The elves of Lothlórien are pissed. Mirkwood should be full of evil spiders and wolves, not orcs! Lend your sword
to Middle-Earth's Omaha Beach at Echad Sirion, rise to level 65 and plunder five new dungeons in the latest expansion for Lord of the Rings Online: Siege of Mirkwood.
The fierce Taugâsh Orcs are fielding fear, bleed, and poison effects like nobody's business, and you'll be hard pushed to make a dent in this add-on if you're below level 60. Mirkwood itself is locked behind the foreword quests that tell the story of the elvish landing and initial assault on Amon Angened. You'll spend a little while creeping around Orcish fortifications, destroying supply crates and torching ballistae before you get to roam properly.
Turbine's storytelling shines here. In the gloom of the forest, your first task is to bandage up dying elves - all shallow breath and crushed abdomens - as the screams of battle drift through the trees. The elven commander gives rousing speeches to doomed figures tramping out into the dark, even as the camp's healer is shipping wounded elves back to Lothlórien for good.
The respawn rates of these initial areas are far too high at the minute. Lightly armoured classes soloing to catch up with their raid groups may find themselves caught in a loop of spawning orc skirmishers, or fleeing in defeat with six greenskins in pursuit. That said, it's well suited to those peak times when every fort is swarming with players, so it's likely to be tweaked into balance soon.
The Sword Halls instance, where you fight waves of mobs and bosses in quick succession (or, optionally, all three bosses at once) is easily the most popular for the moment. The six-man dungeon, Sammath Gul, is the next step up - an ascent of the Necromancer's Tower, where Sauron built his power before returning to Mordor and getting his burning ring out. The big 12-man event is an attack on Barad Guldur itself, with a faceoff against the lieutenant of Dol Guldur.
But what if you're still paddling around at level 40? What if you lost interest months ago? Well, the new Skirmish mode might give you something to sink you teeth into. These are instanced challenges you can attempt at level 30 - thrilling set-pieces all, into which you can bring a customisable Soldier who can tank, buff or deal damage for you. The missions range from defending Weathertop from Nazgul to winning back Bree from brigands, with randomised challenges and enemies. Skirmishes scale to your level, and you can even bring friends - it's easy to get a small army going with six chums and their soldiers. That's not to say the rewards are anything but average, though - this won't have you deconstructing second-age legendaries. Nor is it more efficient than quest/mob grinding for XP gains.
At £15 plus your regular subs, you'll want to think carefully here. Despite the fun of Skirmish mode, you could safely give this a miss until you're out of Moria and into your 60s - in that case, you've probably bought it already. There isn't a lot here for new players, but then again, this is the first taste of actual war we've had in Middle-Earth. It's the next verse of your own saga. You'd be a fool of a Took to skip it.
This expansion is aimed squarely at existing LotRO players rather than newcomers, but it definitely hits the mark.