My colleague Michael Smith wrote an excellent review for the recent move of LOTRO to free-to-play. And he provided an excellent summary of new mechanics and technical features in the game. However, I can tell that he did not have time to play through the substantial end-game content that was provided with the most recent update. This is understandable. The level cap is currently at 65, and just leveling to 65 does not even remotely qualify someone for running endgame content, as class traits, virtues, and legendary traits are all a part of end-game preparation. The grinding for some of these deeds can be time consuming, so it would be asking too much to expect him to have magically leveled all the way up, ground the appropriate deeds, and run the end-game content several times over all in a matter of a few weeks. Instead, I figured I would chime in on how the new content impacts high end characters since I am at the level cap and familiar with the content. And since I am not writing an actual review, I can focus on more specific issues, rather than summarize the entire game experience with a few, well chosen words.
Perhaps the most important thing Turbine has done is recreate and update a number of old instances. Instances like Annúminas, Helegrod, and the Great Barrow have been staples of the game since before Moria was released. But stuck at lower levels, they did not get run very often ever since Moria came out. After all, why run Annúminas for gear that you don’t need when you can run Moria for things you do need? So the designers went back to these instances, redesigned them from the ground up with all of the new tools they have available to them in the wake of Moria and Mirkwood’s release (acid damage is now a staple attack from the crawlers in the Great Barrow, for example) and they have rewritten them using the scalable opponent and loot system used in skirmishes. You can now run Annúminas at level 50, or grab a group of 65 characters and run it for level 65 rewards. Also, just like they did with Garth Agarwen, these huge instances have been broken up into smaller chunks. The Great Barrow is three smaller instances, and Helegrod is in several smaller pieces. This makes it less of a time commitment, so that players can run one smaller instance without committing to a two hour run. It also means that raid locks are no longer in use, so you can run it as often as you can get a raid together. Combined with the new “Join an instance from anywhere in Middle Earth” function, running this content is challenging and fun, without requiring players to wander all over Middle Earth in search of a fun run.
The designers have also added a new region: Enedwaith. As part of the continuing story of Volume 3, the players follow the Grey Company south towards Rohan, encountering a strange land with its own problems and conflicts. While Saruman has deceived most of the people of Dunland into following him, some of them resist his influence, giving players the chance to once again do battle against half-orcs and wargs. Since the most recent update was not a full expansion, Enedwaith is still kind of sparse in terms of things to do. Volume 3 will send you all over the new region, and there are plenty of quests to do and plenty of enemies to fight. Book 2 of Volume 3 ends on a cliffhanger, with the Grey Company and the Sons of Elrond confronted with a mystery atop Nar’s Peak. Some players have expressed frustration at this lack of closure, but I found it the most appropriate way to set up the new story. Since this update is not a full-fledged expansion in the manner of Moria or Mirkwood, we cannot expect them to have given us eight new books of epic quests to go through. And since there is very little canonical writings on what the Grey Company experienced on their way to meet Aragorn, Turbine is doing what they do best: filling in the holes in the narrative, just like they did with Shadows of Angmar and especially with the Siege of Mirkwood.
There are also two new factions: the Grey Company and the Algraig, the men of Enedwaith. Each faction has some gear (not very good, but what do you expect for reputation gear?), some new emotes, a new mount, and they barter tokens for useful items like Scrolls of Empowerment and new damage titles for legendary weapons. The only disappointing part of these new factions is that it is a ridiculous grind to get rep with the Algraig. After doing the regular quests, you are barely Acquaintance with them, but there are only four daily quests that give additional reputation. Since there are no items you can farm from defeated enemies to barter for additional rep, it will end up taking me and other players several weeks to get Kindred standing, even by putting out the maximum effort, as each quest gives a measly 700 or 500 rep, while Ally and Kindred will cost tens of thousands of rep. The developers are aware of this problem and plan to introduce additional quests, but for a group of designers that properly balanced reputation with the factions in Moria and the Galadhrim, it is odd that they were blindsided by this problem.
Some other end game tidbits include the increased drop rates of Symbols of Celebrimbor. They are now common enough to sell for a mere 25-30 gold on the Auction House, as opposed to the 60-08 gold we were seeing for months. Most players, even if they can’t acquire one on their own, can afford to purchase one with a bit of effort. This will allow many players to get access to good, solid Second Age items for both class item slots and weapons. As for armor sets, there are several new radiance sets available for all classes, including the Annúminas set and the Helegrod set. Depending on your class and what role you are expected to perform, each set might suit your needs. Even with the knowledge that radiance is going to be phased out at some point, these new armor sets are worth pursuing through the newly updated content.
My only real complaint is that the Rift was not included among the updated content. The Rift has always been a popular run for raids. Even after Mirkwood was released, some groups would continue to run the Rift to grab the Rift armor set for cosmetic purposes. An upgraded Rift, complete with its beloved Balrog fight, with a way to spend skirmish marks on cosmetic versions of each classes’ Rift armor set, would be a great addition to the game. Most likely, the developers could only afford to revamp one raid, but I can only hope that they continue this trend with other good content.