Me and Molag Bal

 Minor spoilers for the Elder Scrolls Online main story below.

I’ll say this much for TESO – call it a themepark, but it’s got the most vein-pumping, tooth-and-nail story bossfights I’ve encountered in any MMO. Tank and spank is so last decade. How about furious kiting, turning on adds for frantic self-heals, and Unreal Tournament-like spindodging and LoS-breaking?

That pretty much sums up my final showdown with Molag Bal. Uninspired QTE-style elements and scripted ‘heroic execution’ moments aside, that fight has to rank among the best I’ve had in an MMO for excitement alone. Not to mention doing battle in that sweet, sweet divine armor… (Please make it available as a cosmetic!)

Violette Vienele vs Molag Bal

But even before old Tamrielic Diablo Stone-Fire up there, I had gotten gobsmacked with my fair share of these. Septima Tharn and her Mongolian horde tactics (I actually caved and called for help on that one, in vain), Mannimarco and his wrecking-ball ghosts… it doesn’t help that I’m running a mighty squishy Breton Nightblade. Footwork and self-heals, baby, footwork and self-heals!

I thought themepark MMO bosses weren’t supposed to be like this, not outside raids at any rate. Well, I’m not complaining. Switching mindsets on the fly, quick as a weapon swap, to do all of the above and then come out tops (and on the first attempt with Molag Bal!) – now that tastes better than any in-game achievement.

A far cry from my LoTRO days, where the game just slapped some uber buff onto you so you could stand in place and just do this.

Annúnion Arantir fighting in the flamesWhich makes me think. In recent years, I’ve seen – and agreed with – a trend of players wanting more out of their MMO combat. Auto-attacks, tab-targeting, and, yes, skillbars that utilize the whole keyboard and the buttons on your tournament-class gaming mouse are increasingly considered passé. (Yet WoW has all these – and even everybody’s favorite paragon, Guild Wars 2!) So is the LoTRO style of mostly static fighting – even in solo encounters.

This is far from a recent thought. When I first gave Neverwinter a shot a couple years back (as a Trickster Rogue no less), I was so taken with its fluid, responsive combat that when I dropped another MMO – I think it was Champions Online – and was asked in the exit survey why, I answered something to the effect of “because of your outmoded combat system”.

Yeah, I know I wasn’t being fair. An engine is an engine is an engine, and I might as well have been one of those whingers who bash Turbine for not ‘modernizing’ LoTRO’s graphics. But I continue to believe, especially after playing through TESO, that giving the player direct control over the action is the way forward in MMOs.

No MMO is free from a heavy combat element. To help retain the interest of today’s gamers, that combat needs to be visceral, fast-paced, and as responsive as possible. Nothing does that like mouselook, blow-by blow, and full ranges of motion.

Violette Vienele victoriousI shudder to think what might have been if the Molag Bal battle had been LoTRO-style: a button-cycling, skill-rotating faceroll with a huge serving of linear backpedaling.

For one, I doubt I’d have found it memorable. Of all the story bosses I conquered in Turbine’s Middle-earth, I remember only Mordirith before the gates of Carn Dûm. And that was because I duoed him with my buddy, who died shouting at me in chat because I was typing in-combat RP dialogue when I should have been grabbing aggro. Whoops.

And for two, I doubt I’d have even made it that far. When I started on TESO, I mentioned that it hadn’t really grabbed me like other MMOs had. I take that back. The combat system has played a major part in seeing me up to this stage in the game, and it will likely see me a good deal further before I’m done. Had TESO not made me fight for my boss kills – and some non-boss kills too – I might have just gotten bored early.

Guess my Nightblade’s soul wasn’t the only thing I took away from Molag Bal.

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