Pathfinder Online: Everything but the game is looking awesome!

July 16, 2014

I was recently talking to a friend about Pathfinder Online, with the gist of the conversation being that I love everything about the game on paper, from the design docs to what the devs have said, but actually seeing it in video is a complete no-go for me, and what that ultimately means.

On the one hand, ‘gameplay’ is a rather important aspect of any game, if not the most important. If what you are doing in the game isn’t actually fun most of the time, what kind of crazy person must you be to keep playing?

As crazy as most EVE players?

I mean, how much fun gameplay is there in many of EVE’s activities? Is mining ‘fun’? Are missions great gameplay? Even the high-point events like massive battles; for the average F1 pilot, is the gameplay really that great? I think most of the above can be answered with a “no, but…”. And that ‘but’ is huge (rimshot), because while mining is either boring or relaxing depending on perspective, it feeding into the best economy in the genre is a large part of what makes it such a popular activity in the game.

If Pathfinder gets the economy right, if it has interesting/worthwhile crafting, etc, would the fact that it has rather poor mining ‘gameplay’ matter? Because at this point I’d rather take poor gameplay but solid, sustainable systems over the opposite. If I just want great but shallow gameplay, I’ll play something other than an MMO.

Of course some of the gameplay has to be good/great. In EVE PvP can be thrilling, and at the highest levels (Alliance Tourney) it’s as deep and skillful as anything else. Pathfinder is in alpha still, so maybe the combat/gameplay will improve significantly, but even if it doesn’t, I can’t fully rule it out, even in the shape it’s in today.

(That said, please for the love of god improve the gameplay Goblin Works!)

 


DF:UW – At 95k prowess and counting

August 28, 2013

Alright, long overdue personal progress update on DF:UW time.

Currently my character is at 95k prowess, with 10k of that being spent on Armorsmith mastery. The rest is in stats (100str, 95dex, 95wis), general skills (100 in transfers, heal self, etc), and combat/warrior skills (100 greatsword mastery, 100 archery mastery, most battlebrand and berzark skills at 50-75).

The next big chunk of prowess is coming from finishing Fire Giants (35 of 150) and Terrors (180 of 400), as well as the gathering feats from our city’s grove and farm. My plan for more prowess is to pick up the dex booster, and buy the Skirmisher role skills. I’d like to switch to skirmisher for large-scale naval combat and just as a change of pace for sieges.

Proxy as a clan has been great. We are very active daily in terms of PvE and PvP, and with our allies Blood find ourselves in the middle of most sieges and Sea Fortresses. Thanks to the clan’s emphasis on getting better as a player, both from duels and after-combat reviews, I feel I’ve improved significantly. I’m still far from a top-tier player, but feel like I make a solid contribution in group combat, and 1v1 I can hold my own against many players.

The current war between the Death alliance and NOX has been the source of the large sieges for the last month or more, including perhaps the best battle in DF:UW happening a few days ago. The fight was over the city of Aradoth (again), and for multiple hours both sides would push in and out of the city and its surrounding area. One side would land some critical AoEs and push the enemy back, killing a few players in the process, only to have the other side regroup or receive reinforcements and make a counter-push.

Proxy was in the middle for most of the night on the side of the Death alliance, and we did a good job of keeping our 12-15 players together amongst the masses. When one of our own would go down, we would converge on that location and prevent the enemy from getting off a gank using our knockbacks. Another tactic that currently works very well is to intentionally knock a downed player further back behind the lines, making it easier to rez them and allow them to recover. Our primalists also did an excellent job of landing heals and revives as needed.

As for the game itself, AV is currently busy launching the game in Korea and Japan, leaving the US/EU without a patch since mid-August, much to the delight of Forumfall. As for the content added, I’ve still yet to visit the two newest dungeons, but have attended all but one of the Sea Fortresses. The revamped village capture and stealing system has made the villages around Izkand a source of activity for myself and Proxy, and we continue to be active on the seas in Scrapers and combat ships.

