I just reached level 60 in Lord of the Rings Online, and this happens to be my first max-level character in a Diku-style MMO. I was really excited to gearshift to the Mines of Moria endgame, which currently consists of a few dungeons, a few epic quests, and the Watcher in the Water. My first two endgame experiences really threw me for a loop. Were we playing as intended?
The first experience was Volume 2, Book 5, Chapter 5 – Drums in the Deep. The Chapter has three instances, and the most difficult is by far the Battle of the Deep-way. The Battle of the Deep-way is an instance in which six heroes must defend a dirt hole with some elite dwarves against waves of orcs, trolls, wolves, and bugs. The challenging part is managing the waves. The waves come at random times (usually not overlapping) and have random enemy compositions. One orc wave may have some easy wolf handlers and their pets, and the next wave may have two trolls.
The trick comes in that by stun-locking a certain mob in each wave, players can stall that side from ever respawning until the sub-boss and boss mobs come. It does take a group member to babysit the mob, and that is the tradeoff. The group loses damage and capabilities elsewhere to ensure that one side has no respawns. Is this playing as intended? I am not sure. Only burglars and loremasters are capable of pulling the feat off, and this gives groups reasons to pick them up for this difficult instance. If it was “fixed” that demand would plummet in order to get more DPS-type classes.
After we beat Deep-way with the trick we headed to the Forges, an endgame instance that contains the endgame chestpiece. To beat hard mode Forges as intended the players have to beat the final dungeon boss within about a half-hour of beating the first boss. Here’s the interesting thing: if the fellowship resets the first boss by running past it (towards the second, third, and final bosses) the timer never starts, and the fellowship then has infinite time to beat hard mode. Now, I would see this as more of an exploit than Deep-way because there is no timer, but players have to guess at the exact challenge the developers had intended. With careful walking, the group can completely ignore the second boss. By jumping off and committing suicide at the bottom, while a minstrel or loremaster (or rune-keeper?) runs the weird way to the bottom to resurrect everybody, thereby completing ignoring the majority of the content between the first boss and last boss. The whole run becomes somewhat silly.
This is what happens, I think, when Turbine created hard mode in order get the armor necessary to beat the boss of Mines of Moria – the Watcher in the Water. The challenge is too narrow, not necessarily hard. When this happens players get creative, and the border between creativity and exploitation gets pretty blurry.
If I had some duct tape, I could fix that.