Pirates of the Burning Sea: Basic Avatar Combat Overview
MMORPG.com's Ernest Ross writes this overview to some of the changes coming to avatar combat in Flying Lab Software's Pirates of the Burning Sea.
Last month, MMORPG.com sat down with Rusty, Misha and Isildur at Flying Lab Software to discuss their Pirates of the Burning Sea Avatar Combat Revamp. The beginning of that interview pretty well covered the flaws in the old AvCom system, so I'll avoid rehashing them here as best I can. That interview also discussed how having any AvCom at all was an afterthought that would've benefited from a lot more development pre-launch, so I won't get into any of that either. The purpose of this article is to (somewhat) briefly go over just the basic ideas of the new and hopefully improved AvCom system from the player's point of view and thereby, if successful, help both new players just trying the game and old salts familiar with the previous system to adjust to the unfamiliar aspects of the new system. To make things even easier, PotBS has reduced the cost of Swashbuckling Skill Respecs from 10k doubloons to 2000, giving us all plenty of breathing room to experiment with our friendly neighborhood Swashbuckling Trainers.
Perhaps the most unusual part of the whole thing is that nearly all attacks have an Area of Effect (AOE), even though most are carried out with a sword. This may seem counterintuitive, but the reason expressed by the developers was that they wanted swashbuckling combat in Pirates of the Burning Sea to feel more "epic." Among examples of epic sword fights they mentioned the classic film Cyrano de Bergerac, in which a large-nosed hero performs many valorous feats including (but not limited to) fighting "100 men" hired to kill a pastry chef through the streets of Paris, killing 8 and sending the rest scrambling for safety - there wound up being less than 100 men, but that's neither here nor there.
The devs wanted AvCom to be more fun and easier to understand. They wanted it to feel like you'd done something every time you pushed (or clicked) a button. For the most part, they seem to have accomplished this; with the exception of new "elite mobs" (I know, I know...) PvE AvCom has never been easier.
In the old AvCom system, there were 3 fighting schools (Fencing, Florentine and Dirty Fighting) and that hasn't changed - everything else has. Each fighting school used to have 11 skill trees, each of which offered 5 skills (for a total of 55). In many popular skill builds, players were forced to spend some of their 26 skill points on skills that would never be used, such as "Cover" in the old Fencing's "Nimble" tree, which was a prerequisite for the widely used "Invitation" skill. Now, these filler skills are mostly a thing of the past as the fighting schools have been reduced to 4 skill trees (Control, Defense, Offense and Black Powder) with 8 skills each (varies by school), for a total of 32. Of these 32 skills, many are complimentary to each other, encouraging use of chains or combos. Further, the skills are conveniently color coded (Red = Attack, Blue = Buff, Purple = Debuff, Green = Recovery) for at-a-glance identification on your toolbar.
For example, the Dirty Fighting school's Offense tree features Foot Slash (Target gains Off-Balance), Seize Opening (If target is Off-Balance, target gains Bleeding) and Twist the Blade (If target is Bleeding, target takes 20 health damage and Bleeding is removed) which are obviously intended to be used in sequence. However, these debuffs tend to have a duration of 30 seconds, so you're not necessarily roped into one repetitive pattern the way it often felt with the old AvCom. While the old system saw many players repeating three or four standard attacks, the new system allows for a bit more panache (well, maybe not panache exactly, but certainly more variety)! It should also be noted that all such chains are not confined to skills within the same skill tree. One example would be Dirty Fighting's "Control" skill tree, which has a skill that debuffs the targets with Shaken, but the skills that take advantage of Shaken are found in the "Defense" tree. Of course, such wide sweeping changes to the skills and game mechanics of Avatar Combat mean an all new AvCom UI to go along with them. This doesn't effect new players so much as returning veterans. The first thing you'll notice as a returning player is that Balance is gone, replaced by Guard. Before, attack power could be raised to the point of bypassing balance and striking straight to health - no more. Now, Guard works similar to the way the armor on your ship works - in order to take down a target's Life, you must first reduce their Guard. Initiative now begins at full, rather than empty. Accordingly, all skills other than the basic Thrust/Sweep attacks cost a certain amount of Initiative which regenerates on its own throughout the course of combat (there are items that will improve the recovery rates for both Guard and Initiative). If you run out of Initiative, you'll be stuck with the basic attacks until you're recharged. Simple, right?
The second thing returning players will notice is the visual indicators of buffs and debuffs. Nobody's quite "casting Magic Missile," but there are some new visual effects that, when taken together with elite NPCs, raised concerns among the playerbase that FLS were heading down what most of its audience considers to be a very dark road. Namely, the new "sparkly stuff" that's been added to avatars under the effect of said buffs/debuffs. For instance, purplish-white clouds swirling around heads or red rings wavering around feet (as with the Off-Balance debuff). Following this development via the official forum, I gather that these effects were originally much more... pronounced before the playtesters cried out in absolute horror to which the developers replied that they had been experimenting to strike a balance between too little and too much. They promised that they weren't trying to make it LOOK like sorcery or anything else unbecoming of an Age of Sail/Pirate MMO but rather that they wanted to make characters effected by the various skills more easily identifiable in the midst of large, fast-moving and chaotic battles (like boarding combat). Considering that the only way to tell if a character was under the effect of a buff or debuff in the old AvCom was to find them, click on them and mouse over the icons attached to their health bar, I'd say this is a big improvement. The final product was also toned down to a point where I think most players will agree it is acceptable for its intended purpose of easy identification.
As a point of interest to ex-players, I also thought it worth mentioning that the AvCom rewards obtained through the new daily AvCom missions, while better than the free stuff you get via mission rewards upon reaching Level 50, are not so uber that people will feel forced to grind for them the way it was with the old Fortaleza da Luz gear. To me, that's worth all the Swashbuckling Skill Respecs in the world!