No, you don't have to buy any expansion to get to 85, but as a VIP without anything post SoA, you're going to find it a grind. VIP players must buy expansions to get those quests/etc unlocked. The Epics are free up to 85 (HD will be different this time). You can travel through the zones and kill things (possibly can do tasks, where available). You can skirmish and do whatever instances you've unlocked.
I would say that you need to buy Mines of Moria and Rise of Isengard (that'll get you to 75, easily). After that, you can kill/skirmish/epic to 85 then decide if you want Siege of Mirkwood and/or Riders of Rohan. To fully experience Helm's Deep, you'll have to buy that one (we all do, one way or another).
When my VIP accounts had to go premium for a time, I bought everything I could, when I could, on sale. The only pre-purchases I have done to date were Rise of Isengard and Riders of Rohan. I started, by the way, when Siege of Mirkwood was the latest expansion just a few months before the 2010 launch of F2P.
I plan to buy Helm's Deep early next month, but I might have to only do this for one VIP account. I am torn between spending $80 for two copies or $60 for one then buying the second, later; though the pre-purchase bonuses will not apply after the live launch. Buying the second in December (or later) would mean doing just that.
Last edited by cdq1958; Oct 30 2013 at 02:57 PM.
"No sadder words of tongue or pen are the words: 'Might have been'." -- John Greenleaf Whittier
"Do or do not. There is no try." -- Yoda
Indeed, in a world and life full of change, the only constant is human nature (A is A, after all :P).
We old vets need to keep in mind those who come after us.