This week’s update to The Lord of the Rings Online™ brings with it a new instance cluster: 2 small fellowship, 2 full fellowship, and 1 raid. My first partaking was one of the full fellowship dungeons, Sari-Surma, and let me compliment the developers on using new abilities and mechanics in a way that feels fresh, difficult, but not unfair.
We have previously cited problems with puzzle bosses in MMOs and the particular difficulty with that given LotRO’s icons. I must admit to paying a fair amount of attention to icons, but the fights in Sari-Surma had several elements that made their use of both new and old mechanics fair, challenging, and mostly entertaining. This is especially important when they are bragging about adding hundreds of new abilities to the enemies.
First, the trash preceding a boss uses the same/similar abilities, or the boss will summon those trash as minions. This makes the trash fights a learning opportunity, not a waste of time. You do not need to several abilities each in 10 seconds. You need to learn maybe 4 per fight, generally 1 at a time because half are death effects or are only active in certain phases. This allows more complex boss fights without overwhelming players while making the preceding fights useful and interesting rather than trash.
Second, the bosses themselves combine existing abilities and icons (we all know the mez icon), the new abilities from their minions (which should be fresh in your mind from the fight before), and then a few new ones of their own. You can have interesting interactions with only a few new tools. Yes, each will generally have one of the “react in 10 seconds or less or die/kill those around you,” but only one, and they generally have a text and audio signal in addition to the icon. Maybe they all do; I was kind of in a hurry during those fights, learning and winning without wiping.
There were deaths, but there were things to learn, discover, and do better within the span of a single fight. The first two we beat without wipes, the third with two wipes while learning to deal with his new toys. My general guide to “is this a fair puzzle” instead of trial and error gameplay is “could you possibly win on the first try?” We obviously could on two, and we probably could on the third. It likely helped that I (ranged DPS, easy mode) was on icon watch and used the in-game voice chat to call out “everyone hide” or “thorns aura is up….. down.”
My only criticism of the dungeon is that the final boss has too much crowd control. Enemies with crowd control are never fun, and the varieties he has lets him chain it for ridiculous lengths. Some are avoidable, some can be countered partway through, but on 2 of the 3 attempts someone was unable to act for about a minute due to the timing of the boss’s 3+ CC abilities, one of which can be all-but-chained, two of which can make the third unavoidable. If he randomly takes people out of the fight, you want to make sure it does not randomly happen to the same person 2 or 3 times in a row.
Unrelatedly, the new update to Evendim looks great, and I have heard only positive things. People are excited about going to what was a mostly hated zone.