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Fulfillment vs Excitement

There is an Asmongold video out that has received at least 27 Reddit gold after it was posted:

(All the good stuff is within the first six minutes)

Among the criticisms he makes regarding Battle for Azeroth, one that resonated a bit with me was the distinction between Fulfillment and Excitement. Essentially, Blizzard used to give you a 8% chance to get a specific piece of gear that was your Best-in-Slot piece. It might take a long time to get it, but once you finally got it, it was an event. You were complete. Done.

When Titanforging was introduced though, suddenly BiS gear was rendered largely impossible. You might receive your “BiS” piece, but if it didn’t proc with an extra gem socket and/or numerous bonus stats, it wasn’t actually BiS. Moreover, it was entirely possible that someone just dicking around in Warfronts could luck into a piece of gear that surpassed something that dropped from Mythic Uldir.

Asmongold’s point is that while you can feel excitement over a drop that suddenly Titanforges up to insane levels… that excitement is short lived. It’s the pull of a slot machine. That’s fundamentally different than working towards an end goal, even if said end also requires some RNG along the way.

When Titanforging was first introduced, I was impressed. It seemed like a clever solution to the problem of completing content that was no longer rewarding in any way. I distinctly remember my tanking days back in Wrath, and how I was asked to clear dungeons with guildies despite the fact that I could get nothing from it (once I capped out with Justice Points). With this new wrinkle, there was always a chance I could get an upgrade from any content I completed.

What I did not realize at the time was how destructive that notion really is. You are never “done.” And not just in a “there will always be another content patch with better loot” kind of way, but in a more literal “never experience satisfaction in current content” way.

As Asmongold points out though, Titanforging by itself is not what is killing the BfA experience. Indeed, the concept of Titanforging has been around for several expansions now, and nobody seemed to have been complaining about it until now (or at least to this degree). The real problem is that BfA is so mechanically weak on so many fronts, that the fundamental issue with Titanforging is poisoning the experience more than usual.

I’m sure Blizzard has the stats on the number of people who just stop playing the game after they achieve BiS, and found the numbers problematic. Certainly in my case, once I finally got the two piece of transmog gear I had been farming, I found myself at a loss of what else to do. This could explain why they are trying to get everyone back to collecting a bunch of full suits of extra gear. With the deprecation of the concept of BiS though, I don’t think these extra suits are going to satisfy players for as long as it may have before.

What is the solution? We already had it for years: vendors. Bring back Justice/Valor Points. Everyone rightly complained in Legion about the Legendary system and how RNG could lead you to a situation in which your spec was basically broken the whole expansion… up until they introduced the Legendary vendor in 7.3.5. The initial rollout was still a bit lame RNG until they allowed you to straight-up pick the ones you want, but it was there eventually. Collect “Wakening Essence” from a variety of sources (WQ, missions, ect) at your own pace, and know the end result.

Titanforging is dumb. If it’s some kind of design imperative to have raiders running WQs or dungeons all the time, fine, make it Justice Points. Except this time, put in consumables, gear you can buy for alts, and other nonsense to give everyone potential reasons to collect it all day.

Give us back some goddamn agency for once.

Azerite Armor as Regression

As evidenced by the latest Q&A – and the Reddit response threads – Azerite Armor is still a big issue within the WoW community. I would say “contentious issue,” but I’m pretty sure it’s only Ion and Rohan who like it.

That said, it finally struck me why I hate the system, and why Blizzard doesn’t care: Blizzard is trying to regress gearing back to the TBC days. In a recent LiveStream interview, Ion says:

(paraphrase) If you look at how most items work, if you want to play another spec, you want another item for that slot.

Ion goes on to say that Azerite gear is more flexible than that, in that you can technically respec (for a price!) the traits if you change roles. Which is fine… if not for the fact that Legion just had tier gear that automatically changed to match your spec. And the expansion before that (WoD) introduced dynamic primary stats, such that a Retribution paladin switching to Holy will see most his Strength gear turn into Intelligence. It felt like we were progressing to a point at which we simply had one major set of gear and were done.

I feel like players’ confusion and anger as to this sudden design reversal is justified.

