The Breaking of Isengard: A play session with Lord of the Rings Online's Update 13

LotRO
It's strange to realize that Lord of the Rings Online players have been exploring Volume III of the epic story for four years now. With Update 13: The Breaking of Isengard, all of that is going to end. Volume III will wrap up, Saruman will get what's coming to him, and players will have a new endgame before heading out to Gondor.

We had a play session with the LotRO devs today covering the final eight chapters of Volume III and chatting a bit about what players will fill their time with as they wait for Update 14. Update 13 is certainly replete with plenty to do and see, from an upgraded inventory, mail improvements, a scaling Ettenmoors, revamped zones, and new crafting challenges, but the main story is what pushes the game forward.

In the final chapters of Volume III, players will not only investigate what happened to Isengard during the Battle of Helm's Deep but will have the option of jumping into the shoes (roots?) of an Ent for a unique perspective of an important character in the books. It'll be worth the journey, if only to have a shot at obtaining the first (non-Lore-master) cosmetic pets in the game. You read that right.


Stage Three Isengard

While players were risking life, limb, and polygons defending the Hornburg, incredible events were taking place over at Isengard. You'll start your final adventures in the region by heading back to witness this tower flooded and in shambles. What happened? Well, if you've read the book or seen the movies, you know, but as always, Turbine figures that is has a few details and perspectives to give you that you didn't consider before.

From the earliest days planning Isengard, the developers said that they knew they had to design three versions: a pristine version to show in flashback sequences, Saruman's war machine version, and a flooded version for this update. Even after players go through this epic book, they'll still have the option to see Isengard as it was and not as it is. This was done as part of an effort by the team to give a sense of a changing world, where actions and events have lasting consequences.

If you were traumatized by your earlier incarceration by Saruman, there's a therapeutic element to this book. You'll get to visit the caverns and jail cells below Isengard and see how they've fared. Hint: not well.

Treebeard's story

The Breaking of Isengard will not only involve the player investigating the fortress and the nearby forest but include optional "Ent play" sessions. That's right: You'll be taking on the role of Treebeard the Ent and seeing his story from the initial meeting with Merry and Pippin through the Ent-moot.

Treebeard will get a few chances to fight, but what amused us the most was seeing him give the Hobbits that notorious Ent-draft. True to the books, the devs made sure that both Merry and Pippin's character models got a little bit bigger and stayed that way after they drank this magical nectar.

A new endgame

Meanwhile, the non-Ent player will be asked to head back into Fangorn Forest and help quiet down the place. While the Ents did a great job riling up the forest for war, they perhaps did too good a job -- and the majority of Ents still haven't returned to calm the remnant down. That's where you'll come in, along with your pal Quickbeam the Ent.

Here, the new solo PvE endgame comes into play. Turbine has devised four sets of repeatable activities for players to enjoy, all of which will contribute to a new reputation that's tied to top-notch rewards. The first activity is a series of "quieting" quests to help calm the forest, one of which will be chosen at random each day. The second asks you to escort a Huorn around and accomplish different tasks as he investigates the forest. The third involves three new resource instances.

However, it's the fourth activity that's the most intriguing, probably because it's new. The devs have created a new type of quest called an "incremental." It's a multi-stage quest to help grow an important seed, but the twist is that you can do only one stage of the quest every day (after all, Ents take time to deliberate courses of action). After doing the four, five, or six-stage quests, you'll be treated to nice rewards and a shot at earning one of the game's first cosmetic pets. There are three of these, all variants on mini-huorns.

Cosmetic pets? It's about time! Turbine said that it's keeping it small at first to see how the tech handles it and to gauge player reaction. All three of the pets are quest rewards; none of them can be purchased in the store.

More to come in April

April won't be important just for the release of Update 13 on the 14th but for a new producer's letter that will give more details about the big changes on the way for the future. You know, such as what that secret new class is and when we'll be starting Volume IV? We pressed about the new class and were told only that it's currently in prototype and is not yet available on the test server.

It's a momentous occasion for the team and the game: 168 chapters have led up to the final moments of Saruman, Isengard, and the fate of Rohan. An end to an old journey also means a beginning to a new adventure, and that's something to celebrate.

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This article was originally published on Massively.