Thursday, January 10, 2008

CoH: Be what you are

I've gone into the this topic before on Gamenikki when talking about Inherent Imbalance, and here as well in a post talking about how PvP play is fundamentally broken. The basic concept of the City of Heroes games is that players classes are deliberately imbalanced in relation to each other. Each class has a specific strength or weakness that is unique to that class. Lets run over the basics again for the character classes.
Tanks have the primary power set of defense, and the secondary set of offense. Tanks are built to absorb as much damage as possible, and their defense powers have the highest armor ratings. In addition tanks have the highest base hit points available, but are limited to melee attacks. A tank is designed to run into the middle of an enemy mob and just sit there.

Scrappers have the primary power set of offense, and the secondary set of defense. Their defensive powers aren't as high as a tanks for the same power, but their offense is greater for the same power. A scrapper is designed to simply kill enemies before any significant damage is received. To augment this scrappers have a high level super defense that gives them a time limited near invulnerability to hammer an opponent. However, a scrapper generally can't remain in the middle of a mob that a tank of the same level can. Nor do scrappers get identical defense powers at the same level of a tank.

Blasters have the primary powers of ranged offense and secondary powers melee offense. A blaster has no defense, and their entire purpose is to kill enemies from a distance. To back up the lack of defense a blaster has a support classification for it's secondary powers. Some of the support powers are heavy melee attacks so if an enemy does get too close, the blaster can deliver a devastating hammer blow. Some of the support powers are accuracy or power boosts, and others are AOE status effects. The Blaster's offensive rating is also on par with the scrappers. However, remain in the middle of a mob for too long, and the whole "no defense" factor means a quick death. To get out of the middle of a mob, at high levels several blasters have secondary powers with massive AOE status effects, such as Hot Feet, Frozen Aura, or Shocking Grasp.

Defenders have the primary powers of buff and the second powers of ranged offense. Their offensive powers are weaker than a blasters, but defenders can buff and heal teammates from a distance, safely outside of mob range. Like Blasters, Defenders have little defense, and no status protection.

Controllers have the primary powers of status effect, and the second power set of buff. A controller can do things like slow opponents down, remove their defenses, remove their regen, hold multiple opponents in one location, prevent an opponent from attacking, and so on and so forth. At the same time a controller can also make their teammates more powerful by applying heals and buffs. However, a controller has the lowest amount of total damage, an extremely low amount of hit points, and no native protection against status effects. A controller's buff set is also lower powered than a defenders. For example, the radiation power set. A controllers heal is not as powerful as a defender with the same set at the same level. For example, a lvl 1 radiation defender heals for 13 points. A level 1 radiation controller heals for 11 points, a difference that is more pronounced in higher levels.

Okay, that's the basic lineup. Already its sort of obvious how some of the classes interact. A blaster really needs the buffs from a defender or controller in order to be effective in large scale battles. A tank really needs a blaster or a scrapper along to provide damage support. However, with each rule there are some exceptions.
In the case of tanks, there are the fire armor tanks. Fire Armor lacks some of the status protection native to all other tanks, specifically knockback and immobilize. Fire Armor tanks also have a power that is highly dependent on mob holds, Burn. Burn has a -mob run attached so that once dropped all enemies run from it. So, in order to be most effective with their native powers, Fire Armor tanks really need a controller along. Fire Tanks also have one of the weakest defense sets available. It is not uncommon to see certain types of scrappers take the same hit as a fire tank... and post less damage. The advantage is that because the Fire class is a damage over time classification, Fire Armor tanks can generally put out more damage than any other tank. Per level, the fire armor's blazing aura ticks off more rapidly than either the Stone Tanks Mud-Pots and the Ice Tanks Icicles.

In the case of scrappers there are the dark scrappers. Either dark armor, or dark melee. The dark armor set is a status effect set, similar to what controllers would get, only in melee form. Dark scrappers don't have a high amount of direct damage, but can lay on debuff after debuff after debuff, so that when the damage comes, it's late in the attack, but it's massive. The result is that high level dark scrappers are heavily sought after for Giant Monster and Arch-Villain battles where the stacking debuffs are most noticeable. The trade-off is that dark scrappers have less defense than other scrappers. Like fire tanks they lack certain status protections that other scrappers get.

