There is a Lt that Never Goes Out…

…Well, until he does. Repeatedly.

To set the scene, the Lieutenant of Barad Guldur is the current final boss in LotRO. He rides a fell beast, and he’s /actually/ a Nazgul. Yes, we get to fight a Nazgul in Book 1, but not to actually kill one until the end of the Mirkwood content. It’s an unforgiving fight and we’ve been plugging away at Barad Guldur for at least 6 months – months that seem to have dragged for me.

I’ve made no secret of my disdain for the design in Barad Guldur, though I’ve enjoyed all of LotRO’s previous raids (The Rift is awesome and you get to kill a Balrog, Helegrod has a massive undead dragon as a boss and is the only 24-man content in the game, Dar Narbugud has some interesting boss fights, through a multi-boss adventure). Barad Guldur has 3 boss fights. You can do all of them in normal or challenge mode. But that means instead of 6 bosses, you have 3 bosses that you fight twice in the course of conquering all the content in all possible ways. To me, that made it feel like it dragged on a lot longer.

We’ve also had a rotating raid group which doesn’t help with getting content down fast, but has been more sociable, for sure. So while I’m sure the length of time we’ve been bashing away at the content has suffered because of this – it’s just a fact of life for our kin and has only really impacted me because we don’t have many Capts so even when I want a night off, I tend to sign up to make sure the numbers are reached.

The start of Barad Guldur is awesome, a gauntlet you have to complete within a timeframe (it resets completely after 45m) where you rush up flights of stairs and get waves of Uruks, goblins and wargs. As chaotic fights go it’s awesome, and just the kind of content I like. But, after that, the instance falls a bit flat for me. The fights continue to be interesting, the first few times anyway, but they’re slow and repetitive. And, of course, because of radiance, you can’t just plough through bosses 1 and 2 on normal mode just to get to the Lieutenant fight.. no, it makes more sense to gear up the raid as much as possible with both normal and challenge mode armour drops. That definitely helped our survivability.

Anyway, back to the Lieutenant. The fight takes place at the top of the tower (and yes, if you wipe you have a stupidly long run up a zillion flights of stairs to go back to the fight). In the first phase, the group attacks the fell beast with the Lieutenant mounted upon it, and when it gets down to 150k health, the Lieutenant will dismount and the next phase begins. DPS is king in the first stage (without going into dull tactics), there’s a huge benefit to getting to the transition as quickly as possible. The second phase, involves tanking the Lieutenant and killing the beast and then the raid can concentrate on the final boss in phase 3. That makes it all sound so simple. It’s a very unforgiving fight and not much fun for melee, generally. There’s 10% power regen only throughout the fight. If anyone dies while the Lieutenant is dismounted, we’ve had almost certain wipes (though, I believe it’s not a certainty and there are tactics to deal with that, but not ones we’ve mastered).

So it’s taken us a while, and has felt like the longest slog in my raiding career. And yet last week we did it on second attempt, and this week we did it first time. It’s a relief sure. A pain that I’m top of the loot list and don’t especially want the armour drop (radiance is being got rid of next update and it’s not a great stats set for Capts), but I still think people should thank me for not being selfish and taking it anyway, cos I’m a total brat :-). But looting aside, it’s a definite relief and one that couldn’t have come soon enough. Not sure WHY we suddenly made this progress. We barely got the numbers to raid from the start of December till last week, to the stage the raid group almost fell apart. Without going too much into kin politics though, we really thought our chances were all over, until someone from outside the group suggested we might not go again – and suddenly sign-ups were up, we recruited another couple of possibles and last week managed to get locks for just the Lieutenant from the other raiding group in the kin (because not enough of us could make our initial raiding night when we’d traditionally do bosses 1 and 2).

Four-week break and not having to go on Friday seemed to do the business, though. But then this week we repeated the triumph after having cleared the first two bosses on Friday and then killed the Lieutenant first time. Obviously sometimes a break and a bit of a push is needed. Yes, we tweaked our tactics a bit, but not so much that I think any of us thought we’d have such a massive push of progress (previously we’ve killed the beast only 4-5 times, I think and then wiped within 30s). But, it’s all good and whatever it takes. Our kin is very good at killing the final baddie just before new content emerges, and we’ve done it again. Hurrah!

BUT.

TURBINE SUCKS.

Because there are no bodies to take screenshots of, they disappear immediately. And that SUCKS.

