Cry PVP, and Let Slip the Dogs of War

The June Producer’s Letter
has a fair bit to say about the upcoming player versus player feature.

Everquest 2 so far has been strictly Player vs. Environment (PVE). This was consistent with EQ2′s focus on a more casual player. But more importantly, they discovered from Everquest that skills and abilities that were reasonably balanced for PVE were not balanced at all for PVP. This is because the AI-controlled opponents aren’t as inventive, ruthless, and collaborative with spells and abilities as players will be.

In particular, there is really no way to make taunting work in PVP. Players will not be happy if they don’t get to choose their targets. But then, most smart players will go straight for someone other than the tank, whether that’s the healer or the tissue-paper mage. So, the ability of these classes to defend themselves must be altered in some way, or the classes would be rendered completely ineffective in PVP.

Before we explore this more, here’s the relevant portion from the June Producer’s Letter:

Lots of people remember that before we launched, we had always referred to PvP as “something that won’t be in EQ2 for launch,” but it’s always been something that we wanted to include, just not unless we were able to take the time and do it “right.”

That begs the question, “what does ‘right’ mean for PvP in EQ2?”

We have a lot of spells and abilities in EQ2, and they were all designed to be used in Player vs. NPC interactions.

For starters, ‘right’ means that we need to make sure that every profession has a role to play in PvP, while at the same time ensuring that no profession has the ability to completely shut down others players’ usefulness (and, by extension, fun) in PvP.

There’s no question that EQ2 is predominantly a PvE game and that there are people who do not ever wish to take part in PvP, and those people then naturally become concerned that their PvE abilities might be nerfed because of PvP concerns.

Given that, ‘right’ also means that we needed to make sure that we had a system in place that would let us change any individual ability’s PvP effect without changing its PvE effect, which is definitely how we plan to balance PvP abilities.

Further, putting PvP into a PvE game also complicates the issue of what people’s expectations are for their roles are in PvP. A person who is a support class in PvE will likely also be primarily support in PvP. Our goal in this is to make PvP fit into the world of EQ2 in a smart way, which means PvE roles will carry across into PvP. We’re not aiming for a world where everyone can compete one-on-one or completely redefine classes based solely on which type of combat they’re participating in.

In order to support PVP, it’s clear that abilities will have to be different in some way. Perhaps mage’s roots will last longer or be harder to resist. Or the nukes of Enchanters do more damage. The main function of tanks is undermined by the ineffectiveness of taunting, so they need some new tricks to stay in the game. And perhaps other skills, Speechless for instance, will need to be toned down somewhat.

But how to implement these new/altered spells. My earlier speculation was that they would create an entirely separate skill list for PVP. But that doesn’t appear to be what they have in mind. What it seems to me that they will do is to take advantage of EQ2′s modal combat.

One of the important and valuable ideas in Everquest 2 is the clear separation of functionality between combat mode and non-combat mode. In non-combat mode a character may run faster, regenerate health and power faster, and cast buffs and gates. This has many benefits, not the least of which is allowing for far less down time while maintaining an appropriate difficulty level of an encounter.

I expect that PVP will introduce a new, third pvp-combat mode. It will have similar reduced regen, speed and spell-casting effects. Some spells just won’t be allowed in a pvp-combat. Others will work differently than they do in pve-combat, doing more (or less) damage, lasting longer (or shorter), and being more (or less) resistable.

This is the fundamental mechanism that will allow the game’s designers to tinker with PVP game balance separately from PVE, and it is the quality that will allow the PVE game to continue as it is, and the PVE-focused players to be largely unaffected.

A game in which a player could find themselves in combat with another player at any moment is a game which is very different from Everquest 2. Even in Everquest 1, this sort of gameplay was only found on specific servers, so that only happened if you chose it to happen. The design team seems to be focused on the second problem with PVP, that it is hard to balance both for PVP and PVE, and the scheme hinted at seems a promising solution.

One thought though. I suspect that PVP will spur some competetive instincts to place an even higher premium on “top-of-the-line” spells and equipment, which will drive up the price even more. But since, as I’ve discussed before, the rare-based equipment, while nice, is not necessary to play the game effectively, this should result in a net cash flow from the PVP players to the PVE players. Which can be spent on horses, houses, and furniture, and the occaisional palladium torque.

What a Tank Likes in Me

After my post “What I like in a tank”, it seems only fair to let the tanks have their say about what they need from the rest of their group. I’ve talked to a few, and here’s what they have to say.

  • Wait for it. Don’t nuke too early, the tanks ability to keep aggro builds over time. If a wizard nukes too soon, or a healer heals too soon, or even a scout who backstabs immediately can pull aggro away from the tank. One thought is to let the tank complete one HO before using power based attacks (regular melee attacks should be no problem.) Be especially careful if the tank is pulling with just proximity or with a ranged weapon, these generate very little hate.
  • Don’t run, you’ll only die tired. If you DO get aggro, don’t run around trying to shake it off. It doesn’t work, and it gives the main tank a serious targeting problem. Many of his taunt-generating abilities are very short range. He may well be able to peel the mob off of you, but you will have to stand still to allow him to do so. This is highly counterintuitive, if some big nasty starts pounding on me, my untrained response is to RUN AWAY NOW! But not if I have a good tank with me.
  • …except when the tank says to run. Sometimes a party will get in over its head and will need to exit the area. When you have a 25+ scout along, this becomes easy, the scout hits evac and you’re all out of there (assuming you are close enough.) But at lower levels, or without a scout (they are the least popular archetype in EQ2) a party must rely on good old fashioned legwork to save on the debt and shard runs. So, when it’s time to run, save everyone the debt from your death, and run.

