Warhammer: post-launch state of the game

I don’t need to wait Friday to read Mark Jacobs’ own.

Putting aside client performance and stability for once, even if it should remain the very first-priority effort, I’ll focus on the gameplay. Class balance is also an argument on its own that I won’t comment here.

I said before, and repeat again, that Warhammer’s biggest strength is in the variety of gameplay it offers. This variety comes in four different flavours: straight PvE quests, Public Quests, Scenarios and Open RvR.

The game is in the best shape when these four systems are always accessible and equally rewarding (or comparably rewarding). All four of them.

Removing Scenarios doesn’t make a better game, it’s the wrong solution to a problem. Reducing the number of scenarios also doesn’t make a better game since it reduces once again the variety. The main reason why everyone says the game is an awful grind is because the game entered a dead end where there’s scenarios and just scenarios. It’s repetitive, and repetitive is “grind”. And grind means that you worship your exp bar. And worshiping your exp bar means that you aren’t having fun and just hope to reach the “promise of a different end-game”.

This is the state of the four gameplay paths coming from my personal experience in the game and what I read in other players’ feedback:

– PvE Quests yield crap experience, especially in Tier 3 and 4 (or so I read)
– PQs don’t have enough players and bag loot should be improved
– Scenarios outbalance everything else, but should be balanced between each other to be more equal in rewards
– Open PvP is non existent and with piss poor rewards

PvE Quests
I don’t have the data, but I think that the experience curve throughout all the levels should be improved. Things should scale more uniformly and quests, scenarios, PQs, direct kills, these all should scale with the levels following a smooth, predictable curve. Instead I read reports that quests yield less and less experience and something similar happens for scenarios too. The escalation of level requirements isn’t perceived as smooth, and I’m willingly to trust the feedback I read on this.

I don’t have any experience in Tier 3 so I can’t comment the details. For sure the solution is NOT to add repeatable quests to fill the gaps. If the are gaps they need to be removed entirely, not just bridged with fluff. In any case it’s a problem of boosting or decreasing the xp rewards so that even the normal quests make your experience bar move perceptibly.

Public Quests
Big issue. Problems coming from different aspects that aren’t easily fixable without significant coding efforts. Difficulty scaling, to begin with.

The real reason why Mythic is scared about making leveling faster is because the faster the players move to the cap, the quicker the tiers will depopulate. The quicker the tiers depopulate, the less fun the experience for new players. The less fun the experience of new players, the smaller the influx of new subscriptions to the game. With less players sticking, the game has no future.

Right now for Mythic is crucial that the first tiers are vibrant with activity. The band-aid they have for this is to keep the leveling so slow that people “pool” in the tiers for longer, maybe even encouraging them to create alts more than pushing to the cap.

The real problem is that no matter how slow the leveling speed, these problems will arise anyway. The depopulation of the tiers is the big thorn in the game’s side. It WILL happen. Ignoring it now will just make things worse later. It starts affecting mostly the PQs, but later will even affect Scenarios. It’s a game-breaking problem.

There’s only one effective solution, and I’ll point where I discussed it.

I believe that the Scenarios should be reworked even in level design, but I won’t go in the details. For sure they need to add lightmaps and avoid fights in the dark. Not fun, especially when it’s so easy to get stuck everywhere. For this kind of gameplay the zone design shouldn’t get in the way, it should ease the fight. Less stupid obstacles and more visibility, thanks.

Secondly, all the Scenarios in a tier need to be equally rewarding. Make an average of time each required, then compensate the differences through bigger or smaller rewards for completing one.

Open RvR
To begin with: travel sucks. Travel time-sinks have to go completely. Every hub, big or small, should have all the necessary NPCs. Then I’d add at least two flight masters for each zone, one closer to a PvE hub, the other to the RvR Lake warcamp.

Once travel between PvE and RvR Lakes is simpler, I’d go with the following plan:

– Players take a Battlefield Objective (or keep) and cap it (worth nothing for now). Guilds can put a banner on the BO and stack benefits.
– For the time the BO is being actively defended (meaning there are real players in its proximity) it “blinks” on the map for all the players in the zone, for both factions. So that all players know that there’s activity there.
– All the kills (both defenders and attackers) that happen within a decently wide radius from the BO starts to be worth more points (XP, renown). A bonus that should be slightly higher for defenders, to encourage defense.
– For all the kills that defenders manage, some points go into a “bounty pool” in the BO. The more kills, the more this pool increases. I’d also make the BO generate some of these points even if no one is around, so that if left untouched for a lot of hours it actually start to be worth something anyway.
– This means that the longer it takes to conquer the BO, the biggest is going to be the reward, as it increases with the time and makes the prize progressively juicier.
– In order to “collect” these points the attackers need to conquer the objective themselves and “cash” the reward.

This has mainly three effects:
1- The BO works like a magnet, like a natural convergence since the direct kills are worth a lot more when they are closer to the objective. This makes the players know where to go and the action is focused on a smaller area (those who played Planetside know what I mean). This reduces the problem of RvR lakes being too dispersive.
2- The bounty points increase over time, so growing to a level that will likely motivate the other faction to take action. It will also move the “hot” RvR area around instead of repeating what happened with “Emain” in DAoC. It puts variety in the system.
3- It avoids exploits and disruptive behaviors. Points in this system come from direct kills. Handing out a lot of points for just conquering a keep, instead, encourages the factions to just trade the objective instead of fighting for it. It teaches them to AVOID the fight to maximize the reward (we saw some of this in WoW). My system instead focuses on the fight itself. It motivates it and makes sure it is rewarding since it promotes and rewards the activity.

This is how I would fix Open RvR. Some of those mechanics existed in some form in DAoC, but were never implemented in a way they mattered.

