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Global Agenda: PvP Tanking

February 28, 2010 Leave a comment

Always keep an eye on the healers.

Global Agenda is a combination of MMO and Shooter and it shows in the survivability of the classes. The Assault is the only class capable of tanking, but its ability to withstand fire relative to other classes is a lot less than, say, the survivability of a protection warrior compared to a mage in World of Warcraft.

Basics

Tanks have to do two things: ensure that the opponent attacks them and be able to survive those attacks. Computer controlled opponents typically attack the person that is doing the most perceived damage to them. Of course, if tanks did the most damage and were able to survive best, then no one would play a pure dps class. Therefore tank attacks do more perceived damage (called ‘threat’ or ‘hate’) than actual damage. Human opponents are, of course, not fooled by this trick. It takes more effort to convince them that they should attack the tank and not the easier target behind him.

Building

A great planning tool for skill point allocation can be found at hexagenda. Changing skill points costs nothing in GA (contrary to most MMO’s), which invites experimentation. Although it is tempting to start with the Tank tree, the first points should really be spent in the Balanced tree. It takes a decent amount of skill points to become tanky at all and the levels to get there should be enjoyable als well. Jet Pack Power and Power Pool Increase greatly increase mobility and sustained fire rate, so I would always take those before going into the tank tree. Super Tank is the final skill in the Tank tree and it is something to strive to get as well, since it removes the movement penalty on shield use. Where points are to be spent, is mostly a matter of personal preference. However, I would always go for passive protections above shields. A decent example build is this.

Which weapons to take depends on the map, but in case of doubt: take the mini-gun. It can be fired for a long while, it pushes people back and it does additional damage to Robotic constructs. The inferno rocket is a good choice as well: while it is power hungry, it does massive AOE damage and it leaves a fire DOT on anyone hit.

Off-hands are matter of personal choice and the map. I always take the EMP-grenade to stun mechanical constructs and the Ranged shield, because these are useful in about any match. Perfect Target can be quite powerful, or a complete waste of time (see tactics, below). The knock-away grenade is pretty effective on some maps, especially near deep drops.

Tactics

All maps in GA are about getting control of a circle. Being in the circle makes one a target and even if a player is not directly targeted, AOE damage will still hit him. Therefore standing in the circle is by far the easiest way to build threat in PvP. If the opponent wants to take control of it, they have to go through you first!

Protecting healers is another and it has the bonus effect of getting healed (most of the time). As said before, the Assault’s survivability is not that much higher than for other classes. However, healing  is potent in GA. An Assault that is getting healed by two medics is nearly unstoppable as long as the medics are alive. The Assault can protect Medics and other squishies fairly well from direct fire by standing in front of them, or pushing opponents away with the Mini-Gun. However, snipers and long range turrets (e.g. Rocket Turrets) should be dealt with by Recons.

It's OK to find a safe spot while the point is under your team's control, but be ready to jump back on it at any moment.

While most opponents in PvP are human, the Robotics class creates turrets and drones that are computer controlled. The Perfect Target off-hand ability forces these to attack the Assault, while the Assault is invulnerable. The Assault cannot attack during PT, but the team is free to deal with the turrets. Note that someone under the effect of Perfect Target is counted for point control. It’s possible to hit Regeneration before PT to ensure that you’re at full health when PT ends. While PT is a strong ability, it is solo merely a break in the action and thus it is most effective while in a team.

A team of Assaults pushing the point together is a force to be reckoned with, but it is also a prime target for Recons dropping bombs and other AOE attacks. Be sure to spread out.

Standing still allows one to fire the Mini- and Inferno-gun longer, but stationary targets are easy prey for snipers. It is also not necessary to stand on a point that is under control at all times. bit be ready to jump back on it at any moment!

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Global Agenda: building on a solid core

February 21, 2010 Leave a comment

Global Agenda got my attention when several PvP’ers from Champions Online announced that they would check that game out. Although shooters are not my favorite type of game, my interest in them was high because of Mass Effect 2. GA combines shooters with MMO’s. Contrary to many other recent games GA did not promise more than it could provide before launch. The result is a core game with actually working core gameplay. On top of that creator Hi Rez Studios has been actively surveying what the player base wants.

Subscription

GA offers a basic game that consists of PvP and PvE maps. There will also be a subscription that allows players to craft and to participate in Conquest mode. However, till the end of March all features are free. The intend is, of course, the get people to subscribe. I cannot think of a more user-friendly way than to let people play for free and see if they like it, no strings attached.

