The Road to Level 75
There have been a few server-side changes made to the
Lord of the Rings Online since its latest expansion,
of Isengard, went live last Monday. On Day
1, my Road to Level 75 was paved with riches - backpacks and
corpses and random treasure chests spawned in mad abundance around
the landscape, and despite the heavy first-day traffic I ended up
making somewhere in the neighborhood of 12 gold without really
trying. Apparently, the treasure spawns were a bit too abundant,
and were turned off by the second day.
After meeting with frustration in Day 2 of my Road to Level 75, I made a decision to try to earn some levels through skirmishes. On paper, this seemed like a dandy idea, but in practical terms, it turned out to be not so great. My soldier had fallen behind and the skirmishes were slow and painful, and didn't reward very much experience for all the work. I stopped doing that after 2 skirmishes and decided to change my gameplan a bit. I'll go back to skirmishes when I hit 75 and fast XP gain is not a priority.
Tweaking the Build
My new attack plan involved tweaks to my build and a weapon upgrade. I swapped out Determination and Fidelity in favor of Zeal and Wisdom - this bumped up my base Morale and Power and added some extra defense. I also swapped out the class trait Barbed Fury for Critical Eye - slightly less damage from Barbed Arrow in exchange for a much higher Critical Rating, which improves DPS overall.
I also swapped out my aging Second Age crossbow for a
higher-level Third Age bow:
I was loathe to do this. That crossbow has been my weapon of choice for a long time, and I prefer it over my First Age crossbow, which isn't finished:
At first, I wasn't sure that this would count as an "upgrade," despite the +20 DPS of the Third Age bow. The new bow has poor, low-tier legacies, and all my good relics are slotted in the Second and First Age items, so I only had some mediocre Tier 4 and 5 relics to put in the new one. But when I tested it out on some yellow mobs, it showed its worth. I'm a Hunter, after all, and cannot argue against bigger numbers.
Still, it broke my heart when I had to decon my Second Age crossbow. Kruklak Akashuga-ob (Black Speech for "Crossbow of the Halflings") was an epic killing machine, having spilled the blood of thousands of enemies. Its name was surely whispered among the orcs of Mirkwood in hushed, frightened tones, and among the Draig-luth of Enedwaith and the twisted denizens of Ost Dunhoth. Its retirement from service was the end of an era, and I personally felt that it should have had a lot more ceremony.
Here's an item on my wishlist - when we deconstruct a maxed-out
Legendary Item and can pick one of the legacies as a scroll, give
us the option to turn it into a housing trophy. Some of these
weapons have a great history - Kruklak Akashuga-ob has been used
to destroy epic villains (the Lieutenant of Barad Guldur, the
Mistress of Pestilence, the Watcher in the Water, Gortheron and
all his Gaunt-lord minions - just to name a few), and it would be
great to be able to mount such an historic weapon over your mantle
rather than simply recycle it.
Anyway, when I hit 75, I already have my new weapon picked out:
This one is a crossbow, which I prefer to bows for a variety of reasons, and it has the starting legacies I want. It's a good platform to build on, and I may get one lucky reforge and end up with 4 major legacies. Time will tell. I may end up hanging on to my Second Age spear for a while though:
Having 5 Major legacies and 2 Minors makes this bad boy worth keeping around. The DPS is lower, but melee DPS is not a Hunter's strong suit anyway, and I've never even spent points on increasing it. It's the Hunter's equivalent of a class item, and the fact that it does any damage at all is a bonus. If anything, I may end up getting some scrolls of empowerment to buff up some of the low-tier legacies.
Once I was more or less satisfied with the tweaks and upgrades, I headed back to Gravenwood and tackled the instance that had me stymied the day before.
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.
