The Road to Mordor: 'Twas the night before Isengard...

Road to Mordor
I feel it. It's those excited butterflies that appear somewhere in my navel region when I realize that I'm on the verge of something new, fun, and possibly involving an alien xenomorph bursting out of my insides. It's the thrill of anticipation almost realized. For this time next week, we'll be well on our way to Isengard.

I've never been around for a Lord of the Rings Online expansion release, which makes this a first for me. Sure, I have my concerns about Rise of Isengard, but on the whole I'm ready to jump into an untamed region and explore the living deeds out of it. I'm not in a rush to get through it all and start raiding or anything, so my Lore-master will be taking his sweet time milking each quest for the calcium-rich story within. Oddly enough, I'm most excited about the prospect of cool new cosmetics because I have a sick obsession with them that's going to require a full-scale intervention.

I'm not quite sure how LotRO's third expansion will be taken by the larger community, and I probably won't know until the launch fever dies down and we evaluate how useful, entertaining, and engaging it is over the long term. I'm just glad we're moving forward.

In this week's Road to Mordor, I want to look back at the build-up to Isengard's release, what we know so far, and what changes are in store for our characters. Might as well tidy up the place since it's going to get hecka messy soon enough.

Orthanc doors

Expansions are as good a time as any to make much-needed overhauls on classes, skills, and core mechanics, which is why the devs have been working hard to do just that for LotRO. Every class is getting a pass, although with varying degrees of severity. While there will be new skills for high-level characters, most of these will be better versions of lesser skills or condensed versions that take two or more abilities and roll them into one.
  • Rune-keepers: This class will see a boost to AoE healing and offer players the chance to truly play a hybrid AoE damage-dealer.
  • Hunters: Turbine's removing stance-specific bonuses from trait lines in the hopes that Hunters will move between stances rather than stick with just one.
  • Minstrels: The class is losing its medium armor trait, is seeing a major revamp of the ballad system, and is being given a new ability called Coda.
  • Lore-masters: While LMs' damage-dealing has been increased, the biggest change is the addition of a support pet and the ability to be a decent off-healer if desired.
  • Guardians: Simply put, Guardians will be getting an across-the-board bump to DPS. Can't see the class complaining about that!
  • Champions: It will be easier for Champs to use two-handed weapons, and while they'll no longer be able to use shields, Turbine promises that they'll remain viable tanks.
  • Captains: The biggest change is to the Leader of Men trait line, which will help Captains in regard to tanking.
  • Burglars: Burgs will start their careers with medium armor and dual-wielding and will now be drawing off of their agility instead of might for melee combat bonuses.
  • Wardens: DPS and threat management are being looked at, and the class is getting a new ability to "remember" gambits -- Potency.
Our chat with Turbine

It was a welcome experience to sit down with a couple of Turbine's devs and talk about the expansion a few weeks ago. Since we already knew a lot of the main details about Isengard, I wanted to ask them more about the story behind the creation of it and the fun little details (such as the crocobeaver) that often get overlooked for bullet-point news bites.

What really had me excited was that the devs clearly wanted to chat about the upcoming content in the works for next year, and they repeatedly said that they are looking forward to the day when they can spill the beans on it. Hopefully, bean-spilling day will come soon.

Post-NDA thoughts

When the NDA dropped, players and bloggers were free to share their experiences about the beta and the treasure trove of information inside. Back on September 2nd, I posted a round-up of some of these thoughts as well as links to helpful sources of information about the burning details of the expansion.

Turbine Points vs. pre-orders

More than a few people were rankled to finally discover that the Turbine Point (TP) cost for the expansion would be approximately twice as high as the real-dollar cost for pre-orders. While it was good that Turbine announced this early enough for people on the fence to be able to make an informed decision, I sympathize with those who've been saving their TP for the expansion and now feel somewhat shafted because of it.

More grumblings came from the realization that the quest pack, 24-man raid, and upcoming instances are going to be sold separately rather than in an affordable bundle. I have a feeling that once the promised instances arrive, Turbine will be in a better position to create such a bundle and perhaps lower the price, but it doesn't help assuage players' annoyance now.

New instances

Saruman is in danger of being upstaged in the expansion by Draigoch, the great dragon who is the centerpiece of a new massive raid. From all accounts, the encounter is as unique as it is challenging, and Turbine's made some noise about how Draiggy will not only talk but lip sync as he does so.

Several players, including me, were puzzled that the expansion is shipping without any new instances apart from the Draigoch raid. Turbine has since announced that five additional dungeons were in the works as part of Isengard; however they won't be released until Update 5 later this year. These instances include five dungeons: a 12-man, a 6-man, and three 3-mans.

Visuals and videos

If you couldn't -- or didn't want to -- get into the Isengard beta, Turbine wanted to make sure that you got at least a visual taste of the expansion. The studio dished out a huge number of screenshots, not to mention a video dev diary featuring a few deer-caught-in-headlights developers talking up the expansion. While Dunland may not have the jaw-dropping locales of Moria, it's apparent that the art team's been hard at work in crafting a unique slice of Middle-earth that feels, for lack of a better term, "real."

Our friends at A Casual Stroll to Mordor also took the time to put together a pair of lovely video tours that show off the strengths of Dunland and the Gap of Rohan for those looking for a quick overview. Be ye warned: Thar be spoilers inside!%Gallery-9579%

This past week Turbine announced an expansion contest tie-in called the White Hand of Saruman. Until mid-November, players have the chance to win some really nifty prizes, including a custom-built Alienware PC, by photographing Saruman's calling card somewhere in the real world.


If you're into the PvMP side of LotRO, the expansion will bring quite a few changes to your game. Not only will F2P players be welcome for the first time to try out a creep class, but there's been a lot of upgrades and changes made to the freep rewards.

Whether or not this comes in time for the expansion, the update to the in-game store is welcome news indeed. Turbine's adding much-needed functionality to the clunky interface, including quick-buy options, add-to-cart buttons, and a log of recent buys.

And while itemization isn't as flashy as other feature points for Isengard, it's good to know that Turbine's putting in some work making sure that items remain balanced and attractive for all.

That's about it! Here's hoping that the release will go smoothly and we'll all be frolicking in the fields of Dunland before too long!

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.