In the case of controllers, there are the Fire Kinetics. The Kinetics powers are heavy buffs and debuffs. I remember once calling for a -Rad to help with a Giant Monster. A -kinetics responded... and I told the kinetics something to the effect of "no thank you, I'm looking for somebody who can debuff." I then played a kinetics... which is actually a power buffer. Just about every Kinentic power has a buff / debuff attached to it. Example, Transfusion. It's a targeted AOE heal, meaning that when the power hits an enemy everything around the enemy receives a heal. However, Transfusion also removes an enemies endurance, and lowers their regeneration rate. Subsequent transfusions can completely kill any opponents regen rate. Then there are the power transfers, and the almighty fulcrum shift which lowers the attack power of an opponent, and boosts the attack power of everybody around the opponent. On a full size mob? A kinetics can easily max the amount of damage possible for each power with fulcrum shift. Now, remember from the fire tank that Fire attacks are generally Damage over time. They don't just hit once. Almost all fire attacks continue to do damage after the initial hit. See where this going? A kinetics is a near constant buff/debuff, and Fire is a DOT class. What... happens, when you boost Damage over Time? Suddenly, minor damage turns into major damage. Considering that the Fire Control power set can already blind, immobilize, slow, choke, alongside the damage over time, coupling it with the kinetics set which can remove endurance, slow, speed up the controller, heal, and kill regen rates, the Fire Kinetics is a power house. It doesn't really matter that against a kinetics defender they aren't as good at the heals, buffs, and debuffs, or against a fire blaster they don't have as high a damage output. Combine the two and at 90% of the total damage a fire blaster can do, and 90% of the buffs a kinetics defender can do, it's one incredible package.

So, a Fire Tank is really a Fire Scrapper. Quick, lots of damage, but not really that great of a defense set. The Dark Scrapper is like a controller. High amounts of debuffs, and the damage only coming in way late for the attack string. The Fire Kinetics is like a blaster. No defense, but an offense with a incredible stacking rate and extremely high amounts of Damage over Time.

So, there is a lot of variations even within the traditional powers themselves. The problem is when you have a player who decides that the secondary power set, the weaker set, should be their primary powers. I've seen a bunch of players, like Dr Kate on Freedom, who maximize their secondary power sets and almost completely ignore their primary powers. In the case of Dr Kate, the player has a Kinetics / Electrical defender like mine. However, I only counted four kinetics powers on Dr Kate, and just about all of the electrical attacks where chosen.

Now, I don't consider myself that great of a Kinetics / Elec because I used 3 power slots to take the medical pool for a player revive. The result is that I'm even lower on offense than most other kinetic defenders out there. I count on the fact that as a kinetics, I'm a constant buff / debuff. When I enter a mob solo, I am going to be hitting my damage cap with fulcrum shift in one shot. While I'm fighting, nothing is going to have a regen rate. I am going to have transfusion on auto, and I'm going to be tapping power siphon, siphon speed, transference, and fulcrum shift as soon as they become available. The result is that it doesn't matter that I only have a few electrical attacks. One of them is a nice end draining AOE. The other is a little lightning pet that even if I get status effected, such as slept or knocked over, will keep on attacking. I've also used IO's to add a base accuracy boost of 42% (9%+7%+9%+9%+5%+3%). I've hit Paragon Protectors using Elude with my sniper attack.

Thing is then, I think I know how a group is supposed to play with a kinetics defender. I'm not the only one. One of the members of the "Real Kins Wear Pink" group, Vincent 8, played by a similar method. With Speed Boost slotted correctly, players should basically have a perma-haste. All the attacks should come up like they had just used a 2 or 3-slotted haste buff on themselves. Speed Boost should also be used to counteract end drain. With speed boost, players should have the effect that they have an extra 3 slotted Stamina. With a proper kin, even in the face of Malta Sappers, endurance usage should never be a problem. Another kin-required power is Increase Density. It's a short term power, but provides knockback, hold, disorient, repel, and immobilize protection at level 8 on Defenders, and level 14 on controllers. Increase Density also boots defense against smashing and energy attacks, and in PvP zones, protects against unwanted enemy teleportation. It's not just a required power, it's one of the class defining abilities.

So... what does this have to do with Dr Kate? Well, for starters, I was playing a scrapper which has haste, and it's already 3 slotted. So, I know how quick my powers should come up with haste on that character. Well, if we could get a Speed Boost out of Dr Kate, and you had to ask, my attack rate didn't change. It didn't do anything. My endurance rating? Well, couldn't really comment there, my scrapper class has a built in stamina power and I already had it slotted, but I could watch other players... who were running out of end. Heals? Nope. xxBlack Amnesia (sorry if I mispelled your name), was a far better healer. ID for the non scrapper players? Nope. No ID. Kills on the regen rate of opponents? Well, with no heals forthcoming, transfusion certainly wasn't being used to kill regen rates.

Instead, what I witnessed as a Defender trying desperately to act like a Blaster... and failing. Badly. I lost count of the number of times the squishy defender ran into the middle of a mob and used close range AOE attacks. Short Circuit is nice I'll grant, but it's one of the last powers a Kinetics / Electric wants to take... especially when there isn't a tank around who can control aggro. By the end of the session, I had come to the horrible conclusion that Dr Kate was hands down the worst Kinetics Defender I have ever played with.

