Put the Role Back in Play

2 03 2009

I wanted this post to be some play experience and anecdotes from 1.2a testing on the PTS, figuring out how the new WH matches up against other careers’ revisions. Unfortunately this was not to be; I logged in to a seemingly abandoned world only to be slaughtered mercilesslyhumorously when what I had mistaken for Destro NPCs were in fact all template-cloned Choppas. So by now I know pretty well how WH stacks up against the (still rather bugged) Choppa, but I’m waiting on decent encounters with the other 11 opponent careers.

It's been said that the best "balance" an MMO can hope for is just an elaborate game of rock-paper-scissors

...and the key to rock-paper-scissors is avoiding redundancy

While I’m on the subject of numbers, let’s add the Choppa and Slayer for a total of 24 unique careers in Warhammer. You can argue about the mirror paradigm and hack it down to 12, but I would call you a fool and point out that Shadow Warriors’ stance mechanic is on Marauders (not their mirror), pets are given to Squig Herders and White Lions (not mirrors), and my Witch Hunter plays very differently from a Witch Elf even though we share stealth.

That’s about double or even triple what most character class-based MMOs have had in their first few months. And while balance is a concern, of course, another valid worry is beginning to surface on the forums with the new twin MDPS coming.

/WALLOFTEXT ON

Role definition. Perhaps the first people to spot this were the White Lions and Marauders suddenly feeling outclassed by the powerful new careers sporting the same medium armor and similar – but arguably better – skillsets. Some back-line healers are also starting to wonder as their healing power, survivability, and throughput all seem lacking compared to their front-line counterparts; wasn’t there supposed to be a trade-off? And yes, obviously there needs to be flexibility within careers (i.e. mastery/specialization) for variety, fun, and flavor, but there also needs to be a difference between, say, a Salvation WP and Isha AM – aside from one being invincible and the other a wet paper bag.

I don’t do this often, but I think it’s time. Discussion time. If the Choppa isn’t supposed to obsolesce Marauders, if Warrior Priests aren’t supposed to outheal and outlive Archmages, what are the roles? I’ll take a stab:

HEALERS:

  • WP/DoK – “the first aid expert” – high survivability; front-line; spreadheals and group heals; limited burst or single-target healing.
  • RP/Zeal – “the one who always saves your rear” – moderate survivability; mid-line; best burst/emergency/single target healing potential
  • AM/Sham – “the beacon of hope” – low survivability; rear-line; zerg-oriented big heals, buffs, and debuffs; support/amplified healing

TANKS:

  • IB/BO – “the wall” – high survivability (for a tank, mind you); high CC; low damage
  • Knight/Chosen – “the commander” – moderate survivability; area-effect buffs/debuffs; moderate-to-low CC; moderate damage
  • SM/BG – “the linebreaker” – low survivability (they love those 2handers); high damage; boosted mobility; anti-magic & crippling debuffs

RDPS:

  • SW/SH – “the skirmisher” – high survivability; focused fire, physical damage; low utility (I think the physical damage is the big deal here)
  • Engi/Magus – “the tactician” – moderate survivability; area/strategic/siege defense; moderate CC; high utility
  • BW/Sorc – “the glass cannon” low survivability; zerg-style AE/chain damage; moderate utility; low CC

MDPS:

  • WL/Mara – “the common threat” – high survivability; all-rounder, can spec to hunt anything; “main assist;” moderate CC/utility
  • Slay/Choppa – “the tank spanker” – moderate survivability; debuffs, armor negation, “tank killing;” low CC/utility
  • WH/WE – “the assassin” – low survivability; escape tools; squishy bane; best burst damage; high CC/utility

I’d say most careers are pretty close to this right now and could only use some sharpening to really hit the nail, but a couple would need overhauls to fit. Mostly I’m fond of the Slayer/Choppa being a sword-and-board tank killer (a lot of their abilities suggest this) because those guys need to fear something and it’s a shame to see the poor WLs/Maras become useless.

Copyright © 2009 Flintlocks R Fun; this Feed is for personal, non-commercial use only.

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Horizontal is the New Vertical

30 01 2009
I have rotated this image ninety degrees

I have rotated this image ninety degrees

Call it a content update, a “live expansion,” a major patch, whatever.  I see a pattern in the development of the game so far, and I’m gonna call Mythic out on it: horizontalism.

Vertical and horizontal are different ways to expand a MMORPG.  In a nutshell vertical expansion encompasses things that raise some cap, introduce higher level or more difficult content, or generally appease the current subscription base and have very little appeal to potential customers or less advanced players.  Horizontal expansion is about choices: more classes, more races, more skills, more ways to enhance your character; everybody benefits… probably.  Each method has its advantages and inherent disadvantages.

