Needless Buttons, or On Skill Wrongdoings

We become attached to skills, especially the ones that are used less.  We become masters of knowing when to pull at that situational godsend.  Then the developers take it away, or muddle it to the point where our mastery becomes nothing.  Skill balances like this happen all the time, but there are things far worse… and they just happened, again.

ArenaNet made the genius move of splitting skills in PvE and PvP.  Before they did that it was a complete mess.  They would balance the skill, and it would get abused in Guild vs. Guild.  Then they would nerf it to stop the spamming in PvP only to find that they ruined a few PvE builds.  Consequently, boss X became impossible.  It was a balance-puzzle they could never win, especially when nearly each year players got a massive glut of more skills from the new campaigns and expansions.  So great, skills are split.  Now something closer to balance is achieved in both PvE and PvP more easily.  A greater problem occurs when balance cannot be achieved, even with the split, with how the skill can maintain functionality.

As an example case take the recently rebalanced Aegis skill – which enchants the party to get a 50% block rate for  5-11 seconds.  It has been re-balanced eight times, and it was finally split after the sixth or seventh balance.  Recently though, Aegis (PvP) – the PvP split version – had its functionality completely changed.  Aegis (PvP) now enchants a targeted ally for 1-3 seconds so all hostile spells and attacks fail.  The problem is not that the functionality was changed to shakeup the PvP scene.  The problem is that Aegis and Aegis (PvP) are not the same skill split down and balanced for PvE and PvP, respectively.  Now they are two completely separate skills.  Now, I feel ArenaNet’s pain because if they had changed the PvE functionality as well a whole crop of PvE problems for mob difficulty could arise.  Still, the skill split was supposed to elegantly handle the problem, and changing the same skill so that it no longer reflects its twin does not feel like it is the correct way.  I think it will mostly confuse the more casual players.

Possible solution?  Delete skills.  Sure there will be an outcry, but the amount of “useless” skills in Guild Wars is pretty big.  Paring down would help.  Even better delete Aegis (PvP) and replace it with [New Skill Name That Is Reminiscent of Aegis] (PvP).  Wizards of the Coast does it all the time with new additions to the tournament legal cards in the updated core sets and expansion blocks.  Stop making Guild Wars skill system even more weighty and confusing than it already is.

The other fun skill happening was brought to us by Turbine in Lord of the Rings Online.  Lord of the Rings Online skill system is very vanilla.  Players have their core set of skills, buffs, debuffs, and situational skills all completely arranged on 5 hotbars.  Some rarely ever see the light of a button press.  Some get pressed 5 times every battle.  The Mines of Moria expansion actually did a fantastic job of getting players to use some of the dusty skills, and things were good.  Until the turtle came.

The “puzzle” in the Filikul raid is to tank swap before a tank gets overwhelmed with wounds.  It’s not that hard, but it does require communication and some small amount of skill.  Instead players decided it would be more fun to Enrage the turtle so it ignores agro and randomly attacks players throughout the battle.  This way the wound would be evenly spread throughout the raid group.  It does require that the healers be more on their toes, but with two minstrels and a captain or runekeeper in the background, the tactic works pretty well.

“That is not how we want this raid to be played,” said Turbine.  Sure, they could have made it so Enrage does something to the turtle, like gives it knockback or makes it hit harder.  Instead they just gave ol’ Yurtle Enrage immunity.  Add that to the fellowship maneuver immunity already present, and the burglars are being shoehorned in to playing the raid exactly just so… if the raid wants them along at all.  This seems to occur throughout Lord of the Rings Online where things need root, stun, fellowship manuever, etc. immunity.  Instead of allowing a skill to work somehow (maybe stun slows the attack speed on “stun immune” bosses for some time), the skill just becomes worthless.

This is all coming from a Lord of the Rings Online Captain that lost my job as Last Stand / In Harm’s Way party immunizer, and was completely fine with the balance change.

–Ravious
just blame me

6 thoughts on “Needless Buttons, or On Skill Wrongdoings”

  1. I think the developers over at Turbine are going too far in some cases to shoehorn players and content into a specific behavior pattern. The use of the Burglar’s enrage skill was simply another way to complete the Turtle raid content. It wasn’t taking advantage of an exploit and it wasn’t an easy button (you mention the healers needing to be more on their toes). We’re seeing less flexibility and creativity than we did before, I think. Certainly there needs to be balance to that coin, but why even bother giving us the tools we have if we’re not allowed to use them in the opportune situations. I can’t remember a time using the In Harms Way/Last Stand/Strength of Morale combo to give the group an easy way out. On the contrary, it was a system of last resort, when all else had failed, when we hard come across content that beat us up. Like you, I gave the devs the benefit of the doubt, but the evidence is starting to stack towards too much control when it isn’t necessary.

  2. I’m not sure how ‘genius’ that PvP/PvE split was from ArenaNet. It satisfies players that only PvP or only PvE, but it makes it harder for people to cross the gap either way, or who like to dabble in both.

