How was my Hearthstone weekend? I’m glad you asked. See, I was playing a 3-star Masters game when this happened:
…nah, just playing. This was in my last Arena game. I wish I would have taken more screenshots of the setup, but how the fuck was I supposed to know there would be 16 damage on the field on Turn 4? Well, now I will. And in the off-chance you think you might have a better series of plays, let’s recreate it at home:
- Turn 1 (me): Nothing.
- Turn 1 (him): Shieldbearer (0/4 with Taunt).
- Turn 2 (me): Hero power, hit Shieldbearer for 1.
- Turn 2 (him): Secret (i.e. Snake Trap)
- Turn 3 (me): Draw and play Novice Engineer.
- Turn 3 (him): Stonetusk Boar + Ironbeak Owl.
- Turn 4 (me): Attack with Engineer, trigger Snake Trap. Cast Mark of Nature (+0/+4 and Taunt).
- Turn 4 (him): Animal Companion (Misha 4/4 and Taunt) + Unleash the Hounds.
The only real decision I had at any point there was on Turn 3, when I drew the Novice Engineer. Ideally, I wanted to play Raging Worgen, but I was concerned that the Secret the Hunter played a turn prior was a Snipe (deal 4 damage to next minion opponent plays). Given that, I figured Engineer was the safer bet, considering the Harvest Golem would have died immediately to a Snipe and wouldn’t have enough attack to kill the Shieldbearer either. Ultimately, none of that mattered.
It just… boggles the mind, you know? Whoever is designing class cards for the Hunter over in Blizzard HQ just really shit the bed when they imagined things like this:
…is anything approaching good design. The +1 Attack is even permanent! The worst part though, is that Unleash the Hounds is literally the only shtick that Hunters even have. Shaman have it pretty ugly too with an over-reliance on Bloodlust (which is itself a “I suddenly win!” card), but theoretically you could go some kind of +Spellpower route and then stack your deck with all the (Rare!) AoE and Lava Bursts and such. Hunters are just
Bears, Bears Bears beasts, beasts, beasts, plus removal and (Common!) Unleash the Hounds. Snake Trap is an Epic (!) “trap” which is exceedingly useless at anything at all other than being Unleash the Hounds bait. And… that’s it. GG.
Blizzard has already committed to “fixing” Unleash the Hounds, but no matter what they do, it will essentially be a completely different card. Unless the devs punt and make it cost 2 mana or something, of course. If they increase the cost any further than that, the Attack boost will need to be higher, which transforms it into Bloodlust-lite. Anyway, the funny part is the explanation for why Blizzard will be changing Unleash the Hounds:
All of our changes are done with the utmost care. We don’t change a card simply because the community says it should be so. In the case of Unleash the Hounds, it was promoting a rather un-fun play environment in this particular type of deck. I believe we touched on this at BlizzCon, but games of Hearthstone should be like a puzzle, where decisions you make are important and have an impact on the game. Even if you made an incorrect choice when deducing the “puzzle”, you still end up learning something in the end and growing as a player by experience. With Unleash the Hounds, it went against that philosophy and left the opponent feeling more or less helpless when suddenly it’s BEASTS, BEASTS EVERYWHERE. While it’s an effective strategy of sorts, that feeling isn’t fun, and we want Hearthstone to be fun for both players.
I agree that the “puzzle” aspect of Hearthstone is by far my favorite part. And while there aren’t always many moving parts, when you hit one of those make-or-break turns, your internal clockwork will be spinning pretty fast indeed. For example:
What’s the right call, here? Arcane Missile and hope 2 or 3 of them hit the Injured Blademaster? If all three missiles hit the Priest, you could hypothetically Coin into the Counterspell and then trade your one lone creature for the Blademaster and then watch as the Lightwell erases all your damage. Or do you Coin into a Fireball targeting… well, it’d have to be the Blademaster unless you wanted to trade right away (the risk of the Priest healing the Blademaster and then just killing your dude is too high) and clear the board. Personally, I went with the Arcane Missiles, two of which did hit the Blademaster, allowing me to ping him dead with my Hero Power.
Of course, next turn, the Priest cast Divine Spirit + Inner Fire, turning his Lightwell into a 10/10 healing monster. But, hey, puzzles!
Incidentally, one of the exciting bits of news out of BlizzCon was that Hearthstone is going to feature Adventures, which are a single-player PvE-style experience against “boss” mobs. This Polygon article gives more details from the panel:
During the Hearthstone Fireside Chat panel, Dodds said an Adventure will be a “focused, single-player, PvE experience” where players will face off against a boss or series of bosses and earn cards associated with the Adventure. He expects there to be 20-30 cards associated with each.
