Sunday, May 28, 2017

Artifacts and Paragon Systems Do Not Mix Well

A while ago, I published a couple articles on Artifacts. At the time, it wasn't apparent how far the Artifact system would go so at the time, I thought it was a nice bit of extensive character progression that allows a player to increase the power of character abilities well after leveling was finished. However, I expressed issues about how well Artifact Power would hold as a reward, both because it could end up being too impactful (because of the character power provided by traits in the more competitive WoW environment) and end up not being impactful enough (because it was possible to max out the Artifact by earning all the traits).

Prior to patch 7.2, both of the aforementioned scenarios happened since traits 35 and onward were direct generic increases to character power, making them a staple for endgame progression. However, once players acquired all 54 traits in an Artifact, a hotfix prevented them from adding any more due to traits planned for patch 7.2 and any accumulated tokens could not be used on such Artifacts either, making them into vendor trash or fodder for offspec weapons. While that problem doesn't seem likely to happen again, the existence of Concordance of the Legionfall makes me concerned about whether Blizzard's way of implementing a Paragon system through Artifacts will work out, a concern I brought up more recently when discussing how Diablo concept have been adapted into WoW. In this article, I will establish the purpose of a Paragon system from a gameplay standpoint based on personal opinion and Blizzard's statements, then explain why the Artifact system in particular lacks compatibility with accomplishing said purpose.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Making Durability Fun - Optimizing a "Broken" System

Over a month ago, I wrote a review of a review of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild that brought up some interesting points, many of which I ended up contesting with my opinion (which I tried my best to support with facts). One issue that I consider a major theme of the review in question was regarding (weapon) durability and how they could "never be fun" among some other criticism, which led to the reviewer revising the title of the review to better describe durability issues and releasing a video with a clever title to match.

While at the time, I made several arguments about why the system wasn't as bad as the reviewer made it out to be and described how there was some benefit to having the system over not, I do think he had a point. After contemplating for a while after publishing the aforementioned article, I found there's a few ways to make a durability system fun by designing around its traits. This article will cover these insights, even though I'm pretty sure plenty of people have already thought of them.

Equipment Destruction Effects

I briefly mentioned this in the review of the review I linked above. Specifically, I said:
"when a weapon breaks or is thrown, the attack is considered a critical strike."
While I think this did add an interesting bit of strategizing when using weapons and I should've also added that the critical strike can stagger enemies allowing one to get an upper hand in combat, I think there's much more that could be done with equipment destruction effects. For instance, here's a few examples:
  • When destroyed, the weapon unleashes a ring of fire centered on the destruction location.
  • A shield provides allied characters with a damage absorption shield when destroyed for a short time.
  • The final shot from a breaking bow greatly increases the size and speed of the projectile and can strike multiple enemies before expiring.
To put what I listed another way, think of some cool attack that a character in a RPG game or the like can unleash and imagine if that occurred when equipment is broken. That and more is the extent of the creativity that could go into effects that can occur when equipment is destroyed.

Durability-Scaling Effects

Durability is generally listed as a value that determines how long equipment lasts before it breaks. This value will typically be updated as the equipment is used or undergoes any effects that may change that statistic. It can also be used to directly determine the power of an effect the equipment has, which in my opinion should generally encourage the use of equipment. Therefore, the effects should usually get stronger as durability decreases. Here's some examples of durability-scaling effects
  • An electric spear fires more bolts with increasing intensity as its durability decreases. At low durability, the spear unleashes an area of effect lightning attack that damages everyone nearby.
  • Armor that increases movement speed as durability decreases.
  • A firearm that shoots more accurately and with increased speed as durability decreases. At low durability, shots also deal bonus fire damage.
Equipment could also have detrimental effects as durability decreases or beneficial effects at higher durability. However, when utilizing that design I'd recommend pairing such traits with...

Self-Repairing Equipment

This is something I was surprised not to see more of in Breath of the Wild considering Skyward Sword toyed around with the idea alongside shield durability. Technically, the Master Sword in Breath of the Wild becomes usable after breakage after some time, but I prefer towards a style where durability is restored on used equipment instead of starting a self-repair timer when the equipment breaks.

Even in games where it's possible to repair equipment it's nice to have something that's effectively infinite use over time in such a sense, even if it involves a form of management that has limited appeal. However, to those it does appeal to, pairing self-repairing equipment with effects that are most potent at higher durability should generally result in incredibly powerful equipment that degrades in power over time. This can allow a player to feel like they're very strong fairly often but not all the time unless they happen to acquire a lot of the equipment. In a sense, durability serves as something of a resource meter in such a scenario.

