The next major LoTRO expansion is going to be download only, and it will cost $19.99. You can find a full feature list here, in the official announcement. Major features include:
1. Five new levels, and new traits to accompany them. I really don't care much one way or another about the five levels, but new traits would be welcome. I liked the revamp of the trait system in MoM, but most of the new legendary traits seemed mediocre to me. Certainly not worth the insane rep grind you had to go through to get them for the most part. Hopefully the expansion will improve this situation.
2. A new skirmish system (more details here). A series of encounters that scale to party size, from 1 to 12 man. Anyone missing from your party is replaced by NPCs. As you complete skirmishes, you get "skirmish points" that are used to develop a stable of NPCs that you can use to solo or small party ever more challenging skirmishes. A really interesting system , that once again shows that Turbine is not afraid to experiment. The monster play system, the legendary item system, and now this are like nothing else I've encountered in MMO space. Whether it will ultimately prove to be any fun or not, who can say. But I'm definitely intrigued.
3. A revamp of the legendary item system, and a way to earn new slots for your items. All I can say is thank god.
4. A new 12 man raid. Assuming it weren't radiance gated, I'd be quite happy about it. However, as it likely will be this content is irrelevant to me.
There is a lot of wild speculation flying around right now, including that the expansion is a stealthy a way to ditch the radiance system before the next boxed expansion comes out (wishful thinking imo), and that it's an excuse to push out a major revamp of the legendary item system (well, since they say that in their press release...sure..seems likely).
There has also been a lot of complaining by some players that this doesn't seem like something we ought to pay for, and that we haven't gotten nearly as many free content upgrades post MoM as we got in the first year after launch. In terms of free upgrades, I'm sorry to say the whiners do have a point. Let me break it down:
New Geography: Last year we got Evindim, Foreschel, Goblin Town, and a big hunks of the Trollshaws and the Misty Mountains for free. This year we got Lothlorian, which we were originally expecting in launch MoM.
Instances: Last year we got the Rift (a 12 man raid) and numerous 6 mans for free. This year we got a 12 man raid, and two mini raids, as well as 3 mans and solo instances. Altogether I'd say that both years were about even on instances. The big difference is the focus on solo and 3 man content post MoM versus 6 man and up content pre-MoM.
PvMP: Last year we got several major revamps of the Etinmoors, a new monster class, and a Darkness Falls style PvP dungeon. This year we got nothing whatsoever for PvMP. Instead, the freep PvMP gear was rendered utterly obsolete by MoM. This glaring oversight was never addressed or even acknowledged by the devs. They murdered and abandoned one of the core pre-MoM systems.
New Systems: last year we got several upgrades to the music system, an appearance slot system, a housing system, a faction system, and chicken play. This year we got absolutely nothing I can think of.
So what do I make make of all this? Honestly, it's not as gloomy as I just made it sound. Obviously LoTRO has a smaller dev team and a smaller budget for updates than it did last year. The pace and quality of the free content that we have gotten since MoM launched pretty much proves that. I also agree with the whiners to some degree, LoTRO certainly has been much less of a value this year than it was last year.
Even given that, I'd say it's still one of the best values among MMOs if you enjoy solo and small party PvE content. The digital expansion that was announced sounds larger than anything we have gotten for free in the past. And in my mind $19.99 sounds like about the right price. I'll withhold judgment until more details emerge, but the sky seems firmly in place from where I stand.
Edit: If you would like to read more about the expansion, Middle Earth Adventurer has a a great post with comments on details I didn't mention as well as links to reactions from the blogosphere.