Posted Thu, Nov 28, 2013 by gunky
Level 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 Online, 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.
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.
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 murder.
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.
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.
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 Battles another shot. This time, I approached them with a group of kinsmen who lead me through the challenges of Helm's Dike.
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.
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.