Trion Worlds has a fantastic game going into early access launch this Thursday (1 EST), but they still have a lot of work cut out for them. Likely the biggest issue is going to be massaging souls (classes) to get them where they work. I am not worried about balance for each soul, but I expect that Trion will work out a strong niche for each calling. I’ve been reading balance issues all over the board, but then again even the longer-toothed World of Warcraft is still fiddling with classes.
The one challenge I hope Rift can make work is the contribution system for the dynamic content. Right now, quite frankly, it sucks.
The contribution UI works like an activity barometer. With minimal activity a player will see the barometer at a low level with a bronze color. Decent activity and the player goes to the middle and gets a silver color. Finally at significant activity, a player will get a gold color with a full activity barometer, which results in theoretically the best loot. Okay, fine so far…
The problem is that to get a “gold” rating, players have to spam skills. As a mage, if I am riding at gold level activity and I stop to pull off a 2-second spell, my activity level plummets. It doesn’t matter that my 2-second spell’s damage-per-second far outweighs my instant-cast spells. Yet, I’ve found that simply spamming Cloudburst will net me a gold rating almost every time. Cloudburst is one of my weaker spells.
I remember that Warhammer Online also had pretty big issues balancing contribution… serious issues. But then, Warhammer Online also decided that ranking each player was necessary. Oh wait, so does Rift.
This is where I find, sitting in my armchair, that the system falls apart. The whole goal of this type of content design is to get people playing together regardless of class, build, gear, or even sometimes level. Yet, the designers then feel the need to regress by creating some unworkable formula to quantify the contribution of damage roles, tanking roles, and healing roles, and then they want to measure each player regardless of role too all other players in the event. Why? It seems bass ackwards to work so hard to create a system that gets players together working in harmony, and then to make it a competition (and an unfair one at that).
Why not just base the loot reward on individual contribution? If a player seemed to be pretty active in the event (and not to the degree of spamming skills as fast as possible), give the player a gold. If a player took significant downtime (like through death) but was active otherwise, give the player a silver. If the player barely contributed, give the player a bronze. Then, if there is a pressing need to only give certain tokens to a fraction of the gold players, distribute it randomly, and give the unlucky gold players a cumulative bonus until they do finally receive some sweet loot.
Basing it on heuristics to rank people according to skills / minute or equating the contribution of damage output to a fraction of damage healed or, the most frightening, trying to quantify aggro… It’s a Sisyphean task. I just cannot believe that the amount of time it would take to even make a workable system would be worth any result, especially since the goal is not to have a competition.
I really hope that Trion Worlds gives this system a hard look before launch. They have one chance to reinforce player behavior the way they want it. If they want to reinforce players spamming weak spells through the event in order to get the best rating. Well they are succeeding, but I can tell you, it’s not fun. It’s not fun to ignore so many cool skills because I know that using them will result in crappier loot. If they want to reinforce player behavior to get people working together cooperatively (which is to say not selfishly or competitively), then I hope they reconsider this contribution/loot system.