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Divinity: Original Sin

My early impressions of Divinity: Original Sin (D:OS) is that this is the funnest tactical game I’ve played in years… in those few moments the game allows me to play. And I don’t mean that the game is crashing or anything – it’s just a few battles interspersed with long periods of fetch quests/running around town. Which is a real shame, because the combat is amazing.

Right from the start, I knew the D:OS battle system was for me, as it seemed to blend a whole bunch of mechanics from my favorite games. First, it’s character turn-based with a prominent display of upcoming turns, which reminded me of Final Fantasy Tactics or even FFX. Second, it uses Action Points just like with the old-school Fallout games. Third, speaking of Fallout, the movement system is non-grid based, as with Fallout Tactics. Finally, unused AP from the end of your turn is carried over to the next, providing additional tactical considerations.

DOS_Rope

Asking the serious questions.

 

What really takes the cake though, are the relatively novel innovations. For example, right from character creation I was able to learn the Teleport ability. Now, this is an offensive teleport whereby you drop someone (or something) from 20 ft in the air, but the sheer number of uses is extraordinary. In the beginning town, there was a joke about how a rope was preventing my character from reaching a treasure chest. Teleport it over to my area. Spellcaster hiding behind melee? Teleport him in front of your own. Considering how a main component of D:OS are environmental combos – shooting a lightning bolt into the water to electrify everyone standing inside – it is extremely convenient to be able to place people where you want them.

The other thing I appreciate? Spells have cooldowns. This prevents spellcasting from being too OP in combat itself (e.g. Teleport), while still giving you amusing out-of-combat options – aforementioned Teleport, casting a Rain spell on a boat on fire, etc. While this does affect game balance quite a bit in the sense that healing spells are effectively infinite, the sort of D&D/Baldur’s Gate style of resource management just means you can’t do fun things.

DOS_Loot

Oh, hey, an upgrade.

While I am enjoying my time thus far, D:OS does have some annoying design decisions. Inventory management is a righteous pain in the ass. The designers were very generous in the inventory slot department, for example, but they also went the Skyrim route of having nearly everything lootable, e.g. dishes, soap, individual gold pieces, etc. That’s on top of the baffling decision to make it so that inventory isn’t combined when selling things. Start a trade and realize you dumped the expensive goods on your mule partner? Can’t switch characters during a trade. Ooooookay… let me just manually shuffle items around and get right back into the dialog later.

As I mentioned, the pacing is weird too. There is a tutorial of sorts with enemies and traps and treasure. And then you are just kinda dumped into a city to investigate a homicide. The Witcher series has this exactly same issue, actually, but Witcher’s combat was awful so I enjoyed not having to slot through the nonsense. With D:OS, I’m hoping for fights.

In any case, this is fairly early on in the game, so I’m hopeful that things improve from here.

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Yearly Attempt: Guild Wars 2

I have been playing Guild Wars 2 off and on for the past week or so. And that might just continue.*

My posts about GW2 have certainly been the most contentious ones I’ve ever written. Amusingly though, nothing has really changed over the years. Combat still feels floaty, the art direction is still heavily on the watercolor side (which isn’t bad), the sense of environment scale and 3D space is still among the best in the genre, a coherent narrative is still largely nonexistent, and so on.

The specific issues that hinder any sort of long-term engagement from me are two-fold.

First, I have already seen this before. I hit the level cap of 80 back on an Elementalist ages ago, but I still remember pretty much every zone’s story and “Heart” quest. Combined with the floaty combat and the general malaise that comes from getting 100% of all the skills you will be using practically from the very beginning, killing mobs just doesn’t really satisfy. My Necromancer and Engineer aren’t as bad – I very much enjoy dropping turrets/AoE deathtraps all over the place – but once you have an optimal build… that’s it. It’s tough explaining how that is any different from any other MMO, but it just is. Emotionally, at least.

Second, I don’t have the expansion. I did a bit of research on Reddit and various other forums, and my conclusion is perhaps the most obvious one: the expansion-exclusive Trait lines are the best ones. I can deal with not having a glider or access to the new expansion zones, as the two toons I play are around level 40 anyway. What I can not particularly deal with is that my character would be gimped in PvP (which otherwise gives everyone access to every talent/etc) or WvW. That missing Trait line also changes the entire way the class is played by opening up new weapons to use, so that would go a long way in solving the combat situation for at least a little while.

