In Session Two of Four We Learn About Skills
For the last two Fridays I’ve had the pleasure of joining NCSoft’s Richard Iggo (Auto Assault Product Marketing Manager), Richard Weil (OCR Manager), Steven Snow (Auto Assault Producer), Todd Keister (Auto Assault Assistant Producer) and NetDevil’s Ryan Seabury (Design Director), and Brian Booker (Lead System Designer) for the first two of four teleconferences about their upcoming game Auto Assault. Both conferences have been fun and enlightening and I have enjoyed learning more about the game and the genre. This last Friday our focus was on skills, which may sound like a very narrow topic, but for a game as diverse and complicated as Auto Assault … let’s just say we ran over.
Every character will have two skill trees with dozens of skills to learn and train in. The first tree, the specialty tree, is unique to each race/class combo; the skills on a Mutant Champion’s specialty skill tree will not be shared with any other race/class. The second tree is broken down into three columns: one column that you share with your entire race, and two columns that you share with similar classes within your race. For example, a Human Bounty Hunter would have one column in common with all other humans, one column shared with the Human Commando, and one with the Human Lieutenant. This divide allows players to specialize or hybridize.
If you don’t see a new skill you want, more ranks in an old skill are always useful. The more ranks you put into a skill the more powerful it gets; ranks might increase damage, range, speed, or various other aspects of your skill, or reduce power cost. In order to achieve a customized balance, different skills have different maximum ranks and some ranks have level restrictions.
Skills can be assigned to a hotkey bar that can be used in or out of combat. Hotkeys can be activated using the 1 through 0 keys on the keyboard, and players may have multiple hotkey bars. Another nice, fresh feature in Auto Assault is if you find yourself using one specific skill over and over again (such as a short recast damage skill) you can highlight it and use shift + right click to fire it.
Let’s get a bit more in detail about the races and classes and what kind of skills they get. There are four classes in each race that fulfill the general archetype roles of tanker, support, scout, and summoner. All of the skills were designed to be appropriate to race, class, world and back story; for example, the Mutant skills are mostly Contamination related while Biomek skills use nanites and brute force. To put this into context, Mutant summons are the phaseforming of Contamination to form an animalistic shape while Biomek summons are often robots built on the fly using millions of nanobots.
Humans rely on a number of technologies, ranging from their advanced shielding and holographic technology to slight genetic engineering which results in supernatural strength of body and mind. Their primary weapon of choice is the energy or light beam which can be used to harm or weaken enemies or strengthen allies. Human Commandos are front-line soldiers that can take and dish out heavy damage, head to head with the enemies. They have access to heavy-assault vehicles such as tanks and passive skills that enhance their offensive and defensive capabilities. Engineers are the support class for the Humans, specializing in indirect combat. Not only can they fulfill the expect role of repair unit, Human Engineers can buff, debuff, and lay traps (such as turrets) on the battlefield. Engineers also have the ability to salvage items from wrecked vehicles, a profitable pastime! Human Lieutenants are those that have risen the ranks based on their leadership abilities. Like the Egineer, a Lietuenant can provide party buffs using their tactical knowledge. Lieutenants also have the ability to call in support such as pod drops, helicopter gunships, and mercenary tanks. And lastly, Bounty Hunters are hit-and-run type characters that specialize in getting into a fight, doing a large deal of damage, and getting out. Their vehicles are lighter than those of the Commandos and though the have less armor they are quicker and more agile. A Bounty Hunter utilizes their skills of cloaking, debuffing and damage dealing to open up a fight with a powerful blast.
