instance group
challenge. It's tough enough to require a mini-guide of it's own
the Culling Pit of Avardin!
At the end of the day, I had hit level 68 and was moving on to Dunbog in the southwest corner. A couple of players on Arkenstone had slammed through all the way to 75 with barely a pause for breath. Gunkydoc is moving at his own pace, however, and shall continue documenting his adventures as he heads deeper into the expansion.