The Road to Mordor: Frugal free-to-play

Two weeks! Two weeks, people! Why are you just sitting there, all calm-before-the-storm-like, instead of following my lead and running around like a chicken with its head... well, you know. Two weeks until Volume III Book 2 launches (and a little earlier for current subscribers), and I am psyched. There certainly is something for everyone here: a F2P version, store options, a new zone, instance scaling, more dungeons, DX11, the wardrobe, a revamped beginner experience, three new servers, the next chapter in the epic story, class tweaks, a haunted cellar, and, of course, demonic goats. Did I miss something? I probably did, but it's kind of crazy around here.

One of the highlights I'm anticipating is all of the new (and returning) players giving LotRO their time due to the multiple payment options, including F2P bliss. I'm always a huge fan of options in my games, and I truly feel that the implementation of this free-to-play model will benefit a wider range of players than the current subscription core. Mmm, that Kool-Aid tastes great!

If you're thinking about heading into LotRO in two weeks but are unsure how much "free" will come with your F2P, when you'll be hit with the big catch, or whether you'll be forced to subscribe at some point, I have some great news for you. There are a variety of routes you can take to experience a good chunk of Lord of the Rings Online without denting your bank account. Read on for five valuable strategies to save a buck while saving Middle-earth!
Strategy 1: Pay nothing

I totally understand the mentality of never wanting to pay a dime for a game you're playing, especially if you have limited interest in it, tight finances, or are still feeling it out. Unlike the publishers of most other F2P titles, Turbine actually provides its free players with avenues for earning content through play, which opens up the possibility to unlock higher-level quest packs and character options for doing nothing more than playing strategically.

Of course, if you go the totally free route, you will have to live with several restrictions on your character and the fact that you'll probably never be able to earn enough Turbine points (TP) to unlock all that you want, especially if you have your eye set on leveling all the way to the cap. You can earn TP by doing deeds in the first three zones that come with F2P (Ered Luin, the Shire, and Bree-Land) -- there are 720 potential TP to be farmed from these areas, although some of the deeds (particularly the reputation ones) are probably beyond most players' grasp. That said, you can roll characters on multiple servers and repeat the process, and even delete and re-roll characters to farm more TP. So there's a potentially unlimited source of free TP in the F2P section, although how much of it you can earn depends on how much time and patience you have to do the same content over and over. Start saving now, as expansions cost well into the thousands!

It's also completely possible to level up to 50 without purchasing any zone quest packs. Turbine's not stopping you from traveling to progressively higher-level zones and grinding your heart out, it's just that questing adds more variety, doles out more rewards, and speeds up the progress overall. However, I'm sure we'll see a hardcore contingent accomplish this, and hey, more power to those folks. At least Turbine's gracious enough to offer four skirmishes as well as the epic quest line for free. The latter shouldn't be discounted, as the rewards and XP from finishing each epic book are considerable.

Strategy 2: Pay once for premium

If you take a look at Turbine's plan comparison chart, it's plain to see that there's an advantage to be a premium player over a completely free one. You get two more character slots, an increase in your gold cap, higher login-priority, and better community features. Multiple characters, after all, equal more free TP via deeds.

Happily, it's not hard to become a premium member: It just takes a one-time-only purchase of TP. This not only grants you premium status, but gives you a few more TP to spend. If you wait until Turbine offers a deal on TP (as it often does in DDO), you can nab more points for your dollar and be able to unlock a bit more content than before.

Strategy 3: Sub now, downgrade later

One of the very cool parts of this payment model is that Turbine is making it incredibly flexible, so that you can upgrade from premium to VIP (subscriber) and downgrade as you like. If you want to be a long-term free player, it actually behooves you to sign up for at least one month of VIP access.

What I would do is enter the game as a free player and level up through the beginning zones until I hit around level 25ish (that's where the free quests peter out). Then I'd subscribe for one month, which unlocks all the content up to level 50, and level like a madman before the month runs out. It's important to note that a lot of what you accomplish during that month won't be taken away from you, for the most part, and that includes deeds (even ones you start but haven't finished) and unlocked virtue and trait slots. A Casual Stroll to Mordor has a great list of what you get to keep when downgrading from VIP to premium. Also, whatever zones you level through during that month are ones you don't have to worry about buying later for that character, since you've already passed through them, so you save some TP that way.

Plus, when your subscription ends after 30 days, you will not only get premium status, but 500 additional TP to spend. Not too shabby, overall!

Strategy 4: The Moria clause

Probably one of the best long-term strategies -- and the most economical -- is to get your grubby mitts on a boxed copy of Mines of Moria. Why? Because you get all of the content in that section of the game with a single glorious purchase. Considering that Mines of Moria cost 2495 TP in the beta ($25, more or less, depending on the exchange rate), it's prudent instead to simply drop $7.95 on one of the remaining box versions and save yourself a huge chunk of dough. Don't forget that any boxed purchase automatically gives you 30 days of play time, 500 additional TP, and premium status as well!

Unfortunately, the same option doesn't exist for Shadows of Angmar (I confirmed this by reading through the forum FAQ and a follow-up call to Turbine), and Siege of Mirkwood never came in a boxed version. SoA gives you a month of unlocked content and the 500 TP, but it won't leave the zones permanently unlocked thereafter. However, acquiring Mines of Moria is a definite boon to any free player for the 10 levels, legendary items, Moria zones, and two additional classes.

By applying this strategy, you could theoretically level all the way up through Shadows of Angmar without purchasing any of the content packs (I'd recommend spending earned TP on expanding your virtue and trait slots), then jump into Moria around level 48 and be golden until you're 60.

Strategy 5: A la carte

Of course, Turbine certainly doesn't want you to pay a pittance once and never again, which is why there's this balance between time and convenience in the F2P version. The system is designed to suck you in with the free goodies and gradually make you feel comfortable with paying here and there for the content you want. This is called "a la carte," a system in which you buy items you want and ignore the rest.

While advancing to the stage where you're willing to make more than a one-time purchase can seem prohibitive, it can actually be a better option for retaining your sanity. Of course, if you're being frugal, there's no need to go nuts and buy everything; you should only unlock enough content to get you leveled up. Mmorsel Guides has a series of leveling plans for F2P gamers that is worth checking out, especially since the writer advocates certain quest packs over others as you advance through Shadows of Angmar:

If I were following this strategy, I would probably purchase the following quest packs: North Downs (levels 21-34), Evendim (27-40), and Forochel (44-50). It's not complete coverage, but grinding, deeds, skirmishes and epic book quests would easily take me through the gaps. However, at level 50 I'd either have to pony up for the two expansions or start a new alt.

I hope this helps, especially if you're considering whether you can handle LotRO on your budget. You've got two weeks left to decide. Two weeeeeks!
This article was originally published on Massively.