You have to be fast on your feet and adaptive or else a strategy is useless.

My Warden’s adventures through Tolkienland have been prematurely halted, like an angry dog chasing a cat through the back yard, only to be yanked to a yelping standstill by its collar chained to a post next to its kennel. My Warden has been busy chasing members of the Grey Company around the countryside of Middle Earth with the frenzied haste of a hyperactive Border Collie trying to round up sheep on a bouncy castle. Flinging herself with tongue-lolling grinning enthusiasm from one corner of Middle Earth to the other, and then back again, as she seeks out the rangers who have sworn to protect the heirs of Isildur. It turns out that one of those rangers, Golodir, has got himself into some trouble (spending too much time drinking in the company of the dwarves of Moria, no doubt) and Corunir wants some help to rescue him from somewhere in the depths of Nûrz Ghâshu. Unfortunately, upon arriving at the entrance, I found the Nûrz Ghâshu theme park to be closed with chains wrapped around the gates, the painted words ‘Coming Soon’ dribbling down a sign which dangled at a lop-sided angle from where it had been hastily hung. After all my running around, antics and adventures, trials and tribulations, I had finally been halted by an ‘out of order’ notice. Had I not been warned in the comments by foolsage, and again by splendidly informative sites such as A Casual Stroll to Mordor, I would have been Clark Griswold standing dazed and confused in the deserted parking lot of Wally World. As it was, I just shrugged my shoulders and decided to work on something else in the meantime, while awaiting Turbine’s fix for the issue with Nûrz Ghâshu World; apparently you’d get stuck on one of the rides and be unable to get off, and even now they are still helping heroes of Middle Earth off the whirligig, who then stagger around green-faced and groaning, before bending over with their hands on their knees, and hurling their leftover food buffs into waiting plastic buckets. There’s no real schedule for when Turbine will fix the skirmish, which is utterly outrageous, I mean it’s not as though they’ve been ever so slightly busy over the past few weeks or anything.

Congratulations to Turbine and Codemasters on a pretty painless transfer and resumption of service, which seemed to take less time than had been advertised – a miracle in the MMO space, outside of that hallowed alternative dimension which houses Trion’s Rift. I’m not sure whether Turbine’s gathering of all its pretties and preciousess was an amicable arrangement, but nothing untoward occurred, and my concern that Codemasters might rename every character to Traitorous Pooface and change the characters’ heads into pairs of crusty orc buttocks before they left the Codemasters servers, was thankfully unfounded. I also had slightly more realistic concerns that increased latency would occur and thence cause havoc with the careful timing of the Warden’s gambit-building attacks, but so far –on the anecdotal evidence of playing for a few evenings– everything appears to be pretty much as it was when under Codemaster’s rule.

And so, with progress halted on Volume 3 I switched the solo spotlight over to deeds and skirmishes. Having enjoyed the refreshment of the new (to me) skirmishes unlocked as part of Volume 2, I decided to take a look at the two relatively new (to everyone) skirmishes released as part of LotRO’s Update 3. I was pleasantly surprised at the level of challenge they provided, and although I didn’t suffer a loss in either, I came within a hundred hit points of defeat while fending off a particularly numerous company of angry Gauradan in Icy Crevasse, and I nearly failed the final boss fight in Attack at Dawn. Perhaps the feeling of being challenged will diminish as I run these skirmishes again, but I couldn’t help but feel that this was the sort of challenge that I enjoy in an MMO; the trouble is that I find it hard to identify what makes this sort of challenge enjoyable over the challenges presented by, for example, raid dungeons.

Perhaps it’s the simplicity of the challenge: it’s not terribly difficult to work out what needs to be done, and there isn’t a great deal to remember, but correctly executing the strategy required to defeat the fight still takes a certain level of concentration and competence, which makes the fight more involving than the usual ‘two drunk people standing opposite each other and taking turns to slap each other in the face until one of them passes out’ found in most soloable MMO content; these fights were tense, fraught with endangerment, and somewhat manic. Importantly, although the general strategy was known, execution of the fight required that strategy to be modified on the fly as the fight progressed in response to events.

The fights also feel less gimmicky than many of the staged fights in MMOs, and therefore perhaps it was the fact that it felt less of a game that I, as the player, was thus able to relate to the situation in the context of the characters. Certainly the final fight of Attack at Dawn, where you must stop goblin messengers trying to escape with the location of Esteldín, while also dealing with the boss, felt more compelling and less like the usual LotRO-skinned Sonic the Hedgehog boss fights that I’ve experienced in many of the dungeons. Hmmm, Sonic was always chasing after gold rings, had a name beginning with ‘s’, and spiky armour. Lift-up Sauron’s robe and I bet he’s wearing bright red sneakers with white stripes under there.

