I was level 65.
For me, it's always been extremely disconcerting to hit endgame in any MMO, which is probably why Lord of the Rings Online marks only the fourth game of my MMO career in which this has happened. I like the feeling of leveling up, gaining experience, going on a mostly solo journey through the lands. But once I ding that final level, the XP gains go away and the questions arise.
What do I do now? Should I become concerned with raiding? I wasn't before! Is there a purpose to keep on questing at this point without XP? Am I going to avoid fighting mobs unless I absolutely have to do so? What is there to do? Will I get bored? Who replaced my wallet with a ketchup packet before I sat down?
Join me after the jump as I take you through these questions and more on my journey to discover a life after the final ding.
A journey a thousand miles long begins with a single experience point
It's been such a long time coming that I honestly never thought I'd see it. I rolled my Captain back in early 2009 on the Gladden server, eventually transferring her over to Landroval in 2010. Her career was punctuated by not only orc battles and endless runs to Rivendell but an extended break in 2009 and being shoved aside for several alts in 2010. Slowly, methodically, she worked her way through Middle-earth, from the timid area of Bree-land to the desolation of Forochel then through the endless depths of Moria to emerge in the golden glory of Lothlórien.
I've never been much of a power leveler, and LotRO, to be honest, slows you down as much as possible along the way. You not only have the experience bar to occupy your time, but deeds, virtues, legendary items, epic storylines, class quests, festivals, crafting and a dozen or two other activities that demand your attention. To me, the game's always been about a journey, both as my character and as the story overall. We have a starting line, a compelling purpose, strong confrontations, and then an abrupt halt in the middle of it all. Like anxious readers awaiting the next novel of a gripping series, we want the story to continue but are powerless to make it happen faster than the author writes it.
Since my proper journey won't continue until this fall when Rise of Isengard beckons me to lands farther south to confront Saruman, being at level cap means that I'm forced to branch outward instead of onward for my immediate goals. The question keeps nagging at me: What is my purpose now that I'm 65? What do I do?
All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us
Some people loathe the endgame simply because it represents such a massive shift in gameplay and direction that they simply can't make the transition. I can see that, although I am far from despairing. It's good to get away from the crutch of the XP bar as the be-all, end-all guiding point of our characters and to instead spend time examining what we want to do rather than what we must do.
I think we are fortunate to be in a long-established, feature-rich MMO that has a bevy of options for the endgame. If nothing else, LotRO is a game with an astonishing wealth of content, to the point that I can't imagine being done with it all.
For many, the obvious goal of their post-level cap careers is to dive into the dungeon-raid-armor-set chase. While I'm not against running dungeons, the Catch-22 loop of "get better gear to run harder raids to get better gear" does not appeal to me. Plus, with the promised nixing of radiance as a gateway stat coming down the line, I feel like there's a bit of uncertainty as to what gear we should be getting at all.
Another option is to get down and dirty with Monster Play. I find it unfortunate that Freeps have to wait until level 65 to hold their own in the Ettenmoors -- that's a long climb to get to PvP, if PvP is your bag. One of these days I'll force myself to try it out, but I'm in no rush.
So if raiding and PvMP aren't your final destinations in LotRO, what should be? The answer to that is a bit more complicated than you'd expect.
The road goes ever on
One of the appeals of sandbox-style games is the freedom to make and pursue your own goals outside of a rigidly defined track. While I'm not going to argue that LotRO is anything other than a themepark-style MMO, the breadth and depth of character building does offer an element of personal choice.
While my Captain may be level 65, she is far from being a completed character. Attaining the highest level and purchasing all your skills is merely the basic foundation of development, not the pinnacle. She has quite a few virtues to attain to hit the rank 10 cap across the board, and there are still several class deeds that I've yet to finish (it's hard to find people to willingly die for you, over and over again, so you can resurrect them 700 times for a deed -- usually they start crying for their mamas around 300 or so). If I so choose, there are plenty of factions out there I've yet to become kindred with and lots of quests left unquested.
Legendary items offer another avenue for alternative advancement, since legacies and associated stats directly boost your character's capabilities. Yes, sure, many people have become disgruntled with the LI system and are waiting for Turbine's promised fixes to hit the servers. I understand that, but it doesn't mean that I'm going to stop leveling up my Second Age LIs in the meantime. It's nice to know that even if I'm not getting normal XP for quests, I'm still banking a lot of IXP in the process.
So really, I'm free -- free to do mostly whatever I please, to round out my character and choose my own goals. It's disconcerting yet fun in its own way, and so far I'm taking my time to savor Enedwaith so that it lasts.
I'd like to end this week's column by asking you to share your own opinion and perspective. What do you do -- or plan to do -- when you hit that final ding? What would be your advice for others?
When not enjoying second breakfast and a pint of ale, 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 email@example.com or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.