It doesn’t help that the LFG tool is dead, per the forums, and I don’t have much interest in grinding out Fractals or trying Raids.

I mean, we’ll see. I have been logging on every day to at least get the Daily rewards. I participated in a few of the Events that have cropped up, and those have been mildly amusing. I am having a lot more fun than I did in both attempts at ESO. And, hey, the expansion is technically on sale.

This is one that will need a bit more time in the oven though.

FFXIV Impressions: Combat

FFXIV has one of the worst-feeling combat systems I have ever played.

FFXIV_LevelDifference

Must be some hill.

It is not just the 2.5 second global cooldown, although that is a significant factor; it is the entire early game experience. I started with Arcanist, which is probably something I shouldn’t have done to begin with, and here are the levels in which I get buttons I can use:

  • Level 1: 2.5-second generic nuke.
  • Level 2: instant-cast DoT
  • Level 4: Summon and forget a pet
  • Level 6/8: 60-second cooldown gives a buff that let’s you press a button once.
  • Level 10: 2.5 second cast DoT
  • Level 26: 2.5 second cast DoT
FFXIV_Arcanist

Eww.

So, from levels 1-9, you press 1-1-2-1-1-1, then from levels 10-26, you can press 3-2-1-1-1-1.

I thought that melee had it better, but when I rolled a Marauder, I saw that the level 2 ability was a 2-minute defensive cooldown and I instantly deleted the character. Now that I look at the rest of the Marauder ability list, I do see quite a few extra buttons to push, but I was pretty exacerbated at the time.

I did manage to get a Lancer up to level 8, and I will say that melee definitely feels better than Arcanist at least, but my Lancer was a Miqo’te so… yeah.

FFXIV_Exenterate

I hate when I’m disemboweled for 30 more seconds than normal.

Now, I have heard all the arguments already – something something console gamers, something something players new to MMOs. But, Christ, this is vanilla WoW paladin-level nonsense in 2016 (or 2013, whatever). Regardless of whether it ramps up to having too many buttons to push at max level, the era in which a game gets away with having a boring start is basically over.

…or not, considering how FFXIV is clearly the #2 MMORPG on the market at the moment. But still! In terms of combat, Guild Wars 2 beats FFXIV hard enough that even FFXI gets bruises, let alone in comparison to WoW. The moves look fancy, but that’s just because you have to look at something while you wait one extra second * a million goddamn times.

[Fake Edit:] After writing the above, I realized that I hadn’t actually seen the WoW beginning experience sans Heirlooms in like three expansions. So I went ahead and created a “F2P” Starter account and rolled up a Warlock, Mage, and Paladin. Conclusion? As it turns out, WoW doesn’t really give you many abilities either:

WoW_WarlockPaladin

Paladin in particular looked pretty heinous, with Crusader Strike having a 4.5 second cooldown and Judgment not coming until level 5. If I’m looking at Wowhead correctly, it seems like Paladin is Crusader Strike, Judgment, Templar’s Verdict until… level 38, when Hammer of Wrath unlocks? Can that be correct? Holy fuck. I haven’t leveled a Paladin since TBC, but I’m pretty sure that was my rotation throughout all of vanilla content. At least back in the day, we had to recast Seals every time we hit Judgment!

In any case, one of the differences I noticed right away on all the WoW characters though was how utterly satisfying it was to kill mobs. The Warlock had 2.5-second Shadowbolts just like the Arcanist, but the Warlock was 1-2 shotting all the creatures in the opening areas. Hell, Corruption at level 3 was more than enough to kill them in seconds too. Try that with Bio and let me know how it goes.

So, basically, I’m sticking with what I said earlier: FFXIV has one of the worst-feeling combat systems I have ever played. And that negative feeling apparently has everything to do with the longer GCD and longer Time-to-Kill, rather than lack of abilities. Although more buttons to push would help a lot in making the combat feel less like a slog.