Bad News, Good News, Cute Cat

Not too unhappy!

Last week I discovered my Dragon Age save files  have become somewhat corrupted, so I now can’t be bothered to finish my second playthrough, and I was relatively near the end (at the Arl Howe stuff).

I’m bummed, I preferred my second character, and got so far with it, but now I’ve shelved the game until Dragon Age 2 is out. I hope for less issues and I will be starting a new character anyway. Means I didn’t get to play quite a bit of the DLC (which I found not really to be worth the money) nor the expansion. I’ll live. One day I’ll go back to it. Perhaps.

It put me off gaming last week, since I sat down all ready to lose a day to finishing the game. Bad News.

On sunday, I dragged myself to the LotRO kin raid to Barad Guldur where we actually made progress in our fight against the Lieutenant of Dol Guldur. It’s been a while since I honestly thought we’d made any good progress, and more importantly I didn’t wipe the group once, so I have a little more faith in my ability to pay attention, even when I hate a fight. So that was my Good Luck in gaming. I know it sounds self-deprecating, but the fight is so annoying on a micro-management level, and includes (for me), healing, running around to try and hit a fell beast but moving out of range of its tail and mouth, watching for fear on others, watching for yellow and/or purple eyes on me and reacting accordingly – and all later in the evening than I would like, concentration-wise. So while I’m glad the group, as a whole, made progress, I’m more happy that I managed to hold my attention the entire however-many-attempts we had. I think, now, that we will be able to down him. But I still have no love lost to Barad Guldur and will be glad when we can go to Helegrod again!

(and in secondary good news, I get to play Deathspank for the PC roday after pre-ordering my first ever game on Steam!)

Transferable skills: Raiding in LOTRO

bg_lin1 Note: I am going to be discussing raiding as it is now on EU servers. We don’t yet have the latest F2P patch with the associated rules changes, new content, and so on. We don’t yet have a date for it either.

I now have enough radiance on my gear to be able to set foot into Barad Guldur (BG), which is the big Mirkwood raid instance. It is a change of pace from Moria with more animated suits of armour and fewer mushrooms; but there are still plenty of orcs. The end boss is (dah dah DAH) a Nazgul, and I’m not sure what happens if you kill it but if we find out I’ll let you know.

Me being there at all is only possible because of an infinitely patient raid group which is also in need of warm bodies. I have in fact given up trying to understand how raiding works in my kinship. They are all very nice, but I feel as though the newbie raid group threw radiance gear at me and now  don’t seem concerned whether I raid with them (I have always assumed previously that good raid etiquette was to raid with the guys who geared you). So I’m thrown in with the big boys and girls, into proper LOTRO progression raiding! They have all been remarkably nice about having a noob on board.

So how does LOTRO raiding compare with WoW raiding

Raiding in LOTRO reminds me a lot of raiding in the later raids of vanilla WoW. Obviously we don’t have 40 people, these are 12 man raids, but there are several similarities:

  • Trash mobs need some strategy. The pulls are carefully planned, tanks allocated to mobs, kill order required and use of raid marks and assists widely used.
  • Endurance boss fights. The LOTRO designers like longish boss fights so typically, once you have figured out what to do, your raid has to continue to do it flawlessly for several minutes.
  • There is plenty of movement and interaction in the actual boss fights. This is why I’m reminded of the end of AQ40 or parts of Naxx40, rather than earlier instances. The end boss of BG in particular is an extremely demanding fight which gets significantly harder if even one person dies.
  • Lots of abbreviations. This is probably standard for any MMO, but the LOTRO raids have abbreviations for the different instances, different bosses, different class abilities and talents (I fled to the net when someone gave me advice on how to spec so that I could decode it) and people will expect you to know them if they are mentioned mid fight.
  • The designers aren’t concerned about making fights that favour either melee or ranged to a great extent. But melee seem to get the shaft more often. Maybe this is inevitable in boss fight design but it does my head in to be standing and just watching an entire phase of a boss fight without being able to do anything.

The picture in the screenshot above is a trash fight in Barad Guldur. In this one, the raid pulls a group of wights. Each wight will focus on one player for a set amount of time (20s or so) and follow them around before switching to someone else. So the goal is for everyone to run away from their wights whilst killing everyone elses’.

If this sounds like mad fun, it is. And as an extra spice, imagine a UI which doesn’t announce who is being followed. You just have to keep an eye open.

