This weekend was my first time playing. I had a lot of fun. I think the many bugs and issues are covered well in other places. I want to discuss some of the basic game design. This is a very long post. I would have posted it in the feedback thread but it took me too long to write and now it's closed. Whoops.
A pure open world PVP game needs a strong mix of tactical and strategic elements. Tactics are what you do in the fight. Using the right skills at the right time. Countering other player's attacks. Working together with your group and using positioning appropriately.
Strategy is the things you do before the fight and between multiple engagements: Counter-comping your opponent. Choosing the battlefield for maximum advantage. Scouting the opponent so you can take them by surprise. Prepping a smooth path to get back into the fight when your team loses players. Splitting your forces and harrying the opponent to play for time or maintain control of a critical point. Most modern mmos have almost no strategic elements to the pvp because they don't support open world or long engagements (sieges.) I think good strategic play is the most exciting possibility for Crowfall.
In a 5v5 fight, tactics is going to dominate. Use your skills well, you're a skilled player and you win. In a 100v100 fight, strategy is the most important. How and where you fight and the way you construct and organize your groups will determine the outcome. In a 10v20 a good small group can win with great strategy and great execution (tactics.) I like 10-20 per side fights the most for this reason.
With that in mind, I want to discuss both the tactical and strategic elements of combat in Crowfall. This isn't about balance per se. It's about what the current choices say about the possibility of rewarding tactical and strategic gameplay and how I would change them to encourage even more depth in both areas.
Counters. We need more. The effects of abilities are way too small and the delays way too long for counter->counter-counter->ult->counter-ult play to work. Abilities should have huge impact, require some skill to execute, and have direct counters from other archetypes. Counters should be quick to execute and reward reaction speed. This is important for tactics but it's also for strategy. Without counter-play you can't counter comp which means there's no real strategy in group selection. Without significant effects, there's no urgency to eliminate a specific archetype or lock them down. Which makes target selection and elimination less important. Here are some specific extensions of this: Don't put reactive skills like stuns and knockbacks behind combos or cast times. Do put powerful skills behind combos so that players can interrupt them. The caster should have to consider when it's safe to go for a big combo. If a combo gets interrupted, the whole combo chain needs to go on CD. Dispels! We need more of them to counter CC and other abilities. More examples: AOE snare/root removal is lame. Targeted snare/root removal is cool (if it worked. Currently the net disappears but the root persists.) A 10% movement buff for 20? seconds is lame. A 100% movement buff for 5 seconds is cool. A 25% healing reduction for 5000 health is lame. A dispelable healing immunity for 10 seconds is cool. Myrm enrage is dumb. No class should have damage immunity for 80% of the time. Enrage is backwards. It's easy to cast and requires a lot of work (counting down in your head a 16s timer) to counter. So I like that the ability is powerful. But it needs to be switched up. The importance of huge abilities is especially high when the ratio of health to damage is so big like it is now. Almost broken skills with complete counters are that much more essential if the fight will last a while. Give people 20 second roots. But give everyone a root break and make roots break on damage. Give people damage immunities but make them dispelable or behind a long combo chain. Or require another player to combo with it to activate it. That stuff is great.
Snares. And roots. Just hand them out like candy. This game has way too much running away. Movement and positioning are huge parts of pvp. But people need reliable ways to keep their target close and kiting needs to be something that requires skill. Right now it's a total mess because one stun or knockdown lands and it's a chase. Peeling for someone getting tunneled should require a lot more coordination. Some archetypes should be able to get 3x speed burst to specialize in stopping runners. I miss the long duration roots from shadowbane. They really let you control runners and punish supports for playing out of position.
Simple != best. There's no point playing anything but a Myrm and Legio now. That's just a balance issue and will be fixed. But the problem is that Myrms and Legios are overpowered, boring and easy. Simple. The simplest classes should be pretty good in the hands of a mediocre player but they should be the worst choice for a skilled player. This lets mediocre/new players feel competitive but good players dominate. I think the right balance is for a really good player on a min/maxed high skill character to outplay and beat 3 bad players together. So, 1v3 should be possible. High skill cap characters with powerful counter abilities make this possible.
Versatility. Don't add abilities that make it so you can't use other abilities. Tradeoffs are cool but you have to be really careful. A myrm rarely uses their 2 for anything but crash. Their C is cooler because they have to decide to use it as a CC break, for damage, for CC or for preventing crash. Bundled skills with multiple effects are great for this because they force players to make good decisions. Skills that are only used when a very specific thing happens are much less cool and tactical.
Vulnerabilities. Please add more exposes to specific damage types. This makes spec groups super cool. It forces execution from the players with the expose and counters from the opponent to prevent them.
