Human beings have an instinctual fascination with violence. We obsess over CSI, we can’t get enough UFC, and we revel in the murder mystery. When it comes down to it, everyone loves a good fight. Many different forms of entertainment media have adapted in an attempt to sate our unquenchable thirst for blood. War is being waged all around us.
As I have stated in previous posts I grew up on the fantasy genre of literature. Combat in fantasy novels is usually highly stylized and graceful. Oftentimes these novels climax with an epic duel between two evenly matched foes. Authors are capable of giving extremely detailed blow-by-blow descriptions, holding the reader on the edge of their seat. In his 1992 novel Snow Crash, Neil Stephenson fails to disappoint. Hiro Protagonist, self-proclaimed “greatest sword fighter in the world”, certainly gets himself into his fair share of thrilling combat situations. Hiro dips, ducks, dodges, and dives, artfully avoiding his enemies blows. He fights with a measured tranquility, carefully choosing his next move. A sword fight becomes something cerebral, not so different from a game of chess. While the reader may have some idea of who will reign victorious (come on… his name is Hiro Protagonist) the duel is still entertaining, each fight is completely unique. The outcome is irrelevant to a certain extent; the fun is in imagining the battle. The scale, speed, and style of combat are limited only by the author’s imagination.
In LOTRO the combat is not nearly as captivating. Avatars move sluggishly through the gamespace, wildly hacking and slashing at nothing. There are only two types of attack, melee and ranged, each with only a handful of unique animations. As far as I can tell every single encounter follows the same course of events with little to no variability. My elf hunter nocks and fires an arrow at an unassuming hostile creature. The creature proceeds to charge the elf who draws an axe and hacks away, everything is automated. During the close quarters portion it is unclear as to who is winning. Neither combatant seems to react to the others actions; no attempts are made at blocking or countering attacks. Neither combatant shows any signs of outward damage during the encounter, apparently you can repetitively slash a bear with an axe without drawing blood. Out of the clear blue one of the combatants will fall to the ground…dead. These battles are completely devoid of emotion (actually that’s not completely true, I am constantly afraid that I might die of boredom). Ultimately combat in LOTRO is a numbers game based on an unknown algorithm, the digital version of a dice roll. Now that I think about it, combat in LOTRO is not much different than a math class, it involves complex numbers and it puts me to sleep.