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What Champions should not learn from Dragon Age

November 30, 2009 Leave a comment

Dragon Age: Origins was not on my must-have list for this year. I thought I had enough of single player fantasy RPG’s. A few days ago I just bought it on impulse and it’s eaten all my gaming time since then. I can recommend it to anyone who’s even remotely interested. It has many interesting features and many things that Champions could learn from without doubt. However, I am going to take a look from the other side and list some great features from Dragon Age that CO should nevertheless not strive to implement.

Long Cut scenes

I enjoy the cut scenes and long dialogs in DAO, but I would not want to seem them used as much in any MMO. The amount of repetitive content is just too much. I know my old WoW guildies would get annoyed at the startup of some events during raiding. So while seeing a scene a few times is fine, I would not want to see it every day.

Split second decisions

The party gets ambused pretty often in DOA which calls for some split second decisions. This is fine because its possible to pause the combat and assign tasks to individual party members. There’s no such option in an MMO, because everything happens in realtime. So while fights should be challenging, there should be time for all party members to react.

Friendly fire

The lack of friendly fire in my first MMO confused me at first. I mean, there’s a big fire and my allies can used walk through it unharmed? Then it dawned on me that people would horribly exploit friendly fire to grief others. So while it’s realistic and a serious tactical decision in DAO when and where to apply AOE, it just would not work in CO.

Control

Mages in DOA can crowd control whole groups or lock down individual monsters for quite some time. The large amount of enemies in DOA makes that necessary, but CO is more about fighting single opponents (villains or other players) and one person being able to lock down many others would be a bad thing especially in PvP. Unfortunately, this already happens to some extent with smoke bombs et cetera.

Champion of the Rings

November 23, 2009 1 comment

When I bought a Lifetime subscription for Lord of the Rings Online as the game launched, I expected to play it for a long time, but not very intensively. That has been proven true as my highest level character is only somewhere in the 30’s (level cap is 60 at this moment, going to 65 in December). For some reason I never found the right class to play exclusively in this beautifully looking PvE game. I thought CO and Lotro together would be a good fit to satisfy my MMO gaming needs. However, CO was so much fun that I have not touched Lotro again till this weekend. I decided to dust off my Champion as I was more in the mood for fast melee leveling than in the tricky but satisfying play of the Loremaster.

The difference between the two games is stunning and it makes me appreciate the design decisions in both games more. Where Champions shows a comic world with bright colours, Lotro paints a rich but realistic landscape. Both work well for their genre. Walking and riding (using the stable masters) in Lotro from one quest spot to another can take ages. It makes the world feel big. On the other hand, the CO zones are big but the world is much more closely packed and travel powers trivialize most distances. When one would take a list of features in an MMO both games would be able to check most points, but the depth of all those features is much deeper in Lotro than in CO. This is as expected given the different in age of both games.

Combat…how enormously combat differs. I ran into a group of mobs in Lotro and got slaughtered. A similar group in CO would have been dispatched in moments. I really had to get back in the mindset that a similar level mob is a decent challenge. It is not easy going from superhero to a hero. I am glad that combat in Lotro will get revamped a bit in less than a month, because it is truly slow now and I know this is one of the reasons that I have not leveled more. The upcoming Skirmish system will also give Lotro a big new combat appeal, I think.

The grass is always greener on the other side. However, I am glad that I can easily step between worlds. My idea that both games would complement each other is true, for myself at least. However, if I had to choose between either at this moment, I would go for Champions Online. It may still be a shallow game, but the PvP (even with all its issues) would keep me better entertained than Lotro’s Monster Play.

Altaholics

November 15, 2009 Leave a comment

I am a true altaholic and Champions Online made me find out why: envy. When I see a shiny ability, or a good-looking new race, I want to play that. With the unlimited possibilities of CO, however, I’m less alting, because my main character can have any power or any look I want. Not that I have changed anything fundamental about Comet Girl yet, but I like knowing that the possibility is there. The lack of varied content through the leveling process does not encourage alting anyway.

Alting in CO has been more about exploring powers and concepts for me. Some costumes I made simply asked for a follow up. Depending on how I liked playing them in PvE/PvP determines their current level. My healer, however, is lower than she should have been, but that is because there’s simply no real reward for healing. The following made it to 20 and beyond:

alt-miss-mutant

Miss Mutant is my only alt at 40. She's a true ranged PvP character relying on Gadgets and Munitions.

Soulbound dates back to Open Beta. I though a demon would not be suspected of healing unlike those obvious angels.

