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Quick Update, Sept 6

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It's almost time for another round of alpha chaos! The next update will focus on ability and treasure revisions. I have some big goals I want to achieve with these changes. They're broad changes that will affect how combat plays at every level, which means they'll cause a chain-reaction of other changes -- monster stats, XP curves, and more will have to be adjusted to compensate. So it's going to take a few more weeks before I'm ready to put the update up.

I know that there are some major imbalances between skills right now, but skill balance isn't my main goal with this update. My immediate goals are:

  • Making two-skill builds a reality by splitting treasure effects on gear between skills.
  • Slowing down the reset time of abilities to increase the number of abilities you use in combat.
  • Easing the problems with power management so you can actually afford to use more abilities in combat.
  • Helping players switch gear to get feedback and metrics on these changes sooner rather than later.


Making Two-Skill Builds a Reality

My biggest goal with these changes is to make players think in terms of BOTH of their combat skills. In other words, I don't want people to think of themselves as a sword fighter, but rather a sword + mentalism character. This duality needs to matter all the time, in basically every fight, and especially when choosing equipment.

When it comes to choosing gear, players tend to focus on just one of their skills. They do this for a very practical reason: it's way more powerful. By putting as many treasure effects on as few abilities as possible, you maximize both your damage-per-second and your damage-per-Power-spent. I've tried to push players toward two-skill builds in the past with various small incentives, but there's no incentive that can overcome the HUGE combat benefits of having 30+ treasure effects for only four or five abilities. As long as that's a possibility, players will want to do that – it just makes sense.

So it's time for a bit more direct approach: the effects on all looted and crafted gear will always be evenly split between your two skills. There will be no such thing as "single-skill gear" anymore. (Players can still use Augments to add any effect they want to their gear, which means that at high level you won't actually have a perfectly 50/50 split, but it'll be a lot closer than it is now.)

I've already implemented this change locally and it does definitely push you to think more strategically about your second skill. It makes you look for ways to synergize your skills that you would never have bothered with before. I like the result so far ... but there are some problems. Some of the problems will be pretty easy to fix. For instance, some skills have very different treasure-effect distributions than others. Mentalism has more top-quality head-slot effects than main-hand-slot effects, which ramps up the difficulty in finding an "ideal" mentalism helmet, since now only half the effects on a helmet will be for Mentalism. But those sorts of details are easy enough to address -- some immediately, and some in future iterations as we discover the problems.


Support Skills for Two-Skill Builds

Some problems with this new system are easy to fix... and then there are harder problems. An example of a big problem area is tanking with Necromancy. Currently if you want to use Necromancy pets in a group-tanking role, it's not really that viable to split up your gear between two skills. If you want to be a top-notch necromancer tank, you need a LOT of necromancy gear. I did that on purpose. If it didn't take much gear for Necromancy to be a top-tier tank, then the two-skill tank combos like Staff+Shield would be dumb by comparison. So in the current game, being a tanky necro requires about as much gear as being a Staff+Shield tank. (Well, balance problems with individual abilities and treasure effects blur the lines a lot ... but you get the idea of the intent.)

Since I want players to think in terms of TWO skills, the obvious solution is that there needs to be a second skill that can make Necromancy pets more tanky. Typical tanking skills like Shield are not useful for Necromancy tanks. So maybe we need a new skill here, let's call it Warding Magic: a skill that can make any pet more tanky. (Making the skill work on all pets is convenient because Animal Handling tanks have the exact same problem ... I'm just using Necromancy as an example.) Or maybe I can add variant abilities or sub-skills to an existing skill.

I'm not sure what the best answer is there, but it's something I'm thinking about. The solutions for these harder problems will probably have to wait until a future update for a robust fix. I can't make every necessary change all at once or it'll take many months to get the update out the door, and I need feedback and bug-reporting to happen as quickly as possible. So I'll make what changes I can easily make for the next update, and then with your help and feedback we’ll iterate on skills that need more dramatic changes.


Longer Cooldowns

Another fundamental fix I need to make is to increase the reset time of abilities. This ties directly into making both of your combat skills important: if you can complete the fight by pressing just a few combat abilities – because they are off of cooldown and available to use over and over – it's always going to make more sense to have all your abilities come from the same skill. By slowing down the reset times, it becomes more likely that you can fit in some abilities from your other skill.