Vertical expansion‘s hallmark would have to be the classic forumula: raise level cap + new content = profit.  I won’t cite examples because that would read like Wikipdia’s “List of Major MMORPGs.”  Typically the new lands to be explored, however, are only accessible by those players who’ve already hit the top, killed and done everything there was to do, and have been getting bored lately.  You can add a fresh newbie/starter zone for kicks, maybe, but the likelihood of recreating a whole new slew of start-to-endgame content on a new continent (unless you’re sci-fi, and then it’s a planet I guess)  is slim.

How does vertical expansion help your game?  First, it’s a great way to hold onto your core players.  The hardcores, the fanboys, the perfectionists who refrain from passing judgment until they’ve played things out will give you the benefit of a doubt – and their next few months’ subscription fees – until they’ve hit the new ceiling and played around in the Lair of Ultimate Evil No Really This Time.  By raising caps you oblige players to perform whatever reward-driven grind you give them to be at the top of the heap once again, which as most MMORPGamers know is where one finds all the action.  Vertical expansion is absolutely vital to MMORPGs in the sense that you cannot expect people to continue playing a game if you do not produce increasingly more challenging content; it would be like asking a friend to pay you $15 a month so he could hammer away at Safer Sephiroth’s less dangerous extremities for perpetuity.  The exception to this is when your game builds itself around PvP, such as Guild Wars (which I’ll touch on in just a bit).

But oh, the downsides.  First, vertical expansion is a love or hate thing; while most people will gladly hop back aboard the grind train, those less inclined to do so will notice that you just knocked their characters down another X levels (practically speaking), so why the hell should they bother trying again?  Vertical expansion also has a nasty habit of effectively nullifying all the content your developers poured so much blood, sweat, and tears into as everybody races past yesteryear’s rune-forged battlearmor of demigodliness to get to the randomized quest rewards that are suddenly superior (to say nothing of the lore implications).

Moreover, vertical philosophy tends to make your game world a very lonely and daunting place for new players.  If all the stuff you’ve been hyping is heaped on top or tacked onto the end of your game, there’s nothing really enticing to a prospective subscriber – unless of course they expect to reach endgame quickly.  But that becomes more difficult as well.  Let’s say you released, and it took about a year before the majority of your playerbase had a maximum-level character.  You want to get a few more months’ rent and keep them interested, so your expand, lifting the level cap so they play their characters for another 3 months.  Your game survives, you make money, and you churn out a couple more expansions like any good MMORPG.  Suddenly your new content is two years beyond the reach of a potential buyer, which they might come to realize as they progress through a ghost world because everybody else is either at the top or powerleveling alts with their guildies.  Hardly what’s on the box.

FFXI loves choices. And 18 hour boss fights.

FFXI loves choices. And 18 hour boss fights.

Horizontal expansion‘s strengths are that it gives players more to do without invalidating their prior accomplishments; if vertical expansion raises the bar, horizontal expansion adds more rules to the game (but you can still be a good jumper).  Guild Wars, perhaps the first major advocate of a horizontal approach, adds new classes to create more potential combination and strategies in PvP (and to a lesser extent PvE).  UO started the holiday/live event trend that provided priceless one-time items that wouldn’t necessarily overshadow other elements of the game, and special veteran rewards for longtime subscribers.  Another advantage is that developers don’t have to work on gigantic projects, creating a new game world to replace the old; instead their former work is augmented by more options, rules, and content.

But the developer stress is of a different kind; when introducing new elements to an existing structure you have to find a way to harmonize them.  Guild Wars needs to ensure that the new professions they add with each expansion won’t imbalance the contemporary PvP scene, and we all know how difficult balance is.  DAoC’s 44 character classes were incredibly rough for Mythic to calibrate, and although I think they did a better job than other games with fewer archetypes there will almost inevitably be bumps in the road.  And even if your development team doesn’t have to create a new land to explore, expanding a game horizontally may not keep the hardcore players as challenged as raising a level cap and introducing tougher monsters, so a plethora of smaller projects are needed to keep subscribers interested.

Turning an eye again to the future gamer, perhaps the biggest problem with horizontal expansion is its tendency to drown a game in minutiae and complexity.  WoW chose character enhancement originally with enchantments, then gem socketing, and now glyphs; DAoC had artifacts and mythirians; AO had – on top of its original byzantine myriad of advancement options – perks (think talent/mastery/specialization), alien technology that required special training, and a method of researching and pursuing skill enhancements via guild progression.  The newbie at character select might soon be confronted with a mind-boggling array of options that confuse and slow formerly fluid and user-friendly gameplay.

Most major MMORPGs to date have embraced a little of both e.g. level cap raise + new lands/dungeons + a couple races/classes + new skills or enhancements.

What surprises me about WAR is how heavily slanted it seems toward horizontal content development (so far): four new classes, the addition of ORvR influence, PQ difficulty settings, and a steady flow of live events with no level cap raise in sight.  My beloved Darkness Falls 2.0 is the only sign of a straight difficulty increase – presumably.  Personally, I’m a fan of horizontal expansion, have enjoyed it thus far, and look forward to more.

Copyright © 2009 Flintlocks R Fun; this Feed is for personal, non-commercial use only.