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Probably the biggest gripe about Ice Spear, especially in party play, has been its freezing mechanic.
Even after they updated it so that you could actually attack enemies that were frozen, they still made it so that a frozen enemy takes only half damage for the duration of the freeze, so people will still dislike it when using Ice Spear in most cases since that's halving any other damage dealt to the frozen enemy.
I mean comparing it to other "holding" attacks just makes it pale in comparison.
Frozen Blast. Sure it can fail if used normally, but when used in conjunction with Elemental Wave, it has a 100% freezing chance and not only does it not decrease damage the frozen enemies take, it actually DEBUFFS the enemies defense/protection so they'll take more damage. Otherwise, this has the same targeting limitations as Ice Spear. Quite a few enemies will be unable to be targeted by it, even if you use the AoE version you get from Elemental Wave.
Shadow Bind. It can't fail, and while it has a target limit and a pretty limited duration, and makes it so the user can't move very far or it'll break the bind it still doesn't decrease the damage the enemies take. Same as Ice Spear and Frozen Blast, many enemies are just unable to be bound.
Ice Dragon summon AoE. Can't fail, and can actually freeze enemies that normally can't be targeted by Ice Spear (or the aforementioned Frozen Blast and Shadow Bind) for some reason. Though this is a pet and not everyone will get access to it.
Scooter AoE. And the Scooter Imp. It binds enemies in place for a few seconds, preventing them from being knocked back and moving. I'm not sure it affects as many enemies as the Ice Dragon, but it still doesn't carry a damage penalty. Once again, though, a pet that not everyone will have available.
If one thing should change about Ice Spear, it should be the damage penalty that the party has to deal with when attacking a frozen enemy.
Heck, Ice Spear should also have its own debuff if you ask me. I can't imagine that being frozen would leave an enemy feeling that great, maybe leave them with a debuff to magical defense and protection, or perhaps a post-explosion speed debuff, sort of in the vein of Icebolt.
For there to be bandit encounters to find, there has to have been recent commerce activity in that area.
If no one has been through there during commerce recently, all the encounters will have despawned, leaving only behind "ghosts" that aren't actually there and disappear as soon as you get close because that's your game client synchronizing with the server saying they aren't there anymore.
Give this a try, rent a commerce horse and carry just 1 very cheap item so you don't waste ducats and just run around looking for encounters.
Now, when you actually find the encounters, don't actually activate them like that.
Go find a few and then either finish the commerce run or click the cancel/abandon button in the upper right.
Now go back to the Bounty Board and start a hunt and run back to the encounters you "found" during your commerce run.
This time they won't disappear and you'll be able to fight them.
It can be a little annoying, but your other option would be to go find a place/channel where you think people have been commercing recently.