Friday 16 July 2010

Once I make up my mind, I'm full of indecision.

I should have known that I could never be free.

My altitus is usually a constant companion, a non-combat vanity pet for my real world self, always at my side, bouncing up at me with a steady metronomic rhythm whenever I play an MMO, as though it had fallen on to a trampoline and didn’t quite know how to get off, all the while yipping at a frequency and intensity perfectly evolved to prevent any form of consistent continuous cogitation; and yet I hadn’t heard so much as a peep from it since I started playing Warhammer Online with the Van Hemlock crew’s Monday night static group. I thought I’d escaped the attentions of my altitus: having settled on playing a Witch Elf I had spent several evenings getting a feel for the game again, and I knew I had found the class for me. I marvelled at the concept of the lithe elf wearing nothing but a thong and bra who dual-wields daggers and lurks in the shadows, waiting to pounce on the unwary healer or mage, stunning them momentarily as they process the fact that they seem to have drawn the attentions of an S&M dungeon mistress and then desperately try to recollect the safe word that had been agreed upon so they can make the pain go away. I was happy, I had a sassy female assassin, a sassassin if you will, and I was certain that I couldn’t be swayed from the path, not when the sassassin’s swaying curves glided along that path, soft and supple, in stark contrast to the hard, sharp curves of the blades held against them at the ready.

I paused and listened, and for the first time in an age the altitus was silent.

The guild got bigger. From the initial six members of the Lord of the Rings Online Monday night static group, the guild grew in size until we were able to field a full warband, and as the four groups were organised within that warband it was observed that we were a little short on healers.

I held my breath and waited.

I waited for the altitus to roar forth from its den of temporary hibernation, metamorphosed from small yappy annoyance into a raging frenzied monster of claws and teeth that would tear my gaming sanity to shreds and lay waste to any chance of me settling down and enjoying one class for the long run to the end game. But nothing came, not even a whimper. I pinched myself, looked in the mirror, stuck out my tongue, pulled my lower eyelids down, and tapped myself on the chest. I did a small shuffling dance of joy. Such was the allure of the sassassin that I, Sir Mr Alititus, Lord High Chancellor of Healing Alts, had not felt even the slightest twinge of desire, no pinpricks of heat on the back of my neck and beads of sweat on my brow that indicate the onset of alt fever, nothing. I knew that if I had resisted the urge to re-roll a healer then I must be cured: my favourite class of character, the group support role had always been my downfall, it’s the style of play I most enjoy and something I could never normally resist if there was a need for it within a group. M’colleague and several others, having found a renewed enthusiasm for the game, rolled alts to play outside of the Monday night group. I rolled a Disciple of Khaine in order to join them; I knew that rolling a melee healer (possibly my favourite class of character) was giving my altitus another chance to rear-up and take a swipe at me with giant paws, but I needed to know for certain.

I had to face my One Ring. I wanted to resist its temptation and pass the test. Whereupon I would diminish and go into the West. Or more likely, go into the kitchen and grab a celebratory bite to eat. I played the Disciple of Khaine for no more than a level or two before I grew tired of it and deleted the character. My heart just wasn’t in it: I watched the Disciple swing her swords, clumsy and random compared to the civilised daggers of the Witch Elf, as I wondered how she managed to move at all under all those layers of robes that ran from head to foot and back again. Sure she survived in combat far longer than the Witch Elf, but her victories seemed slow and tiresome in comparison – inevitable and thus predictable. The Witch Elf, in contrast, was exciting, unpredictable, dangerous. Messy. Putting yourself in a PvP scenario with a Witch Elf is like putting your hand in a box with a frightened and injured feral cat: at the very best you can expect to come away severely bloodied and covered in urine. She would appear naked out of nowhere, a sudden angry explosion, a flurry of feminine feline fury, the banshee howl of the air as her dagger blades cut through it, the cries of her victims, the ecstatic scream of the sassassin as she rent her foe’s skin and sanity in equal measure. The Witch Elf isn’t sexy, she is part of sex itself: she rides the steady back-and-forth back-and-forth rhythm of the battle, patiently building up to the point where she can be contained no longer, bursting forth in a paroxysm of soul-humming intensity for a few seconds before fading away again.