There’s also the fact that when solo I can change my tactics in an instant, something which is generally removed from group game-play by design. I think this, ultimately, is where raiding breaks down for me. It’s not that I don’t enjoy playing with others –the most enjoyable times I’ve had in MMOs have been as part of a group– but the challenge of raiding leaves no room for individual expression within a group, it seems to boil down to fixing everyone’s role to the Nth degree, and then having people perform those roles as perfectly as possible. In part this is down to the way players always want to optimise encounters. And yes, in part it’s down to the fact that we’re not a flock of birds and don’t have a genetic predisposition to rapidly change course as a group without smacking into one another. Mainly, however, it’s down to the fact that in most MMOs you defeat a boss before the fight: if your strategy is sound, then you have defeated the boss, as long as you follow that strategy. There is generally no “That’s not working, let’s try this” during a fight, it’s a case of “That didn’t work, let’s try this” after a fight, and for me there is a world of difference in the experience between those two forms of strategy. The former is for planners and managers, the second is for those who prefer to fly by the seat of their pants. Neither is wrong, raiding in its current standard form is absolutely fine, but it doesn’t interest me as a form of entertainment.

11 thoughts on “You have to be fast on your feet and adaptive or else a strategy is useless.

  1. darkeye

    I generally like the new skirmishes but sometimes they can be unfair too. The mechanics are good, I like the Icy Crevasse winds/vent system except for in a skirmish about positioning there does seem to be a lot of ranged mob types (I count about 4 types, other ‘lesser’ skirmishes might have 1 or 2), getting 3 hale ranged in a counterattack is nasty especially when it’s 3 hale icy grims with their incapitate, icy DoT, spiky damage and are really difficult to find with all the flashy effect going off. I can get through the skirmishes without dying, but facing some mob compositions can be such a big spike in difficulty that I die a few times before beating them. The wargs in Attack at Dawn are nasty as well when you are facing 3 hale ones, then add in a bearer of blight with a disease causing +50% damage and it becomes a little infuriating, and this is a lieutenant that I usually ignore in tier 1 skirmishes.

    I’ve never done 12-man skirmishes and I’m curious how they work or are they just a chaotic mess, is that all about on the fly tactics that you are thinking about. I wonder how many people do like a random component to raids, say a boss that summons a random selection of adds or a ‘council’ of bosses that change each time.

  2. OghmaEh

    Well bugger. My awesome dwarf rune keeper, after being locked out of completing Volume 2 (He thinks it’s because the elves are jealous of his greatly destructive prose, the elves said it was because he’s only 63) started on Volume 3.

    Sigh. Maybe he’ll head down to the south and tower over (er help) some hobbits. He’ll make sure to keep a watch out for demon goats.

  3. Syp

    Dude, I was just going to post on this. Are we following the exact same leveling track? ARE YOU STALKING MEEEE?

  4. John

    I love hearing about your Warden! I played LOTRO for a few years (before F2P) and even got the lifetime subscription. I loved everything about it except the ugliness of the character models (imho — not trying to start a debate here). It was in LOTRO that I joined a raiding guild for the first and only time and wasn’t terrible at it, but found it to be more stressful than I like (I really don’t like the thought that I could screw up and cause so many other people to die).

    In any case, now that I’ve beaten WoW’s cataclysm content to death, and now that I’m finding it difficult to find motivation in Rift (no idea why — I have nothing bad to say about Rift at all), I’m thinking about going back to LOTRO (my last adventures were in Moria — so everything after that, and I guess anything that has changed since then about the game play in general, would be new).

    I’ve also never played a Warden .. so I could just follow in your footsteps, so to speak. But I’m just lacking that final push to really go back. Any motivation you’d care to provide would be most welcome of course. :)

  5. Rem

    I think your last paragraph perfectly describes the fundamental problem of current-day raiding: the disconnect between a pace of events needed to challenge an individual’s abilities and a pace that would permit a group to react as a group. I think your spam-protection is right in describing it as slithy.

  6. Melmoth Post author

    @darkeye: Those skirmishes are definitely tough, and move from challenging to painful if you get a bad draw on the random lieutenants, I do agree. The only 12 man skirmish I’ve done is the Barrow Downs survival. Chaotic is right, but we did go in undermanned and without a plan.

    OghmaEh: Lots of running around in Volume 3 Book 1 before you hit the closed gates, and I expect Turbine will have it fixed any time now. I’m quite enjoying Volume 3 so far, as these things go. Might just be because I found Volume 2 a bit rough, however.

