Hitting the wall
The path to 40 is pretty straightforward. You'll do your opening zone and then move on to western Bree-land. From there, it's Lonelands, North Downs (if needed), and Evendim. All of this will jet you up to level 40 a lot faster than back in 2007. Evendim's revamp in particular will feel like a ride on the jet stream, taking a tender level 30 and spitting out an armor-hardened level 40 in no time at all.
But then what do you do? The problem here is that the game path fragments between zones. Trollshaws, Misty Mountains, Forochel, Angmar, and Eregion all have quests in the 40s, but they're spread out, meaning that you could be doing a few early Trollshaws quests and then find that the next hub has abruptly jumped from the late-30s to the mid-40s. None of these areas has the best quest flow, although I'd say that Forochel followed by Eregion is probably the best if you hit them at the right time (maybe level 42 for Forochel and level 45 for Eregion).
Another problem is that Volume 1 of the epic story isn't the efficient people-mover that Volumes 2 and onward become. Volume 1 has you jumping all over the place and doesn't do a great job (in my opinion) of showing you where you need to be leveling next.
Early game strategies
So there are two types of players who might have problems in the 40s. The first type is the player who's already in this level range and stalled out. Don't worry; we'll get to you in the next section. The second type is the player with a lowbie character who recognizes in advance that this stretch of game might be a problem. Let's concentrate on this latter type for now.
The reason I have never had a serious issue with the 40s hump is that I don't rush to get there. Instead, I build up a lot of steam (and XP) by focusing on attaining my virtues first and foremost. Think of your virtues as a secondary quest log that needs to be completed before you progress to the next zone. The virtues may be really grindy sometimes, but they're absolutely awesome for bringing in tons of XP while rounding out your character's stats.
There are plenty of ways to build up momentum to plow through the 40s. You have three (!) beginner zones, each with tons of quests and deeds to be done. Usually I have leveled so much from them that by the time I'm done with Lone-lands I'm level 30 and can skip North Downs entirely.
Rested XP and monster kill XP pocket items both give you a nice XP advantage, although these are dependent on whether you want to put down money (for a sub, a pre-order, or a cash shop item). Finally, let's not forget that you have an arsenal of leveling tools at your disposal: skirmishes, instances, the epic story, and task boards. You do not have to rely on questing for 100% of your XP influx.
The goal here is to be a little overleveled for the zone content to make it easier to progress. If you're level 43 doing level 40 quests, it's a breeze instead of doing them at-level.
So say you hit the wall, with or without building up that momentum. What do you do? First of all, don't fret: There are more than enough quests to get you through the 40s. Trust me, I've done it several times over including once this year. You just have to be willing to branch out for this stretch.
What I do at level 40 is start out tackling western Trollshaws until it begins getting too difficult. When I find quests that are above-level, I'll pick them up but ignore them and move on. Gloin's camp in the south-western Misty Mountains has a handful of easy quests for the low 40s as well. Once I mine that camp, I move on to southern Forochel. There's a whole bunch of great quests here, and between these three areas, you should be able to shoot into the 42 range pretty easy. From there you can try to stick with Forochel (as it has the best quest chaining) or bounce back to Misty Mountains for some of its eastern quest hubs.
But if you're in the 41-45 range, use my not-so-secret weapon: Angmar. Yes, it's a butt-ugly zone with an annoying background noise, but it's so dang rich in quests that you'd be foolish to pass it up. If you ever stall out questing in the 40s, generally it's a good idea to head back to Angmar to see what's available for you. I used to hate this zone before I realized just how good it is in questing (and deeds as well!). Another option around level 45 is to hit Sarnúr in Ered Luin. This public dungeon has several must-get deeds and can be a lot of fun with some friends.
I should also mention that around this time you should be seriously working on filling out those three legendary virtue books. These give you powerful skills as well as provide an excuse to undertake a few short grinding sessions that rake in the XP.
Level 45: The game-changer
While you might be thinking that level 50 is your big goal, it's actually not. Rotate between zones to grab those quests and push on until you hit level 45. This is when life gets a lot easier. Why? Volume 2, my friends.
While Volume 2 of the epic story is officially classified as level 50 content, you can and should pick it up at level 45. It begins with the Dwarf Ráthwald near Echad Dúnann in southeast Eregion. Ráthwald prompts you to enter a landscape instance that is not difficult at all for a level 45 and contains several quests (some mandatory and some optional). Not only can you squeeze out a couple of levels from doing these, but right around the time that the storyline opens up Moria, you'll be handed your first two legendary items. These are a huge boon for your combat skills and usually function as a mighty gust of wind in your sails.
Once you open up Moria and get your LIs, the rest of the 40s is practically running downhill. I'd recommend staying put in Eregion and going through each quest hub, starting with the one in the north-west. There are more than enough quests and XP in this one zone to get you all the way to 50. You could also fudge it a bit and go into Moria at 49, but I actually wait until I'm 51 or so.
I won't deny that the 40s hump can be frustrating, but it's by no means a glacial wall that impedes progress. I hope this column helps those of you approaching or currently wallowing in these levels! Good luck!
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.