The Road to Mordor: A week in Dunland

Road to Mordor
Dunland: savage land of strife, tradition, and body paint. As I stood at its borders, my heel slightly sinking into the soft mud of the river shore, I could hardly believe I was there. The grass blew gently in the breeze, and for a moment it was easy to fool myself into thinking that all was right with Middle-earth, that my journey could be over. The moment passed, and I hefted my staff and walked resolutely toward the first village I saw.

It's been almost a year since we first heard that, yes, we were going to take the Hobbits to Isengard (and Dwarves, Men and Elves, for that matter). It's been a long time coming, and now that it's here, it's a lot to absorb. I purposefully didn't spend a lot of time in the beta so as to not be spoiled; I wanted to savor Lord of the Rings Online: Rise of Isengard from start to finish. I wasn't going to be concerned with racing to the new level cap or attempting to devour all of the content in a couple of days.

With that mindset in place, I've been vastly enjoying Rise of Isengard these past few days -- more than I thought I would, to be honest -- and I wanted to document this first week in Dunland in today's Road to Mordor.

Rise of Isengard fight
Monday (launch day minus one)

While Tuesday the 27th was supposed to be the official launch day for Rise of Isengard, Turbine employed an old tactic by getting it onto the servers a day earlier without making a huge deal out of it. It's a smart move because it serves to spread out the crowd trying to crash through the door at the same time.

Even so, Monday was a rough, rough day for the servers. Many players, including me, simply could not log in and get patched, even hours after Turbine announced that the servers were up. A good part of my day was spent monitoring the connection attempts on the launcher, and it wasn't until around 6:00 p.m. that it finally went through. For Turbine's part, the studio released a statement saying that the servers were being crushed and the team was bringing additional patch servers online to compensate.

It was fun to make up jokes about the wait, including my contribution that said Turbine was prioritizing access based on how much you spent in the store last month. I don't know whether it was sad or funny that several people thought I was serious.

Even when I got into the game at 9:00 p.m., problems were seemingly everywhere. A visual bug was making the water flicker purple like a strobe light, plugins were causing crashes left and right, and the LotRO store was simply not functional. It was a little hard to complain, since the expansion was being launched a day early, so I just shrugged and worked around the problems.

Apart from glitches, crashes, and long waits, the atmosphere in the game was electric. Global LFF was hopping, and our kinship was full to the brim as all level 65s made a bee-line to Dunland. I felt bad for the lowbies in our kin who undoubtedly felt left out of the fun and had to bear our "oohs" and "ahhs" over all of the new shinies. The one feature that got unanimous approval was the much faster mounting speed, which was welcome no matter what level you were.

Volume III, Book 4 begins by giving players a choice of starting villages for Dunland -- another good idea, considering just how many folks were trying to cram into these areas. I decided to go the western route by visiting the Stag Clan and helping it out. Even though I was dead tired on Monday night, I stayed up far later than expected as I got caught up in the storyline -- but more on that tomorrow!

Clan ceremony
Tuesday

By Tuesday, many of the technical issues were already addressed. The LotRO store worked, the water was no longer imitating a nightclub strobelight, and there were fewer crashes (although kinnies reported that plugins were still iffy).

While all of us 65s were in the same boat on Monday, by Tuesday the level-spread was in full swing. Even though my Lore-master had yet to hit 66, I was seeing plenty of 69s and 70s in my kin, and there were reports that 75s had already been spotted. Speaking of numbers, Turbine announced that Rise of Isengard had become its best-selling expansion to date, which is certainly a cause for celebration (although I'd love to hear specific numbers).

As I wrote earlier, I refused to get caught up in the typical week-one rush of leveling. Quests seemed to award good chunks of XP that started moving my bar up at a steady rate, and I almost forgot to map back to Michel Delving and talk to my trainer to get four new or improved skills that helped considerably.

Going back to the story of the Stag Clan, I was just surprised to really get into it. Enedwaith for me was so-so, story-wise, and I'd be hard-pressed to recount to you anything specific from there. Here, it just clicked. I started to feel bad for this down-and-out tribe that was dying out in both numbers and tradition, and after a while I really wanted to help its members out. I don't want to spoil anything here, but the use of phasing and instances helped to tell a tale that was both simple and moving, and by the end I felt as though I had taken this place under my wing and assumed responsibility for its future. I wish I could spoil one particular moment that made me stand still for a few seconds as I realize what had just happened, but suffice it to say that I had an emotional reaction that was completely unexpected. That's good stuff, right there.

Woman in chains
Wednesday

The climax of the Stag Clan story had me conducting a one-Man commando raid on a nearby camp of Half-Orcs and clannies. I had assumed I could roll in there and lay down the law, but I was in for a rude awakening as the mobs started pulling in pairs, often with signature enemies among them. The added challenge was welcome and forced me to dust off skills that I hadn't used in a long time (like, gasp, crowd control!).

By the third day, several kinnies were heavily engaged in theorycrafting. Given the new stat changes, I knew it was important to stock up on my class' primary stat (in my case, Will), but we got to talking about how useful this new Finesse stat was and whether the gear we were collecting was morale-deficient.

Probably the biggest thrill I got out of this day was in picking up new armor designs that the Turbine artists had created. For an outfit junkie, all of these additional models opened the doors to all kinds of new ensembles. Even better is our new ability to put any type of armor in the wardrobe and then cosmetically equip it on our characters, even if our character couldn't typically wear that type. So now, if I choose, my Lore-master can be decked out in heavy armor (at least in appearance).

I decided to check out the other starter village instead of progressing on, so I wrapped up Wednesday's session by heading over to the Bonevales and whacking a few skulls around. Looking at the map, I know I've got a long way to go -- and that's just the way I like it.

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.