In any case, while I enjoy the ding as much as anyone else, levels have lost their luster to me. The fact that Rise of Isengard added 10 new ones versus, say, five or none, doesn't really mean much in the long run. There isn't a lot tied to these new levels other than a small handful of mostly recycled skills and the typical increase in stats, so for me there's really no rush to climb through them. However, as with any first week or two out of release, leveling seems to be a huge area of focus for many players as they seek to hit that end cap once again and re-establish the status quo.
Still, it's important to some, and our kinship has spent a good amount of time chewing over these new levels, how to get them, and whether or not they're worth a hill of beans in this crazy, messed-up world. Today in our laser-focused Lord of the Rings Online column, I'm going to sort those beans. I may even eat one or two; beans are great for protein and fiber.
Of course, I don't hate leveling in general. It's an accepted part of most MMOs, and it does provide at least an artificial sense of progression. It helps to mark milestones in one's journey and serves as a gatekeeper to higher-level challenges. Rise of Isengard could've released with no new levels, but it wouldn't have gone over well. Players like feeling as if their characters are moving forward, not just feeding IXP to their legendaries.
So Turbine gave us 10 levels instead of Siege of Mirkwood's five, suggesting that there was so much content here that it necessitated all of these levels to traverse. Just as the newly revamped Evendim represents a self-contained quest ecosystem that covers 10 levels of content and progression, so too does Dunland. No matter how strong we become in LotRO, devs have to knock us back down to "weak" status so that we can build ourselves back up once more. Call us gluttons for punishment -- and pleasure.
I think I'd be a lot more excited if there were more tangible rewards or abilities attached to these levels. Striving toward something I'm anticipating is a great motivator, and in the past it's been either tied to levels, deeds, or both. Right now there are no new abilities that have me anxious to acquire, no additional traits or trait slots (even one more legendary slot would've been welcome!), and no external rewards that are granted to me like a fruit basket when I hit 75. I'll simply be where I was at 65, just with a slightly higher number.
It's here that I think Rise of Isengard's lack of a new system is strongly felt. We don't have anything fresh to experience in the leveling game, unlike legendary items and skirmishes (both of which contain their own parallel leveling experiences). I'm looking with envy at RIFT's planar attunement system and EverQuest II's old alternative advancement points and thinking, "Why couldn't we start to get something like that to signify that our characters are really growing in new and exciting ways?"
The first question that we were debating in our kin is whether or not the leveling pace is fast enough. We were pretty divided on the subject; some were moaning about how it's taking forever to hit the next level, while others felt like they were on the highway to 75 with no speed limit in sight.
From my own observations, I feel like the pace is just right. I'm a somewhat casual player in terms of time, and over the course of a week and perhaps 10 hours of play, I went from 65 to 68 without breaking a sweat. Quest turn-ins kept pushing that bar up at a noticeable rate, so much that it surprised me. It didn't seem hard at all, but then again, I wasn't really paying attention to the XP bar in the first place. I'm finding that the stories are engrossing enough that level progression takes a distant second place here.
One realization that struck us is that our kin -- like so many others -- is composed of both VIP players and F2P ones. The difference here is that non-VIP players do not accrue rested experience, which doubles the amount of XP per monster kill. That adds up, and while F2P players will catch up in the end, the disparity between the two factions is measurable while we're all in a "leveling race."
Another worry that's bouncing all over the place is that the entirety of the questing in Rise of Isengard does not award enough XP to get one from 65 to 75. Players such as this one have reported that it's a stretch even for VIP players to hit 75 without resorting to grinding, tasks, hitting the repeatable missions, or running several skirmishes or instances just for the XP. Of course, looking at the previous sentence, it strikes me that we certainly do have a wealth of alternatives.
I don't think Turbine is unaware of this. In fact, I think this is all planned to be exactly the way it is. What many players overlook is that right now, there are two types of players in the game: those who were at 65 and finished with Mirkwood and Enedwaith by the time the expansion hit, and those who are still leveling up. The latter group will not hit 65 as we once did, usually around the end part of Mirkwood, and then finish up Mirkwood and Enedwaith for the story, loot and IXP alone. Nay, they'll keep leveling the whole time, and it really wouldn't surprise me that future players will be heading into Dunland at 67 or 68, not 65. That will negate any perceived XP shortage from quests. So perhaps Turbine is looking at the long game, whereas we're looking at the here-and-now.
Ultimately, there's no rush, not really. Sure, some folks just like to be among the vanguard hitting the new level cap, some people can't bear to be anywhere that's not "end game," and some will get caught up in an ephemeral leveling race that awards nothing to the winners except extremely brief bragging rights. We don't have any new instances to get to 75 for until Update 5 hits, unless you're among the raiding set and prepping for Draigoch. The fact that I've seen plenty of folks hit 75 within mere days of Isengard's release tells me that traversing all 10 levels is not out of the grasp of ordinary men, women, children and Hobbits.
But enough of what I think. You all have been out in the field and have seen first-hand how the additional levels play into the game. What say you?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.