The Road to Helm's Deep: Levels 90 - 95

With the help of his kinmates, and of the Fellowship of the Ring, Gunky finishes his journey in LotRO's new expansion.

The Road to Helm's Deep: Levels 90 - 95

85 - 90
| Level 90 - 95

In Road
to Helm's Deep Part 1
, I reached the halfway point through the
leveling process of Helm's Deep, the latest expansion
for the Lord of the Rings
, but I had seen only about one third of Western Rohan.
Focusing primarily on epic books and regional quests had taken me through
the regions of Eastfold in the southeast and Kingstead
in the middle, but I had the regions of Broadacres, Stonedeans,
Westfold and Helm's Deep still to explore.

LotRO Helm's Deep - map of Western Rohan

The stories, as always, are engaging and absorbing. The people of Western
Rohan are scared - White Hand forces are engaged in open conflict with
them, sacking and burning towns and villages and driving the Rohirrim in
desperate flight. All roads lead, eventually, to Helm's Deep, and those
that resist this march typically end up lying dead on a hillside
somewhere. This is not a war about land claims or petty politics - the
orcs and uruk-hai seek nothing less than the total annihilation of the
people of Rohan.

LotRO Helm's Deep - Uruk-hai warrior

A lot of the Rohirrim don't yet understand this fact. Many of them seem
to think it's merely a matter of being driven from their lands so the
invaders can take over, and they stubbornly and angrily resist the will of
their Thanes when told they have to flee. Others secretly serve Saruman,
and undermine the orders of their leaders with acts of sabotage or

The Epic Book story continues the player's association with  the
Dunlending woman Nona, sister of Wadu first encountered in Lhanuch in
Enedwaith, Corudan the elf from Lothlorien, and Horn the Rohirric minstrel
from Stangard. Horn and Nona's weird, uncomfortable forbidden romance
continues on as you shepherd the Rohirrim towards Helm's Deep and consult
a soothsayer in the northern region of Stonedeans, who foretells Horn's
death at a great battle. Those intimately familiar with the lore know that
she is referring to the future battle at Pelennor Fields, as mentioned in
the book, but since the battle at Helm's Deep is much closer at hand, the
small fellowship is obviously shaken by this prophecy, and the battle
ahead seems even more grim.

LotRO Helm's Deep - Underharrow

I personally found two sets of regional quests to be particularly
interesting - Underharrow and Stoke.
Underharrow, a small settlement midway along between Edoras and Dunharrow,
is lead by a distraught mother who has no idea how she is going to house
and protect all the refugees being dumped on her by the orders of King
Theoden, particularly when all the men have been pressed into military
duty and are all camped elsewhere. To add to her difficulties, her child
insists that the dead stalk the fields just outside of town; in reality,
these are just a tribe of orcs from the White Mountains, who wear skull
masks and lurk in the trees.

Stoke is beset by different kinds of problems. Towns nearby have been
sacked by orcs, and it is obvious that a traitor employed by Saruman is
responsible for many of the ills befalling the region. Reeve Frithild is
also a single mom, but her position makes her a target for Saruman's
henchman. When she is murdered by poisoning, her children stand to inherit
her position, but the agents of the White Hand have a different line of
succession in mind. Solving the murder and staging a bloody, violent coup
ends up being very satisfying.

LotRO Helm's Deep - Stoke

I did encounter the bug in Stoke, where it becomes impossible to turn in
the Brigands in the Wild quest - a known issue addressed in the launcher -
because of multiple, conflicting copies of the same NPC appearing on
screen at the same time. It's actually rather unnerving seeing her
remaining in her seat at the table in the mead hall after having attended
her funeral. The bug doesn't really detract from the feel of the story
overall, in my experience, and it's something that will be fixed
eventually. For now, it can be worked around.

About midway through the march to endgame, I decided to give the Big
another shot. This time, I approached them with a group
of kinsmen who lead me through the challenges of Helm's Dike.

