The Road to Level 75
of Isengard is not the biggest expansion that the
Lord of the Rings Online has launched. Mines of
Moria was epic, and it also had a 10-level increase. But it is a
damn sight bigger than Siege of Mirkwood, and the lands are much
brighter and more open than either of these two dark, foreboding
expansions. Turbine is striving once again towards the light and
giving us areas with open vistas and clearly-visible skies.
I ended Day 1 of my Road to Level 75 in Dunbog, in the southwest corner of Dunland, having achieved level 68 and feeling mighty proud of myself. The rolling swamp and the rickety backwater bayou shacks-on-piers town of Lhan Ros puts me in mind of a particular Jerry Reed song (a hint: I spent a few minutes looking for a cat named Doc Milsap and his pretty wife, Hannah... but they weren't there), so I started Day 2 happy, beating up slugs and collecting mudballs. Despite the dreary damp, there are some interesting things going on in Dunbog.
Dunbog and the Bonevales
There are a few camps of hunters and such scattered around the
bog, and they will require you to kill and loot the mobs there.
Nothing out of the ordinary... until you are tasked with
battling the giant avanc living in a ruin. Avancs look rather
like worms crossed with primeval alligators, and the big one in
the ruin is an epic beast. For that quest, you can summon an NPC
named Gwin to help you out (provided you did his quest earlier). If you run this with a group,
apparently everyone in the group can call forth their own
private Gwins. I ran this with a Warden friend, and we each
got our own Gwin.
There you will find the town of Lhan Colvarn,
where the inhabitants are feeling... a bit under the weather.
Might have something to do with their drinking water. If you
look close, you can see the dead fish and human remains floating
on the surface.
At any rate, the nasty late-movie-Terminator-style disease isn't the only thing afflicting this town. They're also infested with rats and horribly-mutated orcs and trolls. The design of this town showcases the trend towards more solo-oriented gameplay - the quests require you to gather crates and interact the diseased Dunlending Abominations, but if you go there with a group, expect to stay a while. The crates despawn when a player uses them, and when a member of your group interacts with one of the sick Dunlendings (some of them will attack after you warn them, and some will cheer), it doesn't count for your quest. This was a bit frustrating, especially during these early days when traffic in these areas is very high - someone runs through and grabs the crates or activates the NPCs and you have to wait for lengthy respawns.
This particular quest chain is geared for solo players. There are a number of forced-solo instances, including a run through the town with your old pal Gwin, another NPC named Delwin and an aggressive Huntard Dunlending named Blaire. This is a challenging instance - it took me several tries to complete, and I had to leave it and come back later when I had gained a couple levels before I had a chance of beating it. In the end, you must make a moral decision: do you stop the killing and try to save the afflicted souls, or do you kill 'em all and cut off the source of infection? In these situations, I often ask myself what my mentor and kin-founder would do. The answer was clear... and then I saw the quest reward, and my decision was further cemented: KILL 'EM ALL!
Hey, sometimes you have to amputate the gangrenous foot to save the leg. I don't feel bad about my ruthless decision, and plus the kill-'em-all cloak looks WAY better than the save-everyone cloak.
However, like I said, I wasn't able to complete this instance the first couple of times, and had to come back when I had another level or two under my belt. My solution was to backtrack a bit and rip through the Bonevales, completing all the quests at the small, scattered camps there. Then I went back, completed the instance and continued that storyline, which introduced me to two more of my new favorite things.
The first new favorite thing I found was the Peaceful Glade in northern Dunbog. You go in here as part of the quest chain from Lhan Ros, and it's breathtaking.
The massive tree in the middle is a spiritual thing for the Avanc Luth and the Boar Clan, and they are fiercely defending it against White Hand raiders. I kinda didn't want to leave this place when I got here, but the road lay before me and I knew that I must.
After you finish up here and rally all the camps to the defense of the Dunbog, you attend a meeting. If you have been thorough, the meeting is basically about how awesome you are, and all the Dunlendings sing your praise and swear their allegiance in the coming battle. This part is great, but it's not my favorite thing. My favorite thing is what they are vowing to help out with - Wulf's Cleft.
This is a skirmish-like instance, Tusks of the Boar, where you pick a small 4-man strike team from the assembled soldiers and go wreak havoc on the Dragon Clan and the White Hand, destroying their siege equipment. The soldiers are warriors, archers or herbalists, and you can pick whatever kind of group you want. Your soldiers are brutal and efficient - for the most part, I would just pull the mobs and run back and let the soldiers do all the slaughtering. My team consisted of two warriors, one archer and one herbalist, and they carved a path through everything the enemy threw at us. This instance ends with a great flaming battle, and when you take down the enemy leader, you hop on a horse and bail.