The altitus, had it even bothered to emerge, had surely slunk back to its den to sulk quietly and sullenly lick itself in self pity.

I was free. Had to be. The off-night alters continued to play their alternative characters and I came up with a droll concept name for an Orc Choppa based on a model of helicopter (or chopper) nicknamed the Jolly Green Giant, so I rolled it up one night and joined them.

Where the Witch Elf is patient, watching and waiting for the right moment to unleash her fury, the Orc Choppa is all fury all the time. To start off with, things were just mildly amusing, the initial set of abilities being a single target attack, a single target DoT, a single target snare, and a finishing move that does more damage the more fury the Choppa has built. He was more resilient than the Witch Elf, but at these low levels that didn’t mean much as most mobs went down quicker than a fanboy in a room full of developers.

And then I got my first AoE abilities and joined a PvP scenario.

The irony was not lost on me when altitus snuck out of the shadows and backstabbed me with a crit so big it would have made a Witch Elf give up there and then and join a convent.

There is no describing the feeling when you charge solo into the midst of a group of five or six enemy players and start wailing away with your AoE abilities and they begin to run away. There is no explanation for it either. They outnumber you, and although the AoE output of a Choppa is quite high, and the Choppa is quite resilient, it is never a combination that is likely to finish any of them off before they bring you down. The only thing I can think is that it’s simply the shock of it, especially in open RvR, where two groups tend to stand off from one another, making rude gestures from a safe distance as the ranged characters nip forward to plink away at the nearest enemy who is then easily healed by the massed ranks of healers tucked away behind them. So when a big angry Orc simply ignores all that protocol and etiquette and charges headlong into the midst of a group that moments ago assumed that it was immune to serious threat through careful observance of the rules of oRvR engagement, and when that big Orc starts doing enough damage to enough people that the more lightly armoured ones start to back away, it leaves the others exposed to not just the big green angry ball of muscle with a honking great axe grafted to it, but also his friends who have had their confidence bolstered and thus followed up with a charge of their own. Suddenly you have a rout, and although the Choppa inevitably perishes at some point in the initial skirmish, there is a brief moment when he is a green-skinned tusk-faced Poseidon, sweeping away all before him in a tidal wave of destructive force. It is a really curious phenomenon, the way players run away when they are under attack, invariably taking shots to the back all the time as they do so. Doubly so when you consider that it’s usually twenty seconds or less to run back to the fray should a player’s character die, and therefore death is nothing more than a minor inconvenience at worst, a convenient excuse for a drink or bio break otherwise. Clearly there is value in a tactical retreat when the enemy outnumber you, but when the enemy outnumber you and then *they* retreat when you press the attack there must surely be some other psychological effect at work, the observation of which is both fascinating and addictive. It’s not about winning or hurting others – I’m usually dead before more than one of the opposition is defeated – it’s the curious feeling of mania that it induces, that crazed frightening glee that comes over you, as though you’ve turned into the malevolent clown from children’s nightmares. It’s a feeling of primal power. Again though, the joy is focussed on the Choppa, not the enemy players it is intimidating. I realised that my pleasure came not directly from the reaction of the other players but from the way the Choppa worked to bring about such a reaction, when I remembered another MMO class that I played which also gave me the exact same feeling, but in a PvE setting: City of Villain’s Brute.

The Orc Choppa is a crude blunt-force instrument compared to the technical, precise scalpel of the Witch Elf, and although there’s appeal in both, with both having their part to play, it’s the Choppa’s ability to make a tangible psychological impact on the field of battle, in both my mind and the mind of other players, that makes it so incredibly appealing.

There’s a quote that comes to mind from William Gibson’s Johnny Mnemonic “If they think you’re crude, go technical; if they think you’re technical, go crude”.

Sometimes though, when they think you’re crude, it’s fun to show them that they’ve underestimated just how crude you are.

As my altitus decided to do for me, just the other day.

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