“They are going to be cards that absolutely change the meta game, because we’re paying attention to that a lot and will make sure that these cards are going to shift the meta game,” Dodds said, “but they’re not going to be cards that specifically have crazy new mechanics in them just yet. Those we’re saving for the expansion side.”
Though he said Blizzard is “still figuring our way,” he said players could expect to see a series of alternating Adventures and expansions.
Good news for those who finally tire of the #AllSkill wins that frequently occur. Plus, the fact that you can actually keep/use the cards you earn in PvE-mode against other players (and perhaps the existence of PvE mode at all) is likely a dig at the upcoming Hex… whose Alpha test is something I’m going to be talking about soon. Pretty clever of Blizzard though, to give themselves the ability to release cards outside of an expansion in order to stabilize/upset a degenerative metagame. We’ll have to see if they have the gumption and card design chops to pull it off.
Based on Unleash the Hounds and Mind Control though… I dunno.
Tobold is by no means the first person to point out that Warlords of Draenor’s free level 90 character is a “doubling-down” on vertical progression. I mean, I don’t see why anyone would claim that even vanilla WoW was anything other than vertical progression given how you couldn’t grind your way to max level via the Westfall boars, South Park-style, but whatever. The thing that profoundly bothers me in these sort of debates though, is this sort of nonsense:
So we are being told that when the expansion comes out, World of Warcraft will be all about levels 90 to 100. You will play nearly exclusively on the new continent, maybe sometimes visit the capital cities for some features, but will have no reason whatsoever to enter over 90% of the zones of World of Warcraft. If by some server glitch the old zones ceased to exist, most players wouldn’t even notice. I find that rather sad, so much wasted space and potential.
I literally cannot understand this line of reasoning. I understand what is attempting to be said here, but it seems so far removed from reality as to be unintelligible.
First of all, the post-Cataclysm world still exists. Even if we are going to assume that there will be a lot of brand new WoW players coming into the expansion – which we have no reason to believe there will be, at least in comparison to returning players – the fact remains that the world and all of its quests will still be there for that new player’s alts, at a minimum. Assuming, of course, that this hypothetical new person even enjoys questing in the first place. And if they do, there is nothing stopping them from questing from level 1 to 100 while saving the instant 90 for some other purpose. Meanwhile, the returning veterans who quit in the middle of an expansion they presumably didn’t like are being asked to… what? Spend a few dozen hours slogging through 2+ year old content to get to the stuff they were actually excited enough to resubscribe to see?
Secondly, how can the old content ever be considered “wasted?” All of those zones and quests have been utilized, extensively, by millions of players for years. How much more utilized does it need to be? And how? And why? Even in horizontal progression MMOs, where do you find people? Where the new things are. The odds of you finding someone running around the mid-level zones in Guild Wars 2 is approximately zero, unless there happens to be some kind of 2-week patch dragon dropping off a treasure chest every three hours. You’re not going to find an EVE veteran mining Veldspar even if Veldspar remains a critical component of crafting spaceships.
Content obsoletes itself. That is not a problem, that’s linear time working as intended. Novelty only ever decreases, at least in terms of crafted content. Hell, how long can you experience interest in even procedurally-generated content like in Minecraft? At a certain point, even the weirdest terrain formation is reduced to its constituent parts at a glance – it sure as hell isn’t as impressive as the first time you laid eyes on your future mountain fortress location.
Time marches on. Just because you don’t hang out at the playground or swing from monkey bars anymore does not mean they are now wasted content, even if no one else ever uses them again. They existed in a time and a place and served their purpose well. Is that not enough? Were you not entertained?
It always seems the greatest irony in MMOs are those players who wish for living, breathing virtual worlds that never change.
SynCaine brought up an interesting point about the future of Hearthstone:
“situation in Hearthstone only ever improves”
Until the the first expansion is released, and what do you think is going to be the revenue driver for the game?
At least with MtG:O, it was understood you were stepping into a P2W arena, where you could pay X to compete with Y. What level you wanted to compete at was up to you and your wallet.
Here, I feel as though Blizzard is trying to hide the P2W aspect (especially in beta), but ultimately that’s what the model demands. Without new cards you don’t keep people interested, and for those new cards to be interesting, they have to be worthwhile (aka; stronger/better).
I think the heavy class-based gameplay is also a balance nightmare as we are already seeing, and I expect it to get worse as the better players create more gimmick decks. Woe is the free player if the FOTM gimmick requires an epic or ten.
While the game isn’t even in Open Beta at this point, I think it is reasonable to start thinking about where Hearthstone goes from here. At the moment, I am sort of worried about the “depth” of the game, although it’s possible that it’s current shallowness accessibility is a feature, not a bug. Then again, I’m not entirely sure.
