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October 11, 2007
Level 35: Middle-Earth's Version of the Driver's License

By Jason Van Horn

Much like in the real world, the virtual world of massively multiplayer online role-playing games is filled with memorable moments signifying a change in respect and roles one can partake in throughout society. In the real world there are many of these status changing moments, including turning 18 and being able to vote for the first time, turn 21 and be able to drink legally for the first time, and there are other milestones such as going to college, getting your own place to live away from your parents, holding down your first job, and of course getting married and having children. Though the respective age/experience level differs from real world to virtual, one thing that remains the same between both worlds is that one of the first big milestones and rights of passage is getting your license/right to drive…or in Lord of the Rings Online's case hitting the saddle and learning to ride a horse.

When starting out in the world of LOTRO I was very content and happy just being there, going on the odd mission here or there, meeting and talking to new people, and generally just having an all-around good time. Much like in the real world, when we are noobs to a gaming world we are generally free of any conceptions of what the future may hold and simply enjoy living in the moment. I noticed a change in mentality once I got to Bree and started noticing all the "big kids" in the world, all those players who were in the twenties and I even remember telling a relatively young level 26 that I was in awe at their level. Thinking about it now it's quite a silly sentiment for a level 26 as it is just barely over the halfway point to the level cap, but what did I know then. I was young and inexperienced in the ways of the world.

The farther and farther I got away from the noob zone the more and more I heard people talking about getting their horse, and I now watched in awe as the "grownups" flew by on horse while I footed it with my pet bear to the nearest town. Suddenly my mind was so focused on level 35 that I worked my butt off, logging in after work at the same time, and gaming hard for a few hours each day, and then on the weekends really pounding it home. I needed to get to level 35!

Level 35 in LOTRO is the first major milestone there is at it represents growth and freedom. I remember starting out in the noob zones and needing to hurry to a local nearby village, and I often found myself footing it there because the prices for a horse rental were so extraordinarily high back then given the few coins I had in my pocket. I was also tied into the game's rules, as not only was I forced to pay their fare to carry me, but I was limited to where I could go based on where it is they traveled to. The virtual act of renting a horse for a quick ride is the real world equivalent of wanting to go to the mall or on a date with someone, but needing your parents to drive you around. Sure, you might get a ride there, but if they don't want to take you they don't have to…just like the horse.

In the real world that driver's license is that first step of independence as we suddenly aren't bound at the hip to our parents, but now we can strike out on our own and go where we want, and we aren't tied to those rules that were once there. Things begin simple enough by running a few driving tests with the parents on a deserted road or parking lot, and honestly it's no different than the messenger quests you find yourself in once you reach level 35, trying to prove your worth and knowledge of the horse by riding them off to different towns and villages. Just like in the real world once enough practice is done it's time for the real thing, and so we head out in the test car, take a spin, and find if we pass or not. Thankfully there are no three-point road turnabouts in Middle-Earth, but there's still a chance to fail your driver's license on the first try as you circle that farm, trying to stay on course, and finishing early enough to earn your reward – freedom and the right to own your own horse.

Depending on your situation in life, having a driver's license doesn't entitle you right away to the one thing you worked so hard for, and so you're forced to learn a life lesson by actually having to go out and work so that you may purchase your first ride. Teens slug off to work, dropped off by their parents, and it's all so that they can save up enough money so they can purchase that piece of junk car they saw while driving down the road, but it will run and get the job done and that's all that matters. Life in LOTRO is much the same as your horse doesn't just come to you, because in LOTRO you need to earn it properly and with lots and lots of money – 4 gold and 200 silver to be precise.

I remember as I closed in on level 35 that I went on a bit of spending spree at the local auction house (the real world equivalent of the mall) and I loaded up with the fanciest new threads and in a few minutes my money was depleted, and my ride inched ever so slightly away from attainability. I had to swear off frivolous purchases and really make an effort to save all my money, sell all my loot, and only spend money to repair my armor. It took quite a few hours, but I finally got all my money together and went to the local horse dealer and searched over his lot. I looked all his horses over, trying to find that horse that fit my personality and character, and when I finally found it I handed my money over and sealed the deal – I'd suddenly reached the milestone.

The milestone of reaching level 35 and earning the right to own and ride a horse really is no different than getting your license and buying your first car in the real world. Both instances require patience, practice, a test, learning to be frugal and save up, and each one also represents the first step into advancing into adulthood (or in LOTRO's case a plateau in achievement that many fellow adventures will marvel at). It will be interesting to see where LOTRO goes from here, because with the announcement of housing being included in the next book, suddenly players are going to find themselves going through a change in the virtual world that will be very familiar to many players or a sign of things to come in the real world…leaving the nest behind and striking out on your own, living by your own rules under your own roof. It will be interesting to see how many players thrive and how many get evicted once it comes time to maintain an actual dwelling, but until then I'll just be happy riding my horse wherever I want. For more information on Lord of the Rings Online visit


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