Healing. If you don't want it, get rid of it. This game proposes to eliminate the "firehose healer" but healing seems just as important in this game as it was in any other. In fact, I see MORE healers in groups than less. Healing is a mechanism to cover for player error and tends to extend the duration of fights. I play healers because I'm bad. When I make a mistake I heal myself up and try again. When you make a mistake, I say don't be bad and heal myself instead. Stop healer elitism! More seriously, mitigation and prevention are more interesting mechanics than recovery. It's a bummer we've always focused so much on recovery. A healer who could recover 1000 hitpoints/second could be as effective preventing an enemy from doing 1000 hitpoints/second or shielding 1000 hitpoints/second. I think the feeling is that healing is reliable but mitigation and prevention are unreliable. I'd love to see a game where prevention and mitigation were 3x recovery. I think that would be very interesting gameplay.
Game issues. It's really hard to outplay someone when there's lag, warping, skills not going off, charges and teleports not putting you where they should, etc. etc. It's going to be super critical to fix these things for real, tactical gameplay. Things need to be 100% reliable. Make sure everything is butter smooth before you spend too much time on balance. If the game launches with any of these issues I don't think it will be taken seriously as a pvp game.
I didn't see a lot of strategic play in Big World. But it was also rare to see more than 5 people together. I touched on a few things in the tactics section: Abilities should have larger effects so that group selection is important. Counters are also important for group selection. Exposes make spec groups fun. Here are some other thoughts. Most of them are based on shadowbane because that was the most strategic MMO I've played:
Scouting. Visual inspection should tell you a lot about a character's capabilities. I think a character decked out in fire resist gear should look different than one wearing pierce resist. A discipline should provide a meaningful indication of the existence of the skill. This is all to increase the value of scouting. Good intel on your opponent should win fights.
Positional advantage. There is very little collision in the terrain. You can jump over most things. Object density should be higher so line of sight plays a bigger role. Almost everything can be run up but the very steepest mountains. Gradation to slopes should provide some type of obstacle. There should be meaningful advantages for attacking from above and behind. Currently, there's not much strategic advantage to controlling the battlefield. When our opponents were abusing a bug to put bombs around a gold mine, it was annoying. But it made me realize that without bugs, there is very little you can do to fortify a position. I think a few more persistent mines or even terrain manipulation skills (like building walls) would make for some much more strategic gameplay.
Openers. I think surprise should play a bigger role in providing an advantage. It would be great if there was some sort of group wide opener that could be used to confer an advantage on a group that can sneak up on another group. Something like an out of combat damage buff with a long cast time or an orb which if run over by all players in group within 2s confers a group wide shield. These ideas might suck but you get the general concept. I think it's fine that stealth groups could always get this opener because all stealth teams should be inherently weaker when not maintaining control.
Summoning. There should be ways for a group to bring in other members of the group. First, this would reduce the time spent waiting for one player who just logged in to run across the world. I spent a lot of time doing that in the last test. But more importantly, it provides strategic advantages to groups that can use it, provides an incentive to finish a fight, and provides a punishment for failing to clear the last runners. I remember lots of tense moments sneaking a few players into an unexpected location then summoning a group and carefully remaining undetected so we could attack from an unexpected direction. I think that gameplay is critical. On the other hand, I hope we never see instant movement to strategic locations. The ability to move around quickly should be dependent on getting a vulnerable player to the location you want to go.
Informational advantage. I don't know how to implement this one but I want to encourage it. In shadowbane, if you came across your opponent leveling a bunch of holy casters or had a spy in their guild, you might know you needed to stack holy resistance in your next fight against them. If they then lost and wanted to switch to a fire spec group, it would take some time and you could work to interrupt their groups or limit their access to items. With the vessel and crow system in crowfall, I don't think we have the same kind of predictability from our opponents. And thus there is a lot less value in having an informational advantage. Informational advantages are a big part of the political game and feed directly into the strategy of the fights. I'd really encourage ACE to think about ways to add significant, impactful informational advantages into the game.
Progression and customization
In order for a game to be an MMO, there usually has to be some element of character progression and customization. Otherwise, it might as well be a MOBA or an FPS. In Crowfall, we have progression and customization through both the time-based skill tree and gear.
I think there's enough feedback that the skill trees are unexciting and confusing. I expect most of the skills are placeholders. So I'll talk about something a bit different.
I suggest that the time based skill tree be a method of specialization while most of the progression (and some more customization) happens through gear. I'm fine with time based unlocking as I think the alternatives (usage based unlocking and grinding for xp) are worse.
The new pvp skill system in wow legion provides a pretty good template here, I think. I hate mentioning wow but I think they finally got this one right.
When we create an account, we should have a basic skill line already available. We can call this the trunk. As we advance our tree, we unlock branches that serve as alternatives. These alternatives provide interesting, meaningful changes to how our character plays. But they're always a tradeoff. If we unlock increased CC duration, then we have to give up additional bleed damage to get it. A similar system would work for crafting. There would be a difference between unlocking and specializing. Changing between unlocked alternatives wouldn't take as long as the initial unlock.