 


DF:UW – High risk harvesting at sea

July 29, 2013

MMOs (should) add lots of content over time. What is added and what it accomplishes varies. Sometimes you get more of the same (not a bad thing if ‘the same’ is still good), sometimes you get a revamp/upgrade, and sometimes you get something that not only adds content, but changes player behavior. Changing behavior is hard, risky, and underappreciated, but ultimately has the biggest impact. This post is about that kind of change.

When AV first added the Trawler, a ship that collects fish/lobsters/seaweed (mats for high-end food), it was a nice-enough addition. When AV added the Sea Scrapper, a ship that collects things off the sea floor (stone, broken items, ship cannons/mods, building mods, maps), the biggest buzz was that it pulled put a crazy amount of stuff and that it was ‘breaking’ the economy. (In reality it fixed the economy by reducing the cost of building mods, making city building/repair doable, reducing ship costs so more players can use/lose them, while not crushing the price of gear or other crafting, and creating a major gold sink from all of the broken items that need to be salvaged.)

Both ships gather materials and place them in a holding container on board so long as someone is sailing the ship and the sea ‘node’ is not empty. Additionally, the fish gathered by the Trawler earns you prowess, and if everyone on the ship is in a group, that prowess is split. Other than the captain, everyone on the ship can also use fishing rods off the deck, further gaining fish and prowess.

This weekend I took a group of new (5k or less prowess) players out on a Trawler, and while our trip ultimately ended in a fun PvP disaster, they gained a ton of prowess while also getting to experience one of the more unique and interesting aspects of DF. Again, the fact that you can do what would normally be a ‘high end’ activity with completely new players is a major, major strength of the game, but I’ve covered that aspect before.

Along with the above two ships, AV also changed how resource nodes in general work by adding danger levels to the world. Safe zones are level 0, player holdings are level 1, the areas just around that are level 2, a bit further you hit level 3, then 4, and the most dangers areas (red dragon, kraken, etc) are level 5. The higher the danger level, the higher the chance for a rare resource drop (essences, treasure maps, etc) from a node while harvesting.

On its own, the danger level added incentives to leave the safe zones to harvest (a notable issue until that point, as harvesting in the safe zone could be done afk without risk), and created ‘hotspots’ for killing harvesters in the level 5 areas. Those looking for harvesters might also run into others looking for them, and PvP happens. On its own it’s a great change that influences player behavior without FORCING people out of the safe zones or destroying a players ability to gather/craft in the safe zone to get started (essences are only used in mastery-level crafting).

Now combine the new gathering ships and danger zones, and you get something really great. The level 5 sea areas are MAJOR pirate magnets, but if harvested successfully bring in a crazy profit. The result is not only a white-hot PvP spot, but a spot of interest to both PvP’ers AND crafters/PvE’ers (the ice dragon and kraken spots are the level 5 areas). It’s a great risk/reward system all around. You can bring a fleet of ships and lots of players to enhance your chances of success, or you can venture out solo on a Scrapper and hopefully not run into anyone. If you do, you are likely dead and down a ship, but if you gather for a bit and get away with it, you just made some serious bank. Likewise, a fleet can contain both harvesting ships and PvP ships, so you potentially could not only bring home what you gathered, but someone else’s ship/loot as well. Or you run into a bigger/better fleet and win/lose a blowout fight in the ocean, which represents one of those rare but ultra-memorable sandbox ‘peaks’.

The last and hopefully biggest piece of this ocean puzzle will be the addition of Sea Fortresses ‘soon’. In DF1 these were large structures out in the ocean that would go live every 3 days (if I remember correctly), and whoever got the final cannon shot to reduce it to zero HP would gain a huge amount of wealth. This resulted in a timed, pre-planned spot to bring a navy and engage in sea combat. The fortress also had powerful cannons that could be used against ships, resulting in some tense ground fighting along with the action in the water. In addition to the general excitement of these coming back, I wonder what if any changes AV will make to how they function in DF:UW. I also suspect they will be level 5 danger zones, created yet another hot spot for PvP/gathering.

Side-note about the gathering ships; I love that they are a high risk, high reward, ‘better in a group but not forced grouping’ version of gathering. We so often talk about how to make gathering better or more interesting, and this is EXACTLY how I want it done. No stupid mini-game, no instanced garbage, no ‘end-game’ switch. Just a new tool (the ship), a small twist (resources in the box as you sail vs your character hitting a node), and emergent gameplay (pirating). More of this please, all around.


