Since 1954 when the first editions of The Lord of the Rings were published and sent readers on a breathtaking quest into the imagination of J.R.R. Tolkien and his mythological land of Middle Earth, the imaginatively compelling and awe-inspiring world he created has found its way into a myriad of media including movies and video games. In 2005, Turbine Inc. bought the rights to make a video game based on the books, and decided to undertake the monumental task of converting Tolkien’s vision into the format of a Massive Multiplayer Online Role-playing Game (MMORPG) set during the time-period the book’s plot takes place. In 2007, The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar was launched to great praise and acclaim, which only increased with 2008’s release of its first expansion Mines of Moria, and 2009’s Siege of Mirkwood.
Since the fall of 2010, the subscription model to The Lord of the Rings Online has changed from the standard $15 a month to a limited Free-to-Play model. While the entire game is not free to play in this form, it offers players a sort of “free trial” where they can play a character up to around level 20 (out of 65) without paying a dime on the game.
The areas of the game that are entirely free to play include Ered Luin: the realm of the dwarves and elves, The Shire: home to the infamous Hobbits, and Bree-Land: home to the race of Men. All subsequent areas are offered for a varying amount of Turbine Points, which are essentially the currency of the LotRO Online Store. Turbine points are accrued by two means: Deed completion, which entitles completion of certain tasks in game either by exploration or slaying of certain creatures; or by real-life currency which is converted into Turbine points upon purchase.
The areas of the game that do not include the entirely free areas are still able to be explored and creatures within its boundaries are still able to be slain, but all quests in the area will be locked and unable to be accepted until the quest pack to the area has been purchased from the online store.
Since the game also includes Epic Quests which are divided up into books which explain the lore and mythology behind Middle Earth and which take you all across the games areas as well as provide you with unique quest rewards and equipment, these can be taken and completed by a free to play character in their respective areas. However, these quests are restricted by level, and so to complete the entire book chain would be next to impossible without leveling your character up first. This is where the quest packs come into play.
Completing deeds within the game can reward you with Turbine points, however the gains are relatively small. For the first tier of deeds, you are usually rewarded with 5 points, with 10 and 15 following the next tiers respectively. Deeds range from killing a certain number of creatures, exploring a certain number of locations, or completing a certain number of quests within an area. While this is certainly an option to accrue turbine points and unlock more areas of Middle Earth, there are differing opinions on which is easiest: earning points through deeds, or purchasing them outright. Since quest packs for areas vary between 100-400 points for lower end areas, and 400-1000 points and upwards for higher level areas, the completing of deeds would take a dedication of its own right, and would certainly draw away from the spirit of the game. It should be noted however that it is possible to access all areas, and level your character to the maximum level (50 without expansion packs) without spending a penny on Turbine points, yet this option is extremely time-consuming and may or may not be worth the time depending on which type of person you are.
Players in the game are divided into three tiers. Basic players are the lowest, and have restrictions to their accounts ranging from limited chat, limited storage, and limited access to the auction house, and they also have a maximum amount of money that a character can hold. The second tier are called Premium Players, and the limits on chat are dispelled, but still have limits to their storage, auction house, and the amount of gold they can hold, which is raised from the basic level. You are automatically elevated to Premium status if you were a previous subscriber to LotRO in the past, regardless of if you were a subscriber or not when the game went free to play. Basic and Premium accounts still have to purchase quest packs. The final tier of player is called VIP Status. VIP’s pay a monthly amount of the standard $15, and are also granted 500 Turbine points a month as long as they continue to be VIP status. All quest areas are automatically unlocked and you have unrestricted access to the game with no limit on storage, auction house, or amount of gold you can carry, however the expansion packs of Mines of Moria and Siege of Mirkwood will still have to be purchased separately.
Turbine made a daring move when they decided to put LotRO to a free to play model, but it seems to have been working in their favor. Instead of giving potential players a limited 7 day trial, players now have the option to play at their own pace and discover if they truly want to continue further. The breathtaking scenery in the game brings Tolkien’s fantasy epic to life in countless ways, and coupled with amazing graphics, beautiful in-game music, and amazing gameplay that will keep you enthralled over and over, LotRO seems secure in its future, where Turbine plans to release more and more areas of Middle Earth in the months to come.
Head on over to www.lotro.com if you wish to experience this fantastical embodiment of Tolkien’s imagination, arguably the greatest works of fantasy fiction ever written, for yourself.