Soulbound dates back to Open Beta. I though a demon would not be suspected of healing unlike those obvious angels.

I wanted to try a high dps/roguelike melee character as opposed to Comet Girl's tankiness. I did not like using swords for my hero, so I settled for Ego Blades. Lucky for Waveblade that those greatly outdps the common blades.

I wanted to try a high dps/roguelike melee character as opposed to Comet Girl's tankiness. I did not like using swords for my hero, so I settled for Ego Blades. Lucky for Waveblade that those greatly outdps the common blades.

alt-armor-d

I saw a plethora of demons and armored characters during my first CO days. Well, I can do that too, so Armor-D was born.

The low cost of freedom

November 8, 2009 Leave a comment

buildshop01Whatever Cryptic does, there will always be Flavor-of-the-Month builds in Champions Online. Even if all powers would be perfectly balanced against each other, there would still be combinations of powers that would have a more than average synergy. That said, the FotM builds need not be that much more powerful than all other ones. To achieve this, three things have to be done: broken mechanics have to be fixed, broken powers have to be fixed and the cost of cherry picking the best powers from every framework needs to be higher. Cost is the main topic of this post, so I’ll keep it brief on the first two points.

Broken Mechanics and Powers

Some mechanics that are said to be implemented simply do not work (well). A good example is the knock up/back/towards mechanic. With enough endurance I can easily uppercut someone, haymaker them away, while throwing some force blasts after them that makes them bounce around as well. The resistance that should be applied is not there or too weak. An often abused power is from the Shadow Framework: Shadow Embrace with Fatal Allure, which can juggle someone for the full duration of the power.

Another is buff/debuff stacking. Types of (de)buffs stack with each other which results in the oneshots by Chest Beam and Force Cascade after some minor setup.

Some powers are broken into themselves. Swallowtail Cut remains the best example. It is the only ability doing percentage based health damage, so it may even be a fundamental problem in the engine. Imbue may be too powerful as well, but it may be brought in line if stacking is fixed.

Freedom should not be free

When building a powerset in Champions, we’re nearly completely free to pick whatever powers we want. That is one of the things that sold me on this game. However, I had not expected that we could do this would any significant cost. If someone wants to have weird combination of powers, say Uppercut, Invulnerability, Freezing Breath and Eye Beams, then he’s basically as powerful as someone who’s going full Might and he even has more versatility. Some powersets already have synergies like the Negative Ions in Electricity and the ability to trigger Id blades in Telekinesis, but after taking a few of these fundamental powers, there are plenty left to pick from. Staying in a tree should reward players without taking away the worth of powers outside the main tree.

There are many ways players could be given the incentive to stay within a tree. I will give two examples below: Bonus stats and Scaling with stats.

Bonus stats

I think that there should be passive bonuses for powers taken from a single framework, for example: five powers from Force would give 5% damage increase on all Force powers. Less than five powers would give no bonus at all and more should perhaps give another bonus, like 10% at 8 powers, These are just numbers I came up with. The bonuses do not have to be damage, there can be a healing increase, endurance cost reduction, increased damage reduction et cetera.

So let’s say player one stays within two frameworks. He gets five powers from Framework A(damage) and gets 5% damage bonus. He gets eight powers from Framework B(healing) and gets 10% healing bonus.

Player two takes powers from all kinds of sets. His A and B powers are less powerful than those from player 1, but he’s more versatile.

Player two has paid for his versatility.

Scaling with stats

Superstats define damage done and I think this is a great example of freedom implemented well. However, that means nearly any power will work well with any superstat. Healing depends on Presence, so a heal ability used by a Dex/Ego character is already weaker than one by a Presence character. There could be more powers that explicitly scale with certain stats. Someone who would cherry pick powers would get the benefit of versatility, but he would have to make stat choices that would leave all his powers weaker than someone who sticks to a focused build.

Example:

player 1 has powers A1 and B which scale with different stats. The powers are very different

player 2 has powers A1 and A2 and they scale with the same stat. A1 and A2 have about the same purpose with a small difference.

Player 2’s A1 is a lot more effective than player 1’s, but player 1 is more versatile, because he can also use B.

Again, player 1 has paid for his versatility.

Summary

Versality has no real price in the current game. This allows cherrypicking which in turn makes FotM builds much more powerful than other builds.