DF:UW – The value of owning a city

May 13, 2013

A popular topic on ForumFall of late has been the value of player cities and hamlets, with some believe they are not worth owning, or that the cost to build them up is too great and needs to be reduced. OTG has been living out of our city (Kvit) for about a week now, and it’s highlighted some ‘hidden values’ to me.

There are the obvious benefits of owning a city, such as being able to bind at the stone, receiving the system messages when anyone comes in/out, and the minor regen buff the city provides to its owners. Cities also have resource nodes (mines, farms, etc) that can be built, but OTG has yet to build ours so I can’t really comment on that.

The above are nice, but certainly not worth the large amount of resources needed to build up a city. But because DF:UW is a sandbox, the hard-coded benefits are only a small part of the value.

Since moving in, we have put up the keep and some houses to increase the maximum number of binds allowed, and currently we are at 71. This has allowed many (but still not all) of our members to bind from the same spot, making grouping and responding to attacks much easier.

For a more casual clan that has a wide range of PvP-skilled players, having numbers close by means we don’t get rolled whenever someone comes along. It also means we can farm high-value spots like Ogre Bullies or Arctic Bears with confidence, and have the numbers to chase someone off the spawn should we need to. It also allows for quicker grouping, so those with less time don’t spend most of it riding to get to a group. And since we are all concentrated, groups are always up and something is always happening.

Another benefit is learning the local area. By knowing where all of the local spawns are, as well as the major geographic features, we are better able to quickly respond to a call for help, and when fighting know the terrain and how best to use it. For instance, we know where the land gets relatively flat and clear of obstacles, so we know when to keep chasing someone on a mount and when it’s best to jump off and try to bow them down. We know the location of iron nodes for quick gathering, and where the best hiding spots are for escaping a chase.

Owning and building up a city also motivates us to take group mining trips, where a bunch of us will head and out clean out iron nodes for the clan. We do this geared up for PvP, and often find it (or it finds us). Seeing the city gain buildings and (soon) added functionality gives everyone a goal to work towards, and creates game and clan ‘buy in’.

Finally, because other players know OTG lives out of Kvit, we in essence have created a bit of a PvP hotspot. This is greatly beneficial for a number of reasons. First, DF:UW is a PvP MMO, and having PvP come to us saves us the trouble of having to finding it (though we do plenty of that as well). Near-constant PvP also means our members are getting experience and becoming better players, rather than sitting in a secluded corner getting fat and lazy off nothing but PvE (something that happened in DF1 to many clans). And thanks to the factors above, OTG has been holding its own in most fights, meaning not only do we have PvP delivered to our front door, but nice loot as well.

Owning and actively living out of Kvit has been a major boon for OTG, and we are excited to continue building up the city and carving out a place for ourselves in Agon.


DF:UW – Story of a new player

May 1, 2013

Copy/pasting this from the Darkfall forums, written by Hydride.

—————

So I’m currently working abroad, playing on my laptop and have crap internet. I have a 6k pp Warrior. My FPS in the cities is around 10 and outside 17 on average. So I am forced to be a Crafter because every time I go to hit a Mob, by the time I’m synced the MOFO is on my back.

So I hit nodes all day, buy and sell stuff and I know what your saying that is boring as hell “Yes it is”. However, I will be home in a few Months and I love this game so much that I am totally dedicated to it and can’t wait to start actually being able to PvE and PvP. By that time, gold and equipment will not be a issue because I will hopefully have a lot of crafts maxed out by then.

So Today, I got real tired of running round looking for full nodes and not finding any. I decided to empty my pockets into the Bank and just kept on me a 2 Pick Axes and a Mount. I jumped on my Mount and for the first time ventured way outside the SZ. I decided to head for the Coast and was constantly looking around me to make sure there was no players chasing me and also looking at the terrain. I stayed away from Mob spawns, also I used the terrain to my benefit by riding in the shadows, dead ground and also terrain that was the same colour as myself and my mount. Laugh some of you might, but it worked.

