The Road to Mordor: NDA drop

LotRO Draigoch
With last week's NDA drop, the last vestiges of secrecy surrounding this expansion were wiped away and the beta testers (including yours truly) were free to spill the Dwarven beans about Lord of the Rings Online's third expansion.

I know I was pretty critical of Rise of Isengard's scope in last week's Road to Mordor, but I want to make it clear that I'm pretty happy with the amount of pure PvE questing content that's on display here. LotRO's quests and epic storylines have always been the meat of this MMO, and even if Rise of Isengard is being served up with few garnishes, it's still looking to be a filling meal.

Today I want to check out what the community has to share about this expansion following the NDA drop, although apparently it's important to note that beta testers aren't allowed to share patch notes, videos, and excessive content. On Twitter, Sapience made it clear: "We have always held that an NDA drop is not 'open season.' It's fair game to share your experiences, opinions, and thoughts. Not endless screens, videos, copy and pasted posts/notes."

So let's focus on those "experiences, opinions, and thoughts" -- what do beta testers have to say about our upcoming journey into Dunland and beyond? Hit the jump and let's find out!

My thoughts

To be honest, I didn't get a lot of time to sink my teeth into the quests, and perhaps that was in part due to my reluctance to spoil the surprises for when I do them for real. However, I did spend quite a few days simply riding around the new areas, and I can say that they are extremely well-done and a diverse treat for explorer types.

Dunland is a natural extension of Enedwaith, so don't expect something as radically different as, say, jumping from Eregion into Moria or Lothlorien into Mirkwood. If anything, the motif of primitive clans and rugged isolation grows even stronger from what we've seen in Enedwaith. Parts of the map are more "maze-like" than others, which is why I appreciated the reduced aggro range of mobs that comes with the expansion. It's strange as a level 65 to see creatures and quests that are well above me, but such is the life for the growing adventurer.

One of the highlights that everyone mentions is Wulf's Cleft, a massive enemy camp in the middle of the Gap of Rohan that features Turbine's new "throngs of people running around willy-nilly" technology. It's of a size and scope we simply haven't seen in the game before now, and I'm excited at what this could mean for larger battles and more epic set pieces yet to come.

A big point of controversy during the beta was whether the expansion really deserved to be promoted as "three regions," especially as the larger map was the only one for a good portion of the beta. While the Gap of Rohan and Isengard are smaller in size, they are certainly distinct and feature their own maps now, so I'm willing to chalk this up to marketing semantics. I still feel like it's just one big zone, but whether one or three, it's still a heckuva big place -- bigger than Mirkwood, for sure. And what many people overlook is that there's a large underground region as well: Isengard Depths.

Oddly enough, I'm most excited for the new cosmetic and armor designs coming out of this expansion. If you haven't heard, LotRO is going to drop any restrictions on wardrobe pieces when Isengard hits, which means that any character can cosmetically equip any type of armor. So it's entirely possible that we'll see Lore-masters in leather scrubs or Hunters in full plate!

It's also good to note that Turbine isn't abandoning its commitment to free players. If you have no plans to purchase Rise of Isengard, you can still explore the new zones, fight mobs, complete tasks, level up, and go through the epic storyline, the same as the rest of the game. There's also the promise of one free monster play class as well, so F2Pers can finally jump into the Ettenmoors if so desired.

Beta testers' thoughts

If you're willing to endure a few (announced) spoilers, then the Rise of Isengard: The Visual Tour thread on the forums should be your first stop. Players have posted a bevy of exceptional screencaps and descriptions from the expansion as well as several of the new armor designs that we'll be able to use (such as above).

Regarding the latest 30+ chapter book in the epic storyline, tester Ewie had this testimony: "I enjoyed it a lot and met some interesting people hinted at in the books. So expect a bit of lore around Isengard before Helm's Deep, and interactions that Saruman had with the books." AbrahamL wasn't as thrilled: "For me the book had too few nice parts and too much grind." But Grhysli thinks we'll be pleased: "The new book also contains some nice surprises in the later chapters that are quite fun and unexpected."

If you're worried about rehashed landscapes or uninspired zone design, tester Bonomir tells you to cut that out right now. "Not only was it a huge ride down there [to Isengard], with many obstacles (and false trails opening new adventures) along the way, it was some of the most breathtaking scenery seen anywhere in the open world we know as Lord of the Rings Online... The world beyond the Gap is MASSIVE, too. And just for reference, the Isen is the largest river Turbine has ever modeled in the game."

A Casual Stroll to Mordor has several useful guides for navigating the changes and new content in Isengard, including virtue updates, a look at the Draigoch raid, and plenty of odds and ends from its writers' time at PAX. Both The KhazadGuard's Blog and DocHoliday have painstakingly assembled a small army of links to information and guides, and I'd be remiss not to point you their way.

Finally, I know that many of you are either beta testers or players burning with questions about the expansion, so let's use the comments below to ask our queries and see if a few kind beta folks will answer them -- as well as share their own thoughts!

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 or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.
This article was originally published on Massively.