    It’s very noble and brave to stand shoulder to shoulder with the tank and die alongside him, but since his debt is shared among the group anyway, he doesn’t mind if you run quickly and save him the experience debt he’d get from your death. A group wipe costs a lot in debt and in recovery time too. Most of the tanks I know consider it their duty to be the last to flee the scene, so don’t hang out.

    Not all groups have the tank call run. It might be the healer or someone else. This is something that probably should be discussed with the group beforehand.

  • use hotkeys to communicate. Make one to tell the tank you have aggro. Maybe make another one to mention an add, though the word “ADD” is pretty easy to type. I have one to tell folks which things I’m mezzing.
  • EQ2 is at its best as a team game. And team games work best if everyone knows their job and understands how the other team members work, and what they need to do their job.

    What I like in a Tank

    “Who’s the best tank?” is the kind of question you see in internet forums all the time. Typically this is a question about which of the six subclassses of the fighter archetype is the “best” for tanking. People who ask this question, by the way, usually believe that Guardians make the best tanks, particularly in raid situation.

    My stance is that the best tank is the one with the best player sitting at the keyboard. I’ve been successful with most of the tank subclasses, and I’ve had problems with a Guardian as the main tank. So, I thought I’d put down my thoughts about what makes a good tank.

    The first job of the tank is, of course, to keep aggro. This isn’t just a matter of which subclasses have the most buttons with the word “taunt” or “hate” in their description, however. For example, a paladin can generate a lot of hate by healing and warding themselves. And by nuking. Neither of those say “taunt” on them. So, a good tank will study his skills, and think about how best to hold aggro.

    The game is set up to make keeping aggro difficult. Nuking, healing and the massive damage output of a scout can all pull aggro, so keeping aggro on the tank is a cooperative venture. This makes it pretty important that the tank be able to stand up to the mob for the first few seconds of the fight while he generates some heat. The best tanks know that this is best accomplished if they can wait for the healer’s short-term buff, be it regen, ward, or reactive heal. Many times I’ve seen the tank just get his bloodlust up and pull without waiting for these, with dire consequences. The priest has to heal too soon, gets aggro, and things go pear-shaped.

    Tunnel vision is very standard in combat. People naturally zero in on beating the tar out of the mobs in front of them, and tend to ignore most everything else. The combats in EQ2 are much shorter and more intense than the ones in EQ1, so this is doubly true. However, the best tanks have have trained themselves to have situational awareness. They notice if a wanderer is coming close. They notice if someone has aggro, or is getting hurt, or is running out of power. They learn where the respawn points are.

    The standard approach to the game is what I would call a “one-trick pony” approach. Groups must have 6 members, which are, ideally, one Guardian as main tank, two healers, with one being a templar, and 3 other dps classes, with preference given to warlocks, wizards and conjurors, though scouts are welcome. This group succeeds by killing stuff fast, faster than they can be killed.

    However, not all situations are the same. Sometimes you can’t put together an ideal group, and frankly it isn’t much fun, either. Stuff dies too fast for you to feel like you were challenged, or else it eats your lunch because it’s red and you can’t touch it.

    So, a good tank is adaptable. He understands how the other classes work and can change his tactics to accomodate the current group. This is a big issue with me, being an enchanter. With no enchanter in the group, the tank is responsible for adds, and must switch targets and taunt the adds to keep control of the situation. With an enchanter (like me) in the group, it’s more efficient for him to stay on target and let me deal with the adds, unless there are a whole lot of them, in which case his taunts aren’t going to get the situation under control, either. A good tank can adjust to that.

    Not all mobs are the same either, some are fighters, some are mages, some are priests, a good tank, in his main assist role will learn which are which and adjust the tactics accordingly.

    A good tank will turn the mob around so that its back is to the scout and the mages. This lets the scout do more damage, and protects the mages from the attacks like Barrage which damage everything in an arc in front of the mob.

    A good tank keeps his gear and skills up to date. I think that Adept III level skills cost more than they are worth, generally, but most skills should be up to Adept I, and all but perhaps the newest ones at at least Apprentice 3 or 4. Armor is really important to a good tank, and should be kept orange or yellow. Weapons are probably less important than most people think, though I firmly believe that, since some mobs are immune to some types of damage, tanks should have a good weapon of each type(slash, crush, pierce), and have the corresponding skills up to date.

    A good tank communicates. He has a pull call, he lets people know when the group is moving. He reads his chat, which is in a different window from his battle spam, and thus is aware when the healer has just gone afk for a biobreak and holds pulls. DPS classes can often get away with not paying too much attention to these things, but not the tank, he controls the pace of the group.

    Finally, the intangibles. A good tank is always trying to improve, and to learn. He shines a light on problems, but keeps the heat off. He makes it fun for the other players, and helps them succeed, rather than making them feel like failures. He takes responsibility, when appropriate, when things go bad. There’s a world of difference between “You screwed up, you loser” and “Next time, it would be better if…” I’ll put up with a lot of errors from a tank that is enthusiastic, fun to be around, and can be taught. After all, Everquest II is a game.