LotRO Helm's Deep - view from the wall during a Big Battle

Once I learned how the sub-quests work in Helm's Dike (thanks to the help
of my awesome kinsmen), figuring them out in the other Big Battles was a
lot easier. Some of the sub-quests don't seem like they are really
possible to complete in the solo instance - not yet, anyway - but the
mechanics and locations are easier to figure out once you've seen a
successful medal-earning completion.

Flush with success, I tried all the other Big Battles in order, running
them all solo. I missed the mark on a bunch of the sub-quests on this run,
since they're still new and some of them have failure conditions that are
perhaps a bit too subtle, but I racked up some medals and Promotion points
and unlocked all the battles. I ran a few with friends and kinsmen after
unlocking them all and earned some sweet jewelery for my efforts.

LotRO Helm's Deep - using a Small Ballista during a Big Battle

The way the Big Battles work may be counter-intuitive to some players. As
a Hunter, my first instinct in these Big Battles was to shoot enemies.
Really, though, until the character gets enough medals and points to rack
up some Promotions in the Vanguard line, fighting the enemy is more or
less a waste of time. There are always other things to do - build or
repair barricades, play around with siege weapons, repair damaged banners,
issue orders to commanders. For the most part, I ended up only attacking
enemies during the sub-quests, and leaving the bulk of the regular
fighting to the NPC soldiers. 

Once I built up enough points to buy some Vanguard promotions, though, I
was able to make slightly more of a difference when fighting on the front
lines. You don't start gaining kill-streak bonuses until you have bought
several points deep into the Vanguard line, but when you do get them, they
make themselves count.

My main focus, though, was the Engineer line. Manning the siege weapons
and traps is my favorite part of these battles - hucking a wad of burning
pitch at the enemy catapult and watching it smash to pieces, taking out a
handful of orcs with it, is very rewarding. The Engineer line, with its
faster building, also allows me to keep Rohirric banners repaired after
they get attacked by sappers, which counts towards higher merit scores for
the daily quests.

The Road to Helm's Deep: Levels 90 - 95

85 - 90
| Level 90 - 95

The epic story concludes with the Battle at Helm's Deep, which should go
without saying. The phasing of these story instances is interesting -
clicking on the objects in the courtyard allows the character to pop back
and forth through time as recklessly as the Doctor in his TARDIS.

LotRO Helm's Deep - aftermath

This does bring up a possible point of contention among lore purists.
Time in LotRO does not travel in a strictly linear way. It is determined
primarily by two factors: position on the map and progress in the Epic
Books. Position is the primary factor - for example, it is always February
15th on the hill in Lothlorien where the Fellowship rests. The Epic Books
move along a more flowing timeline - depending on where you are in the
books, one might encounter Gandalf either at the Prancing Pony in
Bree-town, hanging around in Rivendell or undoing Wormtongue's influence
on King Theoden. Or, if the books are being tackled in a non-linear
fashion, he may be in all three places at once because it is a different
date in each of the three areas. It's all a big bowl of wibbly-wobbly
timey-wimey stuff.

But a level 10 character, who cannot possibly be involved in the Helm's
Deep epic book events yet, can take part in the Big Battles at Helm's
Deep, which occur quite some time later in story-time. It's the Erebor
instance cluster all over again - time is not linear, and apparently the
character can be in two time streams at once.

LotRO Helm's Deep - timey-wimey machines at the Hornburg

This is offset somewhat by the level-bumping for the Big Battles. Every
character that enters a Big Battle is bumped up to level 95, so in theory,
the character taking part in the battle at Helm's Deep is a future version
of that character. Who is, for whatever reason, wearing scaled-up versions
of low-level armor. The Doctor could likely explain it better using more
science-y words, but that's my theory.

LotRO Helm's Deep - stacks of orc and Dunlending bodies

The best part of the time travel, though, was seeing the aftermath of the
great battle first-hand: the ruined Deeping Wall, the heaps of orc, uruk
and Dunlending bodies littering the fields, the smashed and smoking ruins
of enemy catapults, the grim, angry forest that now lurks just beyond
Helm's Dike. Gives you a hell of a sense of accomplishment, and puts the
scale of the battle into gruesome perspective.

