Suddenly I am not with it anymore. I didn’t even know what the previous it was, but now, now I am completely oblivious. In the days of yore, a gamer put down a levy of cash each month to indulge in the delights of virtual world adventuring, now, well now it has all changed. Like Icarus I fear we have flown to close to the sun: games without subscription models? Proper financial systems demolished and in its place free-to-indulge in-game shops? In the fifties we called this Reefer Madness. It will not be long until hard-working families are out on the streets: homes repossessed because of “daddy’s” want of a chestnut brown pony by the name of “thunder”. Oh you will laugh and scorn at my warnings but the so-called “F2P” will be the end of us.
For those unaware or simply too cool to care, Turbine has taken a bold move and converted its flagship MMORPG Lord of the Rings Online, to the F2P subscription model. While this decision has polarized opinion, it is a brave step and the developer deserves praise for trying to find a way out of playing second fiddle to bigger games such as Blizzard’s World of Warcraft.
Turn and Face the Change
Like many Hobbit crazed adventurers, I am too a Lord of the Rings Online Subscriber. Since the news came that the game was to convert to a free to play system I was a little concerned. If you have been following my “F2P Survivor Guy” series on this website, you will know that I have developed distaste for the system. However, with all this said, Turbine has more than adequately allayed active players fears.
First and foremost, the subscriber is the real winner in this update. The game has had several tutorial overhauls, a slightly refurbished UI, and even a new zone has been added to explore. Rather than simply convert the game, Turbine have gone one step further and delivered something, I feel, pleasing to both veterans and newcomers alike. Beginner zones are once more bustling with activity and fundamentally nothing has been broken due to its conversion. And best of all, you will not have to remortgage your home or sell a family member to fund your habit.
With all this said however, it is important to note that “subscribers” are the real beneficiaries of this update. My constant annoyance with the so-called “F2P” model is that it just simply isn’t free. Turbine has essentially offered up a trial of their game which, if you persevere extends to level 50. While you can get many hours enjoyment out of this game as freebie, it is Important to understand that at some point you will either crumble and be seduced by Turbine Points or alternatively, enter into a subscription and become a VIP (which I feel is the better deal). But enough of the chitter-chat, let’s get to the dirty stuff.
The Sweetness of Freeness
Never before have I seen Middle-Earth so busy. Gangs of youthful Hunters smoke pipe-weed, Hobbits engage boars in bloody conflict, and a small bearded Man plays joyful lute: who said that virtual life wasn’t bliss? Deciding to keep within the spirit of things, I decided to roll a new character and enter the fray.
The first thing that will hit players now is a garish and colorful character management screen. The once simple and modest entrance to the game is now awash with blues and yellows and a great big button offering access to the LOTRO Store. One thing that did strike juvenile giggles within me was the new description of one of my characters: he was now a level 27 Man Hunter. Ah the delights of immaturity.
After creating a character I found myself repeating the storyline tutorial missions but pleasantly and surprisingly, it had changed. Turbine has seemingly streamlined the beginning experience; it doesn’t take as long as it used to, and importantly it keeps the plot intact, albeit more refined and better told. So far I was impressed with the game, the beginning experience was gentle but also exciting and as always, I couldn’t help but be awestruck at the beauty of Archet and surrounding areas.
After rolling several characters, my suspicions were confirmed that every race had received an overhaul, to some degree, of their origins and this is a welcome change. Turbine has brilliantly struck a balance between helping out newcomers but also comforting veterans into the experience. My only criticism is that perhaps the developers could have added a new playable race or perhaps new starting areas. The biggest problem in LOTRO for me is replayability so I don’t see why Turbine cannot simply flesh-out somewhere like Buckland or Thistlebridge and make them into newbie hubs too. Perhaps a missed opportunity but what is on offer is still fine.
So now on to the important stuff, just how free is free to play? As I have mentioned before, the game is essential a trial but up to level 50. Players can delight in the wonders of Middle Earth for many hours without spending a single penny but there will come a time when this is necessary. The game doesn’t withhold access to Auction Houses, fast travel and other major elements (except, curiously, Monster Play) but it does expect payment for quest packs and expansions.
The biggest turn off for me was the inclusion of paid-for quest packs. At around level 20 the store starts to offer certain area-centric packs which contain all the usual pre-F2P content with, I think, one or two new additions. To many I can see this as a major turn off and I would find annoyance in it, however, this only effects the purely free players; those that own the game, but do not actively subscribe, are “premium players” and therefore do not need to buy content they already own.
Essentially if you own the three expansions already, Lord of the Rings Online really is subscription free and only a minority of features or disabled for the player. Subscribers of course get a little extra and also a number of Turbine Points to spend every month; and to me, as an already active member, this seems like the best course of action.
And so we move on to the Turbine Store. Let it be known that I absolutely abhor in-game shops, their presence is tacky, cheap, and greedy, and to be frank, Turbine’s isn’t much better. To the game’s credit, it rarely pushes you into buying items and actually rewards a small number of points for completing certain quests and deeds. My major issue is that it is simply there, blighting the corner of my screen like the MMORPG equivalent of a Hooker offering “special services” if you put down a twenty and go round the back. Another gripe is that it also, to extent, ruins certain Auction House businesses. I have made a decent living within Middle Earth selling potions but now this is all but ruined thanks to the readily and instantly available wares on offer.
These of course are only minor problems with the game and for someone who dislikes F2P games, Lord of the Rings Online works for me. The game is more free than most but you will pay at some point, however, this is one MMORPG so good, so exciting, and deliciously playable that you will not mind springing for the ten or so bucks it costs to buy whichever expansion you need.
Essentially the F2P conversion is a marketing tool and has brought some much deserved attention to an excellent game. Does it matter that it isn’t completely free? Well you can be the judge but for use as a trial and for those veterans who have the “return itch” it is a great way to experience Middle Earth without having to spend your hard earned dollar.
To conclude: Lord of the Rings Online is probably one of, if not THE, best MMORPGs on the market at the moment. The F2P element, while not entirely perfect, works to its advantage and the game itself packs enough game play punch and online sparkle to sate the most hardened genre fans tastes. Thankfully Turbine has brought population and great additions with very little negative trade off. I salute you Turbine once more.