Instead of being hit by one huge Lord of the Rings Online bombshell at E3, as some predicted, we were treated to a series of smaller yet gripping reveals that are sure to have a major impact on our gameplay in the future. We assumed that E3 would be all about Rise of Isengard for LotRO, and sure enough, it was.

Weeks like this are what we live for as fans. It's crazy to get a glut of information that we're expected to digest all at once, and it's so much fun too. I think Turbine probably has a few more reveals tucked up its sleeve about the expansion -- we still have four months to go, after all -- but this is a good start to the ramping-up period before Isengard releases.

So enough dilly-dallying; let's dig into it! What can we make out of all of these revelations? What does the pre-order mean for you? What were the highlights and what were the disappointments? Hit the jump and we'll take you on a legendary ride all the way to the gates of Orthanc itself!

Release date

September 27th. That's when the magic happens, so to speak. Not only is it nice to have a solid release date before us, but it's good to know that Turbine is confident at this point that it will get it done by then. I would've been a lot more worried if the devs had hemmed and hawed over this because it could've given a lot of folks reason to doubt that it was even going to happen this year. Turbine promised a stronger and more steady release of content following last year's free-to-play transition, and players are going to hold the company to that promise -- especially in light of the content drought that preceded the F2P switch.

As for the date itself, I think it's just perfect. September's generally a good time for game launches and expansions, as people return from summer vacations and start to look for in-house forms of entertainment. It's also early in the fall, which is good considering that LotRO (and the rest of the industry) is dealing with a higher degree of competition than we've seen before. I'm sure that every studio out there is trying its hardest to avoid going head-to-head with The Old Republic's release date, something I very much doubt will be in September.

Pre-order options

Hot on the heels of the release date announcement came the news that pre-orders for the expansion were up -- and they came in a variety pack of flavors. I love that Turbine's giving us a choice between packages because these options do cater to different needs and wants.

The basic pack ($30) is your best bet on a budget, although your extras are limited to a mount, a cloak, a title and the 25% XP trinket that everyone's talking about. The next step up is the "Heroic" package for $40, which gives you a choice of mount and cosmetic outfit (green, white or red), a cloak, the title, the trinket, and 1,000 Turbine Points to spend in the store. This is the edition I purchased, and I'm quite pleased with it. A thousand TP is more or less $10 of "choose your own bonuses," so I consider anything else to be a cherry on the top. And the cosmetic outfit is outstanding; all of the pieces are (to my knowledge) new designs that not only work together as a single outfit but mesh well if you mix-and-match with other cosmetic pieces.

Then there's the "Legendary" package ($50), which includes all of the above, all of the mounts, all of the outfit colors, and a ton of quest packs: Trollshaws, Eregion, Lothlórien, Moria and Mirkwood. Obviously, this is a geared to either the "must have all the cosmetic goodies" collector or the F2P gamer who doesn't have all of the above regions unlocked. That's a lot of quest content, and if you haven't unlocked a single quest pack yet, this one pre-order will open a path from 1-65 in a single fell swoop.

Of course, there had to be a ruckus swirling around all this, and some players got irked that they couldn't pre-order with TP. I can understand the frustration here because I too had been saving up TP for Isengard, and it would've been nice to use that instead of forking over more money. The important thing to note is that the expansion will be purchasable via TP, just not the pre-order. Sapience said that "the current thinking is it will be priced somewhere north of Mirkwood and Moria (the expansions, not the quest packs)." So it's a question of just how bad you want those extra goodies and how patient you are in waiting if not.

Trailer

There's not much to say about the trailer, really. It's not bad, but it's not "holycrapOMGyouhavetoseethis!" either. I'm sure I'm not the first person to note that there's no small number of similarities between the trailer and Peter Jackson's films, although that's not terrible in and of itself.

More feature points

Above everything else, I was paying close attention to any new feature points that Turbine hadn't mentioned before -- and we got a few doozies. The first is that the virtue cap is finally being raised from 10 to 12, which is welcome news to those of us who've been wanting to expand our characters' power. It's also great news that PvMP is opening its doors to the F2P crowd, since that should pump some more warm bodies into the battlefield.

Turbine was really big on talking about the use of phasing technology for Isengard, which I think is an excellent focus for the PvE questing experience. Phasing's proven itself a popular and attractive feature in other games that have used it, and it helps alleviate some of the gripes that the world never seems to change no matter what we do.

Highlights and disappointments

I'll start with my disappointments. Even though we got a wealth of information, I'll admit that I really was hoping that Turbine was going to announce a new major system for the game. Each expansion up to this point added a significant system (Moria's Legendary Items and Mirkwood's skirmishes), but we've yet to hear anything like that for Isengard. No new class, no ship-to-ship combat (hey, a Hobbit can dream, can't he?), nothing. Not even a new hobby. Sure, the devs could be holding on to something like this for a later announcement date, but E3 seemed like the perfect place to spill the beans, so I'm not holding out hope that it'll happen.

I was also a little let down that Turbine didn't release any gameplay video or images, although, work in progress, yadda yadda. I understand, but it doesn't mean that I have to like it.

My final gripe is that this entire expansion is top-heavy -- that is, it's all for max-level characters. Endgame is where a good chunk of the playerbase is, and I'm fine with moving the journey along, but it doesn't seem to offer lower-level characters anything new to do. That feels like an omission.

That said, I felt the pre-order bonuses were a masterful way of drumming up excitement in the LotRO community for the expansion. It's nice that we didn't have to wait until September to open our presents but could get them right away (and show them off!).

And the impression I'm getting is that this expansion is quite beefy. Siege of Mirkwood underwhelmed a lot of folks due to its limited size (there are debates to this day whether it qualified as an expansion or just a glorified content update), so three new zones and 400+ quests come as a relief. We're going to need a lot of content to fuel our journeys for the indefinite future, so I sincerely hope this will do the trick for a while to come.

When not enjoying second breakfast and a pint of ale, Justin "Syp" Olivetti jaws about hobbits in his Lord of the Rings Online column, The Road to Mordor. You can contact him via email at justin@massively.com or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.

This article was originally published on Massively.
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