Now, all this is probably a bit unfair to Blizzard. Weapons and trinkets were largely spec-specific even in Legion days, to say nothing about how Legendaries forced you to commit to specs to a ridiculous degree. On top of that, everyone knew that even if primary stats swapped around, different specs valued secondary stats differently, even after the super-specific ones like Dodge (etc) were removed. If you were a paladin tank and switched to Retribution, you knew that your tank gear would deal less DPS than something focused on the stats that Retribution favored (without even getting into Artifact Power differences).

And yet… Azerite still feels bad. Because its a regression back to a time that was inherently more frustrating for people with multiple specs. A split baby option of reforging doesn’t make anything better, nor the opportunity to split another baby by choosing generic Azerite traits (actual suggestion from Ion) rather than spec-specific ones in an effort to save gold. And Blizzard’s big “solution” to fix things in 8.1? They’re adding another ring with only spec-specific traits. Which means the power delta between each piece of Azerite gear is actively getting worse for your other spec(s).

This sort of thing is not an accident. Ion wants the game to return to the point at which players need a full set of different gear for each spec. That used to be okay. Hell, it used to be you needed a PvP set of gear on top of everything else you needed for PvE. But it is a regression from what we had before.

That’s the problem with Azerite.

The concerns people have about not being able to get 370+ Azerite pieces from content? Not actually an issue from the old design rubric – you only had 1-2 shots at a piece of tier gear from a raid boss each week anyway (the glory days of Justice/Valor Point vendors notwithstanding). Traits needing to be simmed, or some being wildly more powerful than others? There were many times in expansions past where two different two-set tier bonuses were better than the four-set tier bonus. Traits being boring? Again, welcome to many tier sets in WoW’s past.

On a final note though, I do believe that Azerite Armor will likely go down as one of the worst experiments in WoW history. Leveraging it as a means to regress gearing philosophy is one thing. But I also blame it for the fact that we got no new skills or abilities or talents to look forward to in this expansion. Why add a new talent row or button to push when you can just slap a random assortment of buffs on a piece of gear that will naturally cycle itself out come next expansion? In a single design, they seemed to have “solved” ability creep, added a substitute to Legendary items, and gave everyone a grind outlet via AP.

All they had to give up was… fun.

Beta for Azeroth

The expansion honeymoon phase is over for the WoW playerbase, and the rabble is’a rousing. To which I say, “about goddamn time.” The latest fuel on the fire? Ion Hazzikostas himself went into a Reddit AMA and basically said shit is broken on purpose. Which then led to this amusing exchange:

9p3h26ygrcm11In case something happens to the picture, the specific line from Ion was:

We’re crafting systems with an eye towards the grand scheme of the game as it unfolds over the course of many months […]

While it might not have quite the meme potential of EA’s “sense of pride and accomplishment” disaster, it remains one of those insidious bits of accidental truth that rusts out the suspension of disbelief. And lest you extend any sort of doubting benefits to Ion, just read his response to a question about the sad state of Resto Shaman thus far:

We knew Restoration were coming up on the low end in the initial weeks of BfA, and applied some measured buffs to their AoE healing in particular, but we expected the value of their Mastery to rise significantly once higher-end raiding and M+ became more of a competitive focus, and we wanted to make sure not to overbuff them.

In other words, the design team knew that the spec was weak at launch, but felt like gear would fix the problem later, so they decided to do nothing. Did they end up buffing Shaman? Yes… “measurely,” with trepidation. But why wait for a hotfix if you already knew the interim was going to be bad? And more importantly: why make your players wait for the game to fix itself?

Look, I understand the delicate balance the devs are trying to make here. If Blizzard made Resto Shaman competitive in PvE from the beginning, they would have to nerf them in the future to ensure that the Mastery scaling (or whatever) didn’t make them clearly better than any of the other healers. Nerfing always feels bad. But do you know what else feels bad? Being gimped on purpose because there’s some master plan in which you become adequate later.

This perverse philosophy really explains everything that we have been seeing in Battle for Azeroth thus far. The wonky Warfront timing, for example, will “fix itself” later on when there are 3-4 of them running consecutively. Some Professions not having any use for some dungeon/raid crafting materials, is another exa…

This is something we’ve been discussing a bunch. On the one hand, we’d like to add a way to get at least Hydrocores through doing non-Mythic dungeons, so that the professions that DO have a use for them don’t feel like they hit a brick wall in their crafting if they only do matchmade content.

