Thursday, September 9, 2010

To Rent Or Buy The New LOTRO

LOTRO's free to play headstart kicked off yesterday with relatively few issues.  Allarond is alive, well, and mostly as I left him. As a former subscriber character, all restrictions on trait slots, bags, currency, and mounts remain lifted.  He also retains free access to the two current expansions, including most of the game's endgame group content.  More importantly, I can now drop in for social calls with my kinship and world events without having to subscribe for an entire month in order to do so. 

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:
  1. Level to 20 in the starter areas, going to farm deeds in the other racial zones if you run out of quests.
  2. 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.
  3. 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. 
  4. 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). 
Note that game time cards are available online for significantly less than $15/month, and that Turbine is continuing to offer the $30/3 month subscription as of now.  Subscribers receive 500 TP per month on your bill date, regardless of how you pay.

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. 

Paid Travel

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).


Longasc said...

2,50$ for a special travel token or 2,50% per hour to unlock one or more of the fast travel horse routes?

I play a Champion, I have no fast-travelling Hunter or Warden, this would be a major problem for me and make F2P gameplay with paying for some extras like bags, more gold and all traits unlocked quite... useless.

Green Armadillo said...

There's a 250 TP item that allows you to use all swift travel routes (supposedly including ones you haven't "earned" in game yet due to rep or level requirements, though I haven't checked this) for one single hour. Like I said, it doesn't make a ton of sense to ever purchase this item.

As nearly as I can tell, all characters who predate Free to Play do NOT need to pay to remove restrictions on bags, traits, or goldcap. NEW characters that you make as a Free or Premium player will be hit with these restrictions until you either buy them out or subscribe for a month. I think they decided that it would be more trouble than it was worth to track who has their trait slots temporarily from a subscription when it's also possible to buy them individually.

Longasc said...

I just got told we can still use swift travel routes we earned through gameplay with gold.

I meant something else, I was afraid we can no longer use swift travel routes for gold but must rather pay $$$.

Anonymous said...

I was interested in trying out LOTRO again, but seeing as I'd need to buy stuff on Landroval to get the same level of access I used to have on Elendilmir (if I understood this right) kind of turns me off. :(

Green Armadillo said...

@Long: Subscribers still pay for swift travel through in-game gold, and everyone can use the swift travel routes that connect the newbie areas (which were implemented so that you could meet up with your friends if they choose other races).

I'm not sure what you mean when you say "swift travel routes we earned through gameplay" - the screenshot of the stable master I posted above clearly shows that I CANNOT use the swift travel routes that are earned through Mirkwood quest deeds. Maybe you're thinking of the teleport maps for reputations in Mirkwood and the Lone Lands?

@Stillwater: To the best of my knowledge, nothing is unlocked on a per-server basis. Expansions and quest packs apply equally to all servers. There are several things that are CHARACTER specific, which you will have to deal with somehow for any new characters whether you roll them on the same server or some different server.

I guess the silver lining is that at least they're letting you keep these things on your old characters instead of making you pay to unlock your old toons.

mbp said...

I think it makes sense to charge for fast travel but the prices seem a bit out of whack. Fast travel is pretty much essential once you get beyond the starting content. I find I use it three or four times per playing session. A price of 25 TP per fast travel would cost a "pay as you go" player approximately $1 per playing session which I think is fair. Charging up to $3 per single journey just doesn't make sense. Who is going to pay that much? I think Turbine would earn more by charging less and selling more.

Longasc said...

I just got told what you said, and this is rather sad.

Really, I should have rolled a Hunter. It would save me time AND cash. :(

Brian 'Psychochild' Green said...

(I believe on a shared cooldown, though I have yet to earn any of these)

They are on a shared cooldown.

My reaction on the LotRO changeover is mixed. I've been a big fan of free-to-play games and I think DDO is a great example. I get the feeling that Turbine is trying to squeeze out a bit more money from LotRO, being a potentially bigger name. I'm still subscribing and don't see anything that really upsets me, but I don't think I'll be able to enjoy playing the game as much as a "Premium" user like I do with DDO. I suspect that's by design.

Green Armadillo said...

Thanks for the clarification, Psychochild! I think there are two factors at work with LOTRO as compared to DDO.

First, LOTRO had to give away a lot more content than DDO did due to previous paid expansions. With 1-20 free to play and 50-65 in past expansions, there's not much content left to sell.

Second, it's possible that Turbine undershot the mark with the DDO subscription. If you wait on sales, you can permanently unlock everything currently in the VIP sub for less than that cost of subscribing for a year at $15/month. I'd be very curious to see whether the game's overall revenue will start to drop as increasing numbers of players already own the content that they need to level.