Update 17.1 of the Lord of the Rings Online introduced an item to the in-game currency store that will promote a character directly to level 95. This isn’t the first level boost available for purchase in the store; in 2013, Turbine, the studio behind LOTRO, released the Gift of the Valar, an instant boost to level 50. But now that players can nearly reach the cap level in a matter of minutes, will this affect the game’s long-term population dynamics?
For 5,995 Turbine points, the in-game store’s currency, players can shortcut to level 95 with the Blessing of the Valar. The store still offers the Gift of the Valar for 3,995 TP and a level 50 to 95 upgrade for 2,995 TP. Hint: it costs more to buy the Gift of the Valar plus the upgrade from 50 to 95 than shooting from 1 to 95 with a single stroke.
Surely, this is not the ideal way to learn to play a class and many on the official forum have expressed this view. Others rationalize that only veteran players will choose this option as a way to avoid the tedious grind or start anew across the impenetrable EU-US server divide. Reading the fine print, however, reveals that characters using the boost receive only four virtue ranks (the maximum is currently 19) and only 47 trait points (the maximum is currently 79). While one can purchase virtue ranks in the store, to make up for the lack of trait points, players must still grind.
Yet despite the arm-chair speculation on the forum, new players, I’m sure, will still be tempted to use the end-game boost. LOTRO is heading toward its ninth anniversary and there’s lots of content to wade through for someone new to the game. Why not skip it all to catch up with your friends who have been playing for years already? And while lore purists will always push the importance of the story, some players would rather jump immediately into the action.
LOTRO isn’t alone in offering level boosts; other major MMO titles such as Star Wars: The Old Republic, Everquest and World of Warcraft offer instant leveling options. A designer for WoW explained that the boost is priced such that it doesn’t “devalue the accomplishment of leveling”. That article goes on to describe the level boost as a “power-leveling service killing item” meaning that it is more cost effective to purchase the level boost than shell out almost ten times more for a risky service that will manually level your character over several days which, if caught, will get the account banned.
LOTRO’s level boost is even more cost effective than buying expansions and quest packs for in-game leveling lending credibility to the theory that low-level areas could become ghost towns. For now, though, this is not what I’ve observed and the server consolidations greatly help to conceal any effect the level boosts might have had.
But will this kill the game? Probably not. Players will still be able to play as they wish and the Blessing of the Valar is just another way to enjoy the game with the added bonus of another revenue stream for Turbine. Does this make the game pay to win? No, you can still achieve the highest player level by investing time in the game, but it does highlight an expansion to the piece-meal transaction gaming model that Turbine adopted in 2010 when LOTRO went free to play, and there’s no doubt that this won’t be the last part of the game to get exploited for profit.