The Road to Mordor: If the road goes ever on, I'm gonna need a GPS

Recently in our kinship chat, I asked my mates what they were most looking forward to in next week's patch. Scaled instances and the wardrobe were popular, but probably the most-cited change was simply the influx of new players. It's not that we were worried Lord of the Rings Online was dying, but that we love this game so much that we genuinely want others to experience it as well.

Plus, new players bring a rush of excitement for everyone involved. It's always a treat to look at an old game through a fresh set of eyes, and I hope that everyone logging in to LotRO for the first time will enjoy the sights of the Eriador, the quirkiness of the world, and the rich lore behind it.

In the spirit of welcoming these fledgling adventurers to Middle-earth, I wanted to hand out a few pieces of advice today that I would give to myself if I were just starting out (and I guess there'd be some sort of weird time travel paradox event going on there, but hopefully you catch my gist). What should you do in your first week in LotRO? Speak "friend" and enter.
"Take your time, admire the roses."

When I first started paying attention to LotRO, it honestly struck me as a bit of a throwback -- a slower style of play, a low-magic world, a story hemmed in by its source IP. It wasn't until I spent that initial week in game to realize that while it was different, it was different in a charming, welcoming fashion. LotRO never felt like an MMO in which I had to get in and level like mad, or rush through zones, or do anything fast and furious. Instead, it was a game that rewarded those who downshifted to really explore the world, listen to the stories, and engage in the many side activities.

So my first piece of advice would just be to break yourself of the bad MMO habit of seeing leveling as the be-all, end-all of the game, and instead open your eyes to a bigger world and a richer experience. Mosey instead of sprint, in other words.

This is why I'd recommend for all new players to at least spend some time in the Shire, no matter where you begin. While some players find Bree-land or Ered Luin more to their style, Turbine spent a considerable amount of time transforming the Shire from a mere zone to a place that could potentially woo your heart. Part of the LotRO journey is fighting for the good in Middle-earth, and if you've never taken the time to get to know that good before grinding yourself into Mordor, then you'll miss one of the key driving forces behind your quest.

"Do your homework, plan your virtues."

I talked about this a while ago, so I won't repeat myself too much here. While I'm not advocating a huge planning session before you ever set foot in the game, it would behoove most players to at least start thinking about their virtues and character builds before they leave the starter zones. If you're going to grind for virtues (and that sweet, sweet free TP) then it's better to get XP for it than not, my grandma always said.

"Build up cash, gather like mad."

In every MMO I play, one of the main goals for my primary character is to become financially well-off. There's nothing worse than being short a few silver when you need to train a skill, or lusting after a perfect piece of loot in the auction house that you couldn't even afford if you visited a loan shark (or a regular shark, for that matter). While there are limits placed on how much gold free and premium players can have at any one time, it's still important to build up that wealth reservoir for a rainy day. Because, I promise you, that day will come.

Happily, it's very easy to make money in LotRO as long as you follow a couple rules. The first is to sell more than you spend (and try not to spend more than you absolutely have to). Quests award decent loot, especially at low levels, so there's no need to be paying a vendor or AH monkey. Use your money strictly for repairs, skill training, and bard traiting.

If you follow my advice by taking your time in the beginning and work on advancing your virtues, you should find your bags overflowing with vendor trash. This stuff sells for more than you'd think, especially anything that stacks.

It's not a bad idea to take up a gathering skill either -- most all vocations have them, and the explorer has two. Crafters always, always need more ore, leather and other assorted components, and there's a pretty penny to be made by those willing to do the grunt work.

Finally, the auction house is a poor hobbit's best friend. Do a bit of research as to what sells and generally for how much, and the wealthy veterans will be more than happy to dump piles of money in your lap to save them time.

"Trait up constantly, experiment with skills."

Unlike many games, LotRO's character development isn't strictly tied to level dings. It's important to always be working on traits and virtues to give your adventurer additional abilities and talents. The problem I've seen is that players quickly get into a routine that uses the fastest method of defeating mobs, which usually avoids using a lot of the newer skills that are handed out along the way. Traits take a significant amount of time to achieve, so you should always check your deed log, see which traits require you to use which skills, and then use those skills as often as possible -- even if they're not strictly needed for that fight.

Some traits -- particularly the ones you can spam over and over -- have daily limits attached to them. These traits should be the first ones you do every day in order to make sure you don't have to wait longer than necessary to finish them.

Since characters level up quickly in the 1-20 range, it's not uncommon for a player to end up with a full hotbar of skills and not really know how to use them all effectively. That's OK; it's all part of the learning process. Just make sure to keep trying new skill combinations out, and rearrange your battle rotation once in a while so you don't settle into a rut. I can't tell you how many times I learned a particularly effective combination or use for a skill at a late point in my character's career due to getting to complacent with how I was fighting.

"Be a friend, get involved."

My final word of advice is to avoid isolating yourself from the community -- instead, dive head-first into one of the best bunch of MMO gamers in the world. It's a welcoming community, and there are kinships for every personality, persuasion and p... p... I can't think of another "p" word. Well, not one that's usable on a family-friendly site.

LotRO's kinships are the backbone of many in-game events, from parades to festivals to concerts. Don't be afraid to put off leveling one night and just kick back at one of these.

While no game community is perfect, I won't hesitate to vouch for the helpfulness and playfulness of LotRO's assorted grab-bag of knowledgable lunatics. After all, I chose to be one of them, and I think you'll fit in fine as well.
When not clawing his eyes out at the atrocious state of general chat channels, Justin "Syp" Olivetti jaws about hobbits in his Lord of the Rings Online column, The Road to Mordor. You can contact him via email at justin@massively.com or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.
This article was originally published on Massively.