Monday, April 30, 2007

CoH / CoV Player Versus Player : it's broken

As is, or may not be, well known, I play City of Heroes. I love the game, I really do. I go to Hamidon Raids... I go on Task Forces... I do random patrols... I've gone heal/buffing in lower level zones... Sometimes you'll find me actually talking on the CoH forums...

However... you won't find me doing one of three things in City Of Heroes... playing a Villain... playing a Safeguard... and in Player Versus Player.

Now... I don't play Villains... mainly because it just doesn't suit me... A collection of several different events have killed my interest in Villains... the primary being the lack of teams. Playing as a Mastermind, I went over broadcast chat looking for a team... I put the "Looking for Team" tag on... I received multiple /tells, or in game private messages, that "you must suck as a Mastermind if you need a team". I've had other tells from people telling me "there is something wrong with your account, shows you are looking for team." Yeah... um... okay...

The second... straw... that broke my back on villains happened in a Super Group... I offered to help out an old friend from Hero side with her SG. Created a character... played... but... played in Character. Keep in mind City of Heroes / City of Villains is a ROLE PLAYING GAME. I was told by the Super Group leaders that they didn't want me role playing.

Uh huh. Yeah... real way to make somebody feel welcome in an RPG.

Okay, so Villains has just rubbed me the wrong way from the people who play it... so why I don't I play safeguards? The simple answer is that safeguards just aren't a good game type. The abstract idea was to mirror the events of a mayhem mission from Villain side. However... everything that made a mayhem fun to play... makes the safeguard boring and stressful.

For those who haven't played in City of Villains, a mayhem mission basically involves robbing a bank, with a twist. Destroy. Everything. A player is rewarded for pounding police cars into oblivion, destroying fire hydrants, and taking down parking meters. The reward can come in the form of experience, money, and time. The more damage that is done, the more a player is rewarded. Eventually, when the player does rob the bank, they sit in the vault as a hero comes down, then pound the hero into the ground.

For Heroes though, the game was switched around. The Heroes come in during the robbery, and their primary mission is to halt the robbery first... then the missions actually start. That is a bit of a problem. In a safeguard there are multiple different missions that can be accomplished. Some are door missions which are unlocked by battling certain enemy types. Time can be extended for the safeguard by either completing a door mission, or by defeating vandals in the street. In the entire time that the safeguards have been out, I've only been on one single team where everybody was agreed on performing the Door missions. All the other times I've played, the team has immediately split after the bank. Some start attacking every enemy in sight, some move on to the Door mission enemies, and some just exit the map.

The problem, as I see it, is that safeguards are too complex. There's too much to do, in too little time. Mayhem missions are extremely simplistic. This isn't something that can be "fixed", as a fix implies that something is broken. Safeguards aren't broken, they are just a bad concept. Heroes already had timed missions to prevent certain events from occuring, such as bombings, robberies, or kidnappings.

While safeguards are not broken, Player Versus Player is broken, and again, it isn't fixable. Now, don't get me wrong, I am not saying that Player Versus Player, or PvP mode is bad, it just is fundamentally broken due to the design of the game. The fundamental problem with PvP is that powers do not work the same in PvP mode as they do in Player Versus Enemy (PvE) mode. In my own first experience with PvP, I fought in the arena with my archery blaster. My archer's secondary power is fire melee, which includes a power called Ring of Fire. Ring of Fire is an immobize power, meaning that it holds an enemy in place, but does not prevent the enemy from attacking. Typically, in PvE mode, when the enemy is circled with fire, they cannot move. In PvP mode, Ring of Fire had absolutely no impact on my opponents ability to move. When Heroes versus Villains Player Versus Player was launched, again, powers didn't work the same. Part of this is due to the players having power sets that enemies don't have. Part of it is due to being able to slot various powers with enhancements.

That brings up the second problem with PvP mode, the power sets that are useful in PvP are not the same powers that are useful in PvE mode. For example, because of the Stalkers native invisibility, the only counter for it is Tactics, which comes from the leadership power pool. Therefor, most effective Hero builds for PvP need to have Tactics as a default choice. This means that the player will also need either the attack boost, or the defense boost, from the leadership power pool. That means that at least two powers will be used in order to counter the Scrappers stealth. Add in having to slot tactics for endurance reduction and attack bonus, and suddenly slots are gone. Another example of a power is invisibility, which doesn't make sense for a lot of power sets, but in PvP, invisibility is extremely useful. In the case of a Fire Tank, there are the two powers Combustion and Burn. Burn is useless in PvE mode, same as Combustion. These are AOE attacks that cause enemies to run. In PvP mode, enemies may not know to run when faced with either of these powers.

Now, while I could go on listing specific examples of where builds are different, I'd rather focus on why builds have to be different. It because the classes are different, radically different.

Consider something like Aliens Versus Predator 2 by Monolith Productions. It featured a class based multi-player system where each class of player had a different set of weapons or abilities. However, in order to play the multi-player maps, it isn't required to have one of each type of character class in order to fill out the team. Rather, each character class is suited to a particular playing style.

