Thursday, January 17, 2013

Power Escalation In TSW

I'm currently about halfway through the Savage Coast zone in TSW, and I've had a bit more time to play around with the game's skill system.  One of the things that I find very interesting is how the developers try to expand your skill options as you gain more ability points without blowing the power curve out of the water. 

A key part of this plan is that higher end abilities tend not to do more damage/healing/etc.  Rather, they offer different and often more advanced secondary effects which might eventually add up to better performance if combined appropriately.  For example, sword-based finishers: 
  • Balanced Blade, the basic AOE attack that everyone gets to start with, does AOE damage around the player and then gives back some sword resources if any targets were impaired (a debuff that happens less frequently because it also blocks actions by the victim)
  • Five Petal Lotus, a mid-range ability does the same damage, but can center the attack anywhere the target happens to be, rather than just on the player
  • Clearing the Path (CTS), a few steps further down the tree, still does the same damage but also always counts as an armor-penetrating hit against targets that are afflicted with damage over time
CTS is more powerful in that you can combine it with one set of abilities that make all your enemies afflicted, and then use your passive skill slots to load up on benefits that trigger when you penetrate armor.  All the secondary effects do a lot for your survivability, and even some additional damage.  All of this is incidental to doing the same damage as your base entry level skill.

No Respecs - good or bad?
One other point that seems to annoy some players is the lack of a respec option.  There is no limit on how many ability points you can get (well, until you run out of abilities to buy), and there is no increase in the amount of exp required to get ability points.  (The high end abilities do cost more ability points, but higher difficulty content awards more exp.)  As a result, the claim is that there is no need to refund spent points, because you will always have that the abilities you unlocked available as future options (including passive abilities, some of which are beneficial even if you do not use the weapon you got them from). 

I was a player who would completely switch soul builds in Rift every few levels just to see what I could do with more soul points.  As such, this system does not bother me much - I'm more than halfway through unlocking all the basic "inner wheel" abilities for all of the weapons (even the ones I'm not using often), changing out my weapons as I go (I've stuck to blade and experimented with pistols, fist, blood, and now rifles).  Because of the relatively flat power curve, I don't think I'm suffering too badly from this - someone who power-burned straight to an optimal cookie cutter build may be objectively more powerful, and I do occasionally hit a wall (usually prompting a build swap) but in general I'm not having problems.

That said, I can also see how someone who picked a single pairing early and did not spend any points outside those two choices could end up frustrated at mid levels with no way to jump ship on a build that is no longer cutting it.  If you just straight up swap into two weapons you have never used before, you'd in principle have to go all the way back to newbie land to start repeating content - though it's probably faster to take a step down in difficulty and bank up enough points using your existing gear to get started with your new combo.  Then again, if you really dislike your current build that could get frustrating, especially if you are similarly disappointed with your second attempt.

Overall, I don't think it's a bad system because it offers an incentive - but not a requirement - to try different things (you can always buy abilities for weapons you never intend to use if you need a specific passive ability).  Increased options are a fun reward that is probably worth the price to me personally... but then I guess I like the system to begin with.  


seanas said...

When i first started playing TSW, i hated that there was no respec option; then, as I played it for a while I realised it wasn't necessary - by the time you get to egypt you can easily re-spec (by buying different skills) without any problem.

The only real problems come in Savage Coast (and to a lesser extend, Blue Mountains), where you can start to see the consequences of a bad build (check any of Syp's posts on TSW to see what playing with poor builds looks like) but don't have the points to re-build it yet, nor do you acquire them fast enough to re-build before you have to deal with Ak-abs.

I re-built most of my builds in Egypt, easily; I re-built one in Blue Mountains a bit more circumspectly, and I re-built one in Savage Coast and it sucked until I was almost out of the BLue Mountains. The problems, from a player (and thus player-retention) point of view is that the player doesn't realise all of Solomon Island is a low-level zone (TSW has levels, it just doesn't name them), and so the lack of points they have to fix mistakes/ wasted points/ poor build feels like the end of the world (see: Syp's previous I-quit posts about TSW, from back in August. and yes, Syp doesn't quit games, he just plays others, but not playing for 6 months and only after business -model change = quitting).

In a way, the worst problem TSW has (apart from the business model at launch) is the lack of a level number: players *think* that because they're not in the noob-zone they're now experienced; but no-one who is, say, level 20 in Rift or WoW, has anything like the same illusions about their level of progress. That said, the lack of level is by far the greatest strength of TSW, so if the side-effect is bad players complaining and quitting, that's not the worst side-effect in the world.

Green Armadillo said...

Huh, I just had to make a bit of a change in direction due to the Ak-abs, I had not realized they were a rite of passage. I'd been coasting fine as Blade/Blood, but I hit a wall because the mob density made it nigh impossible to kite while healing. I switched over to Blade/Rifle, which was not too painful since I already had points in Rifle from an earlier experiment, and found that more damage plus instant heals more than offset lower total healing output.

I think some of the shock factor comes because theme park MMO's tune their exp curves to keep you on level with content. Savage Coast throws you into QL4-5 content wearing probably QL3 green gear and who knows how suboptimal of a build. Due to the cooldown on quest repeats, if you do have to backtrack to grind exp (another rarity in theme parks) you've just finished the first hub of Savage Coast so you're probably going to have to zone to Kingsmouth and run all the way across the zone to the QL3 content.

(Aside: I realized belatedly that the cheap dregs of the random QL5 gear at the auction house - typically stuff that has glyph stats that don't match the mainstat - were still significant upgrades from my QL3 stuff, especially since I'm deliberately statting some of all three types of gear.)

That said, I do appear to have arrived at what is effectively - if you ignore a bunch of points spent on other things I was messing with (i.e. I could have CTS by now if I'd been more focused) - the cookie cutter newbie Blade/Rifle build. If the reality is that the Darwinian pressure of the Savage Coast is going to push all solo players into one of a handful of builds, one could argue that's a shortcoming in the system.