Modes

I do not like PvE much, or perhaps I should say that I like PvP in GA so much more that all my GA time goes to PvP. There is only a limited number of maps available for the two modes, but living people as opponents keep maps fresh a lot longer than AI.

PvP consist of 10vs10 games in different scenarios from holding points to escorting exploding Robots to the opponent’s base. There’s enough variety. However, all different scenario’s are currently grouped together under a single ‘Random Scenario’ button, so you never know what will pop up. While this does ensure that players experience all scenarios, I do hope that there will be choice in the future, if only for getting better feedback to the developers; if a large percentage of the population does not like a certain map, its statistics will show Hi Rez that it should be fixed or changed. The queue is never long, which makes GA ideal for playing if you have only limited time. PvP gives good XP unless the team was really abysmal, which does happen with the occasional pick-up group.

If have not played enough Conquest yet to form a good opinion about it. My interest in it is limited though. The idea is that guilds are fighting for control over a persistent map. It’s like an RTS but with players as actual units. I can imagine that it is quite engaging for larger guilds, but as a small group and solo player I cannot viably participate in it yet.

Game elements

Four different classes may seem limited, but they have a distinct play style and true internal differentiation through talent trees, e.g. an Assault can choose to be a tank or an explosives specialist, while the Medic can be a healer or a (very) high DPS poison monster. This is another example of how Hi Rez got the core working. I have been playing Assault (tank) most, but it is pretty dependant on support from Medics. On the other hand, the Robotic can be pretty self-sufficient. Note that not much can be attained without playing as a team.

Customization is limited because every class has a unique silhouette that has to be maintained. Otherwise it would be difficult to recognize people in the fast gameplay. There are still plenty of different armors and colors to choose from though.

I have not done any crafting yet for the simple reason that blueprints for devices and materials are obtained through PvE.

Technical

Again, the core seems solid. The game runs smoothly and I can play on both European and American servers without any noticable difference between the two. This is just my experience, I would recommend to check the forums and reviews for more detailed information about performance on different systems and in different time zones.

Play: yes – Subscribe: no

This game has both impressed and entertained me so far, so I will definitely keep playing. The choice about subscribing is easy for me as well: the mode I really enjoy is free. However, there may come changes before the end of March that may change my mind. Subscription limites a character’s level to 30, but the only changes beyond 30 are only cosmetic.

I can heartily recommend this game to anyone who’s even remotely interested in it to get it now and see the subscription part for free.

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Champions Online back on track

February 14, 2010 Leave a comment

I decided not to rant against Vibora Bay when it was announced and I am glad I did. After weeks of almost no communication, the front page of the Champions Online site is again filled with real news. As I wrote in a previous blog, there are three things I expected from Cryptic before I would start to trust them again: honesty, apologies and recompense, although the latter was a minor point. The State of the Game of February 9 actually addressed all three.

Revelation will feature a half demon/half angel. I'll admit that I made one in the costume generator some time ago...

Chronomancer admitted that they had not tested enough and promised to improve both testing and communication. There’s a GM blog up that shows they take their promises seriously. They biggest announcement, however, was that the Vibora Bay expansion would be free. It was renamed to Revelation and it is coming somewhere in March. I think that giving an intended paid expansion for free serious recompense. At least the marketing department finally realised that they needed some good press. One may conclude they had a revelation. It does not matter whether it was realistic of Cryptic to expect that people would pay for the expansion. They put effort in the project expecting that it would have to sell itself to the players. That simply must put it on a higher level than, say, the Winter Event. If Revelation is received well, it could revitalize the game.

Meanwhile, several PvP breaking powers and advantages like Swallowtail Cut (single blade), Where is the Kaboom! (archery) and mini-drive (gadgetering) were fixed. Their overpoweredness was not caused by design, but by lack of Quality Assurance. Since Chronomancer promised better testing, there should be less overpowered abilities that make it from the test shard to live. While there will always be strong builds, the reduction of power difference between normal and pure PvP builds will increase the amount of people who play PvP: getting steamrolled drives people away, but losing a good fight will encourage people to improve.

What’s next?

The future of CO purely depends on the number of players: enough income to make a decent profit for the company will keep the game online. Good expansion followed by good press will make the game thrive, althoug the superhero genre will probably never get the same interest as Fantasy and SF. Although Cryptic has lost points with the community in the last months, they are apparently working hard to improve their reputation. I hope it will be enough. For now I will keep my eyes on any revelations about Revelation.

The dread penalty

February 7, 2010 Leave a comment

Fear the...Pink...Reaper?!