With City of Heroes / City of Villains, the multi-player aspect of the game is built to require certain classes. It is an intentional design choice of the developers that no character class is complete. A Fire Tanker really needs an -empath, a -kinetics, or a -storm healer in order to prevent endurance drain, stun, and other status effects. A Stone tanker's best friend is a -kinetics, who removes the speed restriction on knockback and hold protection for Stone tanks (rooted). Defenders and Controllers have excessively low health compared to other character classes, and need a tank or a scrapper in order to hold, quote "aggro." Blasters, while having the highest damage output from their ranged and melee attacks, don't have that good of a defense, so again, they need a scrapper or a tank to hold aggro. A scrapper is intentionally low on defense as well, so they either need a defender or controller that can keep them healed, or buffed. Tanks, while having a high defense, have naturally less offensive powers. It is not uncommon for a lvl 30 tank to only have 2 or 3 real attacks. So, in order to deal damage, a tank needs a scrapper or a blaster who can deal damage.

This is all intentional. For example, Fire Tankers. One of their Fire Aura attacks is called Burn. Burn lays down a patch of flames that has a very high Damage over time (DoT) rate. However, all Non-playable Characters (npc's) are programmed to run from Burn. In order to be effective, a character with Burn needs a controller who can hold enemies in place.

That is the root cause of the imbalance in Player versus Player modes. While the Cryptic Development team did a fantastic job of creating different character classes for City of Villains that offer different playing styles, and therefor different playing experiences, the classes are different. There is no direct correlation between MasterMinds and Controllers. There is no direct correlation between Brutes and Tanks. There is no direct correlation between Stalkers and Scrappers. The list goes on, but each side is designed to offer a fundamentally different playing experience.

Which I think is a problem for City of Heroes / City of Villains. It is my opinion that the developers succeeded in making a balanced class system from the start with City of Heroes. I think that Cryptic succeeded with designing each character class to work well with another character class. Each type compliments or completes another type. I also think that the developers succeeded when designing a multi-classed archetype, specifically the Warshade and Peacebringer.

When designing Villains then, Cryptic had to break the formula. As exampled above, the general opinion that I encountered with Masterminds is that they didn't need teams. Truth be told, I can solo attack an Elite Boss that is 3 levels above me. I have soloed Arch-Villains that are 2 levels above me. I can generally walk into the middle of a mob, drop my pets, and live. That does not mean that I do not want to play on a team, but a lot of players seem to be of the frame of mind that Masterminds are out to solo everything.

So how does this apply to Player Versus Player mode? Okay, a little more background. Teams in City of Heroes / City of Villains can consist of 8 players. The objective of the game design is that for each team to balance each other out. A tank to hold damage, a scrapper to deal damage up close, a blaster to launch multiple Area of Effect attacks, a Controller to debuff the opponents, and a Defender to heal or buff the team. Then, the other 3 slots are given to make up deficiencies in the team. Exampling a FireTank, which could be backed up with a -storm defender and an -empath defender. A scrapper backed up by two empaths. A blaster with 3 controllers to make sure nothing moves... and so on. Perhaps a Blaster with Tactics and and another Blaster with teleport, and another blaster with powers from the healing set.

The reality is, teams are rarely built to be optimal. This is both due to the players available who are within level range as much as it is the player running. In my own case, I've seen multiple occasions where the scrapper running a team refused to look for or invite any tanks. I've seen teams with 4 or 5 blasters, and no scrappers or defenders. I've been on one team as a corrupter, and despite having 4 Masterminds and 2 stalkers, the team leader refused to invite a brute, instead looking for a dominator that was never located.

So, imagine for a minute that the PvP theory carries out. Two complete teams run at each other, and their combined powers should make them equal. Wrong. As already covered, no character is equal to another character type across CoH / CoV. The result is that double teams and triple teams will occur, and inevitably leave a character open to attack or status effect. A blaster with tactics is best suited to remove a stalker because of their range, but the only character that can regularly survive the stalkers initial strike is a Tank, so the tank should be the one going after the stalker... Only then you have the Brute to worry about who is going to go after the defenders and the controllers and remove them... Which means that the tank will have pull off to counter the brute, which will free the stalker up to start picking off everybody else... and so on.

Or, looking at it from the Villains side, the Dominators and Corrupters are sitting ducks for a tank or a scrapper. Because hold and immobilize powers do not work identically to their PvE affect, Dominators and Controllers are in for trouble should a tank or scrapper get close enough, not to mention the Blaster who probably has a greater range of attack. A MasterMind is a sitting duck to Controllers because of their lack of defense. A Mastermind generally hides behind it's pets, which is not an option when pets are getting removed by the AOE's from a Blaster, and the constant AOE from a Tank. Stalkers are in major trouble if somebody with tactics is around, there literally is no place to hide, and the stalkers naturally weak and limited powers compared to scrappers makes them sitting targets.

Now, if I'm making it seem complex and hard, that's intentional. PvP mode is a mess, period. Sadly, there is no fix for it. As long as City of Heroes and City of Villains offer different gameplay experiences, there is no possible way to reconcile the Player Versus Player mode.

It's also my opinion that PvP pretty much had already set sail on City of Heroes long ago. The truth is, if I wanted to play against another player in an MMORPG enviroment, I would choose something like Planetside, or World of Warcraft, where multiplayer class balance was conceived along with the game itself, not a few years after the game is on the market.

While it would be my personal opinion that the developers would be better off forgoing any additional Player versus Player content, and focus more on Player with Player content, such as missions in Pocket D, I understand that there will always be a vocal number of game players who can't possibly imagine an MMO without a Player Versus Player mode.

I just don't think it's right for what City of Heroes / City of Villains is.
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