Mark Jacobs says:

Look, it’s really very simple and I’ve said this more than once. This is not 2001 and we are not going to blithely make changes to our game just because some people think that we are wrong before they even get a chance to see the changes in action or worse, just because we are getting yelled at by a very vocal minority. We’ll gather the data, look at all the feedback and then make a decision. If we’re wrong, we’ll correct the decision but at least this time we have all the data we need to make the right call and we are not getting swayed either by just the loud voices or a few wrong-headed individuals. So, if you feel the need to talk about canceling in these threads, of course you have that right. Just don’t think that we are going to react to it the same way we might have at times back in 2001, we need to be smarter and react more carefully than that.

Mark Jacobs apparently believes that these complaints about Open RvR are due to “loud voices or a few wrong-headed individuals”.

To what did they overreact in 2001 that made them so scared today? Class issues, maybe. Doing nothing in regards to huge unbalances for a long time, keeping specs completely broken. And then suddenly turning things on their heads. This happened. Right now there are no signs of change. Class issues are still unaddressed and no one knows if when the changes will come they will be searing.

Class issues aside, what I remember from Mythic is not overreacting, but doing very little, too late and never at the root of the problem. How is this different today? As with ToA, they risk to fix things when it’s too late, or never in a radical way. Even at that time Mythic believed that the complaints against ToA came from a “vocal minority” and it take them a long time to acknowledge that this “vocal minority” spoke in regards of the majority. When they did, it was too late.

History repeats, no matter how hard they try to persuade players of the contrary. No matter how much I hope something really changed.

DAoC with the time became more and more a game just about specialized 8vs8 or arranged matches between guilds. The keep battles and sieges became a rarity. For a very long time I was part of the “vocal minority” who pleaded Mythic to bring the “real” RvR back to when the realm was fighting together and the battles pivoted around keeps instead of away from them to avoid interferences.

They did nothing for a long time and when they started adding some rewards to conquering a keep, these rewards were ridiculously low. Does it sound familiar? This is way too similar to what is happening now in regards to Scenarios and Open RvR.

The same happened again with the “Catacombs” expansion. They added private instances that were merely a corridor populated with a row of skeletons. It was STUPID. Ridiculously pointless and dull.

But everyone continued to do them and just them. Over and over and over. Why? Because they gave by far the most experience points.

Mythic had other instanced dungeons that provided a lot more variety and depth of gameplay, also more linked to the various zones. They were completely deserted. No players at all. Why? Because they couldn’t even compare to the fast rewards of the private instances. For a long time I tried to persuade Mythic to make these other dungeons comparably attractive. They never did.

History repeats.

I know I sound like the stereotypical soured player, but I’ve seen these things happening. Over and over. And now I don’t see any sign that they actually learned from mistakes. They say they did, but this isn’t reflected by their actions. I continue to see the same mistakes repeated. The exact same mistakes.

I remember reading an old post from Ubiq who described similar patterns:

In Star Wars Galaxies, I remember, the rewards for killing the flying bat things were better than for everything else (probably had something to do with me being a Master Armorsmith). So because I could choose my own randomly generated quests, I chose the flying bat thing quests every time. Man, I got so sick of killing those, but all of the other content may as well not have existed.

It bears pointing out that most MMOs, rather inadvertently, end up shrinking their own content down in some way. Players are incredibly efficient at finding the fastest way to advance, and designers sometimes accidentally make design and balance decisions that help this along.

What Ubiq describes here is what it happens with Warhammer today. Players do scenarios and just scenarios, everything else may as well not exist at all. They shrunk their game to just repetitive deathmatches. This is what originated the “grind” the players are feeling. The repetition. The dullness.

Bringing back the variety I talked at the beginning would already help to substantially reduce the “grind” even without touching the levelling curve. But Mythic is scared even to touch the smallest thing, because their “metrics” tell them how much fun players are having in Scenarios. The same metrics that told them how fun were the 8vs8 matches or those stupid task dungeons in DAoC.

Mark Jacobs continues to repeat that they’ll only listen their metrics and not those “loud voices and few wrong-headed individuals” I’m sure he would put me in.

The metrics on my account will tell Mythic that when I log in I sit in a warcamp and do exclusively Scenarios. But those metrics don’t know that I’m PISSED, DEAD BORED about them. Mythic instead will take those metrics and see the evidence of how much I obviously love Scenarios since all my play time goes there.

How much I love Mourkain Temple, especially, since I do mostly that one. But those metrics don’t know that I think that whoever designed the Scenario terrain should better move on another job. Plenty of time I get stuck somewhere while moving, the textures are so dark that I see jack shit, and there’s a total absence of lightmaps that makes all this even worse. It’s terrible, but I continue to do it because it’s the most rewarding.

Metrics are dumb. Their “evidence” is a lie.

So I really don’t know what message I should send Mythic instead. Because if I play Scenarios they’ll think I love Scenarios. If I do Open RvR they’ll think it’s ok that Open RvR yields no rewards. Next time they’ll write that they see some more activity in the RvR Lakes because some idiots are trying desperately even if the system is so punishing. Do I boycott them? Do I cancel my account? Canceling my account would tell them that I don’t believe in Mythic, the potential of the game, or that a PvP MMO could be successful. Whatever I do sends the wrong message.

Whatever I do sends the wrong message because on the other side there should be a game designer that UNDERSTANDS players. That is in touch with them. That plays the game himself and sees where the problems are. That plans and fix things for the long term, and not through band-aids. At the root of the problems, and not inadequately.

Instead we rely on “metrics” and whatever twisted, biased use is made of them. To prove “evidence” where there’s only wronged partiality.

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