DarkFall: Specialization rather than a skill cap.

Another day, another quality post in the “Spotlight” section of the Darkfall forum, with today’s entry talking about Aventurine’s thoughts on a skill cap (not happening), and their plans for character diversity through specialization. Follow the link for all the details, but the basic idea behind specialization is you boost one skill/ability at the expense of something else. One example is the mage-killer ability, which boosts your archery damage vs a player wielding a staff, but limits your own magic usage. Another example is the current spell specialization, with the options being jump-casting, 10% damage, spell travel speed, or a range increase. As you can only select one boost per spell (and not for all spells), you have to make some choices and pick which spells will fill what roll. Assigning and switching the specialization costs 1000 gold, which is a decent amount but not crippling.

As someone who was a supporter of a skill cap, I actually really like the thinking behind specialization and how it will add diversity to the ‘end-game’, when most characters have many of their skills maxed. Obviously the key will be how it’s implemented and how it affects balance, but the overall idea of getting one bonus at the expense of others is a good one. Currently this system only effects spells and soon will give archers some options, but hopefully melee and crafting also see similar specializations soon, rather than ‘MMO soon’. Melee users need a better way to close the distance and ‘stick’ to their targets, while specialization in crafting needs to reward players for focusing in certain areas rather than being a jack-of-all-trades with every craft maxed.

One other benefit of specialization that I have not seen discussed is its impact on newer players. For example, by focusing early on archery, a fairly new player can compete at the higher levels with specialization, as the magic penalties won’t effect them much (they don’t have the magic skills yet anyway) while the damage and utility boosts will be instantly noticeable. Once that new character has grown a bit, they can then decide if they want to further focus on archery, or at that time change focus to either magic or melee. While the ‘ramp up’ time in DarkFall is very short compared to most MMOs, anything that allows fresh characters to jump in and contribute faster is a plus in my book, and a real strength of sandbox MMO design.

My usually MMO cynicism for any new system to be right on day one is being somewhat held back by Aventurine’s short but successful patching history, and by the fact that even if archery specialization takes some time to iron out, it along with the other features in the October expansion (especially player vendors) are really starting to add up.

16 Responses to DarkFall: Specialization rather than a skill cap.

  1. Scrung says:

    All of this sudden communication is making me want to resub to Darkfall. I’m trying my hardest to remember the gameplay is actually bad, and this is just a renewal of the honeymoon phase with the sudden open communication. Please be strong self. I need not waste anymore money.

  2. theJexster says:

    It sounds a lot like the Call of Duty Modern Warefare system, which was a huge hit among players. It could work well in DF, especially since DF has FPS tendencies. It also gets them around having to upset a lot of players by changing the game with a cap. I’ll take a wait and see with it but am a little sad as I too looked forward to the cap and how it would result in players committing to the build they rolled. This system seems less committal which is both good and bad I suppose.

  3. I’m definitely in support of the direction AV is taking. I wholly agree that skill caps only emulate class based systems which we’ve seen from other ‘PvP’ MMO’s (WoW/WaR) are inherently imbalanced and generally feature ‘Flavor of the Month’ classes/templates.

    I’m not sure I like the planned changes to archery actually, as it seems to end up creating two classes of characters (dedicated archer vs dedicated mage). I will keep an open mind though, because I do think Archery needs to be improved.

    • syncaine says:

      Just keep in mind this is only the first step in the specialization system. Not only will melee get it’s own abilities, but my guess is AV will certainly add even more magic and archery related specializations in the future. Small steps like the ones they are taking here are a safer bet, and once everyone sees how this plays out, they can add more. Crafting specialization is something I’m really interested in seeing personally.

  4. Dblade says:

    I’m surprised you are so sanguine about it. Something like that sounds like it would be tough to avoid “classes” coming out centered around specializations. Either that or they would be useless because combat in darkfall is too fluid, and the benefits of speccing one aspect wont help enough because of the penalties of other ones.

    You are kind of making me wish my pc could run darkfall though, mechanics talk is always fun to read.

  5. I also like the “specializations” paradigm AV is employing. I didn’t think about it in regards to new players — archery/melee specialization would certainly be a boon while you are working up your magic. I’m not sure though — I haven’t been a new player in awhile :P

    I am concerned that the specializations haven’t gone far enough. That is, I am not compelled to think that a max specialized archer could ever beat a max specialized mage, especially since the mage can still pull out a bow or shield, but the archer can’t take out a staff (if he’s mage-killer). If it were to be “balanced”, then either build should be viable against the other — it should only be a toss up for what you like best, not what “is” best. As it is now, magic is the “best” way to PvP, provided you’ve put in the time to build your magic skills.

    How to change this? Make the “final” specialization for each fighting type fairly serious, but not “rock-paper-scissors”-type specs. Examples:

    Archery Spec = +30% damage using bows, but cannot use magic at all. -30% effect/damage using melee and magic, +20% health from pots.