On the other hand, it’s awkward to be swimming in Sanguicells with no use for them as an Alchemist or Enchanter. I don’t have a specific fix to announce right now, but we’re discussing plans to address that problem. (source)

Just kidding, none of the devs put any thought into Professions at all.

Or maybe they did, and they are just waiting to introduce the Expulsom Trader, ala the Blood of Sargeras Trader, into patch 8.1. That would certainly maintain the consistency of “reuse every aspect of the game’s design” method, which more and more seems like it’s done out fear of fucking up the formula than intentional design. But again, why wait? You know the solution, so just do it. Or be bold and make Expulsom/Sanguicell Bound-on-Account.

This entire fiasco reminds me of the advice I gave new bloggers six years ago: don’t “save” your best stuff. In the most charitable, optimistic scenario Blizzard is planning for the final months of the expansion to be fantastic. By then, everyone will have the appropriate Azerite Levels to use the outer rings of any gear drops right away, and there will be hundreds of new Azerite traits, and so on. It even jives with the way Blizzard has handled PvP gear looks for a long time – the first tier looks pretty generic, but by the end you are a proper badass.

The problem is… why should someone play during the broken part? I already used a WoW Token a few days ago, so I feel kinda stuck already, but if I had read this AMA before renewing, then I wouldn’t have. Everything that people praise about the expansion – the music, the questing, the general environment – is still going to be there after 8.1, or six months later, or whenever. I’m not suggesting that you go full Gevlon and essentially wait for the next expansion – which at this point, may end up having the same exact issues again – but waiting for 8.1 or 8.2 seems pretty ideal.

If you ever wondered what the deal was with people complaining about Destiny versus Destiny 2, this was precisely it. Or the Complete Edition of Civilization 5 versus Civilization 6 without expansions. Designers make mistakes, and that is okay. It means they are trying something new. What is not okay are designers who make mistakes, fix those mistakes, and then come out with a new product with the old mistakes baked in so they can sell you the solution all over again.

Battlefield V is Awful

Holy shit is Battlefield V some hot garbage.

The open beta just came out, so you can go play it for yourself. It’s roughly a 12GB download, and I regretted it almost immediately.

You will note that I am not saying that the one specific map is hot garbage, even though it is. No, I am talking about the entire Battlefield experience. We have known from previews and the like that DICE was radically changing the mechanics, but it wasn’t until I actually sat down and played it that I realized how terrible they all were.

Ammo is severely limited. You have two, maybe three clips of ammo. See some figures running around in the distance? Shoot at them for a few seconds, reload, and… oh, hey, you have 30 bullets left. This change was supposed to make the Support class more useful, I think, but the reality is that no one is Support because you die instantly and can’t shoot anyone as Support.

Oh, and by the way, as Support you have infinite respawning ammo pouches to give other people, but you cannot resupply yourself. I ran around for five solid minutes with 15 bullets left in my mag, throwing ammo pouches left and right. I could only toss them when aiming directly at teammates – no throwing them at your feet and getting ammo yourself. I suppose they assume there will be two Support classes resupplying each other? This may or may not be alleviated once you unlock the actual Ammo Crate, but I have no idea.

Health is severely limited. While you start with 100 HP, there are breakpoints at which you cannot auto-heal past. In other words, if you get shot down to 10 HP, you will automatically regain HP up to like 65 HP or whatever. To heal yourself further than that, you need a Medic. In isolation, this is a change I’m kinda in favor of. It’s frustrating getting a few good shots into a target, only to have them hide and come back out at full health. But it’s a problem when…

Time-to-Kill is 0.00000001. Okay, that’s a bit exaggerated, but for the most part you will be dead before you realize that you are getting shot. In the case that you aren’t immediately killed from random gunfire, hiding will cause you to only heal up to 1/3 or half health, beyond which you will be instantly killed by any sniper tagging you in the foot.

All of the above combines into a bitter, shit stew of disappointment.

