Monday, December 6, 2010

The Hand of God

Gaming has been rather … well I wouldn’t say uninteresting, but certainly slower than normal for me lately. Maybe it is because I haven’t bought a game in many a month or the simple fact that as I am becoming older, simply playing and being interested in the medium is becoming less prevalent. It’s not a bad thing, I guess.

I guess I should mention something university related every once in awhile. The most noticeable thing that has occurred in that area lately would easily be the conference I attended in Wellington for four days. At the Australasian IE2010 this year from the 21st – 23rd of November, I presented my honours work from the year before in front of roughly 40 people, most of which were probably rather uninterested. I met some interesting people and had a few job/study offers from random dudes. Except for another student presenting his topic on sketching in RTS games, I think my topic was certainly much more on the technical end of things (as opposed to conceptual and creative design). Being incredibly tired and disoriented, I ended up treating the presentation much more like I would tutor a classroom of students. Although I relied heavily on my notes, I was strangely much more capable of tackling questions and situations than I previously remember myself being able to do. The many weeks of talking, describing and arguing with students is probably paying off, boosting confidence and general social/discussion skills for the better. It’s a useful thing, I guess.

Apparently the Cataclysm is coming. One day from now to be precise. Ah … World of Warcraft. The fun, immersive, distracting timewaster I have tried to slay many a time in the past. But like all good mobs, its respawn time is short enough for most people to simply stick around until it rears its beautiful, disgusting head once more. Sitting on the fence is the name of the game here. I am simply not convinced. Too many times I have played this game only to have everyone I know either doing their own thing or having no interest in doing things together. PUGging with randoms is the same thing as soloing to me now. It is rather absurd considering how massively multiplayer it is supposed to be. For the first time though, I feel I am completely able to resist the urge, having both more important and more interesting things to do. Besides the possibility of rated battlegrounds … it is exactly the same thing as the previous three iterations. No amount of fancy ‘world changes’ and ‘new spells’ are going to convince me that it isn’t about pressing buttons to get purples. I say I probably won’t be playing it now, but in three weeks I will probably be squawking some WoW jargon to a friend, complaining about an instance.

It is true, but the game I have still been playing the most is good ol’ League of Legends. A free, quick, easy, simple game that everyone should do themselves justice and play. Lately I have been expanding my character roster to include various support and tanking roles. The more important of these roles would be Shen, my first true tank and a rather challenging character to play. By now I have played dozens of games with him and I don’t think I could have tolerated doing PuGs without him. You see, I was kind of spoiled from level 1 by starting off doing 5v5s with 4 of my friends. Generally speaking, they were already above average at the game (debatable, yes, but still). I ‘grew up’ with these people, talking of balanced team comps with sensible numbers of tanks, support and ranged and melee damage dealers. Initially, our rather terrible tactics evolved into more structured and sensible strategies that we derived over the course of several games together. Warding, jungling, timing and positioning became more a matter of instinct and natural group cohesion having it imposed and executed progressively more efficiently, over time. Vent also helped a lot.

So when I finally got around to PuGging properly at around level 12+, I was flabbergasted at how terrible your average player actually was. If they were not disconnecting continuously or AFK, they were usually in a state of total idiocy. Overextending and feeding on both sides was rampant. The idea of jungling and warding was completely alien to them. Arguments about everything were the norm. No support. No covering of lanes. No teamwork. No selflessness. It was pretty much Team Deathmatch from a top down perspective. Also, if you lose, it is apparently the rest of your team’s fault and by no means your own.

So, entering this world of lunacy was a godsend with the character Shen. The ability to teleport to any teammate from anywhere on the map, remove possible enemies from doing damage for a short period of time and absorb a good chunk of it too allowed me to correct the all too frequent mistakes made by so many a team mate. My only wish is if I could do it on a much shorter cooldown and more reliably. Being an energy using character means you are frontloaded in ‘ability’ for roughly 3 of your 4 spells, but being energy reliant means you need to wait for it to recharge in order to use those abilities again, regardless of their actual cooldown. Not worrying about mana is great, but in a 10 second teamfight you need to choose your spells wisely (let alone have the energy to do them in the first place). This is really where the whole difficulty in Shen lies, having the energy to taunt at the right time and the foresight to gauge when you should try and kill someone.

Also his taunt isn’t so straightforward. If you use it to initiate you will taunt nothing but air. Its taunt range is less than the range indicated by the skillshot. You need to be close if not in melee range to effectively get it off (assuming it doesn’t bug and/or lag is taken into account). A clever team will simply disperse or run back from you, making the initiating process sometimes rather difficult. This unnecessary difficulty, as well as his teleporting shield Ultra has convinced me that the most effective way to initiate is to use what people term an offtank (or soak) as a proxy. Usually a tanky dps character that doesn’t have real taunting capabilities, sending them into the thick of the fray solo should bait the enemy into taking him out. The instant he is engaged, teleport on to said friend, grab agro off 2-5 people and force the teamfight to take place on your terms using your abilities as they were designed. Hopefully your dps have come in and engaged at this point.

Of course this process is rather theoretical, and though I have executed and pulled it off with often glorious results, with PuGs or timid teammates it can be quite disastrous. But it is for that very reason that I quite enjoy tanking with Shen. As difficult as it may be to get things working in order, when the planets do align (as they seem to do more often now than before) you can truly bestow the hand of god amongst friend and foe alike. The results are worth the effort:

“The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and there shall no torment touch them”

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