So I get to the Coast, jumped of my Mount and went in to total tactical mode. I crouch walked everywhere, I stuck to the shadows, manoeuvred round rocks and trees, checking my every direction there was before moving, popped my head up from behind rocks and through bushes to make sure I was alone. Believe me if I could have done a combat roll I would have done. I remember thinking to myself that if there was a GM in invisible mode, he would be laughing at me saying “Look at this Ninja Noob right here”. But hey it worked!!!

So I see a nice place to mine with 5 nodes within reasonable close prox of each other. Now 4 of the nodes was in cover or within the shadows, so I told myself I will only hit the ones that had decent cover from view and I did just that. Now I started tapping away and I would stop at any sound, because I had the in game music on, so I turned it off. Now I could hear everything and anything that sounded out of place I would stop, pop my head out left and right and carry on again. I soon got tired of this and said to myself I’m being paranoid. Low and behold I start tapping and I see this player on a Mount in the distances, I pressed C so damn hard to stop tapping this node and to crouch down that I am surprised I didn’t snap my laptop in Two right there and then. So this player on this Mount stops quickly and starts looking round, I already had my escape routes pre planned out and jumped in this bush where I could see what he was doing. He came right up to the node that was in the open and look at another node and must of said to himself I must of been hearing things and pushed off. My Heart was beating so fast it, I thought it was going to jump out my Chest. I kept eyes on him until he hit the horizon and carried on tapping the nodes. Every time I would tap out a node, I could hear this voice inside me saying get the hell out of there now, but there was one more node to rinse so I decided to stay and carry on.

I was tapping the last node and I heard another Mount, voice inside me saying “I f-ing told you to get the hell out of there”. I pressed C again but didn’t have eyes on this player, I moved across in the shadow to a Bush and jumped in it. Waiting to see where this Mount was and then I laid eyes on this Player and this Mount, but wait he was stood still and I could hear a Mount. I kept on watching and this player was being chased and was setting a ambush. “WAM PAM BOOM” they was going at it, I was like $%^& the Ore I gotta see this !@%^. So I ducked and dodge my way to a safe spot to get eyes on and on my way there, I had to bypass the Ambush dudes Mount. So I done what any half decent DF Noob would have done and I stole his Mount. I watched the fight to the end and see the Ambush dude win and the best bit afterwards was watching this dude who won try and find his Mount. After he left I found a nice place behind two big rocks with a bush in front of it to bindstone recall back.

Today was my most fun day in DF and I pocketed 800 ore, with 2 other trips out. I am a solo crafter and for the rest of the Noobs inside the SZ don’t be afraid to go outside. I have been lucky not to get killed, but Tomorrow I might get killed and so what if I do. This game is a dog eat dog world and only the strong or the smart survive. They might take your gear and your mats, but they can’t take away the fun moments or your pp and they can’t make you pregnant, so it’s all good.

I hope my fellow Noobs have the same experience I had Today and stay with this great game. To all you 10 year olds that want you hands held through this game and moan about dying on global and this forum, I don’t care you can quit. Because the real world is very much like DF and your Mum’s ain’t gonna be there to swipe your butts for you forever.


DF:UW – Review after two weeks

April 26, 2013

(Note: I write this sitting on my just-crafted boat, fishing away far off the Agon coast. Let’s see what I end up with at the end.)

MMO sequels are tricky. When you create a sequel, you generally do so because you can’t fix/patch/expand the original game to get it where you want it to go, and instead have to start fresh. The fact that EVE is 10 years in and without the need for a sequel is just another rock on the mountain of its amazing design, but then there is only one EVE/CCP.

Darkfall 1 was a great but greatly flawed game. For everything it did right (combat, seamless world, atmosphere), it was dragged down by design mistakes (increase-by-use progression system), bugs (rigormax), or exploits/hacks. It was a very harsh game right from the moment you logged in, and posed a giant hurdle for new players to catch up, not only in the skills needed to compete, but with complex UI scripts and keybinds. Near-forced overnight macroing did not help either.

Based on just over one week in, Darkfall: Unholy Wars is everything good about DF1, with most (all?) of the major negatives fixed or removed, and a lot of great stuff stacked on top of that solid core.