Final Statements

I could say a bit more on this topic like how durability as a value could be tinkered with to make "glass cannon" weapons and the like but those concepts seem to have been explored a bit more, particularly in Breath of the Wild. Hopefully this brief article sufficiently explained that (weapon) durability systems can be fun if it's designed around well, even if I left some of the mechanical ideas up to imagination.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Some Thoughts on the Group Finder Addon Changes

A few days ago, Blizzard announced a hotfix that prevented the automation of group creation and requesting an invite to groups in the Premade Group Finder. Based on their statements, the change was intended to help restore stability by helping improving realm performance. However, this effectively broke the functionality of addons like WQGF at the time, resulting in some player backlash (like in the thread linked above), including from the author of the aforementioned addon. After having a few arguments among friends and wading through some forum posts, I wish I published some content on the matter sooner, but I guess this article will have to do instead. Better late than never, right?

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

World of Diablocraft Features

Diablo and World of Warcraft have borrowed from each other for quite a while in a sense. For instance, some gear in World of Warcraft can roll affixes, which are tied to a specific set of stats. However, the borrowing has gotten more blatant in a sense, especially since Warlords of Draenor and players seem to have taken notice of it. The question then is: is it bad that WoW is borrowing some features associated with Diablo 3? I think they have potential to be good or bad based on the implementation since WoW is a pretty different beast that requires some adaptation. This article analyzes some of the features that I think bear similarity to something in Diablo 3 (and were probably adopted from it).

The Legendary System

The addition of many legendaries in Legion immediately reminded me, and probably some others, of Diablo 3 in multiple ways. What I quickly noticed was that each WoW legendary had a bonus special effect that arguably breaks the balance of the game while in Diablo 3, gear with such effects is pretty typical. While I already thought that a great disparity of power wouldn't be healthy for the competitive side of WoW, seeing the legendaries in action along with the numerous rebalancing changes made to them have done a lot to confirm my suspicions. It's worth mentioning these special effects in themselves aren't a new concept to WoW and sometimes found its way onto epic gear along with being a staple of nearly every legendary weapon of the past, so we need to go a bit deeper to make decent comparisons.

This is where acquisition comes in and the fact the sources for legendaries in WoW vary from a mundane container to the mightiest of enemies seems to be a clear adoption from Diablo 3. The rate of acquisition is a little different though since WoW legendaries on release seemed to be significantly rarer than even set pieces in Diablo 3. I think this was intentional to counterbalance the power the limited equipment slots allowed for legendary pieces, meaning there was some consideration taken into account when adapting the system to better fit WoW. Despite this, the balancing may not have been done well enough since system had a number of problems that caused much controversy and adjustments. I also made suggestions to make the task of acquiring a legendary feel less bad while maintaining rarity.

At the moment, the legendaries system seems a little than on release but far from perfect. While there's some clear links to Diablo 3 that could stand to be deviated from like in the case of legendary balancing, other features adopted from Diablo 3 may help to prevent this major piece of the reward system from being a disaster.

Adventure Mode/World Quests

When I first experienced Adventure Mode in Diablo 3, I immediately thought World of Warcraft's daily quest system could be improved by implementing some of the concepts such as the pool of rotating objectives for variance and increased rewards for doing many objectives. This made a partial appearance in Warlords of Draenor in the form of bonus objective areas along with daily quests to complement some of them. By Tanaan Jungle, there was a modest level of flexibility that allowed players to choose to areas to complete for some extra rewards.

Legion saw this design come to fruition in a huge way to compensate for a rather weak showing of single player-oriented content by implementing World Quests along with the Emissary mechanic. While the amount of quests needed to complete an Emissary was fixed and generally lower than the number of bounties needed to earn bonus loot in Diablo 3's Adventure Mode, this fit the slower pace of WoW's gameplay and quest appearance rates.

World Quests also gave more room for players to choose objectives they liked to do since completing an Emissary required 4 quests to be completed in 3 days. The exception to this is the Legionfall reputation, which is more flexible since players can acquire as many Legionfall War Supplies as Broken Shore World Quests allow for, often resulting in multiple turn-ins of 100 supplies per day. Due to Paragon reputation and rewards that improve over time, World Quests will probably continue to hold relevance.

