Tuesday 22 June 2010

Where does she get those wonderful toys?

My Warden’s single-handed maniacal dismantling of the forces of Sauron continues apace. Where apace should be read as ‘at a pace’; that pace being whatever my spare time allows in between real life and other MMOs. Still, despite infrequent play sessions, my valkyrie shield-maiden wannabe has reached level fifty six, and picked up yet another ability that I need to cram into my already hectic martial schedule. That’s the American sorority girl ‘need’, incidentally, as in “Oh! I so need to use that!”, rather than it being some form of mandatory requirement to my character’s combat functionality. That’s the most joyous thing to me about the Warden at the moment: the depth and breadth of choice in how to play the class. The Warden has an almost daunting arsenal of attacks at their disposal, and when you see the sheer number of gambits that they can perform and the varying effects each has, it can be quite intimidating. I find, however, that it’s tremendously liberating. If I’m facing a large group of mobs do I want to pop my defences first and then build some self-heals? Do I just rely on my basic level of defence and dish out some damage over time attacks first, to whittle the enemy numbers down more quickly? Do I want to play with my AoE fear that will mitigate some damage by causing enemies to occasionally pause their attack temporarily, and more importantly is just jolly good fun to use – it’s heartening to watch a gabble of goblins surrounding your character but cowering in fear at your presence. Every combat can be different if the Warden chooses it to be so, it’s a class that I feel really tries to buck the trend of a set ideal rotation of abilities that you line up on your hotbar and macro into obscurity; the mechanics of the Warden class encourages the player to experiment, and more often than not it rewards that experimentation with some quite extraordinary feats of combat.

Thus the Warden treads precariously along the tightrope of overpoweredness, performing a delicate balancing act between survivability and damage output, a fundamental issue with tanking classes in a lot of MMOs, where too great a damage output or too high a survivability means that the developers create a class that is a nigh-unstoppable killing machine. Once such a criminally overpowered class is created the only recourse is for someone to climb to the top of the developer’s building in the dead of night, shine a searchlight signal at the clouds, and wait for Nerfbatman to answer the call. It does, however make the player feel like a hero: I no longer look at a camp of orcs and wonder how I can make my way meekly around it, tiptoeing furtively like some husband coming late to bed and hoping not to wake his wife’s wrath, no, I make my way directly to my destination, and as camps of orcs break on the bow of my shield, graveyards lie in my wake. It’s that sort of heroic feeling, in fact, where you picture camps of orcs getting meekly out of the Warden’s way, straw huts and barrels tiptoeing quickly around corners, into caves and off of cliffs if necessary to avoid the wrath of the hate-shouting venom-eyed warrior queen.

The Warden exacerbates the image of being overpowered because their survivability is based upon a mixture of both the traditional defences such as block, evade and parry, and the fact that they can heal themselves with a number of heal-over-time and life-tap abilities. Combine this with the fact that they have a modest group heal that is used regularly because, in addition to the heal component, it also transfers threat from other fellowship members to the Warden, and as evidenced by a number of Doc Holiday’s posts that show the parse for big instance fights, the Warden is actually a pretty decent healer considering they’re a tank. Healing is the better form of survivability over mitigation in my opinion, because bad luck on the dice can mean that all the mitigation in the world is for nought, a string of unlucky blows can cause a tank that relies solely on mitigation to falter, where a tank that is constantly healing themselves has a chance to undo such a situation and reset the equilibrium of the fight in their favour. Of course in a fellowship situation the mitigation tank is king because the standard formation will always have a dedicated healer at hand, but when it comes to playing in a very small group or solo, the Warden is not a king, they are, quite simply, a god.

There’s a well known quote among the Warden community, “I’m a Warden. I AM a small fellowship” which is a perfect description of the Warden and why they constantly run the dangerous gauntlet of Turbine City’s shady streets, always looking over their shoulder, expecting at any moment to see a dark silhouette swooping out of the night sky and finding themselves face to face with the Nerfbatman. The Warden has mitigation, they have considerable healing, and they can do enough damage to get them through a fight. They’re no damage machine, indeed their damage is nowhere near the scale of their healing and mitigation, but could you imagine if it were? The entire game of LotRO would be reduced to each new player creating a Warden, waltzing their way blithely through the Black Gate and punching Sauron so hard that it winded Chuck Norris. Yet still the Warden’s damage is plentiful enough that they can reduce enemies to gently smouldering piles of ash whilst keeping themselves alive, this is managed through the fact that several of the Warden’s heals are actually life-taps, transferring health from nearby enemies to the Warden; in addition, the gambit building abilities of spear, shield and fist are actually attacks in their own right, which do a small amount of damage that, over time, quickly adds up. It’s a lovely synergy: as the Warden goes through their routine of keeping themselves alive, they’re simultaneously working to take down the enemy.

The Warden is a good tank, perhaps not preferred over the Guardian for end-game raiding instances in many cases, where mitigation plays its trump card over self-healing in being able to deal with alpha strikes with comparative ease, but it’s certainly not a pariah among the game’s raiding community, and yet the astonishing thing to me is that Turbine have taken the concept of the tank, the archetypal sluggish, low damage, barely soloable class, and twisted it into one of the best solo classes in the game, and quite possibly the best class I’ve ever played in an MMO.

Our static Monday night group has decided to take a break from LotRO, defeated not by the forces of Sauron, but by the tedious, bone idle, miserably and incomprehensibly inefficient quest givers of the free people of Middle Earth. A general lack of interest in the raiding treadmill left our last hope of buxom content – fabulous full fleshy excitement that one could grab handfuls of and hang on to – with the Volume 2 Book quests, a hope that was dashed as we quickly settled back into the routine of being Middle Earth’s most gullible whipping boys. For me, at least, life in Middle Earth will continue thanks to the joy that is the Warden; I’ve been taking on challenges that I wouldn’t have even dared consider on either my Captain or my Champion, and I’m exploring and discovering places that I hadn’t found, or dared to tread, on my previous two trips through the game’s one to sixty five content. I just need to watch over my shoulder though, because although I’ve managed to solo even-level elite mobs with relative ease, there’s always the danger that I’ll attract the attention of the darkest knight of Middle Earth, more powerful and more feared than all nine Ringwraiths combined, my biggest fear, every player’s worst nightmare: the goddamn Nerfbatman.

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