An unusual Statesman’s Task Force

It’s a common failing of MMO developers to equate difficulty with enemy stats. If a particular mob is beaten too easily they will consider increasing his hitpoints, making his attacks hit harder, increasing his accuracy or generally tweaking his stats. It’s still the same enemy. It still uses the same tactics against the players. The player can still use the same tactics to win. It just takes longer.

The City of games’ too "most difficult" end-game challenges (Lord Recluse’s Strike Force for Villains and Statesman’s Task Force for Heroes) subscribe to this brute force theory of balancing. There’s nothing complex about winning the Statesman Task Force. You fight a load of bad guys then the boss. But whereas earlier task forces give you regular level enemies and an Archvillain at the end, STF has you fight no fewer than 12 AVs along the way. The last of these, Lord Recluse himself, is buffed by control towers which allow him to SMASH! players for 3000 points of damage a hit and regenerate his own health at an insurmountable rate. It isn’t rocket science to figure out that you need to take out those towers before fighting him. The challenge comes from staying alive long enough to accomplish this rather than in determining the strategy to use.

Players have a similar tendency to pick a line and stick to it. Once one group of players have success with a particular strategy – and another group fails with another – the winning method is declared The Way to beat the challenge and people invariable stick to the formula as much as they can.

Whenever someone announces in a chat channel that a STF is forming you will almost invariably see "looking for Stone tank, Rad and Empath." The Stone Armor tank is the meatshield of the game, the Empathy powerset offers a selection of heals and health buffs and the Radiation Emission powerset is the "go-to" set for debuffing AVs. The specific request for these three (out of the required eight) players on the team exists solely so the Known Good Strategy can be employed at the end of the task force. Namely the tank pulls Recluse away from the rest of the team while the Empath spams heals on him. The remaining team members take out the control towers while the AV is busy. Then they go to town on him, ably assisted by the Rad debuffs.

Last night Catpain Ruffles, who has already beaten the task force with the recommended team lineup, joined a group which the average by-the-book FOTMer would almost certainly want no part of. Our tank was Invulnerability, often overlooked for its uneven resistances: very strong against Smashing and Lethal, terrible against Psionic, not so great against everything else. Our two Controllers were Fire/Kinetics and Illusion/Storm. An Empathy defender, two Blasters and two Scrappers rounded out the team. So no Rad and no holds. On top of this three of the team had never attempted the task force before, the tank seemed to be scared of her own reputation, refusing to enter the fray against Recluse without Unstoppable even when RA was ticking away, and the group as a whole didn’t show the tactical awareness and togetherness you would expect from a team of level 50 veterans.

The fight against Dr Aeon was the first real sticking point in the task force. Up until then we’d steamrollered through everything the enemy had to throw at us. Then we came up against the Doctor and his Elite Boss henchmen and found that the loose organisation we’d got away with up to that point was insufficient. It took two team wipes before everyone came to terms with the fact that this was a tough opponent and we should regroup and let the tank do her thing instead of all trying to solo the guy.

The Fire/Kin wasn’t amused. "Do you have a bad feeling about this too?" she asked in a tell as we load into the final map, going on to say that it was her first STF on a pickup group. I replied that I always roll in PUGs and that I wasn’t overly concerned about things. It was at that point that I noticed she was wearing the Master Of Statesman’s Task Force badge, signifying that she had previously been on a team which had completed the entire task force without suffering a single defeat. Evidently this was someone who knew what she was talking about.

The first challenge in the final mission is to despatch four AVs who spawn close together and are difficult to pull. One of the Blasters tried to fetch Black Scorpion but managed to aggro Cap’n Mako as well. Nevertheless we managed to beat them without serious trouble. Next came the harder two opponents. Ghost Widow was the first to arrive. She has an PBAoE attack which heals her for every opponent hit, so teams are advised to use ranged attacks as much as possible. With the tank and two Scrappers we already had enough people crowding her to fuel a full heal should she get lucky (Ruffles’s last run of the task force had him as the sole melee combatant against her because of Super Reflexes’s high defence and the Invuln tank gets a defence buff when close to enemies). Add to that the Illusion pets and a Blaster who wanted to Blap and I was a little worried that perhaps the Fire/Kin had a point. She’d dismissed her imps, which was further evidence that she was no mug.

We did prevail, however, and comparatively quickly. The final AV before Recluse was Scirocco and once again the team employed suboptimal tactics. Everyone except the other Scrapper, the Fire/Kin and myself positioned themselves behind the tank, meaning that the AVs cone attacks, though directed at the tank, could hit them too. There were two deaths but we made it.

And so on to the final hurdle. The plan was explained and everyone confirmed that they understood that the tank and Empath would go and grab Recluse’s attention before anything else happened. Off they went. And were promptly killed. Meanwhile everyone else had begun attacking the towers and were in for a rude awakening when Recluse turned his attention to the rest of us. Team wipe.

We hit the hospital and came back. Only this time we were split all over the place and aggroed before anyone was ready. Another team wipe. After waiting for Unstoppable and RA to be up we managed to make short work of the first tower but the tank couldn’t survive long enough for us to finish off the second. Back after another wipe and we still couldn’t beat it. Wipe again and then the repairmen came and rebuilt the first tower.

At that point I would not have been surprised if the team had called it quits. Pleasingly they didn’t. We regrouped and tried again. The first tower went down. The second was on its way down when the tank once again was defeated. Munching several purple and orange I inspirations I managed to draw Recluse and his goons away from the towers and hold him off long enough for the tank to return. This time we were able to destroy the towers and turn our attentions to Recluse himself.

Slowly but surely we chipped away (who needs Rad debuffs?) until finally he lay defeated. We had won. We had beaten the task force with a crazy team makeup and naive tactics. As well as a bumper helping of sheer bloody-mindedness and, from some quarters at least, a desire to prove that there isn’t only one way to achieve things.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.