While I think World Quests are a great form of single-player content and a good adaptation of Adventure Mode, among other concepts, there could stand to be a faster-paced version more like Adventure Mode. In such a scenario, bounties can be done without waiting for more to appear for some lesser rewards so that there's always a single-player content option available but it doesn't feel as compulsory to do. I suggested as much when discussing the addition of Paragon to WoW and a fast-paced bounty system could probably be implemented alongside World Quests without a hitch.

Gambling/Relinquished Gear

Gambling for a chance at some decent gear has been around in Diablo for a while with Kadala, the Diablo 3 incarnation, serving as a sink for Blood Shards gotten from some endgame content. Endgame currency is nothing new for World of Warcraft and since the era of Badges of Justice there's been ways to get hands on some decent pieces of gear as a reward for grinding. Mists of Pandaria began to depart from that model by the end of the expansion in favor of armor caches bought with Timeless Coins. These could produce a piece of gear with randomized secondary stats that could be upgraded, though probably not to a level relevant to a dedicated player. Apexis Crystals in Warlords of Draenor followed up on this, eventually allowing players to purchase gear tokens that also could roll randomized stats and be upgraded.

Only recently in Legion has such a concept returned, but instead of one gear vendor, there are now two for the new Nethershard currency. One sells Dauntless gear tokens which behave more like the previous gear tokens and serves more as a catch-up gearing mechanism. The other, however, seems to be more like Diablo's gambling system and through the Relinquished tokens he sells, Vashreen can help produce some very powerful gear, including legendaries. The tokens also create gear based on existing Legion gear in the game, which means it may have a lot more than a pile of stats.

I can understand why Blizzard took the direction they did with endgame gearing via currencies. I remember the frustration when certain high end gear that could be bought with currency was suboptimal for some specs and while randomized stats and gear can be frustrating, at least there's a chance to get desired pieces. The current system isn't perfect though and I wish there was some consistency through the usage of a unified currency (like Justice Points in the past) instead of having to change currencies every expansion. Also, while a gamble tends to involve randomness, there could stand to be some way to improve the odds for the player like a chance to do a cheap reroll or a way to make even acquiring a useless piece of gear worthwhile to non-Enchanters besides vendoring the item.

While I've mentioned Paragon quite a few times, this article would be pretty empty without mentioning how well the system has been implemented into World of Warcraft. When Paragon was initially implemented into Diablo 3, I considered it a way to extend the lifespan of endgame content by giving players a goal to work towards even if they've maxed out in every other way. At the same time, for players who are working through endgame content, they get a little extra for any effort put in that didn't yield fruit in other ways. Paragon 2.0 proceeded to make this system infinite (or very time-consuming to max) and the power gains more transparent by allowing players to choose which attributes are increased.

Artifact weapons were Blizzard's first major foray into adding such a system into WoW. Given points I've made in my article on adding Paragon into the game along with thoughts on the future of artifacts, I think Paragon traits in particular were a flop since they compel players to grind for character power too much. In Diablo 3, this may matter but at the same time the game seems a lot easier to take as a closed-system, single-player experience where competitive play is optional. While one could create such an environment for themselves in WoW, it's a lot harder to escape the bleeding edge of competitive play and the mentality it brings. This can create an atmosphere of min-maxing stress as players try to farm as much Artifact Power as possible to increase performance. Unhealthy as such a mentality might be, I think it's reasonable to respect and design around it, which is why I was careful when brainstorming traits for a WoW iteration of Paragon.

I could probably go on, but I plan to write a more in-depth article on exploring the design of worthwhile, but not "mandatory," Paragon traits. Instead, I'll summarize by saying if Blizzard is trying to add a Paragon-like system to WoW, I think it should be in the interest of extending the endgame while minimizing the compulsion for players to grind just to participate in endgame content. It's not an easy balance, but it seems the Honor system and Paragon reputation are working out okay, though both systems aren't that broad in scope. I don't think Artifact weapons are broad enough either since they have constraints to classes and specs that are great for fleshing them out and probably could be a system all its own without the Paragon aspect. Ultimately, an account-wide Paragon 2.0 system should be considered.

Final Statements

As I mentioned above, this article, aside from revisiting some older topics I've discussed before, only contains some of the features WoW has that have a resemblance with a Diablo counterpart. I know I missed things like the crafting system and especially Greater Rifts, which may have served as an inspiration for a number of features in WoW. There's a chance I may be more inspired to write a followup piece than I did to write this one, but that's going to be quite a while from now since I have a few drafts sitting around and real life to deal with (hence why this article took forever to publish).