As previously described, the prowess system is wonderful. It truly rewards you for just playing the game, and allows you to progress in different ways. If you want to PvE, you can PvE and see progress. If you want to focus on harvesting/crafting, you will progress as well, and not JUST as a crafter. The game also rewards exploring Agon in many ways, be it random chaos chests, hunting down treasure maps, or simply finding resource/weapon stashes.

Combat has that DF1 feel, but is improved with the addition of the four roles (classes you can switch between at will) and the skills they bring. For me the biggest improvement is that unlike DF1, you don’t have half a dozen hotbars full of abilities, but instead 6-8 core skills you use, and those are easy to access with the base UI. Combat still gives you that huge adrenaline rush, and you still need to manage your stats like in DF1, but you can jump in and be effective much sooner, and without having everything maxed like in DF1.

Graphically the game is a better looking version of DF1. The character models are still average, but get the job done. Some of the animations could use work. The world itself is, IMO, one of the best-looking virtual worlds out. Not from a purely technical, poly-count high-rez textures way, but in terms of how you interact with the terrain and what it means. Seeing a giant spire in the middle of a lava field is not just a fancy instanced dungeon entrance or some “focal point” of a zone you quest to once and never see again, but a logical spot in a world that can be used for a number of things (siege stone location, epic PvP battleground, dragon farming encounter).

The lighting and shadows really add a lot of atmosphere to the game, and the musical score is a somewhat subtle but great addition. The sound (finally fixed just as of today) is as great as it was in DF1. You can pinpoint the location of someone based on noise, and keeping quiet is actually important when sneaking up on someone for PvP.

The starting experience is improved not only by a brief initial tutorial that shows you the basic controls, but with the inclusion of PvP-free safe zones around the starting NPC cities. These areas will allow new players to learn the ropes without having to worry about being ganked as soon as they leave town, and will also allow them to do some basic PvE to get their characters started and deposit some wealth in their banks. The decision on when to venture out and expose yourself to PvP is now up to each player, rather than some 24 hour newbie shield.

I’m sure I’ll cover more aspects of DF:UW as time goes by, but to wrap this post up I’d say if you enjoyed DF1 for what it was, I can’t imagine you won’t like DF:UW as much or more. If you missed DF1 but have interesting in a virtual world done right, and don’t rage-quit over FFA PvP, I’d recommend the game. Currently there are many clans open to new players, and overall the world is populated and lively.

(Two ocean tiles fished out from my boat. Gained 250 prowess, fished up two small treasure maps, and a ‘boatload’ of fish.)


DF:UW – Weekend update

April 22, 2013

I had a very busy weekend in DF:UW. Here are a few of the highlights and what I’m liking so far.

On Friday I spent most of my time trying to finish up kill feats for the mobs available around our chaos stone. I managed to wrap up goblins, skeletons, ghouls, and trolls. The nice thing about the easy spawn camps is that as soon as you finish looting and skinning, the next wave spawns, leading to little downtime and a quick pace to finishing your feats. They may not be worth a ton of prowess, but every bit counts and these type of camps are easily soloable with just basic (mob-drop) gear.

Friday night I was in a clan group farming a spot when two enemies came by. As we had five in our group, we fought them off at the spawn and gave chase when they ran. They fled across some water onto an island containing a portal chamber (fast travel location you need a portal shard to activate). The island is fairly small, and has a circular path up to the top where the portal itself sits. Along the path up there is a fallen tree that blocks your way, and you can either crawl under it or go to the side and jump over. Our enemies fled up this path, dodging arrows and spells.

Just as I jumped over the fallen tree, they sprung their ambush and suddenly two fleeing enemies became multiple (5-6?) people ready and looking for a fight. On top of the element of surprise, they also had our party a bit separated due to the chase, and the fight quickly turned into a slaughter thanks to the tight confines of the island path. Pretty cool little ambush I must say, and very clever use of the terrain (the fallen tree made it almost impossible to get away quickly).

Saturday started off very similar to Friday in terms of farming mob camps and responding to PvP calls, although the frequency of the PvP was much higher, resulting in much slower prowess gains from farming.

We also had a larger, more coordinated attack on the chaos bank itself that resulted in a near-total wipe after what must have been a 30 minutes, back and forth battle. Even in defeat it was still a blast.

