Daily Archives: January 15, 2013

Bosses and Gimmicks and Nostalgia

Last week’s post about the instance group covered our first attempt at the Exodus of the Storm Queen instance in Rift.  The title of the post was A Journey of One Hundred Deaths, which alluded rather accurately to how many times individuals in the group died in total.  There were five of us, so 100 deaths works out to about 20 for each of us.

Another picture of death

Dead on the floor again

Sounds like we did not do very well, doesn’t it?

We didn’t bring down the final boss, that is true.  But I would estimate that more than half of our deaths happened before that point.

What happened was that each of the four bosses in the instance had their own special behavior… their own gimmick… which we stubbornly insisted on learning on our own.  We have a general rule about giving a boss at least three runs before we turn to the web.

That can cost you in wipes.  On the other hand, we are there to play the game, not to win the game as fast as possible.  There is a balance to be achieved between making some progress and being engaged with the game.  Getting to either the “no progress” or “no engagement” ends of the spectrum means we lose.

The post lead to a Bhagpuss mini-rant about gimmicks and expectations, which I will quote in part:

That’s all I ever wanted. My character has spells/skills. The NPC has spells/skills. I use mine as I see fit, he uses his according to his AI. To counter my ability to improvise he gets a much bigger HP/Mana pool.

And I am sympathetic to what he is saying.

Like many old hands at the MMORPG thing, I do recall with fondness some simpler times.  SynCaine has a piece on simple elegance of combat in Ultima Online.  I have raged against talent trees and and the proliferation of skills in games like EverQuest II and Rift.

At times I do pine for the way things were in the days of MUDs or early EverQuest where you took a class that got a pretty limited set of skills and spells by today’s standards, and you played it in the role it was designed to play.  If you were a cleric, you were going to heal.  If you were an enchanter you were going to crowd control.  If you were a warrior you were going to tank and damage.  And if you were a ranger you were going to sit around in town hoping for a desperate group while cursing the fact that you didn’t make a druid instead.

Now a days, if I tell people I am a cleric in Rift, it doesn’t tell them anything about what I do at all.

Of course, the flip side of Bhagpuss’s rantage is that 99% of the mobs in Rift and just about every other fantasy MMORPG behave just as he describes.  They are just a stand up fights, no tricks, no gimmicks, which the player probably wins more than 90% of the time.

Plus, the whole five player dungeon routine is something you have to actively seek as opposed to something being forced upon the player base.

And while the stand up boss fight is the exception as opposed to the rule these days, you do still run into them.  They get labeled as “simple tank and spank” and generally pose no issue to any group that is within the range and equipment parameters of the dungeon.

And that is the problem, really.  They offer little or no challenge, unless your group isn’t up to par.  I actually think that the first boss in every instance ought to be a hit point heavy tank and spank that tests the group’s ability to perform their basic roles, if only to act as a “you must be this powerful to hope for success in this dungeon” gate.

Fight gimmicks are in boss fights to make things interesting, to change things up, and to keep things from getting boring.  And such things have been in for a long time.  Dragons back in the MUD days always had special attacks and breath weapons had special effects.  I recall one that would cause your bag to be destroyed if you did not have protection from cold on you.  There would go all your extra gear and loot!

Granted, the gimmicks in boss fights used to be less subtle at times, and I am not sure I want instance level bosses to start becoming like the elaborate dance routines that raid level boss fights have evolved into.

But in some ways, the gimmick is part of the fun of facing a new boss.

Like, oh my gawd!

What have you got for us big guy?

There is a reason, beyond simple pride, that our group doesn’t look up boss fights in advance.  Figuring things out is part of the experience.  We do have our limits.  We are not as young or as talented or as patient as we used to be I suppose.  So after a few tries we start looking for hints or help online.  But it is always satisfying when we figure out the gimmick successfully.

I think, in the end, a boss fight… or at least the final boss fight… in any instance is defined by the gimmicks and surprises it brings.  And if the gimmick doesn’t pan out… it can be a bit of a let down.  I remember our last boss fight in Wrath of the Lich King against King Ymiron.  After our struggles, it seemed like a bit of a let down that we were able to simply pile on and take him down.

Victory over King Ymiron

Hey, the King’s dead!

So I think I am pro-boss gimmicks.  They can make boss fights stand out, though I recognize that they can also turn a fight into a rote learning experience as well.  There is a line there somewhere.

And let’s face it, boss fights with gimmicks have been around at least since Mario started facing off against Bowser.

What do you think?

Boss fight gimmicks, good or bad or somewhere in between?