The LOTRO Free to Play Beta seems to have been winding down for a bit now - all of the major features are in the game, and the patch notes have been getting progressively shorter. Yesterday came the big unveil - new players can no longer sign up for LOTRO's free trial program because the free to play revamp launches September 10th.
Store In Need of Polish
Though there is still nearly a month's worth of beta left, the LOTRO store in particular looks like it could use some work. There are bugs, such as players not receiving purchased items, which are being worked on and should be fixed by launch. Just as concerning, though, are store items that are confusing.
For example, consider inventory upgrades.
This type of issue is not unique to inventory bags. For example, you can purchase the two Moria expansion classes separately from the expansion, but the expansion is required as the only way to increase your level cap to 60 (and unlock legendary items). Presumably, there are no refunds for such wasted purchases when you get to level 50 and realize that you MUST pay for the expansion to continue playing the game. These points of confusion are not some hypothetical question that I'm coming up with because I'm "looking for things to complain about" - the guys at LOTRO Reporter were confused by the bag issue on their recent 50th episode.
Will all this stuff get fixed in time? Maybe, maybe not. Also, as an evolving store, there will always be room for new confusion every time a new item is added. Either way, I'd advise extreme caution in purchasing things during the early days of free to play. Turbine's customer service in DDO seems to be relatively good about fixing these sorts of misunderstandings when they happen, but it will save you some time if you let someone else be the guinea pig who finds the issue.
State of the Game
For existing players, my guess is that free to play will be a good thing. Long-awaited additional content will be added to the game, while the newbie zones will get some updates and polish. Though there are a few places where Turbine is offering cash store items to decrease excessive grinds in lieu of decreasing the excessive grinds, the fact is that they were not doing anything about these areas anyway. Subscribers who intend to continue to subscribe can just use their monthly Turbine Point stipend to buy up a few trait potions or whatever, which is a few more trait potions than they would have had while the game stagnated under the old system.
For new players and non-subscribers, though, I feel that the merits of the new model are less clear cut. Obviously, you get something - the ability to log into your characters, chat with your guildies, etc - where before you had nothing. On the other hand, Turbine has held back a fair number of things - such as access to all swift travel routes, PVMP, and rested exp for subscribers only, regardless of how much you're willing to pay. Also, because the game consists of linear quest hubs, players will need to do some creative thinking to determine whether it actually makes sense to buy quest packs rather than renting them via the subscription.
One final tip for new players (or former players who quit before Moria) is to consider looking for a retail box copy of the Moria expansion (e.g. from online retailers). As I mentioned above, this expansion is NOT optional, and it is available online for far less than the price the LOTRO store is asking for it. For under $10, you can obtain the two expansion classes, the level 60 level cap (+ LI's), permanent free access to all the content in Moria (level 50-60 stuff), and two additional character slots (plus two additional slots if you have never previously spent money on the game for the one-time upgrade from "free" to "premium"). You may also get a month of subscription access included (which will net you 500 Turbine Points if you wait for the F2P launch) for your trouble.