Unfair Impressions: TSW, Days 3-4+

Day 3

As mentioned previously, my spirits were up quite a bit from the doldrums of the first two days in The Secret World. Knowing that it was expected that one unlock all the “inner wheel” abilities on the Ability Wheel lowered the existential pressure of permanent choices. And as soon as I confirmed with a commenter that, yes, TSW did have an in-game Search feature for abilities, the mental wheels started turning quite pleasurably. I finished a series of entirely pleasant and non-frustrating quests, got 7 more AP, and then starting picking things that maximized my synergy.

Quests like this were refreshingly novel as well.

“Quests” like this were refreshingly novel.

My present loadout is something like follows:

  • Delicate Strike – single-target blade builder (+10% Penetration chance)
  • Blade Torrent – AoE blade builder (+Affliction DoT)
  • Balanced Blade – AoE blade finisher
  • The Business – single-target pistol builder (+Weakened Healing)
  • Shootout – channel pistol finisher
  • Above the Law – Targeted AoE cooldown damage field

The other relevant passives meanwhile are:

  • Lick Your Wounds – Stacking HoT when you deal damage
  • Immortal Spirit – HoT when you Penetrate
  • Gnosis – Hitting Weakened targets = 33% chance for more damage
  • Dark Potency – Hitting Afflicted targets = Stacking +Penetration buff

You don’t really have to know anything about TSW to sort of see what’s going on there. Blade Torrent hits everything and then gives them an Affliction DoT, which triggers a +Penetration buff for me, which increases my chance to trigger a self-HoT. Meanwhile, I get a baseline HoT for just hitting things. The Business deals damage, puts up a Weakened debuff, which makes further hits deal extra damage 33% of the time.

Actually, the synergy isn’t really all that there. The two weapons themselves don’t really have much synergy with one another. There doesn’t seem to much of a point to not simply spam Blade Torrent, even when I have enough combo points to use my AoE finisher. Using the single-target pistol attack to Weaken and deal bonus damage sounds cool, but I’m mostly facing small groups of weak enemies right now. Even I were facing a single target, the Aff –> +Pen +HoT deal sounds a whole lot better, especially since the Weaken ability I have is essentially the Mortal Strike debuff.

But like I said, the wheels are turning. “Hmm… well, the Shotgun features a baseline ability to hit things in a cone, and you can make that give everyone a Weakened debuff that results in 30% less damage done. That’s certainly better than a single-target attack that gives -Healing on mobs.” Then you run across a higher-tier Shotgun passive called 12 Gouge that causes enemies you Penetrate to become Weakened (-30% damage) that starts making your mind melt in interesting ways.

  1. Oh, so if I spam Blade Torrent, everything around me gets an Affliction DoT, I get a +Penetration buff, then if I Penetrate anything from spamming the attack they get Weakened (-30% damage), which then can trigger the 33% chance for them to take extra damage.
  2. And I get two different HoTs.
  3. What does a 12 Gouge katana even mean?

No doubt there are better, more efficient combos in the game that exploit synergies I don’t even know are possible; I have been limiting my scope to mostly inner-circle abilities, which the exception of 12 Gouge. But, again, this whole exercise has significantly increased my respect for the game… at least in this area.

I mean, this part is, as the kids say, “totes fun.” However, actual combat so far amounts to me spamming one attack over and over. Which is not all that different than spamming Wrath a thousand times in WoW, of course; I’m not even out of the equivalent of Goldshire yet. Nevertheless, I remain wary as to how engaging the combat is really going to be once I “finish” the ability-planning part. And I wonder how much of the fighting game design was sacrificed at the altar of ability synergy complexity.

WoW combat is fun, to me, even when I’m killing entirely trivial mobs. It’s visceral in a way I can’t entire describe. TSW combat is not… also in a way I can’t entirely describe.

Day 4

It is funny and sad, all at once, how much difference a little gear makes in an MMO.

After the fun of planning build synergies the other day, I was facing the reality of what amounted to a number of long slogs against single enemies with 30+ seconds TTK (time to kill). Worse, I was getting little-to-no sense of when/how you would ever use the Dodge button or circle-strafing in TSW. Sure, avoid the bad stuff/targeting reticule on the ground. But beyond that? All the enemies reminded me of the unquestionably lame zombies of Orr in GW2, with their 300% movement speed and amazing clipping powers.

