Last week, you voted for me to focus on the changes in Evendim for this last write-up, so I will not only do that but also let you know what I think of the game as it stands right now as a level 34 Warden.
First off, let me say that this experiment always lends itself to a unique playstyle very much unlike how I usually play... which is the point! I skipped crafting, the Book questline, and several other extras that LotRO does so well to focus on leveling and advancing my character toward Evendim. Along the way, I discovered some interesting ways to do this.
Several things helped me get to level 34 in a month with only moderate play time. First off, XP boosts in the LotRO store were almost always active when I'd go out doing quests, earning me double XP. With so many Turbine points stored up from VIP status and earned through playing the game, these XP boosts really weren't costing anything extra (i.e., I never actually paid for them with real money).
Secondly, I leveled by doing only quests that were white (at my level) or above and mostly concentrating on yellow or orange. It's not a big deal to die (sorry -- "lose morale") in this game, so I often stretched my limits to get much more XP fighting orange and yellow mobs.
And lastly, I saved every "trash" drop for Tasks. The most difficult part of this was to make sure I managed my Task items efficiently by heading to a higher-level zone to turn in the items, which gave me more XP. So let's say I gathered scarred ears around Oatbarton by killing level 30 mobs. I'd then head up to Tinnudir to hand them in to the Task NPC there for more XP, since that very same Task is considered a level 32 quest there. My only real qualm with Tasks is the limit for how many you can do in a day.
This zone was revamped in March of 2011 to add more quests and streamline the leveling process. I can understand why these revamps were needed, as LotRO is a huge game and Turbine wants people to experience the newest high-level content without spending too much time struggling through the earlier zones.
I would say overall, Turbine has succeeded not only in streamlining the leveling process with the new boats and quest revamps but in creating so much new content with Oatbarton.
I've usually ignored Oatbarton on my dozen-or-so times playing through Evendim, mostly because it seemed so out-of-the-way down at the bottom of the zone, but it's nice to have it finally be relevant. The area of Northcotton is a navigational headache, but it's good to play in a Shire-like area without making a new hobbit or worrying about being outleveled.
Now let's talk boats. The awesomely clever nickname of Everswim can now be considered obscure since boat keepers have been added to give fast travel options to three key points around the giant lake: Men Erain in the south, The Eavespires in the north, and Tyl Ruinen to the west. There's no new boating animation for travel, but you can get to these key quest hubs instantly, which helps a bunch.
I've played a Warden before, so that part wasn't new, but I still think it's one of the best classes in the game for survivability. It takes some of the best features from the Hunter (ranged weapons, muster travel) and mixes them with shields and a bit more toughness. I'd recommend it for anyone looking to start out in the game.
The LotRO Store
I was a bit intimidated by the LotRO store when the game first went F2P because I thought it would nickel-and-dime me to an empty wallet. I still don't think it's perfect, but I would even label it harmless. I'll wait right here while you scroll down and write and an angry comment now.
I must say, though, that the major elements of my complacency with the LotRO store are both my low level and the fact that I have VIP access from purchasing the lifetime account all those years ago. I didn't have to buy any quests or skirmishes and I'm earning a regular income of Turbine points to spend on whatever I want. That makes a huge difference, and I'm sure I'd be a bit annoyed if I were a completely free player coming to this game for the first time, surrounded by content walls and that constant "please spend money at our store now" pop-up. But then again, completely free is completely free, and that lifetime account wasn't cheap. So it all works out.
Item shops aside, I think LotRO is in a really great place right now. It's one of the most timeless games (except for those character models, yeesh), and it allows you to experience the most important fantasy story of our time. Turbine has done an incredible job turning that story into a real living world, and that's only one of the reasons so many people are still playing it.
And that's really what it's all about. That secret formula that eludes so many new MMO studios is here in LotRO, proven by the people spending their time not only progressing and leveling their characters but also sitting on a street corner in Bree playing a flute to a small crowd of other players dancing and clapping. Or spending a lazy afternoon fishing off a bridge in Hobbiton. Or blowing pipeweed smoke rings around a campfire in Esteldin. Or roleplaying an entire functioning village in the middle of the North-downs. These things happen because people want to simply enjoy themselves in the game.
But even beyond those extras, LotRO is a solid RPG, as well. The grind can get a bit overwhelming at times, but there's an exciting story to follow beyond the kill-10-boars quests.
So if you're reading this to see what advice a former player would give to someone looking to come back, I'd say don't be afraid to jump back in. The changes aren't overwhelming or too game-changing, and spending a few minutes with that ominous item shop will show you that it's not so bad, even if you plan to not spend a dime.
And if you're a brand-new player looking to try the game out for the first time, I say go for it. But just enjoy the game and don't worry about reaching max level to get to Rohan in time for Helm's Deep because you might just find the part of LotRO that appeals most to you hidden away in a corner somewhere.
My thanks goes out to everyone for the votes and words of encouragement as I made my way through Middle-earth. I'd especially like to thank those who took the time to send me in-game mail welcoming me to Landroval.
Next week, you'll do this all over again as it's Beau's turn to run through the game you pick for the next six weeks. Until next time!
It's Shawn's turn back in the driver's seat of Choose My Adventure with you as the co-pilot. It's going to be a rough ride, so put on your seat belt! If you want to read a full six weeks of farcical puns about cars and farming, be sure to tune in every Wednesday as the adventure continues to unfold.