There are several things working against Hearthstone’s future. The biggest is it’s class system. In a card game like Magic: the Gathering, you can have a robust metagame arising from even the “generic” Core Set (which come out once a year and forms a “base” upon which the near-quarterly expansion sets build upon) because you can conceivably play any card you want; the five colors of Magic have their own class-like themes and mechanics, but you can mix and match to your heart’s desire. Thus, a Black/White deck can play totally different from an all-Black or all-White deck. With Hearthstone, a Paladin’s cards are exclusive to Paladins. You can’t choose to play, say, Avenging Wrath in your Mage deck, for example. Or Divine Favor in your Shaman deck.
A related long-term problem is expandability. I am not talking about running out of mechanics or creatures to reference from WoW or Warcraft lore (although that’s sort of a concern, honestly), I am talking about how many new cards can actually be coherently added. In short, Blizzard is going to have to either create a ton of new cards each expansion, or barely any. For example, an expansion that adds just one common, rare, and epic card to each class will require 30 new cards (9 classes + neutral). While that may or may not sound like a lot of cards, unless these new cards are above the curve or enable entirely new strategies, it’s possible that an expansion could be a total dud for you and the class you enjoy playing despite increasing the total card pool by 10% or more.
Third, as I have mentioned before, the class balance is on a razor’s edge even in a perfect scenario. It is pretty much a given that we will see a Death Knight and Monk class added in an expansion, and they will need to have at least 15 additional, class-exclusive cards and unique Hero Powers. While that can certainly shake up the overall balance structure, it’s not as though your specific metagame will likely change all that much. Because, again, your Mage deck is limited to Mage cards plus Neutral cards; there is no DK “splash” to provide additional depth.
Fourth, it is worth considering how many different mechanics Blizzard is A) willing to implement in this game, and B) can implement in this game. One of the most basic creature abilities in Magic is Flying: a creature with Flying cannot be blocked except by other creatures with Flying, although it can choose to block non-Flying creatures. In the context of Hearthstone, this ability doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, as you have complete control (barring Taunt) to choose whether your creatures attack your opponent or a specific creature. Now, Blizzard could certainly shoehorn it in there – perhaps making the flying creature untargetable by other creatures – but that’s when the devs start to go against their (presumed) mandate towards simplicity.
And that’s just with Flying.
Lastly, SynCaine’s cynicism regarding Blizzard making overpowered cards to sell future expansions is not without merit, even if I would argue that it’s largely unavoidable and not inherently malicious. Power creep happens. Even when “the rules” about costs are nailed down, some options are more powerful/relevant than others. In Magic, a First Strike 2/2 is better than a Trample 2/2 even if they both cost the same amount of mana. A Flying 2/2 is arguably better than either. I have pointed this out before:
Being a Beast is not as powerful as the other two cards, unless you are playing a Hunter Beast deck. But the more damning implication, IMO, is how the above cards sort of imply that a 1/4 for 2 would be balanced. Or a 2/4 for 2 mana, even. We already have 3/2s with an ability, 2/3s with an ability, 1/3s with a huge ability for 1 mana (Priests, seriously), so a 2/4 for 2 isn’t outlandish rules-wise. And yet it would be crazy OP, invalidating a huge swath of two-drops. The context of the environment is as important and possibly more so than the strict card power rules.
All that being the case, I don’t actually agree with SynCaine that the new player is screwed, as my prior declaration remains accurate: your situation in Hearthstone only ever improves. Six expansions later, assuming no structural changes, you will still be able to Disenchant the cards you don’t want to directly create the cards you do. That’s unbelievably huge in the CCG world. Even if you take the stance that your likelihood of opening one of the “ten or so required Epics” is necessarily diminished (assuming new cards are stuffed into the same virtual booster pack), your ability to guarantee a card is not – you will always get 40 Dust per pack, minimum. Ten packs is an Epic of your choice. You’ll get enough gold in two days of daily quests to buy a pack straight-up, or three if you want to go the Arena route. So, unless expansions are coming out every 1-2 months, you’ll have plenty of time to get whatever cards you need to be/stay competitive without spending a dime.
Spending dimes gets you there faster, of course. But in this context, I’m okay with it.
I came across a thread on Reddit which was a pining for the “old days” of MMOs when you either grouped up or didn’t get to actually play the game. Which, now that I think about it, is a scenario not all that different from empty FPS servers. Anyway, the top-rated comment concluded with this:
The truth of the matter is, those of us that grew up on the hardcore MMOs, we’ve already done it. Most of us just don’t want to do it again. I don’t want to play a MMO that takes over a year to hit the level cap. I don’t want to play a MMO where I have to stand around for hours before I get to play. I don’t want to play a MMO where I can permanently lose everything I’ve done in the last few hours. I’ve already done that; I don’t want to do it again. The novelty of the MMO is gone. There are better ways to enjoy my time.
