The Road to Mordor: Packing for Isengard

Isengard. Isengard. ISENGARD. It's all I can think about since last week's E3 reveal, and I know I'm not the only one. For some reason, having a firm launch date for Lord of the Rings Online's third expansion feels like a starting pistol's gone off, and we're beginning the race to the expansion in earnest.

Of course, we're not in that much of a hurry at this point. We still have well over three months to go, the beta has yet to begin, and something tells me that Turbine's got a few more tricks to pull out of its top hat before all is said and done. Still, I'm officially in "Go!" mode, and I bet I'm not the only one.

While I can't make September 27th come any sooner, I can think of six ways that we can prepare for our upcoming journey into Dunland and beyond. Seven, if you include putting together the absolute perfect outfit to slay Saruman in, but that's a given.

Hit the jump and I'll walk you through everything you should be doing this summer to get ready for Rise of Isengard!

1. Preorder

I talked about this a bit in last week's column, but it bears repeating. One of the most obvious ways that you can prepare for the expansion is to preorder it -- unless, of course, you're set on purchasing Isengard with saved-up TP only.

Even so, it's a tough call to wait, especially in light of all of the goodies that the preorders give you. Yes, a lot of it is cosmetics (titles, cloaks and outfits), but the XP trinket and the 200-morale steeds are nothing to sneeze at, especially if you're a lowbie or have a weaker mount. Considering that you'll get all of these bonuses on every character you currently own and will ever create, it's a tempting offer.

Even more tempting is the Legendary package for the additional quest zones, which is like getting two expansions for $10 (minus the additional classes and a couple other chunks of content). It all depends on where you're at in the game, your status as a free player vs. VIP, and how much money you're willing to spend.

Buying it now means that you won't have to worry about this come September; you'll simply download, log in, and enjoy!

2. Finish Enedwaith and Volume III Book 3

As always, I'm a little behind the curve and have yet to fully complete both the newest zone in LotRO and the latest book in the epic storyline. Although I'm sure I'm not the only one, right? Right?

In any case, no matter what path you take to get to the level cap, it's important to polish off Enedwaith and the epic storyline before Dunland opens up. Enedwaith serves as a "prologue" to Rise of Isengard in many ways and could even be considered part of the expansion if you're willing to squint. The whole zone's story shifts our focus away from Moria and Mirkwood and onto the increasing threat of Saruman, whose power seems great against the primitive inhabitants.

This zone also will help you deck out your character in solid gear, legendaries and consumables for your trip ahead. I'm working hard on leveling up my new level 65 staff (which I've named "Toothpick"), and I'm hoping to have that maxed out by September's release.

3. Work on virtues

With word that the virtue cap will finally, finally be increasing (from 10 to 12), we have the opportunity to go ahead and work on gaining these extra virtues even though we won't see their benefit until the expansion lands.

Any virtue you earn over 10 will be noted as "10 +1" or "10 +2" for the time being. Since virtues take a while to cultivate -- which is an understatement, believe me -- it's a good side project for these summer months.

Of course, I'm not saying you have to be doing this at all, just that it's out there. Most likely, Turbine will include several new ways to earn virtues in these new zones, and I'm sincerely hoping the company will go back to Enedwaith and add virtues to the deeds now that the cap is raised (Enedwaith is unique in that it offers no virtues whatsoever).

4. Skirmish like you mean it

Since the level cap is increasing to 75, your skirmish soldier is going to need to be leveled up as well -- and that means more skirmishes! Even by doing one skirmish a day, you can save up enough marks to boost your soldier to the new level cap in no time.

This is important even if you don't plan on skirmishing regularly in the expansion. Turbine does love to incorporate skirmishes into the epic storyline, and having a soldier that can actually help you instead of being a burden will make a big difference in your future adventures.

5. Level up alts -- or your main!

I'm not going to assume that everyone is already at the level cap because I know it's not true. I have plenty of friends who've yet to boast a level 65 character on their accounts, so if you feel like you're the only one not at the endgame -- you're not.

In my opinion, three months of a fairly regular play schedule is enough time to fully level up a character. This can be sped up by the XP trinket from the preorder and rested XP saved up, purchased with Destiny Points, or bought from the store.

If getting a character to 65 is your goal, then I'd recommend focusing on him or her to the exclusion of other alts -- which, while fun, can distract you from that goal. Don't forget to work on virtues, class skill deeds and other essential character building blocks on your way up to the cap!

6. Read The Two Towers

Notice I didn't say "watch Peter Jackson's The Two Towers." While I don't have anything against the movie -- on the contrary, I love the trilogy -- Turbine uses the books as its primary source for the game's content, and this includes the expansion areas. Even though The Two Towers doesn't fully cover some of these areas in its adventures, it will certainly help you to understand the background, lands, characters and situations that we're about to encounter. I think that having this knowledge enhances one's in-game experience, especially when you have an "ah-HA!" moment during a quest that makes you realize how it's tied to the books.

Hopefully that's more than enough preparation to give you and me a leg up on the expansion when it hits, although -- as with all MMOs -- there's always more that can be done!

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.