Here’s some ways in which LOTRO raiding really struck me as different from WoW:

  • It takes a long time to recover between wipes. Between death debuffs (which can be removed) and time to run back into the instance, it’s not unusual to have only 3-4 tries at a boss in a session. Admittedly, we don’t raid long stretches of time, but it’s still very different from a WoW setup. This does however give people much more time to chat.
  • Repair bills hurt. LOTRO allows tokens from daily quests to buy potions and consumables but those repair bills can be fairly pricey. I’m not entirely sure how people make loads of cash in the game but I think I’d be farming a lot if I was raiding more heavily.
  • No boss mods. This is the big one, you have to actually pay attention to spell effects and boss shouts to figure out what’s going on. People are great about calling effects on voice chat but what you will not have are big wodges of text in the middle of the screen telling you exactly what to do.
  • Limited information. This is probably not such an issue now because BG has been live for at least a year, so there are plenty of websites where you can find out about the fights. But it is still a game in which each raid group has to figure things out for themselves. I do feel for the more hardcore EU raiders, because that will all have been done in the new raids by the time we get the content patch.

So does being a raider in one game transfer to the next?

The answer to this is yes and no. The only reason I’ve been able to transition so smoothly to the LOTRO raids is that I have been able to apply playing skills from other games. Once you learn what the fire looks like in the new game, you already know how to get out of it.

And when I say smoothly, I don’t mean that I’m some kind of amazing all-star. I just mean that I can follow basic instructions without wiping the raid. It’s only the lack of damage meters which mean no one can really compare performance easily.

The skills which do transfer best are situational awareness and being able to figure out what is going on in a fight by watching it (or particularly, what went wrong in a failed attempt). Those that need to be relearned are UI dependent – like watching for debuffs or checking the chat for boss shouts.

But one thing to bear in mind is that I’m playing a melee/utility class in LOTRO. I don’t have to wrestle with the default raid UI for healing, or the clever Warden/ Runekeeper mechanics. For those classes, this really is like raiding in hard mode.

It’s oh so quiet… on voicechat

We’ve had a little flare-up on our LotRO kin forums over the last week, relating to how much chatter we have on our Teamspeak server while raiding. We can be a talkative bunch, many of whom raid to hang out with more kinmates and get involved in some kind of joint activity. Because of that we don’t always come across as a highly disciplined fighting machine – but we get things done, we’ve been very successful in our raids and we keep a nice, friendly atmosphere going. So when one respected kin member posted something about the chatter spilling over into messy fights, it caused a pause to think.

Now, I admit (and the person who posted knows it), my first reaction was ‘hell, if I can’t chat, I’m not raiding’, but instead of posting anything on a forum, I just let the debate unfold. We will never agree on the perfect mix of pure focus vs chit-chat, that’s for sure. But it also reminded me of things we’ve discussed before – how many of our kin aren’t native English speakers, how different people like different levels of talking and of course, on how often we veer away from the matter of the raid and could possibly distract from some of the fights. It’s compounded because Barad Guldur (our current final raid) isn’t the most interesting, especially during some stages of trash mobs.

Being quiet isn’t what I’m used to. I’m pretty good at multi-tasking, I know my class really well and I can listen, understand, and react fairly well to things. But I needed the forum post and subsequent arguments to snap me back to reality. My playstyle is NOT everyone’s playstyle. And for me to enforce it on 11 others is worse than anyone asking me to be a little quieter during key fights. We have people who need to bring alts to the raids, we have non-English speakers, we have those who don’t raid as regularly as I do, and people who are just plain quieter (I know, SHOCK!!). Why is it worse? Because I’d be doing it knowing all the above.

It also reminded me that forums, while immensely useful, really do fall foul of the same misunderstandings as any form of written communication. I went through a gamut of feelings reading the thread – all the posts being written by people I consider friends and second-family, and I am so so happy I chose not to take part in the discussion. And we all turned up to raid last night, not embittered by the argument, but able to joke about it. And not snide jokes directed at the person who’d raised the issue, actual proper and respectful jokes. In that moment, I was really reminded why I like hanging out with my kin and what great people they all are. I even renamed my Hope Banner to ‘Quiet’ because the game wouldn’t let me have ‘Shhh’ – my first choice as a librarian, naturally.

As it happens, we also did our best yet at the Lieutenant of Barad Guldur, so maybe there’s something to this focus lark!