Thursday 24 February 2011

King of the Lags.

The Burglar is the latest class which I have picked to play in Lord of the Rings Online; I’m quite a fan of utility classes when they’re thoughtfully designed, and the Burglar is one such veritable bag of proverbial tricks. The initial problem I found with the class was, as with many things in MMOs, not due to the thing itself but with other players’ perception of it. Although any fan of Tolkien’s work worth their salt will readily understand the type of Burglar being alluded to in the title of the class, the general populace (more ‘general’ than ever since the game went free-to-play) will take most classes at face value, and as such, a character that can enter stealth and dual-wield weapons is quite clearly a stabby Death Machine. Optional theme song: I’m Just A Death Machine to the tune of Girls Aloud’s Love Machine.

There are many common misconceptions amongst players in MMOs and it’s something developers should constantly be striving to guard against; I believe that if you expose players to the targets of their misconceptions early in the game, through tutorials which then go on to explain the true nature of things, you can create a greater level of harmony within the game’s community. Knowledge leads to understanding, and understanding leads to sympathy.

Alas, without understanding, a great majority of players will judge a book by its cover. Worse, they’ll take the book and stick the cover from their favourite book on it instead, and then judge it based on whether its content matches up to that. And then they’ll bend the pages back and break the binding, and I hate that, and … this metaphor isn’t really going anywhere.

In summary so far: Books. Covers. Judgements. It’s all starting to sound a bit biblical.

Anyway! Perhaps what we really need is some sort of publicist class for MMOs. The Max Clifford class would run around extolling the virtues of the various misunderstood player classes, driving much needed publicity for those roles that are underplayed and misunderstood. The local herald in Bree could yell headlines such as BURGLAR CLASS ATE MY HAMSTER, and then the publicist class would put some spin on it and everyone would have a good laugh, but the Burglar would also be foremost in their minds when the next Kill Ten Rodents dungeon raid came along…

As an example of such misconceptions, I would offer to you a simple excursion into the Great Barrows with a pick-up group. The Great Barrows is the first major dungeon that players encounter, and is therefore the place where a bunch of strangers (often including a number of new players) all get together, try to coordinate themselves, and attempt to execute a number of flawless battle strategies against tough opposition without really knowing their own class’s capability in a group role, let alone those of other classes. In short it’s the perfect recipe for a Good Time.

Where I use ‘good’ quite, quite wrongly.

And where the infinite expanse of foreverness implied by ‘time’ doesn’t really do the experience justice either.

Of course, with the recent influx of new players and the fact that Turbine have changed the dungeon system, such that running any dungeon will now reward you with a number of tokens which you can spend with a vendor to gain armour set pieces, and which is now also coupled with a dungeon interface that lets the group teleport instantly to the dungeon from anywhere in the world (sounding familiar?), dungeon running with pick-up groups has become a lot more impersonal.

Therefore, instead of the usual polite greetings and ‘how do you do’s at the start of a dungeon run, followed by an exchange of business cards, and perhaps a short but powerful Powerpoint presentation on the complexities of your class and what paradigms you can leverage in order to empower total performance for your group’s orc-stabbing synergies, you instead enter a dungeon and get:

“Good morning, my name is Dildo Daggins and I’ll be your Durglar…uh, Burglar today. What can I offer the group? Well, I’m not a rogue in the traditional sense, but instead I offer a complex class combination consisting of debu…”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever.”

At which point (and I expect primarily because I’m a hobbit) I’m flung bodily into a set of angry Dourhand dwarves, with yells of “shut yer pie hole and get stabbing” falling away rapidly behind me as I sail through the air. And, unfortunately, what happens next only serves to strengthen their misconceptions, because much like an unsuspecting cat jokingly launched by their owner’s swept arm into the path of a large but altogether harmless dog which the cat had otherwise been calmly observing with tail-swishing disdain from the lofty safety of a chest of drawers, my Burglar can do nothing at this point other than that which instinct dictates: spread his limbs as wide as possible in order to futilely attempt to enter some sort of glide path, while at the same time making as many of those limbs as sharp and pointy as possible. Upon landing in the midst of the somewhat bemused targets, the Burglar then proceeds to slash away at everyone in the immediate vicinity – including himself – like some sort of frenzied cross between Loony Tunes’ Tasmanian Devil and Kick-Ass’s Hit-Girl, before leaping away and alighting on a nearby corpse, his back arched and hissing all the while. The rest of the pick-up group look on in wide-eyed pale-faced horror, some with hands clasped over mouths that blockade bulging cheeks, as my Burglar pants and stares frantically around, wild eyes peering out from behind gobs of gore dripping from his hood. A short pause follows before he’s suddenly freaked-out by the shadow of his own cloak, leaps six feet straight up into the air, and then attempts to escape by failing to run up the sheer face of a nearby wall. Finally he determines to regain some dignity, and so sits himself nonchalantly down and begins to lick his toes clean.

Of course the Burglar really offers far more than DPS to a group, in fact it could well be considered a secondary or tertiary role, but the common misconception is still sadly rife. I hope to expound in another post on what makes the Burglar special, along with the joys I’ve experienced in playing the class, but at least for now with this post you have hopefully found some level of understanding of what it means in Tolkien’s world when they call someone a cat burglar…

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