Thing is, Dr Kate's play style is mimicked in far too many other players. What her player was trying to do was play her like a Blaster. Heavy on the damage, but using the kinetics buffs occasionally to get out of trouble. Thing is, a real blaster has a much higher damage rating. Per level, for the same attack, a blaster's ranged attack is more powerful than a defenders. The Blaster also has heavy melee attacks, so if they do get stuck in a mob, they aren't helpless.

The Defenders strength is in the use of buffs and debuffs, which Dr Kate did not understand.

The concept of using secondary powers as primary powers is more widespread than I'd really rather think about. Case in point is petless MasterMinds. The strength of a MasterMind on the villain side is that they can call forth 3 base characters, 2 medium characters, and one really powerful character to assist them in a fight. Some MasterMinds can field up to 8 battle characters at once. The 6 pets, themselves, and depending on the power type, a high level Control Pet. To compensate for the overwhelming character support possible, MasterMinds have one of the lowest total attack counts in the game. They also have one of the lowest health ratings in the game. Several players however have started trying petless masterminds. The reasoning behind the move is that they want to play a Corruptor class, and the MasterMind has some buff / debuff powersets the Corruptors don't get. However, lets run some comparisons here.
From the MasterMind side, the Mercenaries with Dark Miasma. From the Corruptor side, the Assault rifle with Dark Miasma. Both classes use the same basic weapon which is the assault rifle, and both start with the same secondary power, Twilight Grasp which is a heal.

At level one the MasterMind has 95 hit points. The Corruptor has 100 hit points.
The MasterMind heals for 20 hit points. The Corruptor heals for 22 hit points.
The MasterMind does 2.45 damage per hit on Burst. The Corruptor does 2.56.

The MasterMind has only 3 attack powers for the assault rifle which are Burst, Slug, and the M30 grenade. The MasterMind can get all 3 powers by level 8.

The Corruptor can get Burst, Slug, and the M30 grenade by level 6, and there are still several more attacks in the list to get.

So, the MasterMind has less health, their buffs are less powerful, they have less attacks, and they get their final attack 2 levels after the Corruptor gets that same attack. The point is obvious then, a MasterMind is not a Corruptor. The MasterMind's power lies in it's pets. Playing a Petless MasterMind then is perhaps one of the most boneheaded moves possible.

It isn't the only class that several players have warped. One of my personal pet peeves goes against those who play so called Blappers. Blappers are when Blasters are played as Scrappers. Well, let me state this loud and clear and in no unmistakable terms.

Blappers Do Not Exist. Get Over It.

The point of a blaster is their total overall offense. The Blasters special power is Defiance, which thankfully has been re-worked. Defiance used to be tied to the Blaster's health. The lower the Blaster's health, the stronger their attacks were. So, for players living on the ragged edge of health, they could maintain a nice damage bonus. Defiance has been re-worked so that it is a stacking damage buff, similar to the Brute's Special Rage on the Villain side. The longer the player attacks, the more attacks they use, the larger a damage bonus they get. Defiance was also re-worked so that Blasters could use their basic powers, even when status effected, which is a key emphasis on why Blasters cannot be scrappers.

Blasters have no defense, what-so-ever. They have no native protection against status effects, and there is no combination of pool powers that will give a Blaster even half of the defense most scrappers get natively at level 1, much less natively at level 38 when all the in-class powers can be obtained. The exception is the Regeneration power set which has an extremely low defense, but is loaded with heals and regeneration powers, as well as a Self-Revive.

Blasters are explicitly designed by the game developers to be horrible in Melee combat. Let me repeat that maybe a little bit more clearly. The class is built so that if a player gets into a mob, they will die. End of story. The point of a Scrapper is that they have an exceptionally high Melee attack, and some defense to back that up.

In the case of blasters, they have a wide range of secondary powers to choose from. Fire, Ice, Electrical, and Energy manipulation all offer a series of high powered melee attacks. However, the power sets weren't exactly thought out that well.
For example on a Blaster with Fire Manipulation 3 of their last 4 secondary powers are lousy for a blaster. A fire manipulation blaster has the final 4 powers of Blazing Aura, Consume, Burn, and Hot Feet. The first of these 3 of the powers are lifted from the Fire Armor set. Blazing Aura still has the -taunt attached to it. Yeah, right. Blasters share honors for lowest base health with Controllers, and the their Fire Manipulation set contains a -taunt which intentionally draws enemy fire. Brilliant choice for a Blaster Power. Like the Fire Armor's Burn, the Fire Manipulation Burn has a -Mob run attached, as does the following power, Hot Feet. So, the final two powers for a Fire Manipulation Blaster are expressly designed to clear out mobs of enemies. So what do the melee attacks look like? Well, while most scrappers have 7 attacks and at least one has 8 attacks, the Fire Manipulation Blaster only has 2 direct attacks. The attacks are supported by an immobilize in ring of fire and a damage over time AOE found in combustion. So, from an offensive standpoint, up close? The Fire Manipulation Blaster has nowhere near the amount of damage that scrapper does, and has powers built to get them out of trouble and away to safety.