    @Syp: If it’s any consolation I’ve considered cancelling more than one post because you’ve already posted pretty much the exact same thing the day before. It must be an uncanny psychic link.

    Let’s test it. I was thinking of posting about boobs tomorrow. You?

    Wait that won’t work, that’s what I think about posting every day.

    @John: I agree on the character models, they’re not appalling, but not quite as pretty as Rift, Aion and company. Dwarves are okay, but that’s because you can hide most of them beneath hair.

    The best motivation I can give you is that LotRO is free for a good long while (especially if you have Moria already, as it seems you do). If you haven’t tried the Warden, it’s certainly an experience; I love it, but it’s probably a bit of Marmite class: you’ll either love it or hate it, I doubt there’s a middle ground.

    @Rem: There’s a good subset of people who like do like it that way, but I think there are some of us who would much prefer to be playing a game than following a script.

  7. foolsage

    There’s been no word on when that skirmish will be fixed. I have a char queued up there as well, ticket in hand, staring disconsolately at the “Under Repair” sign. Once you get to Enedwaith though, I think the story in Vol 3 really picks up. Vol 3 Bk 3 was my favorite overall I think.

    Icy Crevasse is good fun solo, though it’s good to learn the positional mechanics and apply them quickly. Basically, when you’re standing anywhere but on or near a heat vent, you get a damage buff. This damage buff increases as you proceed, but it applies equally to you and your soldiers, and also to your foes. If you’re near or on a heat vent, the damage buff is replaced with a healing buff (outgoing and incoming). So the real trick to the skirmish is to position your foes so they’re on the heat vent and you are not. Thus you get the massive damage buff, while they get a healing buff that doesn’t help them.

    Be warned though that Icy Crevasse seems buggy in duo and small fellowship settings. There are a LOT of spawns in the boss fight and it gets pretty overwhelming. A lot of people have reported severe trouble with that, and I personally found it very difficult.

    My Warden hit lvl 65 last night, so to celebrate I went and soloed the Inn of the Forsaken at lvl 60. It’s a 3-man instance, and I didn’t have any real problems. Next up, I’ll set it on lvl 65 and see how it goes. Wardens ftw!

  8. Melmoth Post author

    Ooo, haven’t tried Inn of the Forsaken yet, might have to give that a little look; I keep forgetting that it’s possible to drop the difficulty level on many of the instances now.

  9. Jonathan B

    I think the reason the transition from Codemasters went so smoothly for most is that the DDO EU players suffered all the miseries with *their* transfers so that LOTRO EU players wouldn’t have to suffer. :)

  10. nugget

    Regarding play that degenerates into Dance Dance Revolution… it doesn’t always have to be that way. I maintain that ANet has some of the best non-boss combat out there, when they put their minds to it (War in Kryta content, even now, even nerfed). Maybe it’s because their mobbies have some degree of PvP principles built into them.

    Strategic decision-making on the fly, whether you’re in a group with humans, or with your own AI. Autonomous units working together, no rehearsal needed.

    Of course, their boss fights are (imo) as idiotic, boring, and DDR as every other boss fight in this genre seems to be, but oh well. XD

    In some Angband variants (and I think Angband itself), you could click a setting ‘monsters learn from their mistakes’. I wonder if that’s possible in MMOs… not that the monsters learn from their mistakes from EVERYONE, good lord, the poor newbies. Maybe… that the mommy monsters pass down to the babymonsters before they (the mommymonsters) die, that Glorious Golden Adventurer Nugget is weak to Biting Attacks? (i.e. the ‘learning’ of a monster type is tied to your character, not to the mobile itself.)

    That could be awfully interesting… and wouldn’t pit Newbie Glorious Golden Nugget against an Oh Look It’s Yet Another Advenugget, Seen Em All, Eaten Even Moar. XD

  11. Melmoth Post author

    @Jonathan B: It seems as though things aren’t going as smoothly for others as they did for me, so perhaps they didn’t learn all their lessons.

    @nugget: I like the thought of the mobs adapting. Made me think of the Borg from Star Trek, where they’d start off susceptible, but eventually adapt their technology to withstand the onslaught of their opponents, forcing the crew of the Enterprise to think of new ways to defeat them.

    It doesn’t need to be a rapid response, but the design could have it such that over the course of the dungeon the mobs change tactics in response to the way the party has attacked, e.g. lots of CC would lead to the mobs using CC counter measures, whereas a player party that consistenyl AoEd mob groupswould find that the mobs had become resistant to AoE splash damage (perhaps by using shields more often, but reducing those mobs own damage output as they switch to one-handed weapons, as compensation for their increased resistance).

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