City of Skirmishes

I know that I see everything through the prism of City of Heroes lately, but can you look at the new LotRO skirmishes and NOT see City of Heroes missions? City of Heroes was not the first to make the randomized, instanced content on a standard template, but I think they did it most whole-heartedly, and I am going with this because it is the one I know best.

Skirmishes are instanced quests that have a standard template with some randomized elements. They are a series of encounters that you could think of as fight units. One unit of combat for a solo character is two normal enemies or one normal and two swarm-class. Scale that up for larger groups as you add signatures, elites, and more of them. You select these enemies from a standard menu, say a dozen groups and a few enemy variations in each group, attaching a prefix to designate how tough each one is. So your first fight is against one hale wolf and two weak wolves, then two hale bandit captains, then one hale bandit captain and one hale bandit archer, etc. The skirmish sends random fight units against you until it reaches the appropriate number of them for that fight, then sends the boss.

They make good popcorn content. If you are playing these games for the gameplay, CoH missions and LotRO skirmishes deliver instantly and painlessly. This is an appropriate fight for your level, here is a series of them with just enough variation to keep it interesting. CoH usually aims for ~15 minutes, skirmishes are 30-40 minutes. There is a morsel of story included, but you may or may not care, and it will not affect anything.

LotRO has a few variations. It uses a standardized map, and usually a small one. Most of the skirmishes are defenses, where you stand in one place and the enemies come to you. Some are assaults, where you overcome a few enemies and then waves of counterattacks come to you. They probably have more ideas, but the initial launch of skirmishes has just two, with variations (allies with you, multiple directions, protect the Prancing Pony from torch-bearers). The locations are good, and meaningful because they can pick their favorites from an existing world, not really different from when City of Heroes puts a mission in an instanced piece of Atlas Park (destroyed or not), but better than Randomized Warehouse Layout C. You may or may not like the “standing in one place for thirty minutes” thing.

LotRO also has a table of random bosses that it uses, again scaled to group size. It tosses in little ones with many fight units. This next group is two hale enemies and a Stormcrow. They have different effects, again mixing it up to keep it interesting, but it is not enough to make it Explorer content or anything. Zombie Columbus says, “you will learn how to recognize and how to alter your gameplay to counter them,” but the answer is almost always “kill the lieutenant first,” with a backup plan of “CC it and kill it last.” There seems to be more variation on that plan when fighting in large groups, as the lieutenants get a LOT of hit points. There is also an optional encounter or two in each skirmish, some boss that you can pull from the side if you like.

These lieutenants and encounters add a bit more variation, although you will see through the surface to the template beneath before you first skirmish is over. For those of you who remember statistics class, “more variance” is a better description from that template view. Having lieutenants creates a wider swing in how big and bad the fights can be, since the standard fight units have more or less standard difficulty no matter what is in them. The lieutenants are less uniform, even if “kill the big guy first/last” is completely uniform.

There are other systems tied into skirmishes that we can discuss another time, notably the soldiers that are a separate, self-contained advancement system. I have some very strong thoughts on requiring us to keep alive allies that demonstrate just how poor the AI can be (“No, do not stand in the fire and try to heal yourself!”). As gameplay, though, they are those templated fights. If this becomes successful, I would hope for a lot of them, because having eight available (six if you are not through the last epic book) is not going to cut it once people get past the initial Achiever glee of getting skirmish marks. People get tired of City of Heroes missions that have dozens of variations, enemy groups, and objectives. Of course, in LotRO, these is something to do other than skirmishes, which should help avoid the CoH problem.

: Zubon

12 thoughts on “City of Skirmishes”

  1. I really enjoy seeing the town of Bree snowed-out. The first couple of Solo fights were tough, but you can level up your soldier pretty quick after just a few wins.
    I think it’s a great addition.

  2. I think Anarchy Online was the first MMO to implement randomized missions. There was a series of sliders that would let you adjust the missions for your character and party size. For example, you could emphasize stealth or combat in the mission. You could also generate missions over and over again until you got one with a reward that appealed to you. It kept me entertained for about a month. Unfortunately, the rest of the game was very much an old school grinder, so there wasn’t much there to hold me when I finally got bored with the door missions.

    1. I thought AO as well, but given the rest of how well the release went, I have never tried anything from Funcom.

  3. The Matrix Online had missions exactly like CoH as well. Got to building. Fetch/Kill/Escort. Got to next building etc, with random sometimes interesting enemies therein.

