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A Memory of Monsters...

Tim Dale

Being something of a monster hunter, at least in the virtual sense, I've certainly come across my fair share of monsters. In many ways, the monster defines the MMO genre, providing the adversity by which adventure can happen. We head out and conquer, freeing the world of peril and are heroes as a result, but none of this can happen without the monsters putting the world in jeopardy in the first place!

The great majority of the enemies in our MMOs are often quite unremarkable, existing as little more than wandering piñatas stuffed with loot and advancement. Plundered from commonplace mythology and incarnated again and again, we've all beaten plenty of skeletons, orcs, wolves and bandits, often in alarming numbers during the typical quiet week-day evening. This kind of riff-raff is very much the bread and butter of our online adventuring, but every now and then, something a bit different comes charging at us. Follow me into the Billiard Room, where I shall show you the stuffed heads of some of my own personal favourite monsters!

In no particular order then...


A curious creature this, more plant than anything else. The Aloe, or Sprout, family of monsters can be found all over the Prophecies and Eye of the North campaigns of Guild Wars. It typifies many of the title's more annoying techniques in creature design. For a start, it is a pop-up, something Guild Wars does a lot of in general. The creature won't actually appear until triggered, usually by proximity of the player, making seemingly empty fields quite dangerous and turning the tables in fights against small groups of monsters. The Aloe is particularly nasty, as while individually quite feeble, it is a powerful healer who will heal everything it can that isn't the player and party, which seems rather vindictive to me! The healing can be subtle, and can go unnoticed for a fair few rounds of combat if you aren't paying attention, making ordinary fights a lot of hard work. Guild Wars' distinctive monster design means that in general, they come at you in teams, and work a lot like players, making the transition from PvE to PvP a lot less harsh than elsewhere.


Meanwhile, in the not to distant future, was this deadly piece of alien technology. The Bane Sentinel certainly looked innocuous enough, floating around the midrange maps of Tabula Rasa and onwards, but this small robot has been responsible for many of my own virtual demises, catching me off guard several times. While not very potent itself, if it saw you, it could instantaneously teleport in an entire squad of Thrax Soldiers, which was extremely hard work to shift, and generally fatal if you were already fighting something else. Objectively, a fascinating mechanic, but also a real pain to deal with, and best done by sniping the thing from afar with EMP rifles and launchers, before it even saw you. Tabula Rasa featured a surprising number of innovative and unusual enemies, both technically and aesthetically, including one (the Machinas) that you could only kill properly by looting it!


What could possibly be dangerous about trees, you might ask? Well, as an occasional hobbit that enjoys long walks in the countyside, I can tell you; plenty! The humble tree, in Middle Earth, is possibly one of the most powerful enemies the newer player will experience. Starting in the Old Forest in Bree-land, but never very far away from then on, the typical Huorn in Lord of the Rings Online is a group-based enemy of at least Elite status with a huge number of hit-points, and can stomp, punt, thrash and generally make life extremely fraught for the carelessly trespassing hobbit. In addition, they can burrow a considerable distance with aggressive roots and in extreme cases, drop hives of angry, angry bees on the unwary. If all that fails, they can even get up and chase you. I've tanked many a challenging foe in my time, but the trees are always deserving of respect. Frankly, I'm not looking forward to Fangorn...

The Freakshow

Paragon City and the Rogue Isles are crawling with super powered monsters and thugs, which is probably why they needs so many dedicated full-time superheroes on the clock. I do my bit, thwarting evil where I can and it seems everyone has their favourite kind of evil. By favourite, I mean villain group which elicits the most groans on mission selection, and mine is the Freakshow. Once an ordinary street gang, now hopped up on super serum and crude cybernetic enhancements, the Freakshow are an outfit of Super-Punks who are big into anarchy, mayhem and casual ultraviolence, and take quite a beating. They do all sorts of painful things with big hammers and claws, and extensively use electrical powers which are never welcome due to the endurance sapping side-effect, making heroic power use problematic. The most irritating thing about them though, I find, is their casual ability to self heal, and even rise from the dead. Many has been the comical occasion where our entire super group has been stood waiting over a pile of supposedly defeated Freakshow, peering at them suspiciously. Its like pushing down bubbles behind wallpaper sometimes. I have always been impressed with the sheer number and coherence of the many City of Heroes villain groups; each has their own backstory and theme, and as a whole present a welcome variety that ranges well beyond just the basic Good vs Evil of Longbow and Arachnos.


Back to the future for my last pick, and the distant world of Rubi-Ka. This planet suffers from the usual kind of rodent infestation, but twenty-eight thousand years of evolution have done strange things to the common or garden 'rat'. A combination of notum exposure and having eavesdropped on rampaging adventurers for that length of time has resulted in the Leet, a waddling bipedal gerbil-like creature with big soulful eyes and the habit of shouting phonetic abuse at you while you're trying to kill it. 'r u nubi', and the like. Anarchy Online's earliest monsters, they were never fearsome, (not even the Phear Leet), but that wasn't really the point and early level monsters also included the Reet, a kind of fiesty parrot thing and the Rollerrat, a sort of angry shrieking football with attitude, but not very many hit points. As a Trader, back in the good old days of skill wrangling, I'd often use Leets as the starting point for the ridiculously complicated and overpowered skill 'Laddering' process to help myself and others equip weapons seventy or eighty levels higher than we were supposed to be using. Good times! An early and wry parody of the genre, things soon got out of hand, with the Leet becoming the game's unofficial mascot, turning up as special edition pets, handheld toys in-game and even actual home-made toys out of game. Irony only goes so far, but the Leet was certainly iconic. As with Tabula Rasa, the sci-fi future provided the monster folks at FunCom a wide ranging canvas, and many unique, varied and more serious monsters were given life as a result.

Those are some of the more memorable monsters in my own adventuring, but everyone has a favourite monster they love to hate. A quick ask around on Twitter, (where I go by @vanhemlock), turned up an interesting list, including Boars, Murlocs, Rats, Fel Reavers, Oozes, Malta Sappers, Knives of Artemis and more, along with a great many named individual bosses too.

Which monsters stick in your minds the most clearly as being more than just yard trash, but something a little different?

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