Saturday night a clan member was offering a trip up to our city in the dwarf lands via his boat. A few of us took him up on the offer, and rode out to the coast to catch a ride and do some fishing. The cool thing about the cheapest boat (Wherry) is that it’s actually fairly large, and with its flat deck, makes for the perfect fishing boat.

I also learned that fishing is a great source of prowess, since the body of water you fish in has a lot more resources than a standard node (rock, tree, bush), and each fish yields just under a point of prowess. Better still, treasure maps are worth a nice chunk of prowess, and once dug up provide thousands of gold and rare crafting resources. I’m certainly going to either buy or craft my own Wherry to go on some trips.

Sunday I spent exploring the dwarf lands around our city, seeing what spawns were around and the best paths into the safe zone. Finally being back in a safe zone, I refined some mats and did a bit of gathering to finish up some more feats.

Sunday night consisted of farming a very active ogre bullies spawn, fighting off multiple waves of player attackers, and ultimately losing the spawn when a much large force rolled in. The weekend ended with another boat fishing trip, putting me at just under 8k total prowess.

Compared to DF1, progression in DF:UW is much smoother and more enjoyable. Since launch I’ve just been playing the game rather than focusing on progression at the expense of fun, and I don’t feel like I’m behind or gimping myself because I’m not at a bloodwall or afk swimming overnight. I don’t need to cycle transfers at all times to skill them up, and I’m not fighting players with exploited skills and impossible gains (rigormax).

I also believe that long-term the prowess/progression system is going to hold up very well. The time it will take to near-max a single role is not long (I suspect I’ll be there within a month), but after that there will still be a lot of things to spend prowess points on, and being able to switch effectively amongst roles will be a huge bonus that will give my character some great gameplay variety (but not pure power).

Even right now at lower prowess levels, PvP combat is a lot of fun. It’s a great mix of DF1 in terms of the pace and how it feels, but the special skills and abilities the different roles bring add variety without forcing you to max out everything like in DF1. The few very powerful (30k+ prowess) characters I’ve fought have beat me handily, but aside from simply hitting harder and having more HP, those players were also just better skill-wise (great aim with a bow, better skill usage, doing all of the little things that add up in DF), and I have no problem losing when I’m out-played.

A final note about the in-game population; right now its booming. There are dozens of players in the NPC cities I’ve visited, and world PvP encounters are very frequent. OTG always has dozens of actives in Mumble, and I believe we are just under 200 characters in the clan (recruitment is closed atm). It’s a bit scary to think what is going to happen population-wise once DF:UW is released on Steam.


DF:UW – The first two days

April 18, 2013

Quick report on my first two days of DF:UW for today.

Installing and patching the game went smoothly for me, in large part thanks to a private Torrent that an OTG member had setup for us to use. I would occasionally experience the lobby not connecting, but that never required more than 2-3 quick restarts to get around.

Once in-game, I created my character and started in Maharim lands. This worked out very well because OTG had already claimed a hamlet just to the south, and were also using a nearby chaos stone (unlimited character binds) with a bank as a base of operations. A quick run and I was bound to the stone and surrounded by clan members.

A cool little ‘sandbox’ aspect comes into play here. Because so many OTG members were bound to that chaos stone, we effectively ‘owned’ the surrounding area, as we would attack any strangers who came around. This has two almost opposite effect; one being that we can effectively farm together in safety and away from the over-populated starter areas, and the other being that we have now created a mini PvP hotspot, with various groups coming to our area looking for a fight.

Most of my time so far has been spent farming either mobs or resource nodes. The mob farming is helping raise my prowess while supplying some basic gear and gold. The resource nodes provide some nice downtime that also gets me some prowess and mats for crafting. Almost everything I’ve acquired has gone to the clan bank, as OTG has a few crafters we are ‘power leveling’ up to get everyone access to better gear. So far, that plan is working very well, and I believe we are up to r30 or r40 gear in most areas.

I’ve done a bit of PvP, and so far it’s been a blast. Most of the encounters have been a few unlucky fools attacking our members at a mob spawn, only to have 10+ people show up in force and beat them down. What we lack in skill we make up for in numbers without shame.

