My.com recently announced a new expansion for Skyforge called Ascension -- essentially a game-changer for everyone with big impactful changes coming with it. We had the opportunity to learn more from My.com Creative Director Alexander Pan'kov.
MMORPG: Ascension sounds like a mighty big undertaking. Can you give us a detailed overview of everything coming in the expansion?
Alexander Pan’kov: A detailed overview, you say? That would become a very long answer since we are almost remaking the entire game with the Ascension Expansion. The new features, enhancements and changes have had an impact on the full game. We radically change the character development and alter or replace main systems. We will add a brand-new class and a new raid as well as overhauling the end game by changing invasions to become seasonal. We will make combat more dynamic and diverse by adding to the options for players to the existing action and add an intriguing political system called Council of the Gods. We will even throw a few things completely overboard to create clarity and simplicity for beginning players as well as current players. You see, I don’t think a short and detailed answer on this is possible.
MMORPG: What prompted the changes to the progression system of the game?
AP: With online games we have the luxury of really understanding how our game is played. The game has now successfully been in Open Beta for over a year and we have seen responses to our new expansions and the earlier changes we made. All this information was very valuable and together with player feedback we have are now able to identify the priorities for the community and the most critical bottlenecks in the development process as well as the actual new player experience.
When we started to go back to the drawing board for this, we focused on three main things:
1) Clarity. Accessibility and readability for character progression systems. Uniformity of systems that are used to advance your character.
2) Security. In terms of character development, it is nice to give players choice in how to build their character. But if it becomes the choice between the “most effective” and “all other options” we missed our point. Even worse; a player could get stuck on a “wrongly” build character and feel inferior.
3) Recognition. We experimented with fictional and abstract entities for systems a lot, but we came to the conclusion we need to tone this down. We won’t shy away from creativity, but we want to redo systems based on more familiar imagery and better grounded metaphors.
MMORPG: Will players who maybe "screwed up" their character be able to re-roll or respec now?
AP: There were not too many liabilities in the system for players to get really stuck on a wrongly build character. But players were able to indeed build suboptimal characters. With the overhaul of the systems we further minimized this. We can’t directly promise this is not happening at all anymore after Ascension hits, but in testing we have really found that it is really a lot more of a rare occurrence. Also we openly invite players to let us know if this happens to them, it might even be caused by bugs in the game design and we are actively seeking these out and want to fix this. Letting us know, instead of resetting it yourself, really helps out other players for the future.
MMORPG: What exactly is the new beginning experience all about?
AP: Skyforge has always been thematically about two main topics. Become a god and protecting Aelion – your home. The emphasis before Ascension was on becoming a god first and saving your planet second. We want to reverse that. You will protect your home and because of that – you will become a god. We want to focus on achievements in the beginner experience and give players more clear motives. The campaign map will clearly show your character’s progress as opposed to the more abstract Atlas we have now. Through this the player starts to play a more important role for Aelion and gets to replace the NPCs (Gods) in their role of managing the planet instead of performing tasks for these NPC’s. For instance, for class unlocks you now will have to advance on the map to its class temple. Every action will now have a clear visual progression towards fighting of the invasions on the planet.
MMORPG: One of my own personal qualms with the game was due to how much I loved the open world zones, but how I felt forced to repeat a lot of the instance content in order to progress my character. Has that been addressed?
AP: The desire for a more modern format for MMORPG’s and having session based gameplay in the forefront made us take decisions that affected replay ability. I think we were still able to create a very cohesive and immersive open world by the choices we made and it also allows us to keep adding new locations to the globe map to play through. One of the recent updates was the Antean Wasteland, where we also changed our ideology for quests. It’s a large open world location with a completely new desert theme, including dust storm and giant sand worms. But also the tasks there are more varied per play through – so this is a step in the direction you asked after.
MMORPG: What about this new Gunslinger class? This is the first new class for the game, correct? What does it bring to Skyforge?
AP: Loads of fun I hope! It’s a damage dealer which requires a very different mindset. It has very unique class mechanics and the Outlaw is really the first of more that are in development. We had requests from players for a fast paced ranged physical damage dealer and that role is exactly the role he will fill. It is very action driven class with abilities more grounded in non-fantasy; stay tuned for more information!
MMORPG: What have been the toughest lessons learned in the first several months or year of Skyforge's live service?
AP: This is not our first MMO and we were prepared for a lot of the expected difficulties. But there were no hard lessons to be learned from the usual technical difficulties and insufficient testing of new features. We already knew we needed to be prepared for those to the best of our abilities. Skyforge has been ambitious in trying to innovate certain MMO tropes and in that we found some hard lessons:
1) Every mundane task for players can be automated – should be. Giving the option to the 0.5% of players that wishes to control it themselves leaves 95.5% of your player base confused or not caring about it.
2) It was painful to learn that its near impossible to balance the amount of innovations you will introduce. Too many and you will lose quality on some of them without extensive testing, too few and you didn’t provide a new experience. It is hard to be happy with this balance as a developer as well as player.
MMORPG: Can you share some details on the political system being added to the game?
AP: We can’t go into too much detail at the moment, since we will disclose closer to the release of the Ascension Expansion. The Council of Gods is a completely new political system. From now on, players can elect who the world of Aelion will answer to for a few weeks. In their hands, the leaders will hold power, resources and the fate of the people.
MMORPG: There are a lot of systems that are unique to Skyforge, and they often felt under-explained (ie - followers and their tasks). Has anything been done recently or for this expansion to address that?
AP: Yes, by throwing the least used completely overboard and revamping the most confusing ones. We don’t think lengthy tutorials for all systems are eventually the solution. In general, it is not an efficient way of using our resources to create tutorial systems that eventually become obsolete. We will stay in contact with our community on web and forum and we will improve systems till we are in an ideal situation – where all of them are self-explanatory. Or we’ll die trying.
MMORPG: What are the new combat changes all about?
AP: We want to make it more dynamic, upping moment to moment gameplay and base it more on situational decisions. We’ll make sure you have the option to dodge or avoid more of the enemy’s attacks instead of making it a damage race. When you defeat monsters, you can take their weapons or even part of their bodies! Swing the axe of a huge Vird to chop up his own kind; arm yourself with the tentacle of a defeated Kraken; slice off a Hydra head and terrify your enemies with it — any of these actions will bestow your character with new abilities for a time.
MMORPG: In closing, is there anything we missed you wanted to make sure we touched on?
AP: Yes, I think it’s very essential to point out that we are working on making it the perfect time to rejoin or join the product, without the feeling you are trailing behind the existing players. The systems will change to facilitate bringing players more in range with each other faster. Through the new seasonal structure, we will be able to guarantee a better degree of competition. New players will be able to chart their future progression and see where their efforts lead them, in order to participate in relevant content together with veteran players.