What about the other Manipulation classes then? Well, the Ice manipulation set only has two direct attacks. Like the Fire Manipulation side, Ice does get an AOE aura, however much earlier. Again, what quality design to give attack aura's to blasters. Like the Fire Manipulation Blasters, Ice Manipulation Blasters also have status and mob clear powers as they go up in level. The Ice Manipulation gets Ice Patch, which causes enemies to fall over; shiver, which causes enemies to slow down; and the final power of Frozen Aura which freezes everything around the Ice Manipulation Blaster giving them time to get out of the way.

The Energy and Electrical Manipulation sets are a bit heavier on the melee side since they have 3 attacks. However, the Energy Manipulation blaster has no AOE status effect powers, where the Electrical Manipulation Blaster has a couple. For example, the Electric Blaster can disorient a mob and knock them down with Lightning Clap, heavily damage a small mob with Thunder Strike, and has an AOE immobilize at 38 that actually does damage with Shocking Grasp. By comparison the Energy Manipulation blaster has the level 38 power of Total Focus, which is a hefty single target attack. The Energy Manipulation blaster has has a high chance of knockback, and can disorient and stun opponents. It just can't damage them... and still has no defense.

As for the final current Blaster class? Well, with a name like Traps, its sort of obvious that the class isn't going to have any melee attacks. Traps include some AOE slow powers, and a couple of buffs / debuffs.

Okay, thats our Blaster set laid out. As we can see, they aren't exactly that high on melee attacks. They actually aren't that high on total number of attacks to begin with. So, why somebody would want to play an archtype with no defense, low health, limited melee attacks, and with powers explicitely designed to give them time to run away, as an archtype with defense, and several powers that are designed to inflict heavy damage up close? The point stands then. Blappers don't exist.

Now, I do understand that there is a point to developing a challenge to the game. To try things that aren't generally expected. Example, try playing an Archery Blaster with Fire Melee, or playing an Empathy Defender with the archery secondary. Then there is the challenge of taking an Epic Class character such as the PeaceBringer or Warshade and playing in only one form.

Part of me understands why people try to break the game and play it in ways that are not anticipated or considered by the game developers. However, there is a breaking point between playing a class for challenge, and playing one Archtype as a completely different Archtype. For people like Dr Kate who think they are good players when they try this?

Have some news for you deary, that isn't the mark of a good player. That's the mark of someone who helped the Freedom server earn the nickname Freedumb.


Also, as a side note while I'm on the topic, one of the other things that torques me off is not just players who pick one Archtype and then try to force it to become another one, there are also the players who don't know what powers they have.

One of the reasons why ID is such a sore point is that I see a lot of Kinetic Defenders, Kinetic Controllers, and Kinetic Corruptors all pass the power over. The normal reason is that it is such a short term buff. A lot of players simply don't realize exactly what ID does. I've played with several defenders, controllers, and blasters that took a hit that normally would put them out of commission and nothing happened, only because I had them ID'd. For a Fire Armor under 22 who doesn't have acrobatics? A Kin with ID is just as valuable to that Fire Armor as a Kin with Speed Boost is valuable to a Stone Armor.

Then there are the -Storms. The -Storm power set contains the O2 Boost power. O2 Boost is one of the worst direct heals in the game, and a lot of -Storm players simply pass it over as junk heals. However, closer inspection reveals that O2 Boost protects against stun, sleep, and endurance drain. Now, keep this mind, no defense power in the Tank, Brute, Scrapper, or Stalker sets... protects against Stun by name. In some cases, such as the Stone Armor's Granite, the overall defense is so high, Stun's are not likely to occur. Second consideration. Players can start fighting Clockwork enemies on the hero side, at level 1, which have both end-drain and sleep attacks. At every level on the way up, there is a class of enemies that either sleeps, stuns, or drains endurance. Sure, the Malta Sappers and Carnie Ring Mistresses are best known for their -end drains, but they aren't the only ones. I lost count of the number of 40+ -storms I've talked with where I've had to spell out that their O2 Boost was one of the best status protection powers available in the game, and that it could be gotten incredibly early.

Now, I'm not going to fault someone who is a new player, someone with under 3 veteran badges, for skipping class defining powers. I've had my share of I really don't want to talk about that character bad builds. However, if a player has 24+ months in vet badges, and they skip class defining powers... that's something else entirely. It tells me that I really don't want to team with them.


edit : corrected some mis-named powers. Fire Armor's Plasma shield protects against hold, immobilize is the other status protection that is natively missing.

A recent update to the game also displays real numbers showing the various stats of a players avatar. Some of the particulars are cleared up in the real numbers.
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