Most of the time anyway.

Late last night a small group of enemies attacked some of our members and managed to kill most of them. Our usual response managed to kill two or three of them, and a large (20+?) number of us chased the rest. As we chased however, the enemy was able to recover and their group of about ten fought back. As we were fighting some of the server’s best players, we got butchered in short order despite our superior numbers.

The best part was the clan’s reaction after the blowout. After a quick recount of what happened and what could have been done differently, everyone brushed off the defeat and instead focused on the fact that we had an enjoyable PvP encounter. Zero drama, zero raging; good stuff.


DF:UW – The brilliance of the prowess system

March 25, 2013

The appeal of a “use and improve” system to character progression is easy to understand, in part because it mimics real life. Want to get better at something? Do it (practice). Unfortunately sometimes being ‘realistic’ does not work in the gaming world, and “use and improve” systems very much fall into that category in the MMO genre.

From 1997 and Ultima Online’s skeleton wall, to Darkfall 1 and bloodwalls, players have always found a way to game such systems and get around them to get ahead. The devs in turn make changes to curb the behavior, be it slower skills gains in your house, slower gains off players, ‘power hours’, meditation, etc. The problem has always been that you are applying a Band-Aid to a wound that is ever-increasing (power-gamers will always create smarter macros, find better bugs, or simply brute-force harder).

The easy thing to do is blame the players, but the reality comes back to the fact that making an MMO is hard (right Lord British?), and making a PvP-based MMO might be the hardest design job in the industry. Design too much against the power-gamers, and your title becomes completely unplayable for anyone outside of that small minority. Limit the impact said minority can have, and you drive away the content-providers.

It’s with this history in mind that I bring such high praise to DF:UW’s new prowess progression system.

The basics of the system are this: every action earns you some amount of prowess points. Simple things like mining some iron might be worth 1 prowess per resource, while farming high-end mobs might be worth 20 or more prowess a kill.

On top of gaining pure prowess from your actions, the game also has an achievement system (feats) that reward prowess when completed. Gather 10 piece of iron, and you earn a bonus 7 prowess. Gather another 200, and you get 50. Gather an additional 3000, and you get 400. Feats cover all areas of the game; gathering, crafting, PvE, PvP, exploring, etc.

An example: You are out hunting goblins. Each goblin kill earns you one prowess. Skinning each goblin tombstone also rewards you with one prowess. After 10 goblins you earn the first goblin-slayer feat and open up the second (100 goblin kills). While skinning, you completed the first feat for collecting eyeballs (enchanting material). As you finish up your farming session, you return to town and salvage some of the drops, gaining a bit of prowess for that. Using those mats, you craft a new sword (prowess gain, progress towards crafting feats) to replace the one you just used and broke.

The beauty here is that a character at basically any level of prowess can do the above and make progress. The above can also be repeated for practically all varieties of mobs, as each has its own set of feats, and different mobs skin for different resources which again have their own feats.

So how you gain prowess is pretty brilliant, because you get it from simply playing the game, but not in the ‘play the game’ style of a “use and improve” system. That is only half the system however.

What you do with prowess is equally important. Simply put, you spend prowess on skills or character stats, with the cost increasing as the skill/stat gets higher and higher towards the cap. All skills outside of crafting can be increased in this way (crafting still increases from use, which works as you are resource-limited rather than time-limited with crafting).

The result is you can very easily become ‘viable’ with a bit of focus. Near-maxing one weapon skill, some basic spells, and your key stats can be done in a matter of weeks with normal (20ish hours a week) play. At the same time, ‘maxing out’ a character is incredibly difficult, both due to the increasing cost of skills as they increase and the diminishing returns on prowess gain as your overall total increases. On top of that, the more you play the more feats you will accomplish, so finding new feats to finish for a prowess boost will naturally drive players out of their comfort zone and into trying new things (different mob spawns, more PvP/PvE, crafting, etc).

How to spend prowess also adds some interesting decisions making, without becoming a “you just gimped yourself” choice system (you can always get more prowess). For instance, say you decide to gather for a bit; how much prowess do you spend on the mining skill initially? The more you spend, the faster you mine and the lower your chance of failure. However, spending those prowess points on the mining skill means you can’t spend them on combat-based skills. Each player will initially spend to a different level, in effect customizing their character’s skill to better suit their style of play.

