In this week's Eternal Crusade column, we are going to talk about two topics that are somewhat inter-related, the role of support classes, and the “downed man” state, in Behaviour's upcoming game.
First let's look at the “downed man” state; this is what happens to your warrior when both his armor and his health have been reduced to zero, assuming that EC will be going with an additive armor system (where your health and armor are added together and BOTH must be reduced to zero to award a kill).
When this happens on the battlefield, your warrior will drop to the ground, helpless and bleeding to death. The downed warrior has two options at this point, he can bleed out slowly hoping some ally will come to his aid, or he can press a button to bleed out faster and head back for a respawn. The player who downed the warrior also has a couple of choices, he can move on to a new target, he can throw a few extra swings/shots to finish off his fallen adversary, or he can opt for a fancy and XP-awarding “execution”, a special faction and weapon based move that will render his adversary dead, and force a respawn. Executions are risky, as they take several seconds to pull off, and during that time the player is vulnerable to enemy counter-attack. That's the chance you take when you push for extra XP and style points. Finally, the allies of the downed warrior can choose to “revive” him, administering first aid for several seconds, and getting the downed soldier back on his feet. The down side of trying to help your fellow soldier is that, while you are tending to the wounded, you are vulnerable to enemy counter-attack.
Now I haven't played the actual working module of the game since January, and I am sure a lot of tweaking has occurred since then, but when we played it was practically suicide to attempt to rescue someone, and slightly less so when going for an execution, so it's not something that players are going to want to try in a fast firefight. But, if your side has battlefield control, it is certainly something worth trying, especially if the battlefront is far from your spawn site, as the dead player will certainly take some time getting back to the battle and joining his squad again, time during which your squad will be undermanned, and thus at risk.
Downed man systems have been used in other games of course, but there are risks inherent in such a design. Many of us have experienced long tedious (words you never want to hear applied to a third-person shooter) battles in other games, where victory was determined by who could revive each other most efficiently, in a never-ending tide of formerly dead troopers. Eternal Crusade has a few systems built in to prevent this sort of thing, the first one is the “overkill factor”. If a player is hit by a powerful enough weapon (melta guns and lascannons come to mind), or is hit in a sufficiently vulnerable location, like in the melon (BOOM! Headshot), the resulting damage can take them right through the downed state and straight to dead. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200. Secondly, and more importantly, Behaviour intends to restrict the number of revives the common soldier can get, through the use of med-kits and presence of Support units.
Currently, and if I am not mistaken, because these things are changing so often it can be hard to keep up, each soldier may take a med-kit as part of his load-out, which will allow for ONE revive. Part of what separates the support classes from the regular classes is their ability to either (or both, as support abilities are not final) revive faster than the other classes, or more often than other classes. This is particularly true for the Space Marine support, the Apothecary, and the Ork support, the Painboy. The Eldar support class is the Warlock, who has psychic powers, which lean towards healing and protecting his side with buffs, but might also include some offensive powers as well. The Chaos Marine counterpart is the Aspiring Sorcerer, who also has psychic powers, but his powers lean more towards debilitation his opponents and, to a lesser extent, aiding his allies.
So essentially the support classes will be capable fighters in their own right, but whose skill set will lean towards healing/reviving, providing beneficial buffs to their allies, and using powerful and debilitation debuffs to their enemies. Each support class will have a different mix of these abilities, a mix that will support their factional lore and history.
Personally, I love the idea of the “downed man” state, the number of battlefield decisions it forces each player to make will really add to the immersiveness and immediacy of combat. While I do see the potential hazards of such a system, to my mind that is what play-testing is for, determining what works best and tweaking things accordingly. I am also a fan of the “non-healer” support class, a class that can hold it's own in combat, whose presence and skill-set serve as a force multiplier, and can still help sustain his allies on the battlefield. This new breed of support classes, doesn't just sit in the corner until someone is hurt, they are out there, right on the line, giving your Assault troops some supporting fire, keeping the enemy off your heavy weapons, and putting some hurt on the enemy at the same time.
Remember, as always, all of these systems are currently in flux, and the Eternal Crusade forums are lit up with heated conversations about how viable different systems might be. If you want to add your voice to this discussion, head over to the website and join the forums. Maybe purchase a Founder Pack, if the idea appeals to you. This game is going to cost $40 on release, and that's with zero Founders Points; the current Warrior's Pack is also $40 right now, and includes, along with many other neat bonuses, 40K Founder Points, so you can get some neat toys for your character, give him that personalized touch.