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AdamZax over at SotA forums gave this balanced feedback on SotA combat system -
Alright, having given the card combat system a fair test over the weekend, I want to provide my feedback. I tested out combat against animals/monsters, against players in 1v1, small group fights (2v2 or 3v3) and just free for all chaos (attacking everyone I saw and being attacked by everyone I saw).
I died a lot, I killed a few people, and I got a good grasp of how the system works and what I will be capable of doing with it.
I spent most of my combat time with 2-5 of my guild mates, none of whom participate in these official forums yet (but I am trying to convince them to start), but all of whom fully agreed with my assessment of the system, so take that how you will.
Unlike quite a lot of people I saw and fought, I didn't just pick the most powerful combinations and fully developed trees. I wanted to try out different play styles and different combinations of skills and see how they work within the system, rather than just going for easy kills. I suspect that a number of the people who absolutely love this system did not apply the same mindset to testing, but I digress.
I will list what I liked about the system, what I didn't like about the system, and my suggestions for making the system better.
What I liked
Variety of skills.
In looking at the trees, it looks like there will be a good variety of skills to play with and develop a character with. It looks as though the game wants to allow a good mix of play styles and encourage many unique types of characters. I am looking forward to seeing a minimum of 'cookie cutter' builds and it seems like the variety of magic alone will achieve that.
So far the pacing of combat looks like it will be about right. Not too fast with a bunch of instant death that you don't see coming, and not long and drawn out to the point of becoming boring. It seemed like the average 1v1 fight was taking maybe around 45-60 seconds on average, which seems like a good time to me. That of course changes and will change as people get used to moving around and kiting and such.
The system worked smoothly.
Regardless of what I think of the mechanic, it did work smoothly and as it was supposed to. It was hard to visualize earlier how it would look once it was implemented, and it exceeded my expectations in that it was pretty straight forward to use and I didn't encounter any hiccups as far as bugs or anything not working how it should.
What I didn't like
As a direct counter to my positive comment about variety, this system actively discourages it.
There is no reason to make a diverse and interesting character type in this system. You are actively punished for diversifying your skill set in a few different ways:
The more skills you add into your deck, the less likely you become to draw any of them. If they are anything other than offensive skills, then you not only become less likely to draw them, but less likely to draw them at a time that you actually can use them or need them.
The common rebuttal to this has been to just lock in a few skills that you want available, but again, you are punished for this by paying extra focus to use them, and by those skills taking up hand slots. This also only works out well if you have just a few skills you want available (like a single heal). What if I want to play a character that has a lot of utility spells, or a character that switches between bow and sword depending on distance of his enemy? In that case I can not rely on the random draw to give me the skills I need for the situation, so I might as well lock in the majority of my skills. This punishes me by paying extra focus, and being limited to only the amount of skills available as my max hand size, instead of the 20+ I could be rotating through in an unlocked deck.
If you choose to build different decks with different skills in each -ranged and melee for example- and try to swap them out during combat, you are punished by paying extra focus skill points to swap more efficiently. It also gives you a time delay where you are swapping instead of doing damage to your enemy. Even if the time delay is small, you are still at a disadvantage compared to someone with a narrowly focused offense deck that can just keep hitting you. Even with a quick deck swap, you get access to different skills, but are still subjected to the randomness and hope you get something to make the swap worth it, or use locked skills and pay extra focus for them.
The system actively punishes those who want to diversify and rewards those who stick with a very narrowly focused character, specifically, a character that is nearly all offensive skills because those are the only ones you can rely on being useful no matter when you draw them. You can 'get around' the system with locked skills or deck swapping but you pay a cost to do so, whereas someone with a narrow focus can easily be more effective and more efficient at combat.
The random draw system makes no intuitive sense.
This system makes no sense to anyone that has not followed the conversations on the forums and read all the dev posts. My guild members, who do not follow the forums, were taken by complete surprise with this new system. That in itself is fine, if they can reasonably figure it out on their own, after all, that is exactly what any new player would do when the game is released. The system should make enough sense that someone can figure it out. Currently it does not.
Common questions I answered multiple times as I helped my members get set up:
"Why can't I use this skill when I want to after I learned it?"
"Why won't this skill show up when i'm fighting?"
"Why do I keep getting melee skills when i'm nowhere near them? I need a ranged skill"
"How do I make <insert context specific skill here, heal, coup de grace, etc> show up when I can actually use it?"
"Why do my skills show up randomly in different slots? How do I make them show up in the same slot so I can remember where they are?"
"Why do I have to pay extra to use a skill when I want to instead of when the computer tells me to?"
The case of context specific skills is probably the most dramatic example of this system making no sense. The computer will happily deal out skills to your hand that you can not use. Ranged skills when you are in melee, melee skills when you are at range, healing spells when you are full health, coup de grace when your opponent is full health, etc.
When you are 50 yards away from someone and they are at full health and you are dealt a coup de grace skill, it simply makes NO SENSE to have that card at that time. No reasonable person would grab that skill, at that time, yet the random system will deal it to you, and expect you to 'use what you are given'. This is supposed to make the game somehow more strategic, or more tactical?
