The static Monday night group spent its time in the Fil Gashan instance of LotRO last night.
It was our second run through, this time with a full fellowship, and we had returned to take revenge on the end boss, one Mr Sir Lord General Talug MBE, who had eluded our best attempts to convince him to lie down and stop moving through the persuasive art of weapons and words. Words of power y’know, because we’re not allowed to call it magic.
A lot of fun was had over-pulling groups of orcs and trying to win through against seemingly impossible odds; I think it was probably a draw on group wipes, sometimes we got them, sometimes they got us, either way it was usually a close fought match, although mobs don’t have repair bills at the end of the night, so perhaps they go through to the next round of the Aggro Cup on technical merit.
There’re very few things that I’ve experienced in the game thus far that illicit childlike glee of the level we experienced when pulling the entire kitchen area of orcs all in one go and seeing if we could AoE them down before they overwhelmed the group. Actually the primary challenge was picking out the hobbit tank from the Katamari Damacy ball of greenskins. In fact, the King of All Cosmos would have crapped himself to see the size of that ball, and we’re talking about a being who is accustomed to seeing katamari which include mountains. And stars.
Then we had a few attempts at defeating the boss. We tried our own strategy. Failed. We tried the strategies on the LotRO wiki. Failed. We tried praying to Gods of various religions. Failed. We feigned utter disinterest in defeating the boss at all in the hope that he would spontaneously combust just to spite us. Failed. We climbed up into the rafters and flung ourselves down on him all at once. Failed. We walked nonchalantly past while whistling and then pounced when we thought he wouldn’t be expecting it. Failed. We set up a complex Heath Robinson device constructed from curious components dug out of boxes marked Acme and Explosive and Danger. Failed. We delivered a petition, signed by half a million people on the Internet, politely requesting that he just up and die already. Failed.
It was at this point, with hands resting on bent knees, panting at a floor that was slowly collecting a pool of sweat dripping from our collective brows, that we decided that enough was enough and left, defeated and a little despondent.
The frustrating part is not knowing whether it is our failing or the game’s: some forums seem to indicate that the instance is broken, others that it has been fixed, others still that it was broken, then fixed, and is now broken again; or fixed, they don’t seem entirely sure about it themselves. There doesn’t seem to be anywhere that you can get solid information as to the status of it. We’ve failed other dungeons of this level – the mere mention of Dark Delvings will make some members of our group arch their backs and hiss wildly before clawing their way up a nearby curtain – and so we can’t be entirely confident that the primary reason for our difficulties is that we’re just a bit crap. We’re fairly certain that’s not the case in this instance because in one fight, which lasted what seemed like half an hour, we tried every combination of ‘cute’ mechanic available to us in order to get the boss’s invulnerability shield to drop in order that we could do some damage, or if we couldn’t do the damage ourselves, to apply a damage debuff to him which was alleged to be achievable through said same mechanics. The fight became quite surreal at one point, where before we’d had trouble even surviving into this troublesome second phase of combat, we had now been in the second phase for so long that some of us were taking time-outs to go and read the wiki, or make a list of possible combinations of doing X, Y and Z to see which ones we’d missed out on, a bit like a tag team in American wrestling, only with no chairs and folding tables being slammed into people. Hoom, maybe we should have tried the chairs. Damn.
And, as fickle Fate often chooses to write the epilogue for such adventures, it was, of course, right at the end of that lengthy fight, when the Minstrel was out of power, the Captain was lying dead on the floor, and the whole party teetered on the brink of a wipe, that we activated the mechanic we’d been attempting for an age of man, and the boss quickly moved into the third phase, a relatively simple tank’n'spank routine. At which point he tanked and spanked our exhausted group.
And we have no real idea how we triggered it.
The moral of the story is possibly this: if you’re going to have instances which involve mechanics that require the group to coordinate and dance a merry jig around a boss, you cannot afford to have a history that tells a tale of broken mechanics and impossible-to-beat dungeons, because then players will not know whether it’s the game that is defeating them or a software bug; often with these sorts of mechanics it’s very difficult to tell one from the other, because many boss encounters in dungeons enforce mechanics that break the standard rules (that players learn in the levelling PvE game) in order to make a boss appear more powerful, to make the encounter more memorable, or to create a new and unique challenge for the players to overcome. It’s a fine line to tread, to make things difficult enough that players are challenged by it, but not so difficult that they feel the encounter must be broken; an issue which is magnified a hundred fold if your dungeons are well known for being broken, as evidenced by the shelves of forum threads one can reference in the library of the Internet.