As mentioned before, Mutants have a close bond with the Contamination that allows them to manipulate and use it to their advantage (and their enemy’s disadvantage). The Mutants do not think of the Contamination as a tool, though; they worship it with a fervent religious zeal. The mutant tanker class, the Champion, is a religious fighter who draws upon the Ursaic Spirit or “Ursa Temper.” Most of their special abilities take the form of a bear, such as giant swiping bear claws or a thunderous roar. The Shaman is the Mutant representative of the Botanic Spirit and can call upon it for healing or shielding. They are also able to set up nasty traps such as spitting plants, creating a one man ambush to lure an enemy into. Archons are the leaders of the Mutant community and are more likely to stay at the back of a fight, manipulating the environment to favor their team. They are able to phaseform Contamination into the shapes of creatures and send these creatures into battle, either as true fighters or as decoys. Archons also have skills that buff teammates and, like the Engineer, they can salvage wreckage on the battlefield. Avengers are the stealthy Mutants, represented by the Insecta Spirit. They use light, stealthy vehicles and skills such as Chameleon, a stealth skill or Blood Fly, a scouting skill as well as skills that deal devastating damage.
Biomeks use nanite technology and the remnants of a strict military mindset to tackle enemies head on. The Biomek Terminator enforces the strict policies and doctrines of the Biomek race. They are built for the single purpose of all out destruction and can take and receive enormous amounts of damage. When the Terminator takes some damage the Constructor is right there to patch them up. Besides being the ultimate scavengers of wreckage on the highway, Constructors are able to repair and even revive broken down vehicles. One up for Constructors is that Biomek buffs don’t require everyone to be close by the buffer, only close by another ally; enhancements will spread along teammate in a chainlike effect. Masterminds are similar to the Archons and Lieutenants of Mutants and Humans. They can create two different kinds of summons: bots or mechs. Bots are drones that serve a specific purpose; for example, a laser bot is a bot that moves in front of your vehicle and shoots a laser at any enemy it sees. Mechs are more intelligent with a more refined AI system, though both kinds are useful in different situations. The last Biomek class is the Agent, a class that is trained to observe and eliminate. A lot of their skills are viruses that spread through the enemy; infect one enemy and they will infect any other enemies that they come near. Agents can also launch small recon bots like the Mutant Bloodfly, useful for scouting out an enemy camp.
Each race and each class — and each individual character — will have a different play style. Still, the skills are made so that different classes within the races can work together to be an efficient and powerful team. For instance, a Mutant Archon and an Avenger can work together to destroy enemies efficiently and effortlessly. The Avenger class can use their Bloodfly skill, a skill that summons a tiny flying insect. The player then controls that insect instead of the car and is able to scout out the enemy’s location and relay information to their team.
Once the Avenger knows what’s going on they can return to their vehicle and use Chameleon to stealth. The Avenger can then drive into the middle of a group of enemies and use Excite, a skill that excites the Contamination around the user’s vehicle and builds up an overload of Contamination that becomes a devastating AoE (area of effect) attack. This skill can only be used when in stealth, which makes the Avenger a perfect opening class.
Meanwhile, the Archon can use the skill Rake Swarm which summons a bunch of Phaseform Rakes (note: Rakes are sort of the cattle of Auto Assault, a common and harmless creature that resembles a mutant ostrich that players will find all over the world.). The Rake Swarm acts as a group of decoys, grabbing the attention of the enemy and saving the Avenger from getting jumped. The duo can then pick off the already damaged hostiles at their leisure.
Lastly, no information on Auto Assault skills would be complete without information on Hazard Mode. Though not a skill per say, Hazard Mode is one of the coolest things you can do in the game — who wouldn’t want to turn their car into a four-wheeled doomsday device? Each race has a different Hazard Mode that can be activated by killing a set number of monsters. Note that the stronger the monster is the more credit you get, so you actually have to work to get to Hazard Mode.
Just like skills, your Hazard Mode fits in with your race’s story. As a Biomek, your car will be turned into a giant walking mech, an impressive and painful sight to any enemy, PvE or PvP. Humans get shield inversions, giant energy bubbles that surround their car and shoot out arcs of energy that entrap enemies. Once you have snared enough baddies, you can right click to activate a cannon that bounces off of your inverted shield and hits all the trapped enemies. The Mutant Hazard Mode is Wraithphase; while in this dangerous form, anything you come in contact with pretty much melts.
With so many skills available Auto Assault promises to allow players true customization of combat style. Players don’t just choose their archetype and then train the best skills; you customize your character to do things how you want them done. And that’s just how any game should be.