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In My Humble Opinion

My ramblings on where the MMO's of tomorrow are going to have to go to keep us all interested...

Author: Melf_Himself

Easy To Learn vs Hard To Master - Part II

Posted by Melf_Himself Thursday May 8 2008 at 4:33AM
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This is a follow-up to this blog:

In there I basically said that on the one hand, modern RPG's in general have too many choices for people to make when they're new to the game, it's overwhelming. On the other hand, you can't remove those choices because then there's no room for people to experiment and come up with their own builds, once they've become semi-pro at the game.

I think there are a couple of ways to address this problem.

1) Make PvP and PvE the same. I've said this several times before, and I'll say it again. The reason for the great divide between PvE and PvP players in most games is that PvE doesn't teach you to play the game properly. The AI is usually so bad that a set of tactics to exploit that AI is always the best strategy in PvE. Then when you get to PvP and those tactics don't work, you feel like a noob.

The bottom line is, you're already asking people to practically learn a new language when they play your game with all the options open to them. Don't teach them to become fluent in that language before they realise that they have to learn a whole new one to PvP.

2) Allow full respec of a character whenever you want to. Preferably for free. If your game makes use of skill levels (eg WoW), make it remember the max level that each individual skill has been trained on that character, and allow it to be put back to its max whenever the player wants to.

Guild Wars allows unlimited respec and it makes it really easy/fun to mess around with builds. They also really remove the grind, by not requiring use of skill levels. Skills are just linked to specific attributes, which can be changed around whenever you're in town.

3) Every class should have many BALANCED builds available. What do I mean by balanced? I mean the builds function slightly differently from each other, but one is not inherently better to the team than another. If ever build X is the only build people want character Y to take, then the build selection is not balanced. If people want build X to match one team build and build W to match another team build, that's fine and dandy.

4) Start new characters off with one of these builds, COMPLETELY ready to go. This is a tough one. It means you actually have to know what's good in your game. Devs, please please play your own game, or become buddies with the top guild and get them to tell you about your own game.

In Guild Wars, when you make a new character you get a default set of skills, which are a complete joke. At one time, there were premade templates available that allowed you to use the skills even though they weren't unlocked. The problem with these was that the templates sucked, were an even bigger joke than the default skills, and still required people to unlock the items to use the builds properly.

Now at one point, they actually allowed one of the top PvP guilds to alter the templates that new players get at the start of the game. This dramatically decreased the incidence of "tardness" all across the game. But for some reason, these templates were later removed. This was an epic failure.

The added bonus of starting someone off completely decked out for a given build is that it means that newer characters can adventure with their veteran friends without dragging the group down. Goodbye mentor system.

Now, you don't need to give the character that build/items RIGHT at the start of the game.

Let them pick a general focus at character creation (eg a warrior might pick sword/axe/hammer), and make the opening few hours of gameplay a large series of quests aimed at being a tutorial, and culminating in the acquisition of several items of uberness and unlocking all the skills for this build. Once this build is unlocked, players can feel free to mess around however they want to (now that they know the rules of the game), and they can still participate FULLY in the fun stuff like raids, sieges, RvR, FFA pvp, etc, without being gimped. Imagine leaving "noob island" in an MMO and not being easy fodder for a ganker, because you're both on the same level (both in terms of character level, and item level).

In summary, I feel like Guild Wars got half way there. It gave templates, allowed full respec, had lots of balanced builds available, and made it fairly quick to get to max level. But they failed for not knowing their game well enough to provide good templates, removing good templates suggested by people who DID know the game, and having crummy PvE AI that meant all people's hard work at getting good at PvE was wasted when it came to PvP.

I'm sure there are more good ideas out there to tackle this problem - thoughts?