One does not simply buy his way into Mordor: LotRO now F2P

Lord of the Rings Online, a Turbine MMO (Asheron’s Call, Dungeon & Dragons Online), followed suit in its call to turn its current MMOs over to the Free 2 Play business model on September 8th. For those of you not familiar with the F2P model, this essentially means everyone is now privy to a glorified unlimited trial to the game until about LV20, at which point you would need to buy quest packs to unlock for further zones into the game in order to level up. Or you could not be a total freeloader and just subscribe to the game, at which point all access to the game would be opened up to you. Your call I guess. Then again, would it be worth to do so, especially considering F2P has brought along a slew of new changes to the game?

The quest stands on the edge of a knife

This is not my first shindig on the topic of LotRO, nor with LotRO going F2P either. Just like Agent Smith Elrond, long have I foreseen the doom of this title under the guise of F2P. Anyone knows right off that bat that the F2P model (especially when a replacement change from a standard subscription model) is where bad MMOs go to die (see: any Korean MMO). Secondly, and this is the more troubling part, LotRO going F2P simply confirmed the money troubles Turbine was facing, which was later resolved when they were bought up by Warner Bros. Aside from the obvious Bugs Bunny vs. Frodo cross-over jokes, no one was really confident in this change. After all, when’s the last time an MMO went through a drastic change and actually came out of it for the better?

Of course it’s still too early to tell the clamor of success for LotRO, considering the business model has only been up-and-running for a week now, but I can’t help but see it suffering the same fate as DDO. That is, a profitable increase in the start and then an eventual plummet to rock bottom (which is where LotRO was before F2P anyways). LotRO’s problem has always been retaining NEW players, and if the same problem persists, then F2P obviously won’t save Turbine. The only problem is that they are riding everything on F2P in the hopes that it does succeed, or else it will have been all for nothing. I really don’t think the expression “putting all your eggs into one basket” really conveys what’s happening here; more like “putting your nut sack on a guillotine wrack.”

By now, however, you should probably realize that I’m just repeating myself here. What may or may not happen to LotRO in its near future really can’t be seen at this moment. What we can do in the meantime is infer just how much of an impact F2P and its subsequent updates have affected the community already. I can’t be robbed of my doom-and-gloom entirely when there’s plenty to draw from already, so neh.

So what the hell is F2P anyway?

Oh, right, sorry about that. I’m so used to talking to an audience that only reads my stuff because it’s of interest to them. For the lot of you who don’t have a clue about the situation in LotRO at the moment, allow me to give you a brief back story. We used to get tri-monthly Book updates with LotRO back during launch. It was utterly beautiful. Tons of updates, quests, and zones just shooting out of Frodo’s ass—enough for second breakfast, true enough. Then Mines of Moria, the first expansion pack, was announced in 2008. It was originally supposed to come with the Moria zone and the Lothlorien zone, as well as two raids. When December 2008 chugged along, it only released with Moria and one raid. And it’s really unfair to call it a raid. It was really more of a gear-gated boss fight more than anything else. You jump in, you start the fight immediately, blah blah blah. No typical two-hour adventure a raid usually is (and was for previous LotRO raids).

March 2009 rolled up. The update was releasing the Lothlorien zone—content that should have been released with MoM anyway. There wasn’t much complaining at the time, despite that we were getting content that was originally supposed to have come some three months before hand. Then five months went by after that. The next update? It was the long-awaited raid. Again, just another boss fight. Adding insult to injury, the boss is a giant turtle. All the chelonaphobics shat their pants on that one. A ten minute boss fight of scaled turtle. Let me just take this one a bit further by replacing the Balrog with this foul and evil creature.

“Ai, ai!” wailed Legolas. “A giant turtle! A giant turtle is come!” Gimli stared with wide eyes. “French cook’s bane!” he cried, and letting his axe fall he covered his face. “A giant turtle,” muttered Gandalf. “Now I understand.”He faltered and leaned heavily on his staff. “What a great fortune! We shall have turtle soup tonight.”

I think you got the picture now. Anyway, people were pretty fed up at that point. It was running on eight or so months without any real new content for LotRO. It was also around that time when people began to look for greener pastures with other MMOs. I cant blame them really, and who really can? You don’t waste $15 a month for a game that isn’t pushing out any new content. Later in November Turbine pushed out its half-assed second expansion known as Siege of Mirkwood. SoM had its strengths and weaknesses. Well actually, it had one strength and many weaknesses. Aside from the brilliant skirmish system, SoM only raised the level cap by five, rendering everyone’s legendary weapons (weapons with their own level-up system—you have to grind them for weeks before they become useful) useless and throwing a stick painted like a carrot at everyone into making them believe that grinding for the next couple of months was going to be a good thing. This is on top of the fact that SoM was actually the end of Volume II (MoM brought Volume II, along with seven Books in it), essentially being a paid Book patch. To put this in layman’s terms, you needed to buy a second expansion pack to finish the first expansion pack.

2010 rolled around. March was the start of Volume III. It was one Book that had you running around existing zones talking to people. It included virtually zero new content. We then had to wait until September for F2P to roll around for new content. Again, let me just restate that for effect. LotRO players went without any new content for nearly a year. That’s how bad the game and company was hurting. Of course, like rats on a sinking ship, there’s always the “loyal” fans that believe they will make it out alive. But finally, after ten months, Book 2 finally rolled around.

So what the hell happened then?