    It was probably the best they could do with the current game though. I hope that in Guild Wars 2, AI is not retarded (standing in AoE, attacking the tank, attacking through Spiteful Spirit, etc) and monsters are not overpowered (more HP/damage than players, due to monsters being a higher level), so that balancing skills for PvP and PvE becomes a unified task.

  3. Speculation: Are we seeing more and more that separating PvE and PvP completely must be done from the get go? Would this be a future trend?

  4. FFXI had that too. A notorious case was the ubermob Absolute Virtue. It is an unkillable mob that people simply cannot find the way to kill legitimately. These are the same people that can kill most of the game’s endgame bosses in minutes, and solo lesser bosses with certain jobs.

    What happened was they adjusted him and another unkillable boss to be able to defeated in two hours. (this previous boss, pandemonium warden, was fought by one of the games elite linkshells for 16 HOURS straight without defeating it. It was alone changed because of outcry spreading past the MMO scene)

    The shells in the game quickly found a way to kill him through the zerg, and SE just made the zerg useless on him. So he is back to being impossible except for some trick that no one in 4 years has been able to find out, and SE refuses to tell us.

    If developers want us to play an event a certain way to the point of making alternatives useless, they better darn well tell how it should be played, and provide alternatives for players otherwise.

  5. I would agree that it was necessity, not genius, that drove the separation of PvP and PvE skills. My own suspicion is that AN was able to deal with the technological problems of separating the skills with the introduction of PvE-only skills. Prior to that, I do not believe that it was technologically possible to separate effects.

    However, I’d argue that one of the very cool things about Guild Wars is that the skills are rebalanced regularly so as to give more play to underused skills. Additionally, skill rebalances are not always done in order to nerf specific skill combinations. In PvP, rebalances are also ways to change the meta. For example, one of the driving forces behind certain skill changes was to make Guild v. Guild battles less defensive in nature. Especially of concern was the use of blocking skills. For several months, dual paragon midlines were popular in GvG because they could spam Defensive Anthem–a tremendous blocking skill. DA has since been nerfed, and paragons fell out of favor in GvG. Aegis has also been the target of several adjustments. The most recent one, which basically made the PvP and PvE versions two completely different skills, is but the latest in a long line of attempts to force team builds to be more offensive in nature.

    However, and here is where it gets interesting, it’s important to note that within the PvP realm, each and every time that ArenaNet has tried to move PvP players to a more offense-oriented team build, those same players find more ways to incorporate defense–just alternate ways. Perhaps a skill that was buffed a few updates ago now can shine, and as a result a new meta is born.

    We saw that happen with Life Sheath and Peace and Harmony, two skills that were considered largely useless in PvP for several years. Now, however, PnH is a standard build for condition/hex removal. Given that the most recent update buffed hexes, PnH will be even more important. Life Sheath saw a lot of play in the previous condition-heavy meta, since conditions are often used not only as pressure, but also to set up spikes. With an increase in hex-reliant builds, Life Sheath may take a back seat.

    Another skill that hasn’t seen the light of day in just about any build has been the skill Maelstrom. It’s seen in early Prophecies, but has not been part of an elementalist’s skill repetoire since immediately after release. It was used very briefly in PvP, but since players are generally smart enough to move out of the AoE, it fell out of use. Now, however, it’s a standard part of the skill bar for the new Elementalist/Ritualist healer used in a standard Heroes Ascent PvP build. That particular PvP venue features smaller maps, and with slow/snare/knockdown skills, it’s harder for players to move out of the AoE.

    I think this kind of innovation is part of what makes the game interesting, and I think that the rebalancing of skills does inspire players to look at more of the skills available, not just the old and familiar. Last year’s worthless skills suddenly become much more useful when they’re viewed in the light of some of the other updates that have occurred.

    However, moving ahead to Guild Wars 2, I believe that I’ve read the developers plan to use fewer skills for PvP. PvP players have long argued that Prophecies was the most balanced for PvP. I’m not sure that’s true, but it is true that with the hundreds of skills available, the addition of 1 new skill isn’t additive with respect to balancing, but more exponential in its effect. Thus, while players will probably have a wider range of PvE skills, the PvP will likely be more narrowly focused.

    It has also been reported that the developers plan to have PvP and PvE more separate in GW2. Initially, the GW plan was to have players use PvE to learn skills so that they could use them later in PvP. PvP, then, was the endgame, and the assumption was that players would move naturally to that part of the game. In general, it is true that players do move to PvP, but some move later than others. Especially players who exhaust the PvE achievements but who still enjoy the game will look at the PvP side of the game for more challenge. However, by this time the PvP side is very established, and the learning curve is quite high–not with respect to how to use skills, but more with respect to specific and very subtle techniques used by PvP players to give themselves more of an edge.

    I, for one, think that having a fully-unlocked PvP side of GW2 would be a good thing, but I’d like to see venues that would allow for the more PvE-centric players on the PvP-PvE spectrum dip their toes in PvP-lite venues. This way, that steady trickle of cross-over players will help keep new blood into that aspect of the game.

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