Thursday 3 March 2011

Beware a hobbit in a bowler hat bearing pies.

So I’m enjoying playing a Burglar in Lord of the Rings Online at the moment, but what is a Burglar if common misconceptions are to be avoided? As unwize mentions in a comment to that post, there is a possibility that Turbine themselves are a little unsure as to the real role of the Burglar class within the game’s group content, and being new to the class myself, I would have to hazard a guess that part of this exasperation on the part of experienced Burglar players stems from the class already having had at least one major revamp along with continuing tweaks to specific class mechanics since then.

So what is a Burglar not? They are not a primary DPS class, although this is perhaps an area that Turbine are struggling with. They are not crowd control specialists, but they do bring several powerful crowd control abilities to the table; I think it’s fair to say that Burglars are to crowd control as Captains are to healing – they are not the first choice in that area, but can perform admirably at the job given a lack of alternatives and when traited accordingly. And, perhaps most importantly, they are NOT Buglers. I do not like to ‘blow my horn’ in front of other people; patting me on the head does not ‘set’ me to play Reveille at first light; if I am a Hobbit my title is ‘of the Quick Post’ not the Last Post. My role in a group is not to signal the start of an orc hunt!

And breathe. And relax.


And breeeeaaaaathe.

So what does a Burglar do? Like the best and arguably most enjoyable of utility classes, it seems that they do a little bit of everything.

The Burglar has a number of short term debuffs called Tricks which can be spread liberally, one per mob, and help to reduce the attack potential of a group of mobs. Personally I like to picture my stealthy little hobbit running around tweaking nipples, yanking wedgies, pulling hats down over eyes, and tying shoelaces together in order to distract and demoralise his foes. Of course this breaks down a little bit when it’s a pack of wargs you’re fighting, but a true Burglar is a master of stealth, and is therefore quite able to sneak some shoes onto a warg’s paws before initiating combat, thus allowing them to tie the warg’s shoe laces together during the fight. And now you know why they call such shoes sneakers.

The second part to Tricks is that they enable a number of other Burglar skills to operate. These skills are generally more powerful abilities on longer cooldowns which require a Trick to be active on the target before they can be used, and which will remove the Trick when they are used. So the Burglar generally spreads Tricks around amongst the mobs, and then juggles adding Tricks to the main target while removing them with their Trick-powered skills. Think of it as a sort of Charlie Chaplin routine, where Charlie kicks the villain in the pants and, when the villain spins around, rolls between his legs and head-butts the villain in the groin as Charlie sits up from the roll looking confused; as the villain doubles over, Charlie then tweaks the villain’s nose, rolls through his legs, hops up, turns around and kicks the bent-over villain in the bum such that he falls into a puddle of mud, whence the villain looks up dazedly into the camera with his mud-covered face, in a light-hearted comical fashion. Then, while the villain is still prone, Charlie leaps onto his back, pulls his head back and slits his throat with a dagger, before severing his spine at the base of the neck, just to be sure.

C’mon, admit it, Charlie Chaplin would have been even cooler if he’d done that last bit. Anyway, that’s the primary role of the Burglar as I see it: it’s a Charlie Chaplin meets Sweeney Todd sort of affair.

The Trick mechanic in itself is quite fun (especially if you have a slightly wild imagination), but the Burglar has so much more going for them. Like the Captain, the Burglar also has a set of skills on a ‘response chain’, skills that are unusable until a certain event occurs, which in the Burglar’s case is whenever they score a critical hit (and later also whenever they evade, if they choose to slot the Stick and Move legendary trait). In Charlie Chaplin terms it’s the moment where he’s suitably rendered his foe inoperative but can’t resist giving him one final kick in the pants while the fellow is down. These skills generally lead to more damage for the Burglar, but there are also some useful utility abilities, such as the chance to start a fellowship manoeuvre.

Starting fellowship manoeuvres is not unique to the Burglar, but they are the only class that can reliably start one at will. Other classes will trigger a fellowship manoeuvre on certain events, such as when a Guardian is stunned during combat, but the Burglar has specific skills that will start a manoeuvre if they successfully hit the target. Fellowship manoeuvres are powerful events which can easily turn the tide of a battle when performed in a well coordinated group, so you would think that this would make the Burglar an absolute ‘must have’ in any group, but the skills which trigger it are on such a large cooldown that they are once-per-fight emergency buttons, more akin to a Captain’s Last Stand than a really class-defining mechanic. The ability to start a fellowship manoeuvre at will is clearly very useful from a tactical point of view, but when you have a number of other classes in a group with chances to start manoeuvres, what seems as though it should be the defining power of a Burglar becomes somewhat diluted in the sea of unpredictable but reasonably regular occurrences of the fellowship manoeuvre event.

Really I’ve only scratched the surface of the Burglar here, the class has all manner of other utility skills, not least of which is the ability to enter stealth, from where the Burglar can strike at targets for extra damage – after picking the pockets of eligible targets, naturally. Burglars have a very nice fire-and-forget debuff which increases damage to a specific target, and remains active until combat ends, the Burglar deactivates it, or the mob manages to resist it. There’s the Hide in Plain Sight skill, the equivalent of Charlie hopping inside a conveniently placed barrel as his pursuers stand around looking all about themselves wondering where he could possibly have vanished to; of course, in the Sweeney Chaplin/Charlie Todd version this enables him to then pounce out and fillet the confounded villains with a devastating critical strike, should he so choose. There’s the signature Riddle, a suitably Bilbo-esque ability, allowing the Burglar to keep a humanoid opponent stunned for up to thirty seconds as long as the target takes no damage and which, when traited for, can be used to pretty much permanently keep one enemy out of the fight for as long as the Burglar chooses. And although I haven’t gained the skill yet – my Burglar only being in his early thirties at the moment – the Provoke skill will cause the threat generated by it to apply to the mob’s target instead of the Burglar, thus allowing the Burglar to aid, say, an off-tank with holding aggro on a mob.

The final mechanic I want to talk about, and one which sounds rather fun but is probably actually quite frustrating in the normal run of play, is the gamble. My character is not really high enough in level to have experienced this properly yet, but at the basic level he gets a skill on a fairly lengthy cooldown which when activated will randomly pick one of four effects similar to those found in a fellowship manoeuvre, but understandably of lesser magnitude and which only apply to the Burglar. What makes this mechanic potentially both fun and frustrating is that one of the Burglar’s class trait lines allows them to increase the number of abilities that will have a chance of applying a specific type of gamble under specific conditions, and thus it adds a level of ‘tactical unpredictability’ to the Burglar’s combat performance; a lucky run could see the Burglar perform in such a way as to put most other classes in the shade, where an unlucky run will yield no additional benefit – not a huge problem in itself, but I imagine it’s problematic for raiders who require a more consistent performance and could otherwise be heavily invested in one of the other two trait lines for a solid, albeit slightly more mundane, boost to abilities. Still, there’s a reason why the trait line is called The Gambler, and I’m resolved to trying it and seeing what it adds to the class.

Who knows, with random and unpredictable boosts to his abilities, I’m already starting to picture Charlie Todd transforming into the Hulk on occasion, just to really mess with the genre.

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