Crafting and Inventory Management
I spent a good deal of Day 5 catching up on my crafting. I kinda had to in order to clear up some inventory space. My bags were getting pretty cluttered, and my vault is almost completely stuffed. This is an issue I brought up in the Preparing For Launch write-up - there's a whole ten levels' worth of new stuff to hoard, and vault space will be at a premium. My own vault is upgraded to 120 spots (the most I can get without spending a huge amount of Turbine Points to unlock more space), and it's jam-packed with old gear, consumables, bound barter tokens and other stuff I can't bear to throw away. My personal inventory is also limited, because I carry a full raid-ready "package" at all times (and this is fairly extensive for Hunters: 4 or 5 different kinds of crafted traps, stacks of 3 different kinds of bow chants, 2 kinds of oils, Focus potions, extra traveling rations, curatives, morale and power potions, food, battle and warding scrolls, hope tokens, a bunch of "trash" LIs that I'm leveling for relics, a few store items), which takes up two and a half bags. Honestly, I probably don't need to carry all of this stuff all the time. I mostly only use the Breach-finder scrolls and fire oil, and I could probably ditch most of my traps since they're kind of outdated now anyway - I'll probably donate them to a lower-level kinsman working his way through Moria, Lothlorien and Mirkwood.
Anyway, the new Westfold crafting tier is a little different from previous tiers. Here's a bullet-point list of differences:
- There is only one ore type for metalsmith, weaponsmith and jeweller recipes - skarn, which can be refined into calenard ingots.
- Each of the node-using gathering professions (prospector,
forester, scholar) can refine their gathered resources into
three usable materials. For example, prospectors can make
low-quality, medium-quality and high-quality calenard ingots,
and foresters can make three kinds of birch boards.
- The third refined material type requires a recipe that must be purchased from the Dunlending reputation vendor in Galtrev, and requires Friend standing with the Dunlendings. This is fairly easy to earn (I got Kindred with them on day 2 or 3), but it effectively level-gates the Westfold crafting tier. Low-level crafting alts will not be able to craft top-quality Westfold stuff (like level 75 LIs)... or, at least, not easily.
- Crafters do not need to assemble components to make a finished
item. All they need is the proper ingots, boards, hidwwes, etc.
- The new tier doesn't use raw, found crit items like whetstones, rock salt or the like. The new crit materials are crafted from rare resources dropped usually from rich nodes, and refining the crit items is a good way to earn crafting XP.
- The Cracked Rhi Helvarch Sigil occasionally found in rich resource nodes is the "new mithril flake," required for crafting the top-quality one-shot recipes and LIs. I haven't yet found any rare elites that drop them, but I've found 3 of them so far in ore nodes.
Gunkydoc is a member of the Tailor's Guild. In the old ranking system, he was Kindred with the guild, and in the new system that translates to Artisan of the Guild. The next rep tier is Master of the Guild. I had him make one each of all the guild rep items, from Expert to Westfold (which requires Friend standing with the Dunlendings, as it requires the teal item for the Westfold guild recipe), and when I turned them all in, I filled half the bar. If I had really been planning ahead, like a bunch of my kin-mates and friends did, I would have stockpiled the rep items for a few weeks in advance and turned them all in at once. This strategy allowed a bunch of my friends to earn Master of the Guild standing the very first day. I'll be able to get it by next weekend when all the recipes are cooled down again. It will be slower going for my alts, who do not yet have Friend standing with the Dunlendings and can't make the teal items needed for the large rep items.
On To Isendale
When my inventory situation was handled (I ended up spreading a bunch of stuff among my alts and donating crafting mats and random LIs to my kinnies), I headed out to Isendale. This region, in the narrow southern pass that is the Gap of Rohan, is the temporary home of the Rohirrim, who are in a long, protracted military engagement with the Draig-luth Dunlending tribe. The Draig-luth are at war with everybody, so that's not really a surprise. You are sent first to Forthbrond, where the Rohirrim have set up a military encampment with a good range of town services. Beware of the other settlements here that look like Dunlending towns - they are Draig-luth towns, and the inhabitants will not welcome you warmly.
The Heathfells is a kind of neat area - its
central feature is a broad hill crowned with a ring of purple
The area is spotted with little caves, and the hills are crawling
with hostile Dunlendings, orcs, hunting dogs and other nasties.
Much of the questing here involves helping out the Rohirrim in the
two camps, Forthbrond and Grimbold's Camp,
usually by killing Dunlendings and taking or destroying their
I ran a few quests out of Forthbrond before ending Day 5 at level
73. The gates of Isengard lie just ahead, and Gunkydoc is knocking
at the door of level 75.