And much like in EVE, maxing multiple weapon skills or role skills does not make you more powerful, it simply gives you more options. And just like docking up and getting a different ship in EVE, it will take some time and gear adjustment to make the switch in DF:UW. It’s good motivation to keep progressing, but it keeps the barrier-of-entry reasonable for players joining at a later date.

The impact this system has on how you play the game is rather dramatic, if sometimes in subtle ways. For instance, it’s no longer beneficial to use a spell as often as possible to skill it up, so players no longer run around cycling transfer spells ‘just because’. It’s not a game-defining change, but it cleans up one aspect that to new players traditionally quickly comes across as a flaw, or just stupid.

It also instantly removes blood walls, mount bashing, or the infamous ‘group-sex’ macroing from DF1. Instead you have the power-gamers identifying the best mob camps to farm, in the best group setup, and in the most efficient rotations. It creates new value in holdings close to such spawns, and rewards organized guilds that prioritize a guild crafter.

In short, the system rewards the kind of player behavior you want to encourage, which is basically going out and playing the game rather than doing boring/exploitive activities just to progress. It keeps the barrier-of-entry reasonable, while still retaining a very long character progression path. And most importantly, it feels fun and rewarding, both on a micro and a macro scale.

Funny that it took 15+ years, and a small indie studio to get us there, but better late than never.


The difficulty of depth

February 1, 2013

Jester’s excellent Fractal post is well worth reading, and it’s just one example of the deep, multilayered posts frequently made about EVE. If you read enough blogs with enough variety, I’m sure you have picked up on this as well. Posts about virtual worlds such as EVE tend to juggle a multitude of factors when considering a point, while a post about something like the WoW LFR changes is limited to just that single feature.

That’s not an accident. Blog posts work off what an MMO provides. Something as simple and compartmentalized as WoW is going to warrant simpler, more focused posts. Do you like the change? Yes/No and why. Something as intertwined as EVE offers the chance to write something like Fractal (which itself is fairly focused in the EVE-scale of things), and the discussion can often spiral into any number of sub-topics.

It’s also why something like the CSM makes sense in EVE, while it would be a total waste of time in WoW.

Comments such as this always make me laugh:

EVE [has a] large population of non PvP players supporting the economic survival of the PvP part

It’s not quite as silly as the 80% highsec chant, but its close.

There are no non-PvP players in EVE. It’s a PvP MMO. Just because someone is focused on mission running or manufacturing does not mean they are not playing a PvP MMO. EVE is not WoW where you can select which ride to go on, insulate yourself from everything else, and enjoy. Mission runners need (or will be reminded) to consider suicide gankers looking for targets flying something too expensive. Manufacturers have the best economy in an MMO to play in because of the sinks, balances, and risks that PvP provides. Traders have a job, in part, because moving something in EVE is a calculated risk thanks to the PvP factor.

In a virtual world, everything matters to everyone, whether you know it or not. In WoW, arena players don’t exist to raids, alt-players don’t exist to raiders, and econ people don’t exist at all because lulz WoW puppy economy.

It’s also why, as CCP states often, once EVE has its hooks in you, that’s it. Most vets never ‘quit’. They might go on a break, or their playtime will ebb and flow, but few ‘finish’ EVE and completely leave. There is just too much game for anyone to fully consume; in part because all of it is player-driven, but also because everything is tied together and changes in one area affect others.

And that’s hard to create, let alone balance. It requires a lot of buy-in from the power players that make such worlds spin, all while giving their cogs reasons to stick around as well. It also means not getting tricked into ‘get rich quick’ gimmicks like ‘fluff is content’ (Incarna), or believing that this massive other group of players would totally sign up if you just made life a little easier overall (Trammel, NGE) or add something to the formula without considering the total impact (ToA).

The reason MMO history has more examples of failures and mistakes than success stories is because getting it right is more difficult than perhaps anything else in gaming. Doubly so because Blizzard had the stars align for them with WoW and skewed the perception of success and how to attain it.

The correction process is a slow one. We’ll get there eventually though.

 


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