If you are a Lord of the Rings fan at all then you probably love the idea of being able to run around a fully realized Tower of Orthanc fighting orcs all while trying to stay one step ahead of Saruman. If so then the newest expansion for Lord of the Rings Online (LoTRO) is right up your ally. Rise of Isengard is the third full expansion for LoTRO and it has been my pleasure to review the previous two expansions as well, giving them both scores in the 90s. What started as a review assignment with the Mines of Moria, turned into my MMO of choice. Going into Isengard I had three different toons at max level and I had seen darn near everything the game had to offer. I disclose all of this, so you as the reader, can see that LoTRO is a game I really enjoy and is more than just a review assignment to me. With that said I can also say that Rise of Isengard is hands down the weakest expansion for LoTRO to date. Of course this doesn’t mean that Isengard is a bad expansion, it’s just that the bar was set so high by Moria and Mirkwood that I have come to expect more out of Turbine.
Doing the Same Things Right
LoTRO has always done a couple of things right and those things haven’t changed. The story telling is still a major focus and highlight of this expansion. At this point in the story the Fellowship of the Ring has left Galladhrim, the Rangers are marching south towards Rohan, and Saruman is amassing his army. You as the player follow the events along with the Rangers. Which of course puts you in direct conflict with Saruman and his wicked intentions. I won’t ruin the storyline for you, but it is rather long with 30 epic missions, all comprised of several smaller missions.
There is one complaint I do have with the epic storyline though and it’s centered around an over abundance of MMO cliche quests in an area of the game that should have been really cool. (MILD SPOILER ALERT) A little over mid way through the story, your character gets captured by White Hand forces, and you are suddenly a prisoner of Saruman. Normally this may be cool, but oddly enough you are allowed to keep all of your weapons and gear. This led me to want to just fight my way out. But you can’t. Even if you do escape, you are told your escape is just a dream and you are given a map to take you back to Orthanc. To make matters worse, while you are a prisoner in Orthanc you have to carry out dozens of quests that amount to nothing more than clicking on boxes, weapons, or even piles of filth, and then running back and forth to various destinations. These have the feel of busy-body chores meant to kill time, rather than what the game is supposed to be all about – adventure. They clash with the feel of the game, and worst of all they just aren’t very fun. The end result completely kills your initial visit to Orthanc. Turbine really needs to look at this section of the game and NEVER EVER do anything like it again.
The Graphics Are Still Good
The graphics are the same that they have always been. By now the LoTRO engine is well over 5 years old and we can see signs of its age compared to newer MMOs like Rift, but by and large LoTRO is still a good looking MMO. People with high end PCs can crank up the DX11 effects and get the best experience, but people with mid range PCs can still enjoy the game with a minimal graphical hit. The three new regions all look pretty good. For the most part they are expansive, wide open spaces that are fairly well detailed. The new regions have a natural progression to them as we see the landscape change from ancient human and elven architecture found in the North, to the more rugged Dunleding dwellings that eventually gain some Rohan influence.
An Expansion With No New Mechanics?
One thing that I praised the previous two expansions for was the introduction of new game mechanics. With Moria we saw a revolutionary idea with the addition of Legendary Items. Weapons that you can level up and modify was a true game changer. Mirkwood introduced the skirmish system and the ability to enter instances from anywhere in the game world. These things all changed LoTRO for the better. Sadly, with Isengard we don’t get any new system mechanics. Heck we don’t even get any new character classes.
Another glaring deficiency with this expansion is the lack of actual multiplayer content. This is an MMO, I expect to be able to play group content in an MMO. Unfortunately 95% of Isengard is completely soloable. The entire epic storyline and all of its side quests are designed to be completed solo. On top of that there are absolutely zero new skirmishes, 3-man instances, and 6-man instances in Isengard. There is one 12 to 24 man Raid that features the largest and perhaps coolest boss character in LoTRO, but even with that, a full expansion should have more multiplayer content. To be fair there is one small quest spot called the Pitt that offers up a couple of group quests and Turbine has promised us that they will release a free update before the end of 2011 with 3 new multiplayer instances. But as of right now there isn’t a whole lot in Isengard that requires a friend.
More, More, More!
What we do get with Isengard is more. More levels, with a new cap of 75. More virtues, with a new cap of 12. More zones, with three new massive zones. More missions, and even a new crafting tier. More powers for each class and each class has seen an overhaul, with the intention of making the classes better. Of course some classes see this as a nerf, but others like the Champion class tend to view it as a change for the better.
Turbine has also removed the stats cap for all classes, meaning that agility hungry hunters can now raise their agility well past 650. Do you play a Warden who needs more DPS? Great, raise your might up to 900. Another significant change is the pooling of useful stats. Burglar and Hunter damage is now entirely based on agility, instead of the previous agility and might split for ranged and close quarter combat. While Turbine didn’t really introduce any new game systems, they did make significant changes to the stats system and classes.
Do I Even Like This Expansion?
If you’ve made it this far into the review then you probably think that I really don’t like Rise of Isengard. But, that’s not true. I am enjoying my trip through Dunland and Orthanc. The epic storyline is still top notch and is a must see for Tolkien fans. Any fan of Tolkien will find a lot to love with this expansion because Turbine’s attention to lore is as great as ever. The combat and game mechanics may still be largely the same, but it’s still enjoyable to battle hoards of orcs. If you’ve played LoTRO before, and all you want is more quests, and new zones to experience then by all means Rise of Isengard is well worth your purchase. But, if you have already burnt out on LoTRO then you won’t find anything new here to change your mind. Another note to new players, Rise of Isengard is for high level characters only, so if you are new to LoTRO then you really don’t need to buy Isengard until you reach level 65.