Spawn in somewhere. Run around, get shot a few times, now you’re at 10 HP. You heal up as best you can, but now you’ll be one-shot by any sniper in the area. Or maybe you kill a dude before getting shot yourself. You’re in a good position on the field, but… you only have 20 bullets left. Well, you may as well charge into the building and hope for the best, right? Kill a dude, go down yourself, then miraculously get revived by a medic. Except now you just have your pistol, and you get killed by the enemy as they retake the site.

I’m not entirely sure what I expected. Probably not a worse Battlefield 1, that’s for sure. But it’s hard to fully grasp how terrible this series has become, and for what possible reason. In Battlefield 2, Battlefield 3, and Battlefield 4, the game was about 64-player matches in which you did crazy-cool things with tanks and planes flying everywhere, dropping out of helicopters, and so on and so forth. Then DICE put out Hardline and it flopped. Then came Battlefield 1, which didn’t flop, but was oppressive as shit, and not at all fun to play. Now we have an even-worse set of gameplay systems, and less vehicles to boot.

It’s not hard, people. Just let us have fun shooting things. If I wanted an oppressive battlefield environment in which I had no individual agency, had to rely on teammates that failed to deliver, and was barred from doing any cool things, then… I would just go back to work. Like I do every day.

Luckily, DICE can fix these things. There’s still time to just give everyone two additional magazines, let Supports and Medics supply themselves, and bring up the TTK numbers. Now, whether DICE actually does so before launch or only after BFV sales flop, that’s up to them.

Until said changes are made though, I’m sitting this Battlefield out.

Warfronts Sinkhole

Very clever, Blizzard. Very clever.

I had a post all queued up to go on a rant about how terrible professions have been designed this expansion. I still feel that way, actually, so let me just say it: professions in Battle for Azeroth are a lazy copy & paste job from Legion, including all of the mistakes. Well, most of them: at least alts aren’t as punished by needing mythic dungeons or whatever for Rank 2.

One of the principle sources of my ire however, were all the useless crafts and crafting materials.

Remember Unbroken Tooth in Legion? Well, the functional equivalent of that is Calcified Bone in BfA, which is selling for an average of 6 copper on my server. It’s supposed to be a higher-tier material, but all it does is displace the actually-useful Blood-Stained Bone material in Skinning – which will be relevant all expansion due to people crafting and scrapping leather wrists for Expulsom. So why have Calcified Bone at all? Why not split Blood-Stained Bone off and make Calcified Bone the crafting material needed for mail gear or whatever?

There’s not a good reason other than the lazy interns tasked with designing professions. But they’re going to get away with it because of Warfronts.

Basically, Warfronts are going to be item sinks for the entire expansion. The Horde have the turn-ins this week, and they include things like Great Sea Catfish and Straddling Viridium. Before this week, Great Sea Catfish was absolute garbage. Not only did you catch it in fresh water (huh?), you could only cook it into non-buff food. It’s greatest claim to fame was setting the floor price for Aromatic Fish Oil. Now you need 60 of them to get 500 Azerite Power and some reputation.

Meanwhile, while the 3% movement speed gems were nice in the first three days of the new expansion, I had bought several for below vendor price in the past few weeks. Now? There was about ~6 hours in which they were selling for 400g apiece. It says a lot about the game that people were willing to pay nearly 6000g to get 500 AP, but whatever, I just supply the things.

Guild Wars 2 has a similar “solution” for its own terrible loot system, in that the Mystic Forge lets you throw 4 (stacks of) items into a hole, and sometimes get a goodie out the other side. It kinda makes up for the fact that you accumulate an astronomical amount of debris in your inventory, and Warfronts provide a similar sink.

It’s all a bandaid, of course. The fundamental issue is that Blizzard regrets the existence of professions, and doesn’t know what to do with them. Should they be the source of the best gear in the game? “No, that should be raids.” Should they give better gear than WQs? “Also no, we need people out in the world.” Should they give gear that invalidates dungeon gear? “No, unless it requires dungeon drop materials, in which case we’ll allow it.” Should crafted gear be a catch-up mechanism? “Sure, that sounds fine.” You do realize that as soon as you put on crafted gear, then WQs will start immediately offering upgrades, right? “Working as intended.”

