Sunday, 26 October 2008


I suspect that the design success of the three Battleground Instances has gone largely unappreciated and unnoticed, buried to some extent beneath the grumbling about the poor drop rate of the chest rewards and the silly linking of the three, whereby Rhunendin cannot be accessed until the first two have been completed at least 20 times each – which might be OK, if the whole sequence didn’t keep resetting at unknown intervals.

Anyway, I would be happy with these instances even without any rewards; they are fast (average time for a good team should be 30’, 35’ and 60’ respectively), increasingly challenging and place a premium on tactical thinking. Indeed, I would argue that they are perhaps the first instances in the entire game to require true tactical thought (Annuminas perhaps excepted). Both Helegrod and above all the Rift have a steep learning curve and demand experience, careful timing, discipline and a very precise sequence of moves by the raiders – but these are not purely tactical considerations. Rather, they require raiders to have knowledge of often very particular circumstances, and act accordingly; you have to know what happens in specific cases (for example, what happens when Barz shouts “I’ll gnaw your bones!”), and your options are thereafter very limited indeed.

On the other hand, the Battlegrounds present players with an essentially tactical challenge: you must defend, or defend and attack, often simultaneously and with limited forces, and all against the clock. There are several ways of achieving this, depending on the makeup of the fellowship, and all have a chance of success; and you can and indeed must vary your tactics as the logistical situation changes. There are clear trade-offs: you can play safe at the probable expense of speed, you can balance the (eventually critical) loss of NPCs against a faster rate of enemy attrition (i.e., you gamble on killing them faster than they can kill you), you can form a weak defence and a strong offence team, or vice-versa.

Whoever was behind the design of the little gems, I very much hope we’ll encounter more of their work in MoM.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008


Three weeks, more or less, till Mines of Moria is released. Turbine have been very clever about building up expectations, releasing little bits of information here, dropping hints in dev chat there, and generally winding everybody up. It helps, of course, that by all accounts vol.2 of the LOTRO saga will include a mind-blowing amount of content - almost enough to qualify as a brand new game.

In the meantime, we are all - particularly us grizzled level 50 veterans of countless battles with Thorog and Thaurlach - marking time. Useful (and even less useful) traits have been long-since maxed, our complete sets of Rift armour are showing the ravages of time and combat, we peacock about in all-teal splendour and try to occupy our time as constructively as possible. Those who enjoy that sort of thing struggle to reach the dizzy heights of rank 8 in the Ettenmoors, the obsessive collectors amongst us are well on the way of acquiring one of each of the boss trophies (I have all but the two skulls), fishermen curse and spit at the seeming impossibility of ever completing the fishing deeds, while tacticians plot and plan how best to conquer the Rift with a six-man raid, or Hellegrod with a mere dozen.

There is of course always the time-honoured occupation of building up alts, and many players are doing just that - some of them, indeed, creating entire families. Personally, I've always found the idea of alts oddly schizophrenic, but to each his own. I'll be working on taking down Thaurlach with a five-man team of Hunters on skateboards - that should fill in the time nicely till MoM turns up and we have to understand exactly how the legendary weapons system is supposed to work...