Death penalties are a pretty controversial topic in the MMO community. One extreme demands that dying in-game should permanently delete the character, the other does not want any penalty at all. I have no set opinion, only that the penalty should make sense with regard to the game environment and that playing badly should never be rewarded.

Current flavors

Let’s take a look at some of the penalties currently implemented in different games:

  • Dying in World of Warcraft results in the character’s spirit being removed from the body and moved to a specified spot on the map where a Spirit Healer awaits. All items carried are also damaged. The player can run as a ghost back to his body and resurrect on the spot. The penalty here is lost time and gold for repairs. The player can also choose to resurrect at the Spirit Healer, but he will then suffer from greatly reduced stats for ten minutes and a great durability loss for all items. There is no penalty at all within battlegrounds and arenas because people have to be able to get up and fight immediately again.
  • Characters in Lord of the Rings Online cannot really die, because it would not fit Tolkien’s world were death is permanent (although some spirits can linger in the world). Instead of health characters have morale and if morale gets depleted, the character retreats to a preset spot on the map with damage to items. They also get a penalty to health and damage output for ten minutes, which grows more severe as the character levels up, the fall of great hero is more severe than that of a grunt. Although it is possible to ‘resurrect’ on the spot every two hours (every hour for lower level characters) this gives the same penalties and is not to be recommended if the character retreated within aggro distance of mobs Like in WoW the penalty is time and money for repairs.
  • Champions Online does not have a dead penalty per se, but rather a reward for staying alive. The longer the character stays alive fighting equal or near level mobs, the more ‘hero’ stars he gets. Every star gives a minor increase in damage up to 6%. Every dead results in the loss of a star and being moved to a preset place on the map. The penalty here is time. There is no penalty at all within the Hero Games because people have to be able to get up and fight immediately again.
  • Warhammer moves a dead character to a preset location and induces a penalty on all stats that grows progressively, so every dead increases the chances of dying again as long as the penalty is on (up to 10 min). The penalty is time. There is no penalty at all within scenarios because people have to be able to get up and fight immediately again.
  • Star Trek Online has no substantial dead penalty, a blown up ship respawns in several seconds. Suicide runs are rewarded because enemies often do not fully reset during the respawn period, making it possible to whittle them down bit by bit, death by death.
  • In Pirates of the Burning Seas ships can be lost a limited number of time before being destroyed permanently. All ship outfitting is lost permanently upon being destroyed. The worth of ships varies so the monetary penalty does as well. Even in PvP a loss means the loss of a ship, which fits the realistic setting well.

I have not played Darkfall or EVE, but from what I have read it is possible there to lose items (getting looted by an opponent in Darkfall, getting your ship blown up in EVE), while a character can also be killed. The player has than to get a clone active, which could be considered a save file. So it is possible in these games to lose very little or very much. Other games, like Aion, give an experience debt: the player must gain an extra amount of XP to get to the next level. This is a time penalty.

There is only one real currency in MMO’s and that’s time. Everything the players has gained has come from an investment in time. However, gold and equipment are not gained equally fast by all players, which makes converting such items to time difficult to generalize.

Making sense

Although it seems rather strange that a hero is able to escape a encampment filled with orcs in LOTRO, it is possible to imagine him/her desperately making a break for it. While the near loss of life weighs heavily for a few moments (the debuff period) the hero eventually recovers. It is easier in a World like Warcraft where magic is everywhere. Getting an entire star ship blown up and reappearing a few minutes later makes no sense at all, unless every STO captain has their own personal Q aboard.

It is easier to suspend disbelief in a fantasy environment than in SF, but that does not mean that SF should not try to make sense.

Severity

Games are entertainment first and foremost, but what is a game without challenge? Challenge means that the possiblity of failure. Failure is only real if it is felt. Failure teaches people to better play the game. Without penalties there will be more bad players, it’s as simple as that. People should know what they get into before they start, they should know what they can lose. Just like they agree to the EULA when they start up the game for the first time, they agree to the risks as well. So as long as players are able to know what their risk is, I am fine with any dead penalty that is severe enough to show the player that he made a mistake, e.g. basically nowhere is safe in EVE, while a setback in WoW will not cost more than about twenty minutes maximum (10 minutes Spirit Healer debuff and 10 minutes to do daily quests to get repair gold).

Summarizing

  1. Dead penalties are vital in teaching how to play the game.
  2. While the only quantity that really can be lost, this can be a great deal.
  3. Players should know their risks before starting to play.