There is a nuance to this argument that I don’t see all that often, and I’d be interested in what other veteran MMO players have to say about it. It’s one thing to say that once some auto-grouping functions are released, like LFD or LFR, that there is no removing them. But put those aside for a moment and ask yourself: how many times do I feel like I could start over in a “pure” MMO (whatever you define that as)?
Maybe the question is nonsensical, considering we technically “start over” each time we play a new game. On the other hand, I’m not entirely convinced another MMO could bribe me enough to get back into raiding as a full-time job again. Even if your game of choice was EVE, how willing would you be to starting over in a completely new game with similar time-investment requirements? Still willing to spend 1-2 years of real-time building up a skill set? Or do these sort of investment mechanics have diminishing returns regardless of “dumbing down” or other streamlining that might go on?
Game: Torchlight 2
Recommended price: $5/bundle
Metacritic Score: 88
Completion Time: 35 hours
Buy If You Like: Torchlight 1, Poorly itemized Diablo-clones
Torchlight 2 is the hack-n-slash sequel to the original Torchlight, itself an homage and erstwhile competitor to Blizzard’s Diablo series. Indeed, Torchlight 2 was released around the same time Diablo 3 was making headlines with its controversial always-on requirements and server-dependent gameplay. While it makes a great counter-point to Diablo 3 on the feature listings, Torchlight 2 is essentially more of the same from the original game. Which, in my case, is bad news.
My fundamental gripes with both Torchlight games are their meaningless adherence to archaic game design, and a fundamentally terrible itemization/progression system. Torchlight 2 features four different classes to choose from, each with three separate class trees. While they mainly follow traditional hack-n-slash roles, there does exist room for experimentation: there are more than enough talents to choose from to transform, say, the archer-esque Outlander into a melee-only tank (albeit not likely as powerful as a normal tank class). Where this experimentation immediately breaks down is how there is no respecing in Torchlight 2; at most, you are allowed to get a refund on your last three talent points. While this was how things worked in Diablo 2, it is also true that at one point people thought asbestos as insulation was a good idea.
The more crippling flaw though, and the singular design that undermines everything else the game set out to accomplish is the awful itemization and item progression system. While not as outlandishly terrible as the original Torchlight, it is still entirely possible (and even likely) that you will receive a random drop at level 17 that you will still be using 40 levels later at the end of the game. The core of what made the Diablo series so compelling to play was how items and gold erupted from nearly every enemy you faced, and thus you had a steady supply of dopamine over the course of what otherwise is series of perpetually unengaging clicks. Torchlight 2 has none of that – nearly two-thirds of the game was spent vendoring every ring, helmet, amulet, and pants I came across.
It gets even worse, if you can image that.
Clearing an entire map’s worth of mobs and collecting every single piece of vendorable debris results in what I would like to term one “Gear Unit” (typically 2000g-3000g). Each GU allows you to either purchase one item from a vendor, or upgrade an existing item by either adding gem sockets, enchantments, or purchasing gems themselves. This ridiculous stinginess with gold means you are perpetually strapped for cash, only allowing you to augment the gear you’ve accumulated one map clear at a time. God help you if you’ve finally accepted the fact that you’ll never replace your boots only to have an infinitely rare upgrade drop right after spending 10,000g (or 3 GUs) on your old pair.
Oh, and by the way, the Gold Chests and Boss Chests that you are “rewarded” with for going out of your way to find the keys or defeat said boss end up dropping jack shit 99% of the time. I have found more rares and unique items out of normal, everyday treasure chests than I have ever gotten from boss chests. How do you fuck something like this up?
I am spending all this time talking about loot and such because that is the heart and soul of the hack-n-slash genre. To get loot wrong in these sort of games is to create a racing game with poor-handling cars or a FPS where the guns don’t shoot at the crosshairs. Indeed, would anyone play a Diablo-esque game if there was no gear at all? The gameplay, which consists of mowing down tens of thousands of mobs within seconds of their appearing on the screen absolutely is not compelling enough on its own, that’s for goddamn sure.
All of which is certainly a shame, as Torchlight 2 is otherwise an improved sequel in pretty much every other way. The gameplay (such as it is) feels more responsive and impactful; the environments are detailed and fun to look at; the music is about a half dozen artful remixes of the Tristram theme; and I enjoy the visual style. It just feels, you know, completely unrewarding to play.