But, whatever. Warfronts are a thing now, and I just made 60,000g in a single day because of them. Mostly from Coarse Leather Barding and Prospecting Platinum Ore for gems. Next week should be much the same, up until people stop caring about maxing out AP. Which, given how the anti-alts philosophy Blizzard had in Legion has dropped, might not be for a while.

Waycrest Manor

I completed my first dungeon in Battle for Azeroth, which was Waycrest Manor.

The first boss was the Queue. The average time to get in was 8 minutes as DPS, and I waited 45 minutes. While I waited, I fished out in the Horde area, as a level 112 Demon Hunter. The only reason I was doing a dungeon at all is because Anchor Weed Rank 2 required running said dungeon. With Anchor Weed currently selling for 550g apiece, it felt worth doing. The fish being 50g-100g apiece was bonus.

Forty-five minutes is a long time though.

Once inside, I was immediately reminded of that one dungeon in GW2, which was also inside a mansion. I was going to look it up just now, but does anyone care what it’s actually called, even if they play GW2? The bottom line is that Waycrest Manor reminded me of that other one because they are both terribly designed. You can’t have an MMO with a floating camera and then do a bunch of interior houses. It’s dumb, players can’t see shit, and you fight the camera more than the mobs.

The dungeon run was successful, but that was either because our healer was god-like or the tuning was low, even by LFD standards. More than once, I accidentally pulled extra groups of mobs trying to utilize Fel Rush, especially since my Azerite Powers boosted it. This included accidentally pulling one of the bosses (Raal). Somehow we muddled through it all – probably because the healer was a Monk – and I got my Anchor Weed book and we defeated the final boss.

My druid is another herbalist, and I’m debating whether or not to try and knock out the quest sooner or later. Respeccing as a tank would certainly help with queue times, but I’m a bit leery of the dungeon in general. And, you know, getting back on the saddle in terms of tanking.

Or I could just farm leather/herb for another 45 minutes while sitting in the queue and not worry about respeccing at all, trying to change Azerite Powers, etc etc. Hmm. Tough choice.

Leveling Punishment

C.T. Murphy recently wrote:

Leveling, as in playing the game, is still a lot of fun in World of Warcraft. Leveling, as in playing a roleplaying game where you expect your character to advance and evolve, has never been worse.

When you level up in Battle for Azeroth, you get nothing. No talents, abilities, or anything of any kind of merit whatsoever. Everything scales now too so there isn’t even a sense of “being able to go places I previously couldn’t”. Outside of padding, I don’t understand why they added more levels in the first place.

This is 100% accurate with my own WoW experience currently.

We are approaching three weeks since the expansion launched. I was on vacation for a week in the middle there, but the fact remains that my first toon hit level 113 on Thursday. It’s not that the leveling is slower, it’s that there isn’t any point to it. WoW fully embraced the TES: Oblivion conceit of punishing players for leveling up. At least, that’s how I feel about it right now.

Seriously though, think about it. Everyone talks about how the stories and quest-lines in BfA are excellent. Okay… are any of them gated by level? I don’t think so. Maybe the War Campaign? In which case it might actually be better to turn off XP at level 111 and just complete all your questing with your uber Legion gear (including Legendaries) and breeze through the mobs. You get nothing but weaker during the leveling process. That’s literally insane game design.

Of course, once you finish all the story bits, the actual endgame is still gated at level 120. And it would certainly suck if you ever changed your mind and had to gain 9 levels with zero questing opportunities. But the mere fact that this almost sounds plausible is blowing my mind.

As it stands, my primary purpose in logging in is checking the AH, and doing some light farming based on the prices of the day. The questing is fine, but it’s literally worse than doing quests at max level, considering how your character gets weaker each time they level up. So, I would rather run around hitting resource nodes and fill up my gold bar than my XP bar.

At least the former will make my gaming experience feel better.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Has anyone else felt like Battle for Azeroth is a bit… familiar? Like Legion 2.0?

The situation didn’t really strike me until last night. I do not have a character at max level – I have been just gathering and crafting pretty much nonstop – but I have progressed enough to unlock the Garrison. Or War Table. Or whatever the hell it’s called now. It’s pretty much exactly the same interface as the one in Legion, up to an including the same art assets. The same chance for bonus loot. The same method of collecting resources. World Quests are the same. Emissaries are the same… I think. Rare mobs and treasure chests peppering the map are the same.