    I was astonished and nearly horrified when I FINALLY got into CoH and discovered that the gameplay was essentially identical to MxO which had so tortured my loving heart for so long beforehand by promising much more than it gave. ;-P

    Oh but right, on topic, yeah I think the fact that Skirmishes are a /side/ activity should not be minimized in a last sentence comment! ;-} LotRO still has one of the richest worlds in fiction and an overarching ordeal of a story that the player weaves their way though. Having the skirmish system in place not only for the MUCH needed quick fix of action in game, and barbie-doll fun to boot, but also gives the devs a very exciting tool to expand into all the story and setting space they have at their disposal.

    Can you image what this could do for MPvP, for example?

  4. The Skirmish Rewards are not too awesome, and there are not too many of them.

    I played every Skirmish at least once by now and will now try different Skirmish sizes, small fellowship, large fellowship. I heard more get unlocked at higher levels, so far I have played 8 or 9 different ones, and there are not much more at level 61.

    I am playing with a Champion, and mostly AoE the whole group. A hunter told me some lieutenants do little damage and it is better to burn down their helpers first.

    There is one type of lieutenant that buffs the other mobs when get gets damage – this one gets saved for last, ofc.
    The stormcrow buffs mobs around her, but if you play solo and can’t CC, you will probably kill her first, too.
    Then there is one kind of giant that turns himself invincible for some 20 seconds now and then – in the meantime you clobber the others.

    I wonder if people will not get bored by the Skirmishes – random lieutenant or not, they know the script after the first, second time by heart, it is not that random. I wonder if Skirmishes really have some longevity?

  5. If I recall correctly as well, Yeebo is right, the first randomized missions should have originated from Funcom in AO. Nevermind the fact it was very dysfunctional upon initial release, it was a clever idea. But not many other people followed up on this.

    As you stated, we have City of Heroes, HellGate:London (Which did poorly, even for the group that was always trying to push, “FROM THE MAKERS OF DIABLO! WOO!”) and…well. Matrix Online, and that’s about it.

    In theory its charming, but there’s only so much it can do. City of Heroes often tried to push it with their blocks of text for story-telling, and that worked to an extent. Considering the variation of gameplay that LOTRO has, I just don’t know how much this seeming “Horde” mode (From Gears of War 2, to which the most direct comparison can be made) can really entertain. For a story driven MMO, I just don’t know how much steam this concept can pull, I certainly don’t know if “key” ones will see many replays. While certainly a good addition to mix things up, I don’t think it impresses much by itself.

    Though perhaps I am being too harsh?

  6. This week, the dominant problem with skirmishes is that we need to level up our soldiers. :p People are level 60 but need a few thousand marks to bring their soldiers up to par. Solo, you can make up for that gap. Group are being horribly horribly abused as half the group has a fresh-from-the-tutorial soldier.

    1. Exactly, once you train up the soldier it gets a good deal better and more useful. But it does take a lot of marks.

      Still, if my grind content is between skirmishes and crafting instances, I’ll take skirmishes anytime.

  7. Did the skirmish tutorial last night and as soon as we entered Bree my companion ran off and started attacking the first mob. Now, as a Warden, I usually use Ambush (DD+Stun), follow it up with Wages of Fear (ranged backstab DD) as I run to the mob, and then smack it with Critical Strike (requires mob to be stunned). But if my companion attacks, I can’t do any of this.

    I mean, at least give me a Guard (attack only if I’m attacked) or a “STAND HERE until I tell you not to” command.

    Between this and the lack of tactical controls for my group in the XBox 360 version of Dragon Age, I’m fed up! Give us more control!

    1. Two options there at present. One is to shoot from a bit further away. Second is to get an Herbalist, which will not attack. In most of the skirmishes, you will not have much option of Ambushing, or at least not much time for it, when they come to you at a run.

    2. Not giving more control over the soldier AI is a very deliberate design. They’ve explained already that for several reasons they don’t want them to make every class into a pet class.

  8. Don’t forget Star Wars Galaxies has (was about to write ‘had’…) randomised missions from mission terminals.

    It worked in quite a clever way too – kind of ‘open-world instancing’. It would give you a waypoint, and when you approached that waypoint, it would spawn the mobs/camp/target etc and ‘update’ your waypoint to that location.

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