Know what's fun? Not fighting these mobs.

Know what’s fun? Not fighting these mobs.

I died a few times, as you can imagine, against single mobs. Specifically, I died to enemies who never seemed to target the ground with anything – they simply beat my face in, old-school. The worst part of new games is when you fail for reasons you don’t quite understand, or are unable to prevent. I knew I was probably dead within the first 5 seconds of the combat encounter, but it took another 15 before I officially gave up the ghost. I could have probably ran away, but I wanted to know specifically why I was dying, and to get a sense of what I could do to prevent/slow down the process. The auto-HoTs weren’t enough, for sure. But it seemed like only the Assault Rifle and Blood Magic “weapons” allowed for self-healing spamming. Which meant I was going to end up with seven of nine (har har) weapon skills halfway filled, likely putting me signifigantly behind the power curve that would have existed had I stuck with the same two weapons.

Then I got gear. Partly from the “subscriber rewards” I received for having purchased the game for $15 via Steam, and the rest from the AH. Mobs are just falling over now. The stronger ones still take a while, and I still derive no visceral thrill from killing them, but my HoTs essentially keep me above 80% HP at all times.

You'd be surprised how big a difference it makes. Or maybe you wouldn't.

You’d be surprised how big a difference it makes. Or maybe you wouldn’t.

Maybe there will be fun combat later on, but it’s getting increasingly difficult IMO to use that as a proper excuse. With a few weapon exceptions, GW2 was fun right out of the gate, for example. And it all seems extra silly when hypothetical games like SavageSun somehow manage to feel fun to play even when you only have two abilities.

In any case, this will likely be my last Unfair Impressions for TSW. I don’t plan to stop playing necessarily, but I think these few articles have adequately served their purpose – namely, presenting my impressions of a game that I had no particular desire to play in the first place. While the chances that I play TSW in the long-term is less than zero, my opinion of it is certainly better than what it was when I started it. If I play it more, it will be in the context to experience the narrative and quests.

Which sounds great until you realize I said the same thing about SWTOR.

Melee and Kiting

In the extreme off-chance you have not been following the gripping drama unfolding in the comment section of my post about Guild Wars 2 questing (which long ceased to be about questing), let me summarize my position on the design intention of melee kiting mobs.

…actually, wait. Let me quote GW2’s Jon Peters instead (emphasis mine):

Hey all. I wanted to talk about this a bit since it is a hot topic here and also on the internets. The intention is that both styles are viable. Certainly right now Melee is more difficult than ranged. There are some things we will try to do to address this, but I think the more you play you would find they are closer than you think.

First what’s already there:

  1. Melee does more damage. Melee damage is simply higher than ranged damage across the board.
  2. Melee has more control. With a few intentional exception Melee has a lot more control than ranged.

What Melee needs:

  1. defensive tools on more weapons, particularly on lower armor professions.
  2. ai needs to favor Melee a bit less than it currently does.

What else:
Finally because of the more action based nature of combat Melee needs to be taught better. Effective Melee requires skills that translate over from FPS games which are notoriously harder on casual players. You have to wasd to move, constantly aim with your mouse camera, and hit skills on 1-5.
Some tips:

If you have learned any good Melee tips that you think we should pass on to newer players feel free to post them here. I’ll start with a few tips of my own.

  • If you don’t have mouse look on when using a skill you will turn to face. I sometimes let go of mouse look as I activate to help me aim through the chaos and then click it back down in between attacks.
  • Melee has a lot of hard hitting skills and good setup. Utility skills Can really help set up big Melee attacks. Bulls charge on warrior, scorpion wire on thief, judges intervention on guardian.
  • Know when to run. No matter what you are not a tank. You have to move in and out avoiding damage. If you have to soak damage try and bring boons like Protection and Regeneration or conditions like Blindness and the very undervalued Weakness.

Thanks for reading this all. Rest assured we will keep working on this and just keep in mind the subtle differences in GW2 combat that take a while to sink in.

