Updated Wed, Oct 05, 2011 by gunky
Okay, it needs to be pointed out: this place looks epic. This is the first forest setting where it's all about the trees rather than the mood lighting. Old Forest in Bree-land is all gloom and oppressiveness, Lothlorien has eighties porn lighting and Mirkwood was just as dark and claustophobic as the mines of Moria. Gravenwood feels like a forest for adventurers - you can clearly see what's around you, and it's mostly big trees, Dunlending tribesmen and orcs. So far, this has been the strongest point of Rise of Isengard. Area design in general has been outstanding, and the general look and feel of Dunland makes you want to keep going and exploring new, amazing things.
I headed back to do the Tribune of Shadows, the instance that had so badly defeated me the day before, and this time it was much easier. Whether that can be chalked up to a better character build or better planning the second time around is debatable, but there was a clear difference this time. I smashed through it and advanced the storyline with the Rohirrim.
The next set of quests sent me out into the forest to deal with a
handful of Dunlending and orcs camps. Some of the fights were
pretty tough, but I found an adventuring buddy - a Hunter friend
kinship - and we powered through these quests together.
There were a few rough spots (one named enemy mob kept respawning
practically right on top of us), but for the most part it was
standard adventure stuff. There was another instance involving
helping the Rohirrim defend one of the giant trees in the forest -
this one was duo-able, making it a rare exception.
Eventually, we advanced the epic book to the point where it
required a return to Tal Methedras, the snowy
Dunledning town in the northeast corner of the map. This is where
the epic story really picks up, around Chapter 18 or so. Up until
this point, it's been mainly "Go to region X, help people there as
much as you can and then move on," which, to be perfectly honest,
felt a bit lazy. The non-epic quests have been good, but the epics
felt phoned in. Well, stick with it, because the epic line gets
awesome at the end. Spoiler alert!
Lheu Brenin, the Dunlending equivalent to the mayor of Tal Methedras, seems like a pretty cool guy at first. He strides around the frigid mountain peaks without a shirt on, showing off his awesome fat belly and doesnt afraid of anything. Turns out, though, that the fat man can't be trusted - he sells out the Grey Company rangers and even his own Falcon Clan to Saruman, and ships you off to Isengard to be thrown in with the uruk-hai.
This became one of my new favorite things. The uruks put you
straight to work in the ring around the tower, both above and
below the surface. And this is not fun work like you get from
hobbits in the Shire or the hillmen in Angmar. No sir, this is
proper menial toil. Mop up slop in the mess hall, haul heavy
barrels of weapons and armor, all under the supervision of a
whip-cracking personal quest NPC who follows you around and keeps
you "motivated." And, to add insult to injury, there's even a "go
kill 10 rats" quest. To the rest of the world, you're a powerful
hero of legendary status, but to the uruk-hai, you're just another
nameless n00b grubbing for XP and coppers.
It sounds kinda horrible, but it's actually kind of hilarious and fun. There are "Surly Uruks" scattered around among the non-interactive ones, and these will attack you if you get close. You can kill them - for whatever reason, the uruks don't take your weapons or gear when they force you into slavery - and when you do, you get a massive boost to run speed. You get the same boost when ordered to haul stuff, so you'll be zipping around like mad a lot of the time. Your personal quest uruk may lag behind during these speed boosts and get lost/despawn, but if you rattle the cuffs in your inventory he will respawn.
The layout of the underground part can be confusing, but it's less confusing than the above-ground area in the ring. Quest NPCs there have a tendency to wander, and you may not find your guy in the same spot he was when you picked up the quest. It also helps immensely to actually read the quest notes - a lot of them are not marked on the map. Doing the quests here earns you a natty prisoner cosmetic outfit with a big white hand of Saruman on the back.
The long-term goal here is to escape the dungeons of Isengard, and with the help of a couple of prisoners down in the dungeons, eventually you do. Speaking to Acca, one of the prisoners down in the dungeon, you learn that he was once Saruman's steward, and there's a rather awesome no-combat session-play instance where you take on the role of Grima Wormtongue during Gandalf's visit to and eventual imprisonment within Orthanc. Wormtongue slinks around when he walks, and he has only one skill, but that one skill is quite amusing.
Using Acca's knowledge of Isengard's layout, and the sheer pluck and determination of your other companions, you stage a daring escape and earn yourself a nifty housing item:
Once you're out and back among the rangers and the Rohirrim, it's time to plan your revenge against Lheu Brenin and the traitorous Falcon Clan. Your goal is to rescue the imprisoned members of the Grey Company with the help of Theodred and his kinsmen. In the end, you succeed, but the book ends on something of a sour note. I've given enough spoilers already, so I won't ruin the ending for you.