It seems that every mob now stuns during combat in Lord of the Rings Online’s Rise of Isengard expansion. I can’t begin to describe how annoying and pointless this feels.

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What? Oh yes, well, I suppose I could at least try.

My experience with combat in this latest expansion has been one of general annoyance. I’m wondering whether my frustrations are the result of the change in how character stats work, such that my character has yet to accumulate enough newly itemised gear in order to get back to the level of power she once enjoyed. I do know that Wardens are also suffering a little in this expansion (admittedly it’s the sort of suffering the Sultan of Brunei would experience if he found he’d lost a five pound note), something of which Turbine is aware and intend to address in a forthcoming patch. Regardless of my class-specific woes, the number of misses, evades and parries my character experiences when in combat with basic, even-con mobs, has reached quite tiresome levels. The peak moment of heroism was last night, where my character snuck up carefully behind a stationary guard, took careful aim at point blank range, and then powerfully launched a javelin into the ground at the guard’s feet, with my character presumably smacking their forehead on the up-ended spear shaft with the momentum of the follow through. While my character staggered around clutching their head, the guard –after he’d managed to stop laughing– understandably decided to retaliate. Of course what actually happened was the words EVADE popped up on my screen, and I wondered what level of martial arts training this hillman had undertaken to be able to dodge a javelin thrown at his back at point blank range while he was seemingly oblivious to my character’s presence. And then I started to wonder why these supernatural ninja warriors hadn’t already taken over the lands of Middle Earth.

Do I need to talk about the giant slugs which can parry my attacks? I mean, is it really that hard to define an inheritance class of mob, called slug, with the Has_No_Blarmed_Chance_Of_Parrying field set to TRUE? Or perhaps it’s just an indication that it’s time to sharpen the ol’ sword, when a slug successfully uses an eyestalk to perform a parry and counter-riposte to your attack.

The reason for noticing all these niggles is that I’m constantly given time to contemplate them mid-fight, every time an enforced pause is foisted upon me. I’ve mused on the stun as a mechanic before, but the ironic situation is that every time I’m stunned in combat I’m simply being given yet another opportunity to mull and fume over the fact that there’s nothing to do when I’m stunned. Every stun is now a short advert break for how annoying stuns are. Quite frankly I’m seriously considering that this is all just a prelude to Turbine slipping in adverts for the LOTRO Store during the intervening period.

[STUN!]
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Slug parrying getting you down? Visit the LotRO Store today and pick up a Slug-Be-Gone salt shaker legacy for your legendary weapon of choice, only 250 Turbine points!
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We now return you to your regularly scheduled grind…

What is the point of the stun? What?! Kif, I’m asking you a question! In the past I imagine it was a numbers game: someone, somewhere, had a spreadsheet which showed that if you halted play for two seconds every fight, and added all the delays over all the many many fights in which the player would engage, that you could add another day or two to the /played time for a character, which when multiplied by a healthy number of subscribers would probably equate to a second kidney extension to the CEO’s swimming pool.

In a free-to-play game the point becomes more about the fact that it’s unavoidable and, barring the odd class with a long cooldown ability, unbreakable, therefore I have no control in this; it enforces the realisation that, at any point, the game could simply choose to win, and therefore the only reason you experience victory at all is because the game lets you. It doesn’t add any level of peril, because most fights are never anywhere near the level of challenge where a stun might stall your defence for long enough that the mob could kill you. And even if it did, even if the mobs were clever enough to whittle your health low and then pop a stun and finish you off, what of it? All that shows is that the only way for the game to win is to STOP YOU PLAYING YOUR CHARACTER… If you really want me to stop playing your game, just say, I’ll go and find another one. Stuns like this, used consistently and for no tactical reason, are just one of those supreme examples of blasĂ© thoughtlessness that we often see in MMO combat design.

Or so it seems. I’d be very happy for someone at Turbine to explain the stun mechanic to me, to outline why it adds anything to the combat, anything at all, except for extreme annoyance and frustration and downright hair-tearing incredulity on the part of the player. Alas, my only –admittedly cynical– hypothesis for an explanation so far is something along the lines of “This is the sort of tedious trite crap we’re going to be pulling over and over again at the end game, so we thought we’d get in there early and build up your tolerance to it”.

Posted by Melmoth at 11:02 am