The above was posted May 1st, the same day I basically pointed out the same thing, vis-a-vis the melee vs ranged discrepancy, with my first GW2 beta weekend impressions. As of the second beta weekend, there has been no improvement I could detect. Jon mentions that melee deals more damage “across the board,” but what difference happened to exist was not perceptible to me.

But for the sake of argument, let us assume Jon is correct. Let us assume, as Conwolv does, that I “like to make up excuses for [my] poor playstyle” rather than have any possible legitimate complaint. Let us, in other words, look upon the design principals as they exist in their purest form:

  1. Melee deals more damage | It is more difficult to get/stay in melee range.
  2. Melee is at greater risk of damage | Melee takes less damage.
  3. Ranged deals less damage | It is easier to stay on target.
  4. Ranged is at less risk of damage | Ranged takes more damage.

Do you believe the above is good, balanced game design?

Go ahead and write down your answer.

.

.

Write it down?

.

.

If you wrote “Yes,” you are wrong. Don’t feel too bad though, as Blizzard makes this mistake repeatedly, and ArenaNet appears to be on track to do the same for different reasons.

You see, the problem with the above “balanced” game design is the notion that both ranged and melee are intended to ultimately be viable, e.g. be equivalently good at damage. If ranged DPS is as good as melee in the long-run, that means there is no benefit to it being more difficult to get into/stay in melee range. If melee has greater burst damage to compensate, that merely imbalances PvP and/or forces encounter designers to include adds that need to be killed quickly… and somehow make it so that ranged cannot simply kill them in the time it takes melee to switch targets.

Similarly, “risk” is not a particularly compelling balance mechanism for two reasons. The first is simple psychology: most people are risk averse. Would you rather have $50 right now, or $100 if you win a coin flip? Both have an average payout of $50, so there is no difference between the two… right? Second, there are “perceived fun” barriers that designers have to keep in mind when crafting encounters. Instant-death mechanics are probably not fun for a lot of people, even if that is a way to balance ranged having an easier time avoiding said attack than melee (whom would only take 50% damage or whatever). At the other end, if melee doesn’t take enough damage, they could potentially ignore the mechanic altogether.

There are potentially ways to balance the melee vs ranged rift, but the bottom line is that a “mirrored” approach simply does not cut it.

Flying the Melee Kite

This brings me back to the GW2 melee problem.

Simply put, melee has every possible disadvantage. Instead of melee taking less damage per the balancing mechanism for #2, melee takes the same or more damage. You have less time to react to “Dodge This!” abilities, nevermind how few of those abilities ranged even has to care about. As Jon points out, “You have to move in and out avoiding damage.” What does ranged do? Move… backwards? To be honest, at the levels I played, my Ranger never had to move at all if I lead off with a snare. And here is the thing: even if that changes later, I would not be doing more than my melee toons already do.

More often than not, melee characters having to kite mobs is a sign of design failure. What else could it be, by definition?

One of the interesting defenses that a commenter named Fn0 presented was the following:

GW2 goes further. Capiche? It is not the same. GW2 allows you as melee (as in, you started melee at level 1) to spec as full-blown ranged with the blink of putting a ranged weapon equiped. In GW2 you can respec in battle with they key ` which allows one to, for example, switch between melee and ranged. This means we are much more hybrid than in previous MMOs.

It is an interesting thought that ArenaNet might be endeavoring to do away with both class roles (i.e. the Trinity) and any distinction between ranged and melee classes. I do not believe the argument works particular well, given that melee vs ranged is still a balance issue regardless of whether each class can be both – just because a Thief can be ranged 100% of the time doesn’t fix the fact that melee is imbalanced. And I have a more subjective problem with the idea of presenting Thieves, Guardians, and Warriors as “ranged” archetypes. But it is an interesting thought just the same.

Having said all that, what do you guys think? Is kiting a “standard strategy for melee in all MMO games?” Even in questing and general PvE? Are the discrepancies between melee and ranged classes something you think about at all? I have not played TERA, so I would also be interested in knowing how melee vs ranged is handled in that game. And if you played a game where you thought things were balanced pretty well, let me know that as well in the comments below.