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.