Updated Thu, Oct 06, 2011 by gunky
I hit Nan Curunir, the valley in which Isengard is the dominant feature, at level 74. This is where I hit the wall, and I was not alone.
As grand and beautifully-designed as the new areas are, there are simply not enough quests. The guys who raced to 75 on the first day did so with a combination of pre-completion of Enedwaith and Mirkwood quests without turning them in, Enhanced XP purchased with Destiny Points and from the LotRO Store, and using Turbine Points to unlock daily task limits for the significant contribution of XP and rep from turning in hundreds of tasks. If you don't use these tactics, you basically run out of quests around level 74 and have to grind out difficult repeatables for the last stretch.
The quests in Nan Curunir are all marked as solo, but some players will find them extremely difficult. For instance, the quest inside the ring of Isengard to kill overseers defeated me several times before I enlisted the aid of a friend. There are also three repeatable solo instances out of Galtrev, but these can also be very difficult. The Defense of Galtrev instance is particularly brutal, and I was not able to complete it.
This is incredibly frustrating. The first 4/5ths of the expansion content is great - there are some buggy bits yet, of course, but it's still early in the release and these will be remedied. But that last 5th is problematic when you have limited options for going forward. You can either backtrack and grind or... backtrack and grind.
Grinding old content (even scaled up to your new level) or even new repeatables is a terrible way to reach the new level cap. In all previous versions of the game, there was still much to do once you reached level cap - in Shadows of Angmar, there was Carn Dum, Urugarth, Barad Gularan, the Rift of Nurz Ghashu, and Helegrod, and whole maps like Forochel. In the Mines of Moria expansion, you could hit level 60 before you ever got out of Moria, and then there were instances and raids to conquer and all of Lothlorien to explore. Even Siege of Mirkwood, which was a much smaller expansion than Rise of Isengard, had more quests than you could finish by the time you hit level cap, and then you still had Enedwaith afterward. With any of these, you could hit level cap early and still have a ton of stuff to do with a full quest log. But if you enter Dunland at level 65, this is not the case. You'll run out of regular quests and be left with nothing but repeatables and grind.
I'm going to go ahead and accept part of the blame for this myself. I was chasing the levels on just this one toon, pushing through at a fairly hard pace. If I had spent more time on my alts, for instance, Gunkydoc would have had more rested XP and the last half of level 74 would have gone faster. That's the price you pay for chasing the levels.
On the other hand, characters who were not yet level-capped before the expansion launched might not face these kinds of problems. A player first entering Enedwaith at level 65 will have that whole area to level with, and the final-stretch wall might not be an obstacle at all. These players might find that they hit the cap before they even get to the Gap of Rohan.
But it's also clear that these later areas need more quests, and a lot more bug-fixing. The Iron Pit is inexcusable, and the anti-exploit exploits of the mobs in Nan Curunir and other places was frustrating. When you're standing directly in front of a mob and he starts to inexplicably "quizzle," you have to start questioning the design of the area. Logs laying flat against the ground should not be unscalable walls. As outstanding as everything has been leading up to this final stretch, this last bit is rather disappointing.
When Gunkydoc got finished with the first set of repeatables in
Isengard, I took him to Galtrev and did the two instances there
that I was able to actually complete. Then he had an hour or so
to wait until everything reset and he could do them again. I was
one bar away from level cap and not willing to wait, so I went
to Forthbrond and handed in a bunch of tasks. I had to buy
several task daily limit reset tokens from the LotRO Store to do
it, but I had enough Punctured Shields and Decorative Sword
Sheaths stockpiled to put me over the top. And that was how
Gunkydoc hit level cap - not with a triumphant victory, but by
swapping vendor trash for XP and rep. Not a bang, but a whimper.
Handing in all those tasks to reach level cap had the added
bonus of bumping up Gunkydoc's standing with Theodred's Riders
to Kindred, and my first act as a level 75 character was to go
shopping for new gear from the rep vendors in Galtrev. The
Rohirrim vendor has some excellent jewellery, and the intrepid
Hobbit bumped his Agility score to 991. There is going to be a
lot of tweaking in Gunkydoc's future - perfecting his gear
load-out for a better balance of stats by discovering and using
different combinations of equipment. At this stage, I could
re-equip Determination and bump his Agility to
well over 1000, but his power pool would suffer for it.
He will also need to work on his crafting some more. I didn't spend a lot of time on crafting - just enough to clear out bag space and get halfway to Master of the Guild for Tailor. There are some excellent Tailor recipes he still needs to find and learn, and a new tier he as yet to master.
But for the most part, Gunkydoc will be kept busy running old skirmishes and instances at level 75. Groups on Arkenstone have been running 12-man skirmishes like Defense of the Prancing Pony, and have been making out like bandits from them. Since I spent so little time running skirmishes between 65 and 75, Gunkydoc's Herbalist soldier has fallen behind and requires substantial upkeep. This requires running a lot of daily skirmishes and spending the marks on upgrading her skills - as it stand now, she is barely capable of keeping Gunkydoc alive during Tier 1 skirmishes, and I end up having to do a lot of kiting to stay in the fight.
When I'm not busy running Gunkydoc through skirmishes, old instances and (hopefully) the new dragon raid, I will probably be concentrating on my Captain, Capngunk. I made a conscious effort to avoid questing in Enedwaith with him when he hit 65, and didn't worry about getting him geared up. He will be able to hit Dunland at a running start, and shouldn't have to worry about replacing precious raid armor. And he will probably not hit the endgame wall like his predecessor.
Right now, Rise of Isengard feels like a strong - but
unfinished - foundation upon which to build. It's completely
unfair to decry the entire expansion simply because of the
dearth of late-game quests, or the bugginess of a couple of
areas that likely didn't see all that much testing in beta. Yes,
those are frustrating when you reach them, but there's a lot
going on before you ever reach these places. Every day from Day
1 through Day 5, I would find a new favorite thing about the
game (the Culling
Pit in Avardin, the
Peaceful Glade in northern Dunbog, the truly excellent later
chapters in Volume III Book 4, etc), and I fully expect
more to come in December when Turbine plans to launch a new