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There’s no such thing as ‘enough’

October 25, 2009 1 comment

I bought Brütal Legend last week and I have already finished with it. It took about 8 hours (a guess) to fully play through it. The story, the mood, all of it was just great. I think that my enjoyment/time played in BL was a lot higher than I have during a normal MMO. I must admit that I was a bit disappointed at the finish, because I had the feeling I was about 2/3 through the story when I was, in fact, at the final battle. I skipped most sidequests though and I have been playing through it again on hard mode to unlock everything.

I do not think an MMO could deliver this kind of story driven and varied content for the time people normally spend in those games. The Old Republic seems to pretend this, but I doubt they can pull it off. Writing a compelling story just takes time and then it still needs to be translated into the game. Bioware, please prove me wrong.

Champions Online is criticized for the lack of content. There’s one path up to 5, two up to about 13 and from there on there’s a pretty linear set of quests and almost all quests have to be done to reach level 40 without grinding. Apparently, this is bad, but many people are enjoying that game that was launched in the Western world just after CO, Aion. Now I am not playing Aion myself. I planned to, but I cancelled my preorder when I learned about their Game Guard security system (look it up, there are massive threads about it on the aionsource boards). NCSoft removed Game Guard at the last-minute, but I was having too much fun in CO to start playing another game. From all I have read it is not possible to fully quest a level in Aion from about level 20 on (the level cap is 50). I have heard about a patch that would add more quests and more quest XP soon, but that’s not relevant to this story, because people are playing and enjoying the game as it is. So for the majority of the game people in Aion are just killing monsters to get XP. They make their own quest to get to the level cap and killing monsters is the way to do it.

More Nemesis mission like Bunker Buster, please!

More Nemesis missions like Bunker Buster, please!

It is impossible to add enough completely new content to keep people constantly entertained, because people play MMO’s for much longer than they play console games. So either 1)  the journey has to be entertaining enough to do more than once, 2) players have to be able to make their own fun or 3) the goal, while difficult to reach, must be so compelling to keep going for.

  1. Champion’s leveling content is just enough to get to the end, but it’s definitely entertaining to do more than once, especially with difficult powers
  2. This is more for sandbox games like EVE or for PvP, because PvP’ers are generally happy with a few good maps and enough opponents. PvP in CO does not really need more maps, but it needs more people at level 40 and to get those a few important balances need to be made.
  3. Either this is done through great rewards for getting to the cap, or by unlocking new and alternative progressive paths at the cap, like a reputation grind with good rewards in WoW. CO’s UNITY and Nemesis rewards are not really impressive, so incentive to do those often is low.

While CO has all three elements, those are shallow. There’s enough content for one or two playthroughs to 40, but there’s not much to do at 40 yet, unless you really enjoy PvP (I do). However, there are already three promised updates for the coming three months: Blood Moon, Nemesis and Winter King. If Cryptic can deliver on those and keep monthly/bimonthly updates coming, there may actually be enough entertainment to keep playing.

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Broken powers kill PvP

October 19, 2009 2 comments

PvP in Champions Online has the potential to be one of the most interesting and dynamic forms of any MMO PvP. In order to get there, a large number of good powers needs to be available as to avoid a single dominant build, the so-called cookie-cutter build. Unfortunately, there are two powers which are clearly broken and while one at least has been acknowledged as broken by the devs, nothing has been done about them yet. I hate to make Doom&Gloom posts, but, unfortunately, the state of the game calls for it.

The worst abilities

Mindful Reinforcement is a shield bubble with a limited amount of hitpoints. When it disappears, it heals the user for the amount of hitpoints still present in the shield. Only one application can be present at any time. At least, that is what it should do in theory and it actually works that way for tier 1. On tiers 2 and 3 on the other hand, the shield can be stacked and it will heal for full regardless how many hitpoints are left. As such, the only way to kill someone with MR2,3 who knows what he is doing, is extreme burst damage. The use of this ability results in long fights that will more often than not never be resolved.