It is worth mentioning that all of these problems have been solved by better game designers, e.g. the players submitting mods to the game. There are mods that range from introducing new character classes to entirely new dungeons to, you guessed it, fixing the loot issue by guaranteeing Unique or better drops from Gold/Boss chests. I decided early on to stick with the vanilla game because I wanted to get a feel for what the devs learned from the original Torchlight. The answer is “pretty much nothing.” Playing with mods “taints” your character though and otherwise makes you ineligible for achievements. But since the base game feels like such a massive chore to play, I highly recommend anyone deciding to install Torchlight 2 to go ahead and fix what the devs had not the brains and/or balls to do.
I finally beat Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep a few nights ago. It was… painful.
The DLC itself was fine – it is humorous and touching and has a lot of D&D/MMO jokes. What ended up happening with my situation though is that I completed the DLC on Ultimate Vault Hunter Mode, aka the highest difficulty (well, I guess it goes higher now). This decision was sort of cemented when one of the Treant mobs dropped The Bee, which is a legendary shield whose shield stats are kinda lame, but adds something like 50,000 damage per shot when you fire with full shields. Either intentionally or unintentionally, that extra 50k damage is added per bullet to my Double Penetrating Unkempt Harold (DPUK), which means mobs typically melted in the fury of 2+ million damage with each trigger pull.
Things got even more ridiculous when I acquired the Grog Nozzle, a quest gun that doesn’t deal a whole lot of damage by itself, but has a high chance of Slagging enemies (increasing subsequent damage by 200-300%) while also healing you for ~65% of the damage you deal with it equipped. Even more bizarrely, since it is technically a quest gun (that you can take anywhere) it doesn’t take up an inventory slot either.
The “painful” part to all this was simply playing the game at all. All non-legendary item drops were useless, especially any shields given how The Bee was pretty much required to deal damage. I did swap it out for a bit in a few areas, but I was leaning real hard on the DPUK to carry me through. Other weapons were pretty much a joke: dealing 32k/bullet damage is irrelevant to mobs with tens of millions of HP and the ability to regenerate health extremely quickly. At one point around level 54, I entertained the notion of going back to some of the DLCs to acquire some (upgraded) legendaries just to spice things up and not be shooting a pistol all day. The Sand Hawk would have been interesting, for example, as a submachine gun shooting bullets in the pattern of a bird flapping its wings. But that would mean extending my Ultimate Vault Hunter Mode stay in content I already seen twice now just to complete the current DLC after which I was likely to uninstall immediately.
All of this really struck home how important it is for games to have a smooth progression curve. Where I “screwed up” was hitting the level cap at the end of Mister Torgue’s DLC; thereafter I was stuck in a limbo of too-easy content on one side and content that’s designed to challenge the people who farmed legendaries at the old level cap. While I suppose the latter group needs catered to – especially given how they’re likely to be still playing, and thus willing to buy DLC – the end result is an extremely warped play experience. Your weapons are so strong because the enemies are ridiculous, and the ridiculous enemies makes your shields/HP basically irrelevant, which means you are awkwardly trying to dodge their melee/ranged attacks with generic movement, none of which really feels like Borderlands anymore.
By the way, calling it now: Borderlands 3 will have a more formal Dash/Dodge button, ala MMOs these days. If Gearbox doesn’t add this, it’ll be because they’re really dumb because goddamn precision movement is awkward and annoying right now for how much they require you to do it.
And have I mentioned that because the death penalty is a percentage of your wealth, that you end up losing $400,000 each time you respawn? There is also a few places with instant-death traps, which was
a lot of fun not at all fun. Granted, you can’t really purchase anything for $5,000,000, but that’s another whole issue entirely. It kinda makes even picking up and vendoring loot a waste of time.
The more I think about it, the more I come to understand that Borderlands 2 basically ends at level 50. A full playthrough of the vanilla game will end around level 35, and that was a fun experience. After that? Still sorta fun, but the “optimal” path was going straight through the story missions again, skipping all sidequests, until you hit 2.5 mode at level 50. Then you can safely do sidequests for the unique rewards that would stay useful. Increasing the level cap basically screwed over everyone that hit the old cap without legendaries, as you get left with a Faustian bargain of farming bosses for hours or doing DLC missions for no reward.
So if you haven’t played Borderlands 2 yet and are waiting for the GotY edition, that is my advice: play the vanilla game while doing everything, then the DLCs in order, and then pat yourself on the back and be done with it. You can get 120 hours (or more) of play time like I did, but the you’ll face some pretty ridiculous diminishing returns on both fun and sanity.
Tobold made a post the other day that got me thinking about the more philosophical angle of the differences between themepark and sandbox games. In the post, Tobold relates the common DM nightmare of players striking off on their own, plundering the crypt/castle/ruins before technically getting the quest to do so. While one solution is the Warhammer-esque “Bears bears bears” method (retroactive credit), Tobold went with “All roads lead to Rome” where he simply moved the quest-giver to where the players were going. As I mentioned in the comments to his post, the latter is not particularly innovative; WoW has had the occasional mid-quest updates since Cataclysm, and GW2′s Hearts are all location-based and automatic rather than relying on quest-givers.
