As a particular person asked me, "But what if I'm three expansions behind? Is it even worth paying for all of these expansions and pushing myself to get to Rohan?"
This is a valid concern and obviously one that several folks have, so for today's column I want to talk to those of you who aren't level 85. Maybe you haven't even seen the interior of Moria yet, or maybe you have been following the most casual, sporadic path through Middle-earth possible over the years. Maybe the one-expansion-per-year pace is actually pushing you away from the game. Here's what I think will help.
The well-known problem with the typical MMO expansion model (aka "slap 10 levels and a new continent onto the current cap") is that it fails to full satisfy content-devouring bleeding-edge players while simultaneously setting the slower-leveling player back. I don't think it's pure evil or anything; I do like having new lands to explore and the continuation of a journey toward Mordor. But in general, I favor more horizontal content expansion that all levels and all players can enjoy.
This is why I'm happy that Turbine's made considerable effort to giving a wider range of players better content: There's the skirmish system, instances that scale, the instance finder tool, the task system, re-designed zones (such as Moria), fully soloable (and free) epic story quests, and so on. One thing I was pleased to see is that the new battle system coming with Helm's Deep will be accessible as early as level 10, offering a bulk of the playerbase the opportunity to participate in new content.
So while Turbine and I can't just wave a wand and put you at level 85 on a war-steed, there's more new stuff for all players to do than ever before. If it's been a while since you've set foot in the game, I think you might be surprised that level 41 (or 31 or whatever) today is a much richer experience than level 41 of three years ago.
Expansions go on sale all of the time
While game studios want your money, they definitely prefer to have a less amount of it than none at all. I don't think Turbine is stupid; the company knows that behind-the-curve players who haven't kept up to date with expansions are probably less likely to pay full price for four (or soon, five) of them in one fell swoop. That thought is daunting and expensive to the consumer and might well push that person away from the game entirely.
That's why there are sales. There are always sales. Expansions and expansion content (these are two different categories, as you can buy content piece-meal in some places) are available through three places: third-party sellers, the official website, and in-game using Turbine Points. Through any of these, the key is to look for sales.
Right now Turbine is selling a package of three expansions -- Mines of Moria, Siege of Mirkwood, and Rise of Isengard -- for $40. That's not even a sale; that's the standard price, and it goes a long way to catching you up. But prior to a new expansion launch there is usually a discount for older expansions, and the ones offered in-game have been known to go on sale from time to time. If you're not to Riders of Rohan yet, I'd say hold off on purchasing it until this summer when Turbine starts pushing Helm's Deep and will be more open to discounting the previous expansion.
Stay put where you are
Here's an interesting option: Don't worry yourself about purchasing new expansions or power-leveling at all. The in-game store now sells an XP disabler, which a certain subset of players have used to artificially stop their progress and establish an "endgame" of their choosing. As such, we've seen the rise of kinships whose members agree to a level 50 cap in order to tackle the original game's dungeons and enjoy fellowship with each other.
One thing that's always encouraged me about LotRO is that it feels as if it has a healthy leveling population. I'm constantly seeing kinships advertising that their members are still rising up through the content, and even my own kin is just as likely to have scads of teens and 20-somethings logged on as it does level 85s.
This tells me that there are plenty of folks who are right there with you, so why not join up with them? Find a leveling kinship, make a leveling pact with friends, or even re-roll and take on the challenge with a dedicated partner. One of the most fun experiences I've had in the game during this past year is when my multi-game guild decided to roll new LotRO characters and level them up together.
A testimony from a casual leveler
Despite the fact that I am the LotRO guru around Massively, I'm wouldn't categorize myself as a hardcore player. I take my time, enjoy the journey, and focus more on the story than the advancement. For me, this has always been enough time to get through the expansions and new updates before the next ones come out.
Even at my pokey little puppy pace, I have a level- and virtue-capped Captain who's in the middle of Wildermore right now as well as a Lore-master that I started a few months ago and have gotten up to level 52 in Moria. Make no mistake, while there is more content, leveling in LotRO is a lot less painful than it used to be. I think anyone who gives this game an hour a day would be really surprised by how quickly she would progress over a few months.
Even if you're a brand-new level 1 Dwarf, it's totally conceivable that you can play casually and gradually catch up to the rest of us. Turbine's tweaked a lot of things to make leveling faster and smoother, and there are +XP% pocket items from the past two expansions that serve as a nice wind in your sails. For me, I've never been concerned about dinging levels so much as just getting through the epic story, grabbing my virtues, and experiencing the lore.
One thing to keep in mind is that Turbine will be doing a major overhaul of the classes later this year, and it looks as if these changes will include a more flexible system when it comes to acquiring or applying virtues. Anything that takes away from the virtue grind will give players even more time to level up!
I guess what I want to end with is a word of encouragement. LotRO isn't the same as other MMOs, and this applies to the addition and navigation of new content. The journey is the main reward, there are lots of people leveling new and alt characters in your level range, and the expansions are affordable to obtain. Hang in there, plug away, and we'll see you in Rohan before too long!
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.