To Rent or Buy?
Note that the "unlock" costs $2.50 PER HOUR. Realistically, I'd call swift travel a subscriber only option.
Though new options are always a good thing, I cannot recommend LOTRO's non-subscription service in the same terms that I endorse DDO's version of the model.
It is possible to get from the end of the free starter areas (approx level 20) to the start of the first paid expansions (Moria, at 50, and Mirkwood at 60 are non-optional purchases even for subscribers) without paying, provided you are willing to grind for Turbine Points at a rate of pennies per hour. However, non-subscribers will be trying to get by with less content, no rested exp, and longer travel times due to the lack of swift travel. Your gaming experience will be less fun, and your character will end up worse off for missing easily obtained quest and explorer deeds in the zones that you choose not to purchase.
My advice to a new player looking to get the best bang for their buck out of this game would be:
- Level to 20 in the starter areas, going to farm deeds in the other racial zones if you run out of quests.
- While you do this, order a retail box of the Moria expansion, currently available online for under $10. Do not activate this key until you're done with the newbie areas, so you can have your full month of subscription time to work on areas you don't already own.
- The moment you log in while subscribed, you permanently unlock all restrictions on traits, bags, and gold for that character. (Collectively, these cost far more than the $10 to unlock.) You can also complete the in-game quest to unlock the riding trait once you're level 20, unless you hate that quest badly enough to pay Turbine several dollars not to have to do it.
- Spend the month of VIP time working on quests and deeds in the Lone Lands. This will give you an idea of how long each zone will last. If you clear out the Lone Lands in a week or two, buying content by the zone is probably not for you. Otherwise, if you're halfway or more through when your month runs out and you choose NOT to resubscribe, you can probably skip buying the Lone Lands and instead purchase some other zone (North Downs or maybe Evendim).
If you sign up for a three month sub after the Moria box subscription runs out and save all your points, you should have enough on hand to buy the Mirkwood expansion when you need to raise the level cap to 65. Moreover, the expansions include all of the level 50-65 content; if you can get from level 20 to level 50 during the four months of VIP time, you can let your subscription lapse and ultimately reach the level cap with both expansions purchased for something like $40 out of pocket.
Fun Fact: Turbine apparently prefers that you not screenshot their prices. To get around this, I had to open up the store window and then click outside it in the game world to re-enable the screenshot key.
One final thing I will note is the addition of two types of paid maps to the Turbine store. One type are consumables that will teleport you to various locations in the game. Apparently the "lore" that says that only Hunters and Wardens get to teleport around at will is for sale if you're prepared to slip Turbine a buck or two under the table.
The other maps, more interestingly, offer an alternative to the game's racial and reputation teleport spell system. Players have always been able to supplement their hearthstone-equivalent with a racial trait that sends you back to your racial home city. More recent patches have added reputation rewards for other locations (I believe on a shared cooldown, though I have yet to earn any of these). Now you can purchase maps for any of these locations (including the home cities of other races) in the LOTRO Store.
Subscribers may or may not care about these options due to swift travel. That said, the map to Rivendell (for non-elves, elves would want Bree instead) is a huge perk for non-subscribers, or really anyone leveling a character in any of the adjacent zones (Trollshaws, Misty Mountains, Eregion). Though LOTRO has some quests that use excessive travel just to pad out completion time, my bigger complaint is usually when you're two zones away from a trainer/bank, or when you're switching between zones. Having one additional teleport point, even if it's on a shared cooldown, does a lot to help avoid that situation.
You can argue about whether this sort of thing should be available in game. At its current price, though, I think that most players are going to get enough use out of the one extra city map to justify the expense (which is less than the monthly stipend for subscribers).