Swallowtail Cut is an advantage in the Single Blade tree. Although all Martial Arts trees are in a pretty sorry state, buffing this ability was not the fix those trees needed. What it does is bleed someone for 55% of their health in 10 seconds. Blocking does not mitigate the damage, Invulnerability does basically nothing, Lightning Reflexes (which should be particularly good against bleeds) does nothing either and a heal ability like Bountiful Chi cannot even outheal the damage if someone has a decent Constitution. Only Unbreakable trivializes the bleed, but that ability is on a long cooldown. To add insult to injury, STC has no tree requirement so anyone can take it. Robots, aliens, gunslingers, everyone is also running around with a katana these days. Combine this ability with a hold and any other damage and any opponent will be quickly dispatched. A hold followed by STC and then a knock-up/knock-back effect is particularly dangerous as no abilities can be used while being hit around. Teleporting away immediately when the bleed icon appears under your portrait seems to be the only reliable defense.

STC is an ability that actually punishes someone for stacking CON. No other ability does the same thing for e.g. EGO or DEX. An ability that would do more damage based on your opponent’s INT sounds pretty weird, but that is exactly what STC does to CON. People superstat and stack CON for survivability, but they pay for that by having less pure damage/ utility.

STC is not only bad for PvP, it’s simply a bad design in PvE as well. 55% HP in ten seconds is just mediocre on a henchman, but it’s great on higher power villains. Of course, the real powerful ones cannot be affected by it. That the ability cannot function equally well for all kinds of enemies should have alerted the devs.

If nothing is done, all PvP arena's will be as empty as this one

If nothing is done, all PvP arena's will be as empty as this one

Fixes

Since I am a software engineer myself I know that seemingly easy fixes are not always that easy. However, there should be some reaction on the many forum posts that are constantly made. Or PvP will truly get flatlined as discussed in this post on the offical forum.

Positive note

I’m really looking forward to the Bloodmoon content. the PvE looks nice, the werewolf/hunter PvP is with fixed abilities and the Zombie survival map just sounds great. Also, the event is still far enough away that the broken abilities can be fixed.

B.A.S.H. Etiquette

October 11, 2009 Leave a comment

B.A.S.H. Westside is a free for all PvP map that’s available from 21 all the way up through 40. Everyone is fighting each other until one person gets ten kills or until a stalemate occurs. It is a very dynamic arena where duels can instantly into chaotic group combat and vice versa. One may expect that ganging up is at the order of the day and while it does happen, many people are also looking for fun and challenging fights.

A few days ago I realized that I had unconsciously formed a pretty extensive set of rules for myself while fighting in B.A.S.H. In no particular order:

  1. I don’t interfere in duels. The real ones, not the random 1vs1, those I’ll cut in.
  2. If someone interferes in my duel, I will attack that person and not my original opponent unless I’m about to get a kill.
  3. There’s nothing wrong with ganging up
  4. If I can escape, I will most of the time
  5. I will not teleport away if someone is about to defeat me 1v1 unless he’s using a known bugged/overpowered ability.
  6. I will go out of my way to make the life of cowards miserable
  7. I do not farm weak people, but if they attack me I will kill them
  8. I keep my rage private.

BASHwaiting

About point 5: some abilities are known to be bugged. The worst of these are Mindful Reinforcement ranks 2,3 and Swallowtail Cut. That said, if one of my own key abilities ends up overpowered for some reason then I will not abandon it either, nor will I skip such a power if it fits in a character’s concept, e.g. my healer is full telepathy so she does have MR ranked up.

About point 6: I consider people who run away if they get even a bit of health loss a coward.

About point 8: some things will make me angry for a moment, but I’ll never give my opponent the satisfaction of knowing that. Abuse in whispers is very rare, but if it does happen, I’ll put the person doing it on ignore for a while.

I am definitely not saying that everyone should follow these rules. I expect that everyone has made their own. However, it should be clear that free-for-all is not that free, because people set their own limitations.

