While I make my way through the new King’s Gondor zone in Lord of the Rings Online — impressions coming next week, hopefully — I thought it’d be fun to take a question posed by YouTuber Bludborn and discuss it in this space. Bludborn went straight to the point and asked, “Should you level boost in LOTRO?”
An overview of level boosting
Level boosts — or “valars,” as they’re sometimes nicknamed — have been in the game for a long time. Lord of the Rings Online first introduced a level 50 boost as early as 2013, with a level 95 boost coming just two years later in 2015. Since then, the studio has steadily added different Valars, with a level 105, level 120, level 130, and (recently) level 140 option.
All of these work more or less the same. Players can apply a Valar to a new or established character to instantly promote that character to a certain level bracket. These purchases also come with a bundle of necessary items: extra money, riding traits, level-appropriate gear, legendary items, virtue XP boosts, map ports, and other consumables. That way after some inventory management, you’ll have a character who is theoretically ready to go adventuring at that level.
The reason that I haven’t felt as much a need to talk about this subject is that level boosting is quite pricey. It’s a whale purchase that ranges from $30 to $70 a pop — the price of a brand-new AAA game at the high end. So you don’t see a lot of people buying and consuming these.
However, during last year’s anniversary event, Standing Stone Games gave out Valars to everyone. It was a huge giveaway and a cause for celebration among many. But even then, I didn’t see a ton of people quickly leaping to use theirs. It wasn’t so much a stigma against level boosts so much as a question of whether one was even necessary in the life of your average LOTRO player.
What’s the point of level boosting in MMOs?
Whenever the subject of level boosting comes up, I generally am as much against the idea of them as you can be without taking a hardline stance. I’m more the, “I don’t like it, it makes me uncomfortable, and it cheapens the game overall, but you do what you want” than “ARGHH ALL BOOSTING IS BAD BOOSTING,” if that makes sense.
In any progression-based PvE game, especially a multiplayer one, shelling out cash to skip past that progression is at least shades of pay-to-win. It exchanges money for progression, diving the community into two camps, with a speedy line to the end for those who have the biggest wallets.
It takes one of the fundamental rules of MMOs — of players putting in the effort, time, and skill to take a character through a journey in a linear, unskippable fashion — and outright breaks it. Anytime I see a game selling a level boost, I see a game studio that’s sold some of its integrity. It’s as simple as that.
But what bothers me more than the whaling, P2W accusations, and questionable ethics is the fact that it does a disservice to the player using it. I mean, your mileage may vary and all, but artificially thrusting your character ahead steals a good part of that journey from you. You’re starting the movie from the middle (or 10 minutes before the end credits).
In my experience and from some conversations I’ve had with others, this tends to result in a character that you simply aren’t attached to. You haven’t taken the time to get a feel for that character, had any history with it, or developed a fondness for it. What’s worse, now you have a high-level character with complex mechanics that you’ve got to learn to play all at once rather than a bit at a time (as leveling provides).
I’ve seen so many people bounce off of boosted characters, especially in games like LOTRO where there’s far more emphasis on the leveling journey than the endgame destination. Do you think you’ll be more content journeying at level 100 than you are at level 10? What are you in a rush to go do?
Is there an upshot to boosting?
So if I am not fond of level boosting and consider it game-bending, then can I see an upside to breaking out a Valar? Are there situations in which this makes sense?
Yeah, I can conceive of a few scenarios where Valars might seem like the appealing option. For starters, there’s always the time-strapped player who grows dissatisfied with his or her class and wants to switch without necessarily starting over. In the absence of class-swapping services (which really should be a thing), a Valar boost is the closest thing we have to changing out classes while continuing the journey from a certain point.
Likewise, there are players who want to roll up alts but are sick unto death of doing the opening zones for the Nth time. The “argument from veterans” approach is one that’s been used to justify a lot of alt-friendly options — some better, some worse — in MMOs, and level boosting is one of those. I mean, I’ve been playing LOTRO since launch and still happily do Eriador on alts, but maybe you can’t stomach pie-running one more time and would rather start out in Moria or something.
In most MMOs that offer boosts, the prevailing reason (from the players’ perspective, at least) is to allow players the ability to catch up to friends at higher levels and get to endgame content faster. LOTRO has some semblance of this, but it’s really not an endgame-fixated MMO. And so much of its instanced content these days scales in level to allow for more players to enjoy it at any point. But sure, there might be a person who wants to get into a raiding kinship and doesn’t want to spend a year getting a character to level 140 for that experience. A boost would be a way to achieve that far faster.
Outside of those specific situations, I have a hard time imagining much of a need or pull to level boost. Heck, the ones I’ve gotten for free I’ve only used to snag the virtue XP boost items to use those on established characters.
But I’m open to hearing your thoughts about level boosting and why it might seem useful or desirable! Sound off in the comments, and I’ll bring a pot of my best tea to aid the conversation.