Blood Moon

November 1, 2009 Leave a comment

Blood Moon is the first real content update for Champions since the launch. However, it is a holiday event based on Halloween, so almost none of it is permanent. Players can start participating meaningfully from about level 14. The highest level content is halfway the twenties. So the event is really for everyone. However, if one is not interested it  is easily avoided. I tested this on a lowlevel character and except for encountering a few werewolves in Canada and some zombies in Millenium City I was not hindered at all in the normal quest content.

Takofanes invades Millenium City

bloodmoon02The lich Takofanes attacks Millenium City and he brings an army of zombies with him. It also includes thirteen heroes who gave their live during the battle of Detroit. Every thirty minutes those heroes will rise up at predefined spots together with a bunch of zombies. Beating a hero (public quest format) allows access the part of Takofanes’ crypt where that particular hero’s soul is kept. A level 40 hero can easily solo all this, but it will take a while. All thirteen crypts have exactly the same layout and the same endboss, a Harbringer of Woe. I do not understand why we cannot fight the unique hero again. Smashing through way too many zombies to fight the same easy boss thirteen times is not exactly exciting. Still, the rewards is unlocking the Celestial powerset early, so it’s worth it in my opinion. The respawn timer was two hours at the start of the event, but even then these quests could be easily completed in one evening by instance hopping.

Takofanes himself spawns every ~6 hours in a public quest format. I have done him a few time, and it is just a zerg.

Powerset: Celestial

The Celestial powerset is a support set in which many abilities either heal or damage based on the target’s hostility. It will be available to everyone after the event, but it can be unlocked by completing the In Memoriam perk. This is done by freeing the thirteen heroes and doing a collection of Celestial essence quest. You get the latter upon defeating the first public quest. I think the dev’s have done a good job with this set. It does not make the other healing sets useless, while adding some original powers.

One not so fun bug is that crippling challenge on Rebuke will actually disable the block of friendly targets.

BITE! Werewolf vs Hunter zerg

This looked like one of the most fun events, but it disappointed me most. In Canada, the Desert and on Monster Island are small areas were werewolves fight hunters. It is possible to join both factions (and fighting for both is necessary for all perks). Werewolves and hunters have a specific powerset each to balance them against each other. This is great for PvP. However, levels are not balanced, so lowerlevels are constantly getting slaughtered. If there are enough people on both sides, it’s a pretty fun massive fights, but it often turns into a one-sided farming affair. It’s also a pity that there are no objectives to fight over.

An easy fix would have been:

  • less locations so more people are at the same spot.
  • put everyone on the same level. Actually, make every hunter identical to every other hunter and the same for werewolves
  • add some effect to help the underdog.

bloodmoon01

Zombie Apocalypse

This is an instanced PvP scenario. A group of heroes is stuck in a cabin and gets attacked by larger and larger waves of zombies. One player starts as a zombie (including all his superpowers) and any hero who dies rises as a zombie. People score points for the time they survive and for the number of heroes they defeat. It’s a fun scenario with a clearly defined objective. In most of the games I have played the zombies overcome the heroes after some time. A lot depends on the starter zombie hero: if he plays smart, he can quickly get some superpowered help. Healers help the heroes, but my own healer (trying out Celestial) quickly got enormous amounts of aggro on the zombie horde, which prevents healers from being overpowered.

The map is open to everyone during the event, but I expect it will be 30+ only afterwards.

The best thing about this map is that it will stay permanently in game. During the PvP devchat it was stated that CO will focus mainly on PvE, so the fact that this is the only permanent content from the event is pretty ironical.

Dead Reckoner

Killing 1000 zombies for a Perk sounds boring and tedious, doesn’t it? Fortunately, you can AFK most of the time. Put your energy builder on never switch off and let your character automatically target attackers. Now, find an infinite source of lowlevel zombies, which occur inside Takofanes’s crypt. Occasionally check to prevent your character from going AFK and you’re done.

bloodmoon_infinite-zombies

The pit on the right side produces infinite zombies

In conclusion

It is a fun and varied event, but it lacks depth (sounds like Champions itself). The most interesting content is the Zombie Apocalypse in my opinion and that is permanent. The Celestial powerset actually feels like a true broadening of the choices, so that is a good addition as well.

Broken Powers – update

November 1, 2009 Leave a comment

Mindful Reinforcement was fixed in the Blood Moon patch, but there’s still no official reaction on the STC situation at all. The only viable conclusion is that it is working as intended. So with gritted teeth I went to the Millenium City pawn shop and picked up a rusty old blade. Suddenly I’m getting great scores in B.A.S.H., but I feel dirty.

I hope that the statistics of the huge amount of people having just one particular power from single blade with just one particular advantage will alert Cryptic.