On the one hand, this is great. These systems work. Remember Daily Quests? We had those since TBC and everyone was sick of them. World Quests on the other hand, feel materially different despite providing the same function. Artifact Power got a bit goofy near the end of Legion, but overall design structure of having steady progression over the life of an expansion without incentivizing mindless grinding worked (crazy mythic raiders excluded). So we have Azerite replacing AP without even needing to replace the term “AP.” Double efficiency!

On the other hand… I dunno.

There is a lot to be said about the penchant of Blizzard devs to throw out the baby, bathwater, and kitchen sink simultaneously, between releases. How many times have warlocks been overhauled, even mid-expansion? At the same time, I feel like the devs have perhaps hewn a bit too close to what came before with BfA. Where are the “Aha!” moments? Where are the game-changers? Where are the elements that justify an 8.0 instead of a 7.4? Is a bunch of new maps enough?

The launch of BfA was so smooth because there was no demarcation between it and Legion.

I suppose we should be happy, yeah? Less absurd content droughts, more design systems that clearly work instead of wild experiments. Any yet, my brow is furrowed. What is Blizzard doing with all that time they saved? No new talents, no new classes, no new races (Allied Races are reskins, IMO), no new systems. Maybe the island battles with the “advanced AI” will change things? Am I missing something else?

I remember when Farms were introduced in MoP, and it blew my mind. Or the rare elite mobs that dropped cool (and functional!) toys to use. Then Garrisons in WoD. Of course, the Garrison wasn’t necessarily good design insofar as they kept people locked in a personal instance all the time, but from a player perspective they were really compelling (and rewarding). To this day, I still have several characters doing chores around the Garrison, crafting bags and such.

Then there were the Artifacts in Legion. To this day, it blows my mind how much content Blizzard packed in there. Like, do you guys understand how much class-specific content was added in one expansion? There was some recycling when it came to unlocking some of the spec-specific weapons – I groaned every time I got sent back to Karazhan on alts – but everything was basically brand new per class. It’s a real shame alts were actively punished so much during Legion, but I may end up going back at some point to finish the class campaigns just for the lore. My jaw hit the floor when my Death Knight started taking orders from the Lich King, for example.

Now, in Battle for Azeroth we can be excited for… uh… hmm.

I’m not looking to be buried under 2+ full skill bars, or DPS rotations that require an addon to perform. I don’t necessarily even want something that will compel me to spend 10 minutes maintaining it every day, three expansions later. But I do very much enjoy a new puzzle to wrap my mind around and optimize. And I’m not seeing anything remotely like that in Battle for Azeroth thus far. Just a lot of reused, recycled systems with new numbers to the right of the plus sign.

That is what character progression MMOs are about, of course. Usually, there’s more spice though.

Survival Tropes

Tropes are a thing. A lot of people feel like tropes are the worst thing imaginable, and every new title should be breaking new ground every time, or what is the point? That’s a bit unrealistic, I think. To me, tropes can be comforting. Experience in one game does not often transfer to another, so when it does, it can help in understanding the mechanics that interact in new ways. Plus, sometimes the tropes make the genre what it is.

That said, I have been playing a lot of survival games lately, and some of these tropes have got to go.

Starting out naked with no items? That’s good, important even.

Crafting recipes that require a resource that should be abundant, but turns out to be super rare? That shit has got to go. I’m in Conan: Exiles and there are two early-game arrow recipes: one requires bones and the other requires feathers. Just guess how many bones exist in the average human or animal. If you guessed “a similar number to the amount of feathers that are contained in a clearly-feathered ostrich-like creature,” you would be correct. Zero, specifically, on average.

Although, arguably worse is how little bark you can harvest from trees.

Shit like that didn’t phase me much in the past, but I think I was spoiled by The Forest. In that survival game, you can just chuck dead bodies on your campfire, and 6-7 bones would pop out a few minutes later. Oh, and it has the best building mechanic in any survival game I have played: you set down a blueprint and then have to carry the materials to that location. That makes way better sense than putting 540 stones in your (loincloth) inventory, crafting a Furnace that mysteriously weighs 50% less, and then plopping it down wherever.