    Melee Spec = +30% damage from melee, +400% range (and effect) on Seize skill, cannot use bows, -30% effect/damage using magic, +20% stam from pots.

    Mage Spec = +30% damage/effect using magic, +30% damage taken from all damage types for 5s after casting a spell (should probably glow or something), cannot use shields, +20% mana from pots.

    At least in this way, you can conceive of a counter to each spec, but it isn’t Archery beats magic, Magic beats Melee, Melee beats Archery. Of course, you aren’t required to take any specs — being a hybrid is very viable. But then again, maybe I’m going too far. Its hard to say. That’s why I play the games and don’t develop them :P

    • Archery doesn’t need too much of a boost to put it in line with magic. A damage boost and the ability to jump puts it on par with mages, in 1v1 and small fights.

      The only other buff it needs is some kind of ‘multi-shot’ AOE ability. The lack of an AOE makes archer a poor choice for large scale siege combat.

      One thing to keep in mind is that Archery is inherently weaker in the hands of an average player simply because it takes much more skill to aim an arrow than it does to hit someone with an AOE spell.

      • The “damage boost” that archery is getting has already been negated by the increased damage spells can receive from specialization. IMHO, the “sustained ranged DPS” badge (see: PvE) goes to Archery, but magic will still be the de facto standard for PvP and sieges.

        However, adding new arrows into the game would definitely be a boon to archery (and crafters) — see: AoE arrow, Snare Arrow, Debuff Arrow, etc. I think that would put Archery on par with magic users.

        Poor Melee =P

  6. Adam says:

    I think this is a wise choice for Darkfall. Looking forward to seeing what melee specialization will bring.

    I like that if there is some flavor of the month because of a bug or imbalance I can switch my spec instead of have to do horrible regrind that a skill cap would force.

    Class based games require the ridiculous roundrobin “balancing” where in fact everything is always out of wack.

  7. Interesting stuff. Good post Syn.

    I’m curious about getting back into the game. Is it possible to be successful solo now or is it still largely group focused? I’m fine with grouping but my guild has since moved on so if I come back I’ll be on my own until I find another guild.

    • syncaine says:

      Tons of mobs you can farm solo now, and with the faster skill gains you will be making noticeable progress. Bloodwalls are a thing of the past as well, so you don’t need a guild with a city for that. How you fair in PvP is a combo of luck and skill, and plenty of people go out to PvP solo. NA1 is also still somewhat new, so while you will run into people with multiple elemental skills at 100, you will also find plenty of people still learning the game.

      As always, it’s easier if you have a good guild, but going solo until you find a good group is perfectly viable now. Hell most of my PvE time is solo even though I’m in a large and very active guild, and I farm stuff like Undead Dwarves, Air Elementals, Malachar, trolls, and higher-end goblins with good success. The AI changes they have made, along with mounts no longer self-healing, means PvE is also not all two-man shield and mount kicks.

      • Good to hear. I think I’ll give it another go soon. When I left, PvE was still enough to need a group for unless you stuck to the goblins in the newbie zones.

        There’s a feeling about Darkfall other games don’t have. It’s hard to put a finger on but I think it’s just how free and open everything really is. I’ve felt that gap in every other game since, TBH.

      • syncaine says:

        We recently had a guild mate come back to DF after quitting back on EU, and the thing that made it hard for him to play other MMOs was the combat. Once you get use to having to aim and not rely on tab-target, going back to that system was really jarring for him.

  8. Der_Nachbar says:

    I like their ideas of character specialization. One element of skill- and itemdesign that is too often overlooked, is the use of negative Attributes. It makes you bargain. Also you can add higher values to Boni, without mathematically imbalancing them, because the Malus makes up for it.
    These advancements may “force” you into some kind of class-template, but the choice is completely up to you.
    I know alot of people that play the same “class” in every fantasygame, why should they not be allowed to craft their favourite class with better efficiency than the jack-of-all-trades in a single field ?
    A system that may result in some class-shemes is far superior to the classical class-system.

    I might give Darkfall a try if Mortal Online fails ;) By then it should be a bit more complex and comfortable.

    • syncaine says:

      I don’t understand why some people on the DF forums are so afraid of class-like features being added. If the game gives you the OPTION to skew towards a healer type, why is that a bad thing? As long as you don’t design around the forced holy trinity of tank/healer/dps, what’s the issue?

      I currently prefer melee in DF over archery or magery (mostly because I can’t aim, and because I like the ‘in your face’ aspect of melee), why can’t I take the OPTION to limit my archery/magery and boost my melee over other players to cater to my personal preferred style of combat?

      • Dblade says:

        depends on the other players though, and how useful one option is compared to the other, or no option at all. Sometimes optional things become required when you factor in your guild’s wants or the the player’s expectations.

        It’s a problem with specializations in any game. The players often tend to hammer out the best builds and maybe require them for certain things.

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