LotRO Helm's Deep - angry forest outside Helm's Dike

Having already completed all the Big Battles, I was able to mostly just
click through the dialogue. The epics require completing each battle in
order, and include a few extra instances here and there. There is a
particularly brilliant one featuring Gimli in the crystal caves, where the
player confronts an old frenemy - I won't spoil it by naming names or
anything, but it is a very satisfying confrontation.

Zipping through the story without having to actually fight the big
battles got me to the end of the epics quite quickly, which ultimately
rewarded Gunkydoc with a shiny new Flawed Symbol of Celebrimbor, used to
make the new level 95 2nd Age Legendary Items. I managed to loot an
Emerald Shard from some random Eorlingas skarn node, so I asked around and
got a guilded woodworker to whip me up an awesome new crossbow. It's the
first 2nd Age mainhand weapon I've owned since the Rise of Isengard days,
and it makes the already-punchy Bowmaster line even more lethal.

LotRO Helm's Deep - Emerald Shard

The goal now is to scavenge another Emerald Shard by hitting every node I
see, so I can replace my level 75 spear that I've been using forever.
Normally, I have decent luck with this task and often have extras kicking
around, but evidently the new shard is kind of rare. I found two of them
on the first day and ended up selling them for 75 gold apiece, a decision
I later regretted when the price shot up to 150 gold each. For now, I'll
take my chances and keep trying ore nodes rather than giving in and paying
ridiculous inflated Auction House prices.

Unfortunately, it's not just the players gouging one another in the
Auction House this time around. Turbine has cranked up the monetization
dial for Helm's Deep, and a lot of things have gotten very expensive. The
quick-travel to quest completion objectives used to cost just one Mithril
Coin, but the cost for Helm's Deep quests is five. The same goes for
unlocking travel destinations - everywhere else costs 1 Mithril Coin to
travel to a new, undiscovered location, but in Helm's Deep it costs 5.
These are Helm's Deep costs only - the cost of these shortcuts elsewhere
remains the same.

Character unlocks are also very expensive. Buying a third tab in the new
Talent Trees window costs 100 Mithril Coins - and that's per tab, per
character. 100 coins runs 850 Turbine Points, which is about $9.70 (going
by the current prices in the LotRO store, where 700 points - 500 base plus
200 bonus - costs $7.99, or a little over 1.14 cents per point). It seems
a bit greedy to offer only two tabs when there are three specialization
trees, and then to gouge players who want to unlock the third tab by
charging them 9 and a half bucks per tab, and then not making that unlock
account-wide. Unlocking a third tab for two characters costs more than a
month's subscription.

LotRO Helm's Deep - housing chest upgrade cost

The new player housing chests are also upgraded via Mithril Coins, at a
cost of 100 coins per fifteen slots for deluxe houses with the 60-slot
chest, or 25 gold per 15 slots for standard houses with the puny 30-slot
chest. It's nice that housing is finally getting some developer love, but
seriously, that's really rather a lot. 15 slots is not worth 9 and a half
bucks. If you need additional storage, you can unlock shared storage or
regular vault space for far less, and you can use in-game gold for some of
the upgrades. Or, if you really need more of the kind of shared storage
that only a housing chest can provide, you can start a new F2P account,
roll a fresh toon, level him to 15, mail him a couple gold and buy another
standard house with another chest with 30 slots. It beats paying 10 times
the value of the house for 15 slots.

It also seems a bit dodgy that these upgrades and shortcuts are unlocked
only via Mithril Coins and not Turbine Points like they used to be. It
seems like an unnecessary extra step - buy the points, then buy the coins,
then buy the unlock - and it only seems to serve as a mask to hide the
actual cost of the item. 100 coins sounds like less than 850 points, and
both sound cheaper than 9 dollars.

