Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Disarm you with a smile

I jumped back into LotRO recently. Not much of a jump since the game hasn't had a deep end in years, but hey, I'm only two zones behind the company's release schedule... I think? Who cares. Since it stopped being a game, I'm getting as much out of it as anyone by treating it as a 3D tour of Minas Tirith or The Shire.

Now, while I normally bitch and moan about the simplification of games over the last decade, today's installment of bile and vitriol predates the current slot-machine, microtransacted, head-patting achievement-unlock marketing model. It pertains to the thorny old issue of crowd control.

See, as LotRO was dumbed down over the years, it's become so mind-numbingly dull that the only (and sorely unsatisfying) way to spice it up is to take on more and more monsters at once. Some of these have crowd control abilities, which in theme-park MMO parlance usually boils down to nothing more imaginative than an outright stun. Some can also disarm you, which though is logically intended as one of the softest forms of crowd control has become in LotRO the chief impediment to dropping whole swarms of kill-ten-rats. The worthless mouthbreathers designing this pathetic excuse for a combat system have made dropping the soap more dangerous than being completely knocked out.

Partly this is because stuns induce a ten-second immunity when they wear off while other forms of crowd control do not. Largely, though, it's due to the utter lack of imagination in determining which skills status effects like silence and disarm affect. See my cast bars above? Well, most of those "different" skills are utterly redundant copies of each other in the first place, but let's skip the "greater magic missile" idiocy for now. See how they're all grayed out? I'm a spellcaster. I have been disarmed. My only options are:
1) throw down a slowdown AoE
2) cure my wound effects, which would cure the disarm... amusingly useless since it takes about as long to cast as the status effect does to wear off on its own

Forget niggling details of balancing durations though. The more basic problem is that disarming blocks ALL skills from use. Half the reason to play a magician, thematically, is not being utterly dependent on the pointiness of your stick, but being able to call fire and lightning on the heads of your foes by simply... calling. That or wiggling your fingers, twitching your nose, groping Galadriel's phat phial, what-have-you. There's certainly room for removing a caster's channeling focus as a thematic element, especially in Tolkien's vision of wizardry (see Gandalf at Edoras) but sweet everloving fuck... an entire class of Loremaster spells in LotRO is called "signs" - as in I can take away a third of your attack power by giving you the finger! No big stick needed. Do you mindless finger-painting graduates trotting out this dross ever read your own ability names or are you getting paid to face-plant your keyboards and call it game design?

Suspension of disbelief aside, the whole point of having different status effects is to induce different states. If you're silenced you can't speak the name of the holy, if rooted you can't dance for rain, if disarmed you can't play fetch with wargs. Whatever. Not only should the same status effects not affect a fighter and wizard in the same way but different states should limit my skills in different ways. Yes, if I'm disarmed I should not be able to use "staff-stike" or "staff-sweep" but I sure as hell should be able to flash you or blow you down, sailor-man.

I will freely admit this is by no means a LotRO-specific problem and I'm only using it as a handy example of lazy lack-of-design, but it may surprise younger gamers to find that not only were such distinctions a core element of D&D spellcasting but as late as World of Warcraft's launch, counterspell abilities blocked spells from the specific school your target was casting at the moment. Meaning you could start casting a light spell to fake your enemy out and eat up his counterspell, then switch to nature or shadow spells and laugh as you shriveled his corpse... and that was just the tip of the iceberg in terms of crowd control diversity.

But then, if I get started on how much of the game industry WoW ruined, we'll be here all night.

Also, I seem to be overusing the phrase "tip of the iceberg" recently but what the hell. It's just the tip of the iceberg of my tip-of-the-iceberging.

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