Gorramit, I’m getting to that part. Right, so Book 2 came with the launch of F2P. It came with a new zone, a crap load of quest content, and some trivial goodies. Of course, when you’re already level cap, quest content doesn’t really do you any good, although I suppose the item xp rewards with them is a nice bonus. If you didn’t spend the last ten months capping out your legendary items. The Epic quest line itself can be finished in a day, which essentially means we all waited ten months to get one day of new content. About the only “new” and “good” thing that came out of Book 3 were new horses, which now have the most hit points in the game. You need to have max reputation with the respective faction to ride it, however, and faction reputation can only be earned through daily repeatables. Currently, by my calculations, it will take me another 26 days until I hit kindred with one of the factions. Isn’t leashed content fun, folks?

The real beauty to the update actually has been the revamping and scaling of old instances and raids. This has been a long sought-after feature. LotRO is teeming with tons of instances and they’ve all been gathering dust because they are three years old. By using the skirmish system, Turbine was able to turn over a lot of the old instances and even offer new sets and rewards with them. Some sets of which are better alternatives to the current end-game gear. Which is saying something really, considering you need to grind a pre-set of gear to just get the end-game gear. I saw people sporting these new sets only after the second day of F2P. I’m sure everyone who spent months getting their Dol Goldur sets were happy about that. Still though, it’s a good update. It made the game much more easier for people to hop into end-game instances.

Other than that, some minor detail changes were made as well, such as color-coding the quest tracker to easily distinguish your quest objectives on the map, or adding a dismount button for your horse. Not sure if we could drop a “worth it” bomb on features that probably took a couple of hours to make on a ten-month-late update. The game has been made increasingly easier. Aggro range has been dropped, nothing in the starter areas aggros players, and all new characters even get free packages that come with a horse token to use for a temporary mount at LV2, as well as free potions and food. You would never guess Middle-earth is a region on the verge of despair and ruin unless you read about it in books.

We’ve got lembas bread. Oh yes, and more lembas bread.

The one thing LotRO hasn’t been in short supply of since the F2P launch is the number of nixes and grievances that have been popping up all over the place. In foresight of realizing a slew of freeloaders would come out and try LotRO, Turbine opened up four new servers for the game. What they didn’t do, however, is close off the high-pop servers so that they wouldn’t more saturated than they already are at the moment. Essentially what happens is that on the very first day servers begin to rubber band, lag, and then eventually crash. This goes on for about two days with periodic down time on each day in trying to resolve the problem. Of course if you’ve been playing LotRO for any amount of time, you know server downtime resolves nothing. Eventually Turbine added false queues to the login server to try and dissuade people from joining over-saturated servers. People were reporting queues as long as 1,200 people and a two hour wait. People brave (and stupid) enough to wait that long then reported that the login server would hang, freeze, and then crash anyway. This was on top of VIPs (subscribers) being seriously pissed off because Turbine proclaimed VIPs would get login priority. Plenty of trial and error tests revealed that VIPs and freeloaders were waiting in the same line.

Account problems were (and still are) a pretty big issue. The game was apparently supposed to update all of your completed deeds in the game to reward the equivalent Turbine Points that you would have earned when you completed them (Turbine Points is the currency for the LotRO Store). Some people were missing thousands of points, some people reported points jumping up and down in quantity, and there were already plenty of problems with people buying points, not receiving them, but still being billed for it. Other troubles included keys not being generated for new accounts at one point and a problem with account management being unable to add a LotRO F2P subscription onto an already-existing DDO account.

The store itself is another cluster frack. Eventually it was going to sell rep mounts and potions that could inevitably keep you fully healed 24/7 in a fight, but they were thankfully pulled. What stayed were permanent stat boost increases, including trait increments. Not many people were happy about that as well, but it’s not much of a big deal. I bought +30 vit myself and I only have 150 more morale now. Worst 1,200 points I spent in the store yet. The real goodies in the store include buying more bank storage and character slots. Now those are the good investments, especially if you were able to buy them before they jacked the prices on all the deals by 20% after a couple of days. Although in the scope of things, there’s barely anything on the store at the moment. It’s rather barren in fact, missing a lot of items that were in beta. I can only imagine they are being held back so that they can say there’s “new content” coming out “soon.”

Join the fight for Middle-earth! You are now #1,448 in the queue to login. Estimated time of wait: 2hrs 28m.

Okay, the queues are no longer that bad, but you get the picture. Other fun things you’ll face as a Free player are limits to travel, limits to bag space, limits to money cap, limits to auction house use, limits to chat use, limits to crafting, limits to…well, there’s just about a limit to everything as a Free player. The biggest limit obviously being how far you can go in the game, considering there’s only three zones of quest content available to Free players, meaning you’re stuck at LV20 until you either grind the rest of your way to LV50 or you buy a quest pack for the next zone to level in. Considering Turbine rewards players with Turbine Points for completing deed, it certainly is possible to unlock the entire game without ever paying a dime, including buying expansion packs. It’ll just take you a very long time to do so. F2P does offer everyone the chance to delve past a week in a trial period to experience the world, however, so in retrospect if you enjoy the game you’ll probably end up subbing anyway (which is really the smarter move). It’s not the NGE patch, it’s just a load of new changes that are scaring the crap out of the oldies. Magic 8-ball is still uncertain about the future of LotRO however. And hey, it’s free to try now, so you really don’t have an excuse not to at least freeload your way around the Shire for a bit.

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About Agamemnon
Started blogging back in 2007 amidst that whole Hellgate: London fiasco on a blog known as flagshipped.com. Eventually moved on to do my own thing in December 2008 at gameriot.com and started Caveat Emptor there. Wrote there for six months, gained some notoriety, and then left. Now I'm back.

One Response to One does not simply buy his way into Mordor: LotRO now F2P

  1. Pingback: TOR goes F2P: So what? « Agamemnon's Domain

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