Instant high level characters are a newer trend coming to MMOs, EQ2 has them and soon WoW and LOTRO will also have them. This is good for quickly diving into endgame but it does take a huge chunk out of ‘the journey’.
Despite the massive shortcut this represents, so far at least it doesn’t completely take away all challenge or effort from character development unless all you care about is endgame and gear. For my shadowknight in EQ2 I have spent a bit of timing working on gathering and crafting levels this weekend. The flying mount does make gathering a breeze in the lower zones, but he has a long way to go. Crafting professions are leveled just like adventuring classes so there’s no shortcuts to that aspect of the game and that’ll be something nice to work on longer-term.
In WoW you’ll receive a level 90 character with ten more levels to cap. So this will certainly give you a massive shortcut to the endgame. For returning players who want to raid or PVP then this system offers a quick return to the game. But for others it’s less attractive. Here crafting professions are just skills not a separate class to level. Also gold allows you to very quickly power level crafting, so there’s not a whole lot of challenge there. Achievements and other collections like pets or mounts are still goals for some players and the new garrison system may offer a decent amount of non-gear oriented PVE content for a while. In any case so far the level 90 character is a freebie (beyond the subscription you have to pay to play) so making a level 90 alt character is a no-brainer for most.
After I’d started drafting this post I found via the LOTRO forums that the Helm’s Deep beta has shown a new Store item: Gift of the Valar (Youtube link showing item; forum discussion link). This item will boost a character to level 50, give them a complete set of purple armour and also boost all virtues to 4. I’m not really tempted to get this type of auto-level – it’s only to level 50 out of 95 so that’s still a lot of leveling to do. If you only get half way then that kind of negates the “play with friends at end-game quick” reason for having such a boost system. I guess it skips a lot of old content (1-50) that veteran players have done many times before, but I’d ask Turbine what their reasoning was on setting the boost at level 50. Perhaps there’ll be an even more expensive item in future to boost even higher?