The thought that struck me though, was this: at what point does a sandbox become a themepark?
Take, for instance, Darkfall. I don’t think anyone would claim that Darkfall is anything other than a sandbox. But it also has what amounts to “quests” in any other game: Feats. I suppose these are more similar to achievements than quests per se, but they are basically “Do X, Receive Y” activities that drive player behavior. Would having Feats tied to NPCs in a town or camp change Darkfall into a themepark? I don’t see why they would.
It seems clear to me that the difference between sandboxes and themeparks are the difference between player-motivated actions and developer-motivated actions. Do what you want in Darkfall, do Siege of Orgrimmar/Timeless Isle/LDR/etc in WoW. But I am starting to think that that line is a bit fuzzier than it is typically portrayed. “Do what you want in Darkfall, but farming X over in Y is more rewarding than Z.” How different is that really than themeparks? And isn’t it possible for someone to treat a traditional themepark MMO as a sandbox?
So, now I’m thinking that the line between these two paradigms really comes down to developer attitude regarding content. If the developers feel that they have to create the content themselves, it’s a themepark; if the developers let players amuse themselves, it’s a sandbox. Am I missing something critical? I mean, player housing and non-instanced dungeons are prototypical sandbox qualities, but a Darkfall without either is still a sandbox, right? And clearly the line is not drawn at the mere existence of quests or directed player activity either.
Are these themepark/sandbox distinctions more arbitrary than we have been led to believe?
The big news of the week has been Blizzard’s rather unprecedented decision to shut down the Diablo 3 AH in March of next year. While I suppose that the start of a new expansion is as good a time as any, I still find it interesting that they are bothering at all – a bit late to close those barn doors, yeah? Then again, I suppose with all the other changes they have made in the time since I stopped playing (a whole year ago?!), the “economy” has become more warped and functionally useless than before. Making it five feet in Act 2 Inferno used to require Resistance scores out the ass, but between the general elite nerfs, the player-decided mob-levels, and the Paragon system, you can probably make it through the game without buying anything.
You would still want to, of course. Even a child should be able to understand that a 5% chance at something good is worth less than buying exactly what you want from someone who was going to vendor the thing anyway. Or anyone playing the game for more than an hour during the open beta weekend, for that matter.
The question though, is what system will replace it? Apparently Blizzard feels it is Loot 2.0:
- New game modes including Loot Runs with guaranteed special item drops when successfully completed.
- Smart drops where a dropped item is guaranteed to roll the appropriate mainstat for the class that finds it.
- Fewer but better item drops, where players will see far fewer items, but the items (especially the rares) will have better stats.
- A new NPC Artisan, the Mystic who has the abiilty to reroll one selected affix on an item.
- Legendary (including Set Items) will get an across the board quality buff.
- Legendary items will drop more often, especially for lower level characters with guaranteed legendary drops from the first kill of many story/quest bosses.
- Legendary items will roll with less low-end variability, to reduce the likelihood that they are complete junk.
- Legendary items will gain variable item levels with stats scaling appropriately — current high level items legendaries will drop on lower difficulties and low level Legendaries will drop in the end game. All stats on these items will scale up or down to be appropriate for the level of the monster that drops them.
Item binding is going to be a key feature of Loot 2.0, with some of the found items, and most or all of the crafted items or items upgraded with the Mystic gaining BoA or BoE to restrict them from being traded or sold. Full details are not yet finalized.
I counted three instances of the word “guaranteed” in there. Not something I usually associate with Diablo games, but hey.
While the above is not an exhaustive list of the Loot 2.0 paradigm – I’m pretty sure that not even Blizzard knows what else they’ll toss against the wall before March – we can see the sort of trajectory taking shape. What is a huge unknown to me though, is what exactly Blizzard plans to do with all the gold left in the economy when the AH doors close. Will the Mystic be an expensive gold sink? That might work… but what about the people who haven’t stockpiled? Will the feature not be for them? Between that and the possible stockpiling of crafting materials, I almost have to assume that Blizzard plans a “currency reset” with the expansion, to go with the inevitable gear reset that comes with an increased level cap.
In any case, watching things play out this week has been interesting while playing Path of Exile on the side. I mentioned before that PoE has something more akin to a lore-based barter economy, but I am finding it even more interesting than before. Effectively, I find myself rolling my own loot back in town when I go to vendor things. Useful Magic/Rare/Unique items do drop out in the wild, but I am finding that the addition of colored gem slots adds another depressing layer of randomness to everything; a given item might be awesome for your class/build, but if it is replacing an item with a good spell-gem configuration, you might end up banking it instead. While there are “currency” items that can add/change sockets, I am finding it almost easier to hold onto normal items with good sockets and then spend my “money” turning that into a Magic/Rare item instead.
