Monday, April 15, 2013

Darkfall Unholy Wars: Prowess & Character Progression

I am a big believer that RPGs are largely driven by character progression.  In MMOs, the dial gets turned up even further because the shared world experience breeds competition between players. This won't hold true for everyone, but I do believe it holds true for the vast majority.  In the PvP game, character progression also leads to an advantage in PvP and the "reward" for progressing your character is more tangible in that it allows you to vanquish your enemies more easily.

In other words, in a game like Darkfall, the motivation dial to make your character as powerful as quickly as possible is set to a very high setting.  The more effective you are at character development, the more viable you are at PvP.

The problem with original Darkfall Online (DF1)
Not to be confused with Darkfall Unholy Wars, DF1 is the original Darkfall that was launched back in 2009 and closed it's servers in 2012 in preparation for it's successor, Darkfall: Unholy Wars (DF:UW).

In the original, characters were progressed by "skilling up" an ability by actually using that ability. If you wanted to be better at melee combat, you needed to get out there and swing that sword. Pretty much everything could be skilled up -- even mundane things like Swimming and Sprinting.

In addition to skill gains, there were stat gains. Unlike other games, wearing armor only provided better protection, it didn't provide more stats.  In fact, without the stats for it -- you simply couldn't wear the armor.

You will hear other reasons why people may not have played DF1 but many of those reasons will be opinions about a style of gaming that player simply doesn't like to play.  Ultimately, the problem with DF1 came down to two major flaws:
  • It's exploitable through macros. Players quickly learned that if they just setup a script or macro to have themselves swim in a circle, it would yield them stat gains.  The more hardcore players would "blood wall" and set up macros where they attacked each other without delivering a killing blow.  Looped endlessly overnight, these macros would progress players without them doing any actual work.
  • Exacerbating the above problem, the grind was incredible. I am not a casual player and I played for 3 solid hardcore months and still barely progressed my character.  It simply wasn't worth the effort to continue playing particularly if the only way to "catch up" was to use macros.
The problems I am describing here are deeply rooted and linked to why players who otherwise enjoyed the game quit.  They simply didn't want to keep a computer logged in macro'ing for 8 hours a night in order to be competitive. 

The early beta solution in Darkfall Unholy Wars (DF:UW)
At the start of Unholy Wars beta in December, the above system still existed but the developers had taken some steps to mitigate the problem.  Aventurine had eliminated skill-ups for things like Swimming and Sprinting but it still existed for things like combat swings.  Since this was "on use" skill-ups, you absolutely could still "blood wall' with another player for easy gains.

Aventurine further mitigated the macro problem by reducing the grind.  Since the number of skills needed to max was reduced and the speed at which those skills level was increased -- such macro'ing was believed to only provide a short-term gain and casuals could eventually catch up with normal play.

They also introduced a new system called Prowess.  As you completed certain things, you gained Prowess.  This Prowess could be used to buy things like a "booster" which increased your stats for your class.  Maximizing your character progression in the early beta took a combination of Prowess and skill-ups.

Feedback was VERY positive on the Prowess system but continued to be very negative regarding the ability to continue to be able to macro and blood wall.  It was suggested in the beta forums that this Prowess system be the primary method of developing your character -- not the old skill-up "on use" system from DF1.

The new Prowess system in Darkfall Unholy Wars (DF:UW)
And Aventurine listened. Based on the beta feedback, they revised the whole system to be entirely based on Prowess rather than the old DF1 system of skill-ups based "on use" of that particular skill.  In that one act, they completely eliminated the macro'ing problem from DF1.  This was a big change and in fairness to AV, a big contributing factor to why the beta lasted as long as it did.  

Under the new system, you must "earn" Prowess by completing meaningful actions (harvesting, crafting, killing creatures, and completing feats).  These points, once earned, can be used to purchase your skill (or stat) gains.

Unlike Syncaine, I don't think it's a brand new idea. The feats, in particular, bear a striking resemblance to Achievements and even Quests.  You can argue how it's different until you are blue in the face but it doesn't change the fact that attempting to kill X creatures feels exactly the same.  Likewise, we have seen point allocation systems in other games.  I am reminded or the Renown Points in Warhammer Online and how they  are used to buy Renown Rewards to increase Strength and Weapon skill from the trainer.  

That said, I think what is perhaps unique about this progression system is the depth to which it is implemented throughout the game.  It's also a very tidy "sandboxy" solution to a significant problem.

My biggest criticism about the new system is that I felt the progression went, ironically, too quickly.  In turns out that some of my concern may have been related to circumstances that only existed in beta.  Specfically, for much of the beta, "resistances" were not in on the creatures so they effectively were wearing no armor.  Shortly before end of beta, all the resistances went back in -- and the difficulty level scaled up as a result.

So -- progression will be slower as a result.  How slow?  That's hard to say and it may still be too fast.  But almost assuredly, players will speed past whatever expectations Aventurine has on the progression.  As I said at the top of the blog post, in a PvP centric game like Darkfall - the dial doesn't get any higher in the "race" for progression.  

Let the Prowess race begin.

1 comment:

Victor Stillwater said...

Good day!

Saw your comment on Syncaine's blog, and followed it, and I find this system intriguing. Sadly, I'm still trying to complete patching, so it may be a while before I can get into it.