Where LotRO’s Cash Shop Goes Wrong

This has already been said before, but it’s worth saying again: the problem with F2P is that it encourages developers usher you into a store rather than revise broken mechanics. LotRO is guilty, plain and simple, but let me elaborate.

For those of you who don’t play the game, a big part of LotRO’s character advancement comes in the form of virtues. These are permanent buffs to your character’s stats and, in the case of tanks especially, are near mandatory to do well in a group. Ranking up requires you to kill a certain amount of a specified mob and usually gives you the option of a couple different zones to accomplish it in.

Ideally, you reach max rank in the virtues that interest you as you level up. Realistically, this doesn’t happen. That’s because the virtues are designed to be one of the worst grinds in MMO gaming today. I’m not exaggerating. For example, to get the first rank of Discipline, you have to kill 60 hendroval (birds) in Ered Luin. To get another rank in Moria, you have to kill 240 gredbyg. If you were to take on one rank per zone, you would wind up grinding 1,340 mobs for that single virtue. To max out the recommended virtues for a guardian, I’d have to grind 4800 mobs – taking the short route, picking up ranks for exploration and completing quests – before I was done.

This has been in place long before anyone considering taking the game F2P. Before Moria and the other expansions came out, a lot of people complained that the game simply wasn’t long enough. Considering the blatantly grindy nature of one of the game’s key pastimes, I’d have to wonder if the developers didn’t agree.

But, fast forward to the here and now. There’s TONS more content and the game has been fleshed out into one of the best, most polished MMOs on the market. It’s the leading example of the potential for F2P in a subscription climate. Other than looking to the future, what reason is there to have not revised this system to reflect the current state of the game?

The unfortunate answer seems to be “why bother.” I can grind those 4,800 mobs or pay $2.99 per rank from the store. It’s a “convenience item” and I’ll give them that. It sure is convenient to not have to spend hours upon hours in unbridled suck! For somewhere under $135, you can skip this system entirely and buy your way past it.

Even for someone like me who doesn’t mind grinding, LotRO is not a game that supports it. It doesn’t give good XP. It doesn’t give good rewards. Fights last too long, and short of stopping the adventure entirely and returning at max level, completing deeds pulls you away from story and anything most players would consider fun. There is no carrot at the end of the stick, other than a paltry numbers boost you can’t do well without.

Unless you’re DPS. One more reason not to roll a Guardian or Minstrel, I suppose.

Forgive me for this little rant. Here’s the thing, though: I don’t like the idea of having my class be useless if I don’t pony up or embark on the most epic grind this side of EQ1. I’ll continue on and go for the level cap. I’ll try my hand at what I can. But I won’t be doing this and I won’t be buying my way past it either. I’ve ignored it so far because nothing pre-Moria says it’s important. It hasn’t hindered me and it’s not focused enough to let me progress what’s important for my class as I level. If I get into the “endgame” and find out I need it, well, I guess I’ll be on my own until I put the game down. Frankly, I haven’t encountered a game yet that would justify that much unmasked grinding and LotRO certainly won’t be the first.

The single biggest problem facing LotRO today? The insidious virtue system that lies hidden 48 levels in, waiting until just the right time to say “oh, hey, guess what you need to do…”

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