Picking up a pick-up truck

Picking up a pick-up truck

A la carte

October 4, 2009 Leave a comment

Champions Online allows players to pick any power they want, but that does not mean that all powers combine well together. It’s perfectly possible to go to a restaurant and only order desserts. It may sound nice, but it’s not very healthy if you would do it every day. Therefore I present a menu with powers that do form a balanced diet. The taste is up to you.

Energy Builder

These come in two flavors: melee and ranged. Ranged is by far the easiest to manage. Even characters that are mainly melee can consider taking a ranged energy builder, especially if you are interested in PvP, however, this is not something I would recommend. Most energy builders have a secondary effect that is often beneficial to the framework they’re in. However, sometimes they add a weak effect that nevertheless gets the resistance buff up against your stronger attacks, e.g. a weak root from your energybuilder can prevent the strong root you planned on applying with a normal attack. In most cases it is best to pick the energy builder of your main framework.

Passive

Although you can have more than one passive (the single slot above your ability bar), only one can be used at a time. Some passives will increase damage, while others will increase survivability. New characters will get more benefit out of a defensive passive like Regeneration (Supernatural Framework), but offensive ones work as well. However, the passive in your main framework is NOT per definition the best, e.g someone with Telekinesis will get more damage out of Shadowform with CON/END superstats than out of Ego Form. Choosing a passive at either level 5 (in framework) or level 8 (outside framework) is one of the most important choices during leveling and it will greatly affect leveling speed.

If you have doubt, take Regeneration and rank it all the way up.

AOE

You will seldom be fighting single mobs in CO. Most pulls are packs of three with at least two henchmen. Single target damage is pretty slow, while Area Of Effect moves will damage all mobs for a negibly larger energy cost.

Single target heavy damage

Bosses are often charging attacks, so the moments you are not blocking should be spend doing as much damage as possible. Therefore grab a single target heavy damage attack. It may have a high endurance cost as well as blocking generates endurance.

Heat wave puts the hurt on a single target

Heat wave puts the hurt on a single target

Block

The basic block will get you all through the game, but given the amount of time you will be blocking it is really worth it to upgrade it. The flavor depends on your play style. Some of the good ones in my opinion are: force shield+advantage to return energy, telekinetic shield (it gives damage reduction for a while after you have stopped blocking), Power Armor shield with Laser Knight for melee. Note that TK shield is going to get nerfed a bit in the future according to the public test realm patch notes. The ice shield is currently broken: it cannot be disabled by Crippling Challenge in PvP.

Passive Defense

Passive defenses are abilities that give a serious boost in survivability. They all share a cooldown, so taking more than one is often a waste. Personally, I use both Resurgance and Unbreakable for PvP though.

Self Heal

A bit of healing can get you out of difficult situations. Either take an instant self heal or a healing ability. Note that some heals get interrupted easily, so these are disqualified as self heals (e.g. charging Empathic Healing from Telepathy). Mindful Reinforcement (Telepathy Framework) is very strong if ranked up to level 2/3, but a nerf is expected.

Root/Hold

To manage large packs, it helps to be able to root or hold targets. This does not have to be a separate power. Many powers have a root/hold component. Of course, the specialised ones are stronger.

Gang-up preventer

Getting swamped by mobs or enemy players? Use your “gang-up preventer” to get them off your back. The single best of these is Force Eruption because it can be charged while you’re Held yourself.

Force Eruption is great to give you some space

Force Eruption is great to give you some space

Travel power

There is pretty large difference between the travel powers in terms of comfort and utility. Some examples: flight in all its flavors will allow you to go Away From Keyboard almost anywhere, while Teleport  is the best escape ability in PvP. Super/Rocket jump is great for heights, Super Speed for long flat stretches and Acrobatics is a great intermediate. Actually, I believe Acrobatics is much better than jump and speed. Slinging, however, is great fun. It’s speed is about as great as flight and it’s almost as good for getting out of tight spots as teleport. Spend some time in the Power House before choosing a travel power, because it’s a long way between your first travel power at level 5 and your second one at level 35.