In my opinion, the lovely aspect of Lord of the Rings Online's hybrid model is that you, the player, have a wide range of choices when it comes to how you want to fund your gameplay. If you decide not to go the subscription/VIP route, it can get a little confusing, especially in light of just how much there is in the LotRO store. Do you need to buy anything at all? What are the essentials? How should you go about earning some free Turbine Points to finance these purchases?
Unlike many other recent MMO F2P conversions, LotRO's offers you more flexibility than "just suffer with F2P restrictions or subscribe," which should give you hope that you can tailor the game to your exact needs. In today's Road to Mordor, I'm going to put myself in the shoes of a F2P player and tell you exactly what I'd do to get the most out of my account.
The first thing to get straight in your mind is that Turbine isn't providing a free-to-play option out of charity; the studio wants your money but is willing to work for it and meet you more than halfway. So yes, there are restrictions on a purely "free" account if you're unwilling to spend any money, but you'd be surprised by just how much you do get before you drop a single penny.
I've always been impressed that Turbine's made a continual effort to open up more of the game to free players. You will not only get all of the quests up through Lone-lands (level 31ish) but can go anywhere in the world, experience the full epic storyline (which is the true "meat" of the game), grind to your heart's content, and with Rise of Isengard, step into monster play PvP. So my point here is that if you don't want to put money into this game, that's fine and it's your choice, but it also doesn't mean you get to complain about the walls that you'll occasionally bump up against. "Free" doesn't mean "entitled to everything"; it means "having fun on the studio's dime and consideration."
It's important to have a right mindset going into F2P because it can be tempting to look at VIP players and want everything they have (but, you know, for free). No matter what choices you make with your cash, LotRO is a remarkably enjoyable and satisfying game, and I think it's amazing just how far you can get with no money down.
LotRO store essentials
Because LotRO's hybrid model is conducive to an a la carte approach by which you buy only the features and content you want, you can cut right to the chase and get the pure essentials without having to load up on extra calories that really do nothing for you in the long run. The problem is that the store is packed and it's easy to get confused, especially if you're new to the game.
So after looking over the price list provided by Lotro-Wiki, I put these forward as the three essential purchases that I think all F2P accounts should consider:
- Fourth and fifth inventory "bonus" bags (495 TP or approx. $5 each): Three inventory bags are really not enough, especially since you as a F2P player will probably want to take advantage of the task system, which requires picking up a lot of vendor trash. Suck it up and get your inventory up to spec.
- Trait slots (95 TP/$1 per virtue, class or race slot, and 195/$2 per legendary slot): To put it bluntly, without a full range of trait slots, you're going to be piloting a gimped character. If you have to choose, go for class traits first, then legendary, then virtues (racial traits are nice but not as essential).
- Riding skill (95 TP/$1): Not only is this cheap, but man is it wonderful to be able to ride a horse at level 5. Free players have to buy this skill to ride mounts, period. Once you have the skill, you need a mount. You can either buy one for 500 silver, purchase one from the LotRO store, or get one through a special promotion (such as the expired Rise of Isengard pre-order deal). My thought is that if you're a free player, you're going to be doing a lot of grinding up front for TP anyway, so 500 silver really isn't out of the realm of possibility.
Quest packs are up to you, since there are several bundled offers and regions are often discounted. North Downs and Evendim are solid picks to get you from 18 to 40 (although you could conceivably skip North Downs if you do all three starter areas, all of Lone-lands, and worked on tasks and the epic storyline). Likewise, skirmishes are a personal choice. They are terrific for free accounts since they are repeatable and scale, giving you access to XP at any level.
Part of the fun of LotRO's F2P version is that Turbine actually gives everyone -- free player and VIP alike -- the ability to earn Turbine Points through gameplay. Sure, you're not going to get heaploads at once, but the option is there to earn free content and account upgrades without spending money.
Depending on your tolerance for the grind, you can earn TP by completing as many deeds and epic storyline chapters on as many characters as possible. The now-defunct Mmorsel has several great guides on maximizing your TP gain and estimates that free players can earn up to 1610 TP per character -- enough to get a couple of quest packs or to start saving up for expansion content! The site also posted an inspiring tale of a player who spent only $10 and managed to buy over 6,800 TP worth of content by taking full advantage of the system.
F2P survival strategies
- Strongly consider subscribing for a month! Not only will you be bumping up your account to premium status after the month is up so you can enjoy the full game for 30 days, but you'll also eliminate the currency cap on your current characters, keep all of your inventory bags, spend in-game currency instead of TP for your riding skill, retain any trait slots you unlock during leveling that month, and get 500 TP to boot. Thirty days of busy, productive play can pay off in the long run for your free account. Want a cheap alternative to a regular one-month subscription? Hunt down a box copy of Shadows of Angmar (currently $2 on Google Shopping) and use the code for 30 days of play.
- Read the fine print! Note that some store purchases affect all of your characters across your entire account, and some (such as buying a mount or additional milestone skills) will be applied only to one character. Pay attention to the store descriptions to figure out which is which.
- Look for good deals! Turbine has special sales all the time, usually on a weekly basis, and if you're lucky, you can snag discounted items and better TP bundles. Also, make sure to check the LotRO store deals and bundled offers, as these will give you a better bang for your buck (as long as it's something you needed to buy anyway).
- Mull over the Mithril Edition! Turbine's latest big promotion is a Mithril Edition boxed edition of the game. It's $30, which isn't cheap, but you do get 2000 TP, a cool mount, and quest packs that will take you from level 40 to 61ish.
- Find a boxed copy of Mines of Moria! While the prices on these boxes have gone up, if you can get a good deal on a Complete Edition of MoM, snag it. You'll get 30 days of game time, all of Moria's quests and deeds, the Rune-keeper and Warden class, and a couple of extra character slots. That's seriously awesome.
- Skip Mirkwood! I've given this some thought, and I really don't think Mirkwood is worth your hard-earned TP at this point. It's only a five-level zone that can be easily bypassed (or just visited for the epic storyline) in favor of Enedwaith and Dunland.
- Keep an eye on the LotRO store page! Not only does Turbine list all the current and upcoming sales, but there's usually a weekly coupon code for a free in-game goody.
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.