Now new players aren't so behind and we don't need a lame "catch up" mechanic that trivializes the time veteran players have spent training. New players unlock the ability to min/max and specialize their character over time as their understanding of the game advances and excitement to try new things takes over. People who sink all unlocks into crafting maintain a totally viable, if not very exciting, set of combat skills.
Gear, on the other hand, should be the primary means of progression. It also includes customization but slightly less so than skills. Better gear = progressed player. It's very important for gear to have a significant impact on character performance because contention for resources is the primary source of conflict. Without a constant need for resources, world pvp will dry up and people will only fight when there's a siege or some sort of big event. If gear is the main source of progression, gear comes from resources and resources are limited and valuable, then the pvp will be great.
Last little comment on gear. So far I don't think the augments on the gear are quite interesting enough to satisfy me. It's great we can specialize gear to be especially good against certain types of damage. Support power and crit damage are ok as long as the numbers are bumped up. But I think there should also be more creative gear augments that support interesting playstyles. For instance, lifesteal is very cool but it only seems to apply to the ranger ultimate. If there were a way to build a character entirely around lifesteal, that would be a very interesting choice.
I have one small suggestion for crafting. One of the bummers of crafting is that all the mystery is quickly resolved and all the details are posted on the internet. I think we could take some inspiration from roguelike games to resolve this. Each player is given a hidden seed that influences the type of augment they get from a resource. For one player copper + iron on armor might be support power. For another, it's pierce resist. This way, every player would have to experiment and learn their own path through the crafting system independently.
I'm not sure if it would be necessary to have a tiering system where the best augments were on a similar set of rare resources so that there were still high and low value resources. I'm wondering if the rarity levels of the resources themselves (green vs. blue) would solve this problem intrinsically. Currently, the rarest resource (gold) has value because of the harvesting tools. But it's not obvious that support power from gold is better than crit chance (or whatever copper gives. Can't remember.)
Campaigns and Eternal Kingdom
I am the most ignorant about how campaigns and the eternal kingdoms work since that's not a part of the last test, I'm a new player and I haven't read all the posts. I have a basic understanding and some thoughts. Sorry for any misconceptions.
My biggest concern is that in games that allow players to gain territory or consolidate power (like civilization, an rts or even settlers of catan) the benefits accumulate to the point where the last half of the game is just boringly playing out a foregone conclusion.
I think sports leagues have a template for solving this. Some sports like baseball or soccer have dynasties that consistently outperform other teams. This year was the exception when the cubs finally won. But the NFL doesn't have this to nearly the same degree. The NFL accounts for the problems of the rich getting richer by having a salary cap, profit sharing and allocating high draft picks to the worst teams. Basketball does something similar and so the fortunes of teams change more rapidly than in other sports.
I think Crowfall should be somewhere in the middle. Maybe more like college football. Or maybe I'm terrible at sports metaphors. Anyway, the campaigns do a good job of addressing this problem because they cause resets frequently. This is great. It's like seasons in sports. In modern MMOs, we actually have progression resets too. But they're tied to expansions. In between expansions, people get bored and new players feel like they can't catch up. People stop playing only to start again next expansion. Decoupling the resets from the rate at which developers can release content is imo a great idea. And I think 90 days is about right.
But this doesn't solve the problem of the rich getting richer. I'm concerned if winning one campaign will allow you to export resources or gear to another campaign. I think it should be the opposite.
I think there should be significant rewards for winning a campaign but they should be almost entirely cosmetic and quality of life. I know hardcore pvpers think cosmetic rewards are stupid but I guarantee that if there were special armor or mounts or titles for people who won campaigns, it would incentivize people to try hard. The theme park MMOs, pathetic as they may be, have shown us that cosmetic rewards ARE a form of progression and something people will work for.
So, I think performance in the previous campaign should set you back in the next campaign. The way I propose this works is that campaigns shouldn't start at fixed times or last for fixed periods. There should be win conditions and the new campaigns should start at 75% of the win condition of the similar campaign. This acts sort of like allocating draft picks to the worst teams. People who are losing in the campaign can focus their attention on the new campaign and get a head start. The people winning the campaign will have to hang on in that campaign to close it out and get their reward, placing them at a disadvantage they have to overcome in the next campaign.
Finally, I think we should take a page from Civilization and similar games. There should be multiple win conditions for a campaign so that the front runner can't use their lead to easily block others from competing with them. Multiple groups/guilds could be working on different win conditions and it shouldn't be totally obvious who is in the lead.
That's my manifesto. I guess I'll stop here. I'm excited for this type of game to come around again. I hope we have great tactical and strategic combat, a skill and progression system that doesn't turn away new players, a crafting system that isn't immediately googleable and a campaign system that doesn't force players to plod out the foregone conclusion of every campaign. If you're reading this sentence, thank you for scrolling to the bottom first!