Long story short, I'm slowing down the reset timers on many abilities. 5-second abilities will mostly become 7-second or 8-second abilities; 7-second abilities become 10-second, and so on. This obviously will change combat a LOT, and the changes will cascade everywhere -- monsters, treasure, XP curves, treasure-effects. These will be some weird times, but after a few iterations, the eventual result will be more-fun combat.

This also helps address a boringness problem. It might be more powerful to make just a few abilities really strong, but it's more boring to play ... and that's a warning sign. In MMO design, ideally the "right" way to play shouldn't also be the "boring" way to play.


Power Management

Another issue on my radar is Power management. This is an area where I wish I had more time to play the game myself, because I don't feel like I fully understand where the problems are. With the skills I use most when testing, I don't really have major Power management problems at level 60. And when I do data analysis, I see that a slight majority of level 60 players also have no trouble with Power: they finish most combats with a lot of their Power remaining. In a few cases players basically have infinite Power and can fight forever without stopping.

But on the other hand, many players report having a LOT of trouble with Power management. And this is where it gets kind of nebulous for me. Some skills are just harder to manage Power for than others, and some abilities and treasure effects are out of whack ... but in other cases, I can only guess at what's wrong. More players complain of Power problems during the 40-50 level range than the 50-60 range, which might mean that level 40 players aren't finding gear that eases their power management problems ... or it might mean that the monsters are just too tough in that range. If players feel they have to focus entirely on DPS gear, they don't have room to include Power management gear. Or maybe it's something else. It's not really obvious what the problems are just by looking at metrics. So this is something I'd like more input on. Especially if you've come "out the other side", going from being Power-starved to having plenty of Power, I want to know: what happened to change your Power needs?

In the next update I'm planning to be more generous with Power pretty much across the board. That's because the changes mentioned above -- longer cooldowns, more diffusely-spread gear effects -- will require you to use more abilities to finish a fight, which means you need more Power than before. So I'll be boosting the variables I have handy -- Power costs of abilities, power restoration of treasure effects, the potency of consumables, the impact of Combat Refresh. In the very short term, I'd rather you have too much Power than too little Power, because the other changes in the next update will cause enough chaos on their own. But as we keep iterating, Power is a big thing I'm working on and worrying about.

The other Power-related thing I need to do is get players to use food and drink all the time. Power costs are based on the idea that you start each fight with most of your Power, and food and drink are how you recover your resources quickly between fights. But when I do data analysis, I can see that most players don't use food or drink routinely, even if they often run out of Power mid-fight. The reasons for this are numerous and complicated, and this isn't something I'll be able to "fix" with a magic wand, but it's something I want to work on in future iterations.


Helping Players Switch Gear

I'm still working on the best way to deal with existing gear. On the one hand, I need to get all existing single-skill equipment out of the game, and the easiest way to do that is to mark gear as Legacy if it has too many effects from a single skill. But that will be kinda stressful on alpha testers, because you'll need to replace all your loot within a month. On the other hand, due to the ability-timer changes, you'll probably want to revise your gear sooner than later anyway. And I need to get the gear change underway ASAP so that I can start getting useful metrics of how the new system works.

So I want to do some sort of event or special activity that can make it easier to replace or alter your existing gear. But the ideas off the top of my head are either too good (you get too much free loot) or are too targeted (a "trade in your gear" event really benefits long-term players with hoards of gear more than it does mid-level players). I'll be thinking about this carefully over the next couple of weeks, and your ideas are welcome too. Hopefully together we'll come up with something to make the transition a bit easier without devolving into "loot piñatas for everyone" ... although that isn't the worst thing to happen in alpha, anyway.


Other Stuff in The Next Update

Beyond the above "big picture" combat changes, I'm also trying to fit in as many medium-sized combat changes as I can. Since you'll want new gear anyway, I'd prefer you not to need yet ANOTHER set of new gear in the next couple of updates after this one. But it will depend on the complexity of each change. Some will be easy enough to add to this update, and some will have to wait.

I'll talk about more combat-related changes in the next blog post. I should also mention that the next update has more than just these combat changes in it ... and I'll cover some of that stuff soon too!

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