I had been looking forward to this particular instance since
first trying it in beta. Improvements have been made since then,
but there is still some AI-related weirdness - friendly soldiers
fighting on the sidelines will occasionally break through the
lines and attack your targets, greying them out so you get no XP
from the kills. This is especially prevalent in the last battle,
where aggressive "friendly" NPCs will attack the enemy leader.
Also, unlike skirmish soldiers that can be directed to attack,
you have no control over your soldier escorts here, which can
cause some occasionally unpredictable results. They will
instantly aggro on any enemy in range, and will fight whoever
they damn well feel like. At least the instance-exit bug has
been fixed - on beta, you would ride up to the red shimmer at
the edge of town and stay there for several minutes before the
instance shut down.
I ended the day at Barvanon, a town in south-central Dunland in the Carreglyn region, at level 69.
Barnavon is a pretty horrible town. It's split into two levels - Upper Barnavon, where all the inhabitants are hostile and will try to kill you on sight, and Lower Barnavon, which is populated mostly by women and children - actual little kids, which you don't see anywhere else in the game - and only SOME of the inhabitants try to kill you on sight. There are a number of hostile guards patrolling the streets of Barnavon, which can be aggravating. One is tucked out of sight just inside the gate, behind the main quest-giver NPC and right beside the town's only mailbox. It's not all that uncommon to find the bodies of slain player-characters here - victims of bad timing and terrible planning. If you have to send mail to someone or go AFK for any reason, go somewhere else to do it.
Quests here will send you up into the "bad part of town," and out to the wilderness and to the nearby mines to help with matters there. The mines are infested with bugan - the hobbit/goblin things that you first meet in the Gloomglens in Enedwaith. They're not very strong individually, but you usually end up fighting them in twos or threes or more. There's a neat encounter on a patrol-type quest where you meet another huge avanc lurking in a pool.
At around this point, I was beginning to wonder if I had missed
an area somewhere. All the mobs were orange to me and I was
getting chewed up pretty badly in some cases. I had been
following the epic quest line, which is, as mentioned before,
more or less "go to this area, help everyone there as much as
you can and then move on." I'm doing every quest in each area -
I skipped one repeatable quest from Galtrev (I hit Kindred with
the Dunlendings on day 2 and didn't need the rep), but with
everything else I was as thorough as possible. I completed all
the "Do X number of quests" deeds for each area (except for Trum
Dreng, which is a known bug and sits at 36/37) and left no stone
unturned. But as I moved on from Carreglyn to Gravenwood,
further east, I was feeling even more under-leveled.
Well, it turns out that this is by design. The devs want
players do supplement their questing with non-quest stuff like
skirmishes, tasks, deeding and the like. Without gaining
non-quest levels, some of the instances are nearly impossible.
For instance, I attempted the Tribunal of Shadows instance in
Gravenwood at level 71 and got my ass handed to me. So the goal
for now is to gain a level or two from skirmishes or instances,
and come back to the Tribunal of Shadows when I am better able
to survive it.
On the plus side, I did get to meet Theodred at Saeradan's Rohirrim scouting camp. Theodred looks like a true bad-ass.
As mentioned, my main goal over the next couple of days is to gain a few levels from skirmishes, instances and other non-quest content. The closer I get to Isengard, the more I'm going to need them.
The other thing I'm going to be working on is how to overcome the weaknesses in the new gear my Hunter will be using. The new gear in Rise of Isengard seems tailored to min-maxers - a couple of primary stats are given massive boosts, and everything else is ignored. This is not great for people like me who prefer to have some kind of balance for survivability. Obviously, I want my Agility to be very high - Hunter damage is entirely dependent on Agility, Ranged Offense rating and powerful gear - but I also want to have good Will, Fate and Vitality scores, and decent defenses. What good is having an Agility score of over 1000 if you have no power, or if you can't take a few hits while soloing? Right now, Gunkydoc's Will is an abysmal 172, while his Agility is over 800. That's not good. Swapping Determination for Wisdom and Fidelity for Zeal drops his Agility and Vitality down a bit, but gives him more Morale overall and a higher Will score for more Power. I can easily make up the difference with gear.
These plans are for the future. For now, I'm wandering around the glorious Gravenwood, marveling at the scenery and trying to think of appropriate adjectives to describe it. Perhaps, when our chronicle continues, I will have found some good ones.