It makes no Logical Sense.
This is perhaps my biggest pet peeve with the system. It simply makes no logical sense. It is inconsistent with the rest of the world and the rest of the game systems that are in place, as well as being completely inconsistent with reality.
Crafting is a logical process. This material plus this material makes this item. This item plus this item makes this weapon. Its a progression that you can reason out and apply logic to and have positive results.
The conversation system is a logical process. You initiate a conversation with an NPC. They will reply to you based on the questions you ask them, and give you information based on certain keywords that you want to know. You can use reason to ask the right questions to lead to answers that you want to know.
The combat system is a completely illogical process. You learn skills, but have limited or no control over how they are used. You choose skills for a certain situation, but may not actually draw them for that situation. You invest heavily into mastering fireball, but cant actually choose to cast fireball when you want to. The game dictates to you what skills you can use and when, regardless of your mastery of them. There is nothing logical, realistic, or tactical about not being able to use a skill that you are a master of at your discretion. It's like telling a boxer he can only use his Jab when the referee touches his nose. So instead of watching his opponent and using his fighting skills, he is watching for the referee to touch his nose, throws the jab once, and goes back to watching the referee for another signal.
It quite simply makes no sense and is not a system that you can reason your way to your desired results. In order to achieve your results you need to stack the odds in your favor with more copies of the skill, in which case the odds are in your favor but still out of your control. Or you lock them in and be punished for it, as discussed above.
It is distracting
This has already been mentioned many times so I won't beat it to death too much, but having to sit and watch the hotbar is distracting and immersion breaking. Even after getting to know the icons, you still have to watch the bar to see where they will pop up so you can hit the right key. Or if you fill your deck with just offense skills, you can just spam whatever keys you want. Anyone with a variety of skills or spells in their deck will be stuck watching the bar though in order to know when to cast and what to press. It distracts from the combat rather than immersing you in it.
My Suggestions to Make it Better
I don't believe in complaining without offering a solution, and the devs seem to have made it pretty clear that this system is here to stay regardless, so the following is my suggestion for modifying this system to something that I think would solve at least some of the problems I discussed above.
I think that the core of the problems above is the complete randomness of the draws.
I have suggested it elsewhere but I will explain it again. We need different hands.
How it would look:
Have an 'offense' hand and a 'defense/utility' hand. The interface would look almost exactly the same. You enter combat, and the hotbar pops up. Instead of one hotbar in the centre of the screen, you now have 2 hotbars, one offset left, one offset right. Set the max hand size for each one to 5 or 6 or whatever, instead of the 10 that we have now, so that the screen isn't too cluttered.
Keep the current system of dealing out a random rotation of cards, but have them sorted into their respective category now instead of all going into the same bar.
So on the offense side, a mage may get dealt fireball, fire arrow, fireball, searing ray .... while on the defense side, at the same time, he is being dealt root, heal, gust, fire elemental, douse... etc.
You could still have just the single deck, no need to complicate things and have separate offense or defense decks for this change. Splitting the hotbar into 2 parts would be a simple change and allow more variety and larger number of cards in one's deck.
What would this change fix?
This simple little change would fix a lot of the problems caused by the random draw system, while still in keeping with the intended spirit of the system.
You still have your random draw and rotation, modified by the focus skills.
You still have the 'chaos' and unpredictability of combat' that many feel is a must.
You still have the 'new and innovative' feeling, instead of a traditional static hotbar system.
However, with this small change, you gain the following benefits:
- You can add a much larger variety of spells and skills to your deck, and have a more reasonable chance of using them when you get them.
Since you will always be rotating through some defense and utility skills, and always rotating through some offense skills at the same time. So you don't have to worry about getting a defense skill at a bad time that you need offense, and you don't need to worry about getting a fireball at a bad time when you need a heal. They are in separate hands.
- You gain much more tactical options, by having some offense and defense/utility skills available at any given time, you have more choice in how your combat goes. You can choose to play a defense skill, or go in for the kill, rather than being forced strictly into what the game has dealt you.
Keeping in mind that you still are at the mercy of the RNG for exactly what skills you will have in each hand, so there is still the chaotic aspect to it, and making the best of the skills you are dealt. This just dials back the randomness to a more acceptable and slightly more realistic level.
- It makes it easier to remember your hotkeys, as hotkeys 1-5 would always be offense, and 6-0 would be defense, for example. The skills would still change places in those keys, but at least you would have some level of consistency.
- It opens up more options for mixing and matching skills and play styles, and it opens up more options for the much anticipated combos! Not only can you combo your offensive abilities like they had planned, but maybe now we could get some options of combos that mix offense and defense skills in creative ways. Playing both hands effectively could add some depth to combat and open up a lot of possibilities for both the players and the devs.
The system as it is right now is not fun, and makes very little sense. It is easily one of the worst combat mechanics I personally have ever played.
However, I see some potential for keeping in the spirit of the system while making some easy changes that can dial it back to a more reasonable level, while opening up a lot of opportunities for various play styles.