Nobody is saying that players should get everything handed to them for
nothing. But these prices are simply too high. This is already a paid
expansion, and people are buying it, and then having to buy more pieces of
it. I don't mind buying unlocks, even as a subscriber and expansion-buyer,
but $9 for 15 additional housing slots is patently absurd. And
per-character tab unlocks at 9 bucks a shot feels almost punitive, as
though we are being fined for wanting the full range of trait line options
for our stable of characters. And I wouldn't feel so cheated by the cost
if it was account-wide.

LotRO Helm's Deep - inconsistency with Supreme tier crafting

Another fairly significant gripe is the inconsistent changes to the
crafting system. It seems as though these were intended to simplify
certain aspects of crafting, trimming down the number of resources that
need to be placed on landscape. Instead, the changes have left at some of
the lower tiers of some crafts in a confused shambles. This doesn't much
affect the elder game players, but the players still struggling through
Moria and earlier areas will definitely feel the changes.

This inconsistency is particularly true of Supreme tier, for levels 50 -
60. Supreme tier formerly relied on 4 different kinds of base metals -
Khazad-copper, Khazad-tin, Khazad-iron and Khazad-gold - and one alloy -
Khazad-bronze, made of copper and tin ingots. It now still uses three of
those base metals, but they are all smelted from the same resource - the
new Khazad-skarn, which is apparently refined into base metals by means of
obscure Dwarven alchemical magic - and Khazad-tin has been converted to a
vendor item.

Adding to the confusion, some old crafting materials have been
arbitrarily converted into this new system, while others have not, and
have been grandfathered in. Stored chunks of tin ore - regular or Khazad -
have been converted to a new generic sort of ore that can be smelted into
metal of another type, and the crafted ingots of tin have been converted
into the vendor item. On the other end, Supreme Forester includes a recipe
for Glazed Magnificent Leather that requires Aged Extraordinary Leathers,
but does not include a recipe to make this component, which is a holdover
from the old system and has not been up-converted to the new system.
Players who had Aged Extraordinary Leathers in their inventory or vault
still have these outdated items, and that stock is all they will ever
have. This whole system feels sloppy and unfinished, and could use another
QC pass to polish it up.

As pleased as I am with how the Hunter came through the class changes,
not everyone is as pleased with their main classes. Guardians in
particular are feeling somewhat cheated with this expansion, in part
because of the changes made to how the new threat and aggro system works,
but also because tanks play a significantly reduced role in the new Big
Battles system. While there are loads of enemies to fight, the mobs in Big
Battles most often have their own agendas with scripted target priorities,
and only respond to forced taunts. And elites are often immune even to
those, and cannot be diverted from their goals. In essence, the Guardian
in a Big Battle is just another catapult-cranker.

LotRO Helm's Deep - Marton mead hall

Overall, I've found much more to like about Helm's Deep than I've found
things to complain about. It's not without its faults, surely, but no new
game or expansion ever does go live without a few tricksome bugs sneaking
through. I can only hope that the high cost of Helm's Deep shortcuts and
upgrades is not a sign of things to come. The more narrowly-focused builds
of the new class system may make some players feel somewhat restricted or
shoehorned into an ill-fitting role, but for others it's a revitalizing
breath of fresh air. The removal of diminishing returns and raising of
caps on things like Block and Parry have a dramatic effect on character
potency. And while there are still bugs and tics here and there, it's
obvious that a lot of work and thought has gone into this new content.

Helm's Deep is big and bold, as it needs to be. The Big Battles seem to
meet or exceed most players' expectations - as much complaining as I have
seen over the past week, it's all been about bugs, glitches, classes that
feel unfamiliar, the high cost of everything, the rarity of materials and
that sort of thing - mostly relatively minor complaints that every gamer
complains about in every game, especially after a new expansion comes out.
Very few players complain about Big Battles not being awesome enough.
Personally, I'm enjoying the hell out of 'em.

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