The Lord of the Rings Online: Rise of Isengard Review for PC

The Lord of the Rings Online: Rise of Isengard Review for PC

Enter Saruman

When starting up Rise of Isengard for the first time, longtime players of The Lord of the Rings Online will undoubtedly be surprised to see the WB Games logo show up before the Turbine logo appears. Even though WB Games had signed on over a year ago, before this expansion we hadn’t seen any signs of this in-game. So this immediately brings up the question: How does this affect the world of Middle-Earth we’ve grown so familiar with over the past four and a half years? Many of us are likely a bit apprehensive of any major changes to something we love so much.

But Middle-Earth is changing; it must. When LotRO first launched back in 2007, players were restricted to areas west of the Misty Mountains. In these areas, Sauron’s influence wasn’t directly felt yet. Saruman’s men would show up as far north as Breeland, but these thieves and brigands were geographically far enough away from Isengard that they were mostly disjointed and thinly spread. However, this new expansion brings us right to Isengard, the heart of Saruman’s domain. The Battle for Middle-Earth is being prepared for, and now we get a real feel for how this is affecting the peoples of Middle-Earth. Some have fallen under the influence of the White Wizard, while others have tried to resist, only to be killed or enslaved. The bottom line: Middle-Earth is a darker, more cruel place this close to Isengard (and much closer to Mordor than we’ve ever been in-game yet.)

The Lord of the Rings Online: Rise of Isengard Screenshot

A big part of what makes the Rise of Isengard expansion unique in the LotRO world is that it shows us a different side of the evil we’ve been pushing back this whole time. We’ve fought against goblins and orcs and trolls, as well as some cantankerous brigands, but we never felt that these enemies may have had a good side to them. In Rise of Isengard, you will come across tribes of Dunlendings (the men of Dunland) who are serving Saruman because they simply don’t have a choice. With war brewing all around, they’ve been forced to take a side, and many of them regret the side they’ve chosen. There’s a real sense of humanity here, which is appropriate as we get closer to Rohan, a domain primarily of mankind.

The scenery in LotRO has always remained mostly grounded in reality, eschewing the floating islands and cartoony visuals of similar MMOs for forests, valleys, and swamplands. In fact, I would even venture to say that LotRO’s world feels a lot more like that of Oblivion than of World of Warcraft or Rift. Rise of Isengard continues this trend, bringing players into the swamps of Dunbog, the mountains and valleys of the Gap of Rohan, and Isengard itself, which will likely bring to mind Angmar, another of the game’s regions.

The Lord of the Rings Online: Rise of Isengard Screenshot

Due to the way the free-to-play aspects of the game have been implemented, this is the first LotRO expansion that doesn’t wall off its landscape to non-paying players. Unlike Moria and Mirkwood, its area is seamlessly inserted into the game’s playable surface. This means that even if you don’t pay for the expansion, you can walk from Michael Delving in the Shire all the way to the front steps of Orthanc (Saruman’s tower) without encountering a single loading screen. This brings a refreshing level of continuity to the game world, and makes the world feel more cohesive overall than past expansions were able to.

When LotRO first came out, it was probably the best-looking MMO out there. Of course, four and a half long years have transpired, and games like Aion and Rift have brought a higher level of graphical quality. Still, LotRO very well could be the nicest looking free-to-play MMO on the market, and it’s definitely a massive step up from WoW. Of course, my biggest complaint in the visual department is the map. The maps of the original regions have a very Tolkien-esque vibe that fits perfectly in the Middle-Earth environment. However, as time went on and new regions were added, the more recent maps have grown to look more and more like a child’s coloring book than a hand-drawn Middle-Earth map. To longtime players, this can definitely be seen as distracting.

The Lord of the Rings Online: Rise of Isengard Screenshot

LotRO has always had a very strong soundtrack, and the new tracks in this expansion continue this trend. Like Enedwaith before it, the new areas have a blend of old tunes and new ones, making the world feel instantly familiar and fresh at the same time.

One of my biggest concerns about this expansion is that it skimps on end-game content. Sure, every dungeon that was scalable to level 65 before Isengard is scalable to 75 now, compensating for the increased level cap. But these are dungeons we have undoubtedly been through several times already. The only new instance is a single 24-man raid. However, Turbine has promised that an update is coming before the end of the year that will add new instances, and hopefully this will bolster the amount of end-game content to a more satisfying level.

A major plus for content, though, is the addition of another crafting tier. Yes, this is the first new crafting tier since the game’s Mines of Moria expansion way back in 2008. It’s been a long time coming, and hopefully this will do something to alleviate the overabundance of tier 6 ore and wood in the game, which drives auction hall prices depressingly lower than most of the lower-tier materials in the game.

The Lord of the Rings Online: Rise of Isengard Screenshot

LotRO may be four and a half years old, but Rise of Isengard is already LotRO’s best-selling expansion to date. This is a very good indication that the LotRO community is still thriving, and will continue to do so in the future. You shouldn’t have to worry about dropping cash on the expansion only to see the community wither and die shortly after.

One final thing that must be noted here: Rise of Isengard’s content starts at around level 65. If you are a brand new player, you can hold off on the purchase until you progress further. I certainly hope you do stick around though, especially if you love the Lord of the Rings. LotRO feels the closest to Tolkien’s work that a video game ever has ever come, and it offers a world you can spend years exploring.

Now, for the sake of full disclosure, I must admit that LotRO has always had a special place in my heart. Its representation of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth is simply unparalleled in the world of video games, and not even Peter Jackson’s film trilogy can match it. It’s just packed full of tiny little details that only the most hardcore of Lord of the Rings fans will pick out. That being said, Rise of Isengard delivers three new slices of Middle-Earth, brings us to Orthanc, and lets us meet Saruman face to face. If that doesn’t get you at least a little excited, you’re probably not a Lord of the Rings fan in the first place.

Aging, but aging well. 5.0 Control
Responsive controls with the incredibly deep custom key mapping we’ve come to expect from the MMO genre. 4.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Rise of Isengard peppers some new tunes in between the ones we know and love. Voice acting is sparse but solid, and sound effects are great. 3.5 Play Value
There’s plenty to do here, but lack of end-game content makes leveling all the way up to 75 less rewarding. Hopefully this will be cleared up in the next big patch later this year. 4.3 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.

Review Rating Legend
0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid 2.5 – 2.9 = Average 3.5 – 3.9 = Good 4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
2.0 – 2.4 = Poor 3.0 – 3.4 = Fair 4.0 – 4.4 = Great 5.0 = The Best

Game Features:

  • Experience the Rise of Isengard – The Epic Story continues as the Grey Company makes its way south into Dunland. But troubles arise as their road takes them into lands where Dunlending forces, marshaled by the Wizard Saruman, prepare for war.
  • Increased Level Cap — Players will be able advance their characters up to level 75, gaining access to new traits, virtues, skills, and class quests.
  • Expanded Monster Play – LOTRO’s monster play system will get a major revamp, including opening up the feature to all players, changes to monster player skills and advancement, and a brand new region for players to battle for or against the forces of evil.

  • To top