In my original plan for avatar combat, there were two supplementary skill lines that any fighting school could take. For various reasons, we ended up having to cut one of those lines, leaving us with only the Black Powder optional skill line. Unfortunately, there was some functionality I really liked in the removed skill line; also, with only one optional line available, characters were by definition less diverse and less customizable.
Optional skill lines present a couple of significant challenges. The largest of these is, of course: how does it do damage without your weapon’s involvement? A key design goal of mine for every new skill line is that you should be able to take the whole line to its end, and with no other skills be a functional combatant in avatar combat. This caused me to immediately discard some of my ideas for a new skill line—‘Command’, for instance, doesn’t seem to have any way to do damage (or at least, not without adding some significant new code features, but that’s for a much later devlog).
Another challenge is that the skill line can’t be mandatory. If it’s powerful enough that no character can reasonably succeed in PvP without it, then it’s going to cause cookie-cutter builds across all three fighting schools. Early iterations of the Black Powder line were so powerful that without taking every available gun skill, you were likely to be slaughtered in PvP. Given that we’re releasing Skirmish soon, avatar combat PvP viability is a real concern we have. So the skill tree has to both be useful enough to take by itself, and optional enough that you can skip it and still win fights.
As well, optional lines should always reward you for taking them at every step of the line. In the core skill lines, I’m fine with giving you skills early in the line that don’t really come into their own until you have the whole thing. In an optional line, I don’t expect a majority of players to take the whole thing. I want early utility that allows you to supplement your existing skills effectively, powerful midlevel utility that will make you consider going a bit further into the line, and final skills that redefine your approach to avatar combat. In Black Powder, the early utility is Point-Blank Shot, which has a limitation that’s basically irrelevant if you’re using it as a supplemental skill. Mid-range power is Cross Shot, arguably the best gun skill in the game. The capstone skill, Rapid Reload, turns you into a bullet-spewing machine and fundamentally alters your combat experience.
Enter the Brawling skill line. Brawling bases its damage off your equipped weapon, but doesn’t care which kind of weapon you have. This is somewhat of a compromise, in that we’d like to create ‘brawling weapons’ that function similarly to guns, but we don’t feel like we can provide enough interesting content or customization for those weapons. However, it means that Brawling has a reasonable progression of damage throughout your career.
Brawling isn’t so powerful that you absolutely must have it. Across the board, Brawling skills do slightly less damage than weapon and gun skills (on average, they’re -20% damage below other skills). This means it isn’t a must-have skill line in a pure dps build. It also provides no persistent buffs or defensive improvements, so it isn’t critically important to a pure tank build.
So where are the critical points in Brawling? The first is Jab, which is an attack with a stacking debuff that cannot be parried. It is low damage, but it’s also free to use. In combination with the second Brawling skill, Cross, you can sustain a stack of 4 debuff effects on a target indefinitely, or with another brawler the two of you can maintain that stack with just the Jab.
Mid-level utility comes from two sources: the Block and Uppercut skills. With Block, you can preemptively make yourself stun-immune for 15 seconds—likely the whole duration of a PvP fight, or close to it. Uppercut allows you to trade in all those stacking debuffs for a long-duration damage increase against a target. Uppercuts followed by high-damage skills from other lines are very effective; uppercuts followed by your whole group unloading their high-damage skills at once will likely kill any normal target.
The capstone skill is Roundhouse. This is the largest area-effect stun available in the game. It trades in the Combo debuffs you’ve been stacking up for 2 seconds of stun per debuff, which means a hefty 8 second stun is possible against multiple targets around you. A Brawler who coordinates his application of Combo debuffs properly can incapacitate an entire wave of attackers and pick them off over the next four global cooldowns.
The overall Brawling mechanic—and the one that I wanted to preserve from the old, removed skill line—is that you can easily and cheaply apply minor debuffs to an opponent. As you advance through the line, you can trade those debuffs in for much more significant effects. Because the line as a whole is driven by our effect system, multiple players can easily cooperate to spam powerful debuffs at enemies for little cost in either Initiative or global cooldowns.
Our internal avcom experts are enjoying the new skills, and they’re a picky bunch; they outright rejected an earlier revision of the system for not having enough awesome. So we’re fairly confident that you’ll enjoy them as well—whether integrating a few of the low-end skills into your existing build, or completely re-speccing to a pure Brawling build.
To see a list of the new skills and their effects, check out the updated AvCom Revision Page.
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