At the same time, having experienced the ability to climb anywhere in Conan, it will be tough to go back to other survival games in which a waist-high cliff is an insurmountable obstacle.

One step forward, two, three, sometimes forty steps back.

Another Bad Good Idea

It sometimes astonishes me how certain game design decisions make it off an office whiteboard and into real, live games played by people. Like, do the designers realize how bad the idea is at the time, but think it’s the least bad idea of their available options? Or do they simply not think it through?

Exhibit A:

In a video posted to the official Fallout Twitter account, Jeff Gardiner, project lead for Fallout 76, was asked: “How do sneak perks and detection work in Fallout 76?”

Gardiner responded:

“As soon as you crouch, which engages our stealth mode, the dot [AKA your character marker] will very quickly fade away, so other players won’t be able to find you.”

There is still some confusion about this mechanism on Reddit, considering that there are two “dots” to which this can refer: the pip on the compass ribbon, or your character’s dot on the map (which is currently set to display everyone’s position all the time). Regardless, I have seen some celebration going on from people who believe the above is “the answer” to what they were worried about occurring in Fallout 76, e.g. being hunted down by griefers.

Let me explain what will happen in practice: you will be hunted down by griefers while hindering your own gameplay the entire time.

If Fallout 76 launches with the ability to see everyone on the paper map (as it is currently), the people doing the player-hunting will have perfect information regarding your location and direction of travel. “But you’ll be able to see them too, and then know to hide.” Nope. The only time you’ll know they’re coming is if you are running around with the map out, obscuring your view of the game world and otherwise not engaging with it. Not to mention that knowing your target is in a certain area is more than enough to go on for hunting purposes, so the griefer can check that you’re exploring some ruins, and then sneak that direction to intercept.

Suppose you do happen to notice their dot moving towards you… what then? You crouch, they crouch, and the both of you perform a crabwalking game of cat and mouse. Sounds fun. Maybe you just hide in a bathroom, map out, and wait to either surprise them or hope that they go away. Meanwhile, mobs are going to be respawning and attacking you because, you know, you were in the middle of PvE before xXxDethClawz69xXx came to pay you a visit.

Suppose Bethesda removes the map markers for players upon release, and thus this dot is really the compass ribbon. For one thing, that’s a lot better, as it would prevent people from starting to hunt you from across the map. However, we are once again in a situation where you are encouraged – under the threat of player killing – to be Sneaking around 24/7. Except it won’t work as much for you because, again, you are trying to engage in normal PvE and your hypothetical opponent is not. Remember, VATS is real-time, so taking out a sprinting Feral Ghoul while crouched is not going to be easy without an alpha-strike; there are going to be moments when you are map visible.

That there are mechanisms in place to prevent one particular player from killing you over and over is nice, but irrelevant. I prefer to not be killed, even if it “only” costs me a bit of time. Thus, the optimal method of gameplay will be to Sneak all the time, crawling around the floor at 50% speed. That is kinda how I play most Fallout games anyway, but only when I’m actively trying to get Sneak Attack Criticals. I’m not looking forward to doing that as a matter of course, every minute of every play session, while checking the map every 5 seconds.

Like I mentioned before, I get it. There are some emergent stories lost when you become immune to the pointless aggression of other people. There will be the thrill of scavenging in a warehouse while crouched, and see an oblivious stranger appear down the hallway. Or perhaps the triumph of a griefer getting killed, as was shown in the Fallout 76 video. Hell, if there are Bottlecap Mines and other traps, maybe you look forward to seeing people try and fail to take you out.

But there are definitely gameplay costs involved, and I’m not sure how much consideration was given beyond “wouldn’t it be cool if Sneak worked on players?” Presumably people appear on the map because otherwise it would be difficult to find others in such a large game space, right? Well, the game space might be large, but the density likely isn’t, so key resources are likely to draw players to specific locations out of convenience. Then you have the fact that a dangerous (PvE) world is going to involve the firing of a lot of bullets, which other players could hear.

Ultimately, we’ll see how it shakes out in the Beta. And perhaps that is what Bethesda is looking forward to as well. But I remain surprised how often incredibly flawed ideas persist almost all the way until release. Then again, working at my IRL job, I can sometimes see how it happens too.