However, there is one shining bit of brightness in all the monochromatic brown, which I'm going to be cagey about to avoid spoilers. Suffice to say, your relationship with one significant chunk of plot isn't what you think it is ... and suddenly you're in Saruman's chambers, watching his robe do the many-colored thing and going, "Whoa, how did this even happen?"
It's a very cool twist that finally breathes some life into what has until now been "The Tale of Watching All the Rangers Die On the Way to Gondor." That, combined with the more interesting landscape of eastern Dunland, have combined to rekindle my interest.
Another factor seems to be Maedhroc (warden) vs. Lachwen (runekeeper), and the comparative difficulty level of the two classes. I don't know if the tactical damage scaling has been fixed since the last time I did anything with Lachwen, but she was having a real hard time being effective in Dunland, not doing anything like the damage she'd done in previous zones, while still being squishier than a marshmallow peep. Maedhroc, on the other hand, is all but unkillable against most foes, only really having trouble if he gets seriously overwhelmed or hit by chain debuffs (like one particular fight in the Cleft where he was stunned-disarm-stunned-disarmed-stunned-d
The net result of this is that I flow through areas more easily and feel like I'm following the narrative thrust, so to speak, rather than going through a slow grind of banging my head against the same fight multiple times. This makes my enjoyment level shoot way up, as "beating the game" is not the interesting thing for me. "Hearing the story" is the part that I like!
All of which said, I'm really hoping that the upcoming release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey will take us back north. Northern Mirkwood, Dale, Erebor... I'm still hoping on you!