So I found out recently that Shadowbane is now free to play, and had a server restart (characters wiped) < 2 months ago... Seemed like a perfect time to jump in and try it out. Downloading it, patching etc, no problems, load into character creation...
/me loads up shadowbane forums, spends the next several hours trying to figure out which choices to make so I don't gib my character...
There are a ridiculous number of options. Four base classes, 10 "real" classes on top of those (including ones that you can access via different base classes), a plethora of races, attributes, background traits. Then you get into the game and you have to split your "training points" as you level up between "skills" and "powers". Apparently attributes drive skills which drive powers. Or something.
I mean, I consider myself if not an MMO vet, at least an RPG vet. I've gone through a similar experience as above to one degree or another through many years spent playing a combination of Diablo II, Baldur's Gate 2, Neverwinter Nights, then on to the more traditional WoW, and Guild Wars. Also have played Magic the Gathering on and off for several years. In every case, if you want to make a character/build/deck that is competitive, you HAVE to do your homework. And you know what I've realised?
I spend more time researching how to play games then actually playing them.
Well, just about anyway.
I had an outsider's perspective of this a couple of months ago. I convinced my gf to get into Guild Wars (which I am very very happy about). I told her what the various classes entailed, she likes the sound of the ranger, gets through a couple of early levels. Time to buy some skills.
Her: "I have to buy skills now honey.... Is Power Shot any good?"
Me: "No, it sucks."
Her: "Oh... what about Penetrating Attack?"
Her: "Oh... what about Sundering Attack?"
Me: "It does the same thing as Penetrating Attack."
Her: "They made 2 versions of a sucky skill, great....ok forget about bow skills. How about Otyugh's Cry?"
Me: *Shudders* "Look, get Distracting Shot, Savage Shot, Apply Poison, Troll Unguent, Natural Stride, and take Monk secondary for Mending Touch"
Her: "Um, ok... How come 90% of the skills in this game are shit?"
(I don't know)
Mulling it over recently, I have come to the conclusion: if they only put the "good" skills in the game, then there would be no "choices" to make, and so the game would be easier to learn, and less hard to master.
Now, many of you will argue that knowing which skills are good is simply part of "skill" at the game. However, I would argue that it is useless "skill", in that it has no context outside the game. Compare this to learning such generic gameplay such as knowing which characters to snare at which times, which characters to interrupt at each times, when to switch targets, etc.
Learning what all the "skills" in the game do gives you a pseudo increase in power because you have mastered an arbitrary ruleset invented at the whim of a game designer, which is subject to change at any ime anyway. It creates a hurdle that will result in someone who would otherwise be a prodigy at the game being a total noob for several months.
Exactly like the much maligned "vertical progression" of characters getting better items and hence being much better than characters who spend less time playing the game.
Of course, as I said, they do this for a reason. They want to give the game "depth" to keep you entertained. I now throw the question out to the viewers: is there a better way to do this? Assuming that there was some kind of intuitive combat system that can be picked up in the space of, say, a couple of hours, how can we offer our players different, interesting, yet all *equally good* choices to promote depth?