That can sort of happen in Diablo 3′s crafting system, but it lacks the granularity and impressive nuance that PoE brings to the table. Scrapping four items to get another shot at getting a useful fifth isn’t the same as being able to choose to reroll an item’s magic properties, adding a new property, adding sockets, adding connections between sockets, changing a socket’s color, and/or stripping the item clean and then possibly rerolling it into a Rare/Unique.
Can I also just mention how addicting just leveling in Path of Exile can be? It’s the standard sort of hack-n-slash, but since your gems can level up too, it feels like I “level” a half-dozen times every 30-40 minutes. “Getting kinda sleepy and I still have 8 bars before level 24. Oh, wait, there’s like a centimeter left on my Raise Zombie gem XP bar. Hmm… let’s go clear out the NW corner.”
But, yeah, loot systems. Borderlands 2 is feeling pretty archaic right now in comparison.
As you may recall, I have been having a rough time in Borderlands 2. I bought the Season Pass back when I bought the original game, but sort of let things slide somewhere around 95 hours /played, about the time the Hammerlock campaign was released. My main issue, aside from general burnout, was that my character is Zer0, the melee-based ninja/sniper character. Simply put, I was having a hard time surviving in the extended difficulties as someone either in the middle of the action (where mistakes kill you quickly) or trying to snipe when 10 people are shooting at you (whom are extremely accurate with their assault weapons).
Now, I can already hear those of you in the audience: “But, Az, Zer0 is like one of the strongest characters in the game! He can solo the raid bosses!” Sure he can… with a very specific loadout of Legendary/Unique weapons, which either requires luck, grinding, duping, or all three. While I am obviously not allergic to chasing gear drops in games, in this instance all I really wanted to do was finish the Hammerlock DLC and then complete Tiny Tina’s Dragon Keep DLC. You know, at a level in which it’d be challenging and rewarding too – there isn’t any real reason to blow through it on Normal or anything.
Unfortunately, I was stuck between a rock and Ultimate Vault Hunter Mode (UVHM). I beat the game on True Vault Hunter Mode (TVHM) way back when, plowed through it again in “2.5″ mode where everything is scaled up to level 50 (the cap at the time), leaving all of the sidequests alone so that I could give myself the option of getting the highest-level versions of the various unique gear. Hell, I even farmed the last boss a few times. UVHM steps it up a few notches though, including a level cap increase, and basically makes Slag elemental weapons (which increase the damage of all other sources) required. Not only did I not really have any of those weapons, my current gear was simply not cutting it… or anything, really.
This past weekend, I finally decided I was going to give it one more shot. My plan of action was to grind to level 51 and then cash in my ~40 Golden Keys and hope that the level-cap inflation on guns would give me something worth shooting. Since I was grinding anyway, I decided to do so in the Torgue DLC, in the repeatable Bar Brawl quest area; each run gives you special DLC currency to purchase, among other things, an Unkempt Harold, e.g. a Legendary everyone seems to use.
So I did. And got it. And now it feels like a whole different game.
The basic gist is that the gun says it deals ~14k damage per shot, but the “bullet” is actually a missile that splits off into 3, 5, and 7 missiles depending on how much distance it gets before impact. The Double Penetrating Unkempt Harold, which is the version I got, does the same thing x2. So, depending on how close something is, a shot from this pistol deals ~196,000 damage. Meanwhile, my best rocket launcher deals 226,000, with a 3-round clip and 7.4 second reload speed. I can carry 700 pistol rounds and reload in under 2 seconds. I could technically pick up another Unique item from a sidequest (The Bee shield) which would add something crazy-stupid like 40,000 damage to my bullets – which ends up being added to each bullet from the Unkempt Harold – but it is already making my TVHM-ish run somewhat of a joke.
What all of this is making me realize is that I don’t like this paradigm. Specifically: the gear-based-build paradigm. “Get item X and now you can do build Y.” Another of the items I picked up was a weapon (the Rubi) that gives heals you for 12% of the damage you inflict while having it equipped. It is another of the sort of “required” weapons for endgame Zer0 builds, as you can abuse the life-gain by dealing melee or grenade damage; the gun itself will never hold a candle to others, but firing one and then swapping back to it before impact will still basically let you heal to full. Combined with the “health-gating” hidden mechanic that prevents you from being one-shot (50% + 1 HP and you will survive any hit), this lets Zer0 basically melee raid bosses.
