In case you missed Part 1.
Last time around, I spoke about the skirmish system in the Lord of the Rings Online: Siege of Mirkwood expansion. Now I want to narrow my focus and draw attention to something smaller. A single instance, in fact. Today, let’s talk about Sword Halls and why it is a well designed instance for three people.
Now, before getting started, I am sure someone is going to flame me and complain that, with all of the beautiful content in Mirkwood, why focus on a three-man instance that can be run (if you have me in your group at any rate) in less than 20 minutes? One reason is because there is no need to talk about Sammath Gul or Barad Guldur. The big stuff gets plenty of discussion. And yes, I think Sammath Gul is also a well designed instance, if only because it is one of the few instances in which marginalized classes (Loremasters, Burglars who focus on CC, Captains who do more than heal) get some real action that lets them use their class capabilities to the fullest. But in focusing on Sword Halls, I want to illustrate the small things that Turbine did correctly. I will also, inadvertently, point out how some players betray their own gaming ignorance by not seeing the full potential of such a small instance.
First, let me say that making the Challenge mode a simple “light the brazier” choice, rather than some obscure, arcane or counter-intuitive challenge, makes the instance simple. There are no accidental failings of the challenge mode (other than wiping) just because someone did one little thing they weren’t supposed to do. It is also sorted out at the beginning, rather than being something you have to worry about halfway through the run. Compared to the 16th Hall or Dark Delving in Moria, it is a simple matter to decide how you want to run it. Hopefully, Turbine will continue this tradition in future content.
Second, I have to say that running Sword Halls in easy mode is an experience that illustrates that numerous enemies or varied landscapes are not the only recipes for success. As you fight the trash mobs before each boss, smart players who have never run it before in their lives should be able to figure out how the bosses will fight and some ways of countering those moves. The Angmarim sorcerers that appear first have similar attacks to their boss, the Morrovel mimic their boss, and so on. While the bosses have other tricks up their sleeves, you cannot say that Turbine just threw it all together at the last minute with implausible combinations of enemies.
Third, the instance takes full advantage of the flexibility of classes. When I first ran it with my Loremaster, I was angry because most of the run is taken up with lengthy boss fights in which my Loremaster’s CC was worthless (for those who do not play LOTRO, all bosses are immune to stun, mez and root, the three ways a Loremaster does CC). Further adding to my anger, most players running it on easy mode wanted nothing to do with a Loremaster for the run. Because it is a three-man run, all they wanted was a tank (guard/warden), a DPS (champ/hunter/DPS RK) and heals (minstrel/healing RK), never mind that Loremasters, Burglars and Captains would like some loot, too. But after running Sword Halls a few times with players willing to experiment, I discovered that it is really designed for any class to be useful if the player knows their class and traits. Burglars can dispense with their CC, but should instead focus on positional damage and fellowship maneuvers. Give me a Burglar with positional damage and some marbles, and you can keep your DPS classes. With the correct traits slotted, a captain can heal the run all by himself while doing decent damage, so who needs a minstrel or healing Runekeeper? As for Loremasters, you can drop all your CC traits and instead slot Healer and Light of Hope, combined with all the DPS traits you have. The result is someone who can heal the run adequately while barbequing the bosses with improved sticky gourd for minutes at a time. Mmmm… barbeque. Anyway, the point is that the instance is designed in such a way that every class has something to contribute, and it is only the lazy or stupid players who think that you have to have a specific combination of classes to beat it.
A final note about the Sword Halls. Because it is a three-man run rather than a full six-man group, the Sword Halls privileges players who can adapt. Mindless button mashers such as Champions who sit in fervor all day, every day, and spam AOE attacks, or hunters who don’t know about the threat-reducing effects of quick shot in endurance stance, perform poorly because they do not know how to function without a group composed of specific classes. Players who know their own class, as well as others, do much better because they can suggest strategy changes in the middle of the fight. Having a warden who is willing to focus on aggro-grabbing at first, then switch to more self-healing skills later in the fight is handy, while having a guardian who waits to remove corruptions until everyone can benefit from the buff considerably speeds up each battle.
Many people run Sword Halls because it is a fast way of getting Dol Guldur Medallions for radiance gear, but its popularity should come from how well designed it is for such a short instance.
To be continued…