The problems, as always, are A) getting the gear and B) what to do until you get the gear. I am 100% for different character builds. I don’t even have much of an issue with talent choices leading to different stat weightings, e.g. choosing Talent X makes Haste worth more than Crit or whatever. But building an entire character around single pieces of (rare) equipment? That feels awful to me. Either you don’t have the item yet, in which case you feel weak/incomplete, or you do get the item and suddenly everything else that drops is useless/unrewarding. Plus, there is the whole side-effect of the fact that your character identity feels weakened or nonexistent; do my character choices even matter in the face of my item collection? Am I Zer0 at all, or am I simply “some dude with a Rubi and DPUK?
I decided to take a break from Borderlands 2, and started playing Path of Exile as a backup game. And… whoops! Just like many hack-n-slash games, it too features rare items that you can/should/(have to?) build entire characters around. Because that’s fun. To someone. Sigh.
The difference between a character with 1 hit point and a character with no hit points remaining is immense. Obviously, right? But as I was musing on the extreme nature of the binary state, I started wondering if there was not some better way to handle the situation.
After some reflection, I am not sure that there is.
First, is there a problem at all with the conventional binary system? I’d suggest there is, at least enough of one to go through the thought exercise. One issue is that there isn’t much of difference between 1 HP and 100,000 HP – you are just as powerful and dangerous at one as the other. Some games might have “Execute” abilities that cause you to care about how many HP you have left, but all that is really doing is making the 1 HP “range” larger or simply making it more ambiguous as to your actual HP state.
The more salient problem with the 1 HP to 0 HP divide is what I’d term the Fail Cascade. Card Hunter (out of beta!) provides an especially stark example of this phenomenon. If one of your characters is reduced to 1 HP, they can still drawn 3 new cards each turn, can still attack at full strength, and can otherwise contribute meaningfully on the battlefield (limiting enemy mobility, being the target of spells, etc). Conversely, a dead character contributes nothing: all their cards are discarded, their body is removed from the battlefield, and you are left with potentially 10 cards to kill the remaining enemies instead of 15 cards. A character’s death is especially brutal in Card Hunter because the abilities you have access to are randomly determined from the cards in your deck. Instead of six chances of drawing an attack card to win the game, you are left with four.
Of course, sometimes the sacrifice of a character can turn out to be a winning strategy. In a 3v3 Arena game in WoW, it might be worth losing a DPS to take out the enemy’s healer in pursuit of an stalling game. In Card Hunter, taking out a Goblin Brute or other dangerous foe is worth it if the enemies remaining aren’t as immediately deadly in comparison. But under most circumstances in just about any other game (including the two mentioned), losing one character is an immediately 33% reduction in fighting capacity, and possibly more painful from a synergy point of view.
Is the alternative really that much better though? We could imagine a game where your health as a percentage is tied to your damage as a percentage; if you are are at 10% HP, your attacks only deal 10% of their normal damage. Personally, I recoiled at the very thought of such a system. Whereas the current design is a hard binary, it at least leaves open the possibility of a come-from-behind victory. If taking damage reduced your ability to deal damage in return, the outcome of most battles would be forgone conclusions within the first minutes of any engagement. Indeed, it is arguable whether we would be trading the binary at 1-to-0 HP for the same binary at the other end of the spectrum (whoever dealt damage first).
Now, I would be remiss if I did not mention the Downed State solution in games like Guild Wars 2 and Borderlands 2. Having played both for a while, I definitely appreciated the extra little window it offered between 1 HP and dead. It is certainly better than the alternatives we have currently.
At the same time though… how different is it really? I can still perform at peak capacity at 1 HP, so my HP totals are 1, 0, and -1 instead of just 1 and 0. The other issue is that I felt as though the Downed state started being an excuse for adding in more “sorta instant death” attacks. If a raid boss in WoW has a mechanic that kills you instantly, it has to give you reasonable warning given how powerful it is. Conversely, an attack that instantly sends you to a Downed State is common in both Borderlands 2 ¹ and GW2. It is a “safe” mechanic to use because it can (usually) be recovered from while still retaining a sense of awe/fear from the player.
Perhaps this isn’t even an issue at all, from a design perspective, as the devs rely on the player to gauge his/her own sense of danger. Personally, I don’t really glance at my HP bar until I start dipping below 80%; once at 50% or so, I start actively playing defensive and looking for ways to replenish HP; at 20% or below, I generally stop caring unless victory is in sight, as I see my demise as inevitable. Thus, my reaction is tailor-made for my play-style, rather than dictated by the devs who might want me to care at X% HP when I don’t, and vice versa.
I dunno. Realism rarely makes for more engaging gameplay, but I sometimes think HP is too abstract.
¹ Technically, there is “health gating” in BL2 which prevents any one attack from killing you instantly as long as you have 50% HP + 1. So, I suppose BL2 has both the tri-HP state plus an execute range.