It’s hard to come up with something to say about my gameplay in AC final, since I am facing that same powergamer problem that many of us beta testers are having. We left off AC at a certain point, and once we got back into it, our job is to get back to the point we left off as quickly as possible. This is a disadvantage in many regards, since we don’t really necessarily enjoy the leveling back up process… we want it to be over with as soon as possible so we can get on with things (well, for those of us who are really die hard powergamers). Basically, we can comment on how the world is in final, and yeah there are a few things to say about it.

Imagine my surprise *cough* when, upon logging in, more than half of everybody seems to be a mage! The vast number of loser spell giveaway websites was helped out in no small way by the head-scratching decision to leave the spell system exactly the way it was. I heard from someone that this was supposed to be a “thank you” to beta mages or some crap. Please… the individuals rewarded by leaving the magic system as it was are twinks and website fools. There is no reason not to be a mage at this point. And what a shock it is that so many players, mages and archers and tanks, have Item magic from the get-go, or train it at 9. I really seriously doubt the rationale for taking Item for many of them is to toughen up their armor… it’s for recall. Period. Well, that and enchanting bows, hearkening back to the days of the 200 point critical hit. :P

Naturally, within several days of release (and yes, it was way too early), an announcement was made about some bug fixes and rebalancing. This was supposed to have taken place a week ago as of this writing, but hasn’t yet, giving power players more time to exploit the holes before it becomes too late. I do have to say this though… at least Turbine/M$ have been fairly communicative as to their awareness of problems, whether balance issues to connection drops. Whether or not anything gets done about it remains to be seen, however.

In any case, let’s look at some of the new and exciting changes which are supposed to happen soon, and what their effects will be, as well as some of the balance-raping bugs that exist at this point.

Speeding Up Monsters. Okay, this was necessary. When all run speeds were more or less compressed near the end of beta, due to some characters moving too fast for the servers to keep track of, some of the previously nasty critters like Gromnies became sloths with elemental breath, and the only reason a mage or archer ever got hit by one was if he was lagged or wanted to check out his melee defense.

Increasing Olthoi Magic Defense. Huh? They were too easy? Someone tell me how this was done. In beta I touched an Olthoi about 1 in 30 tries, and just yesterday I went to an Olthoi nest for the first time. After recovering 3 of my corpses, I think my success rate was a little bit better… 1 in 15. It’s not really necessary to buff Olthoi, who kill everyone but a tank character instantly. Creatures like Olthoi and Virindi were a shining example of how different types of characters excelled against different targets, and also how the melee character had a purpose at higher levels (although his PvP survivability is still dependent on an extremely knowledgable player). The irony in the situation is that higher level melee specialists are best dealt with by mages, and high level magic types are fighter food.

Banderling Captains and Tumeroks Casting. Okay, is there anything at high levels that doesn’t cast at this point? And with no animation or delay required… there was nothing like seeing Acid Stream IV shoot out of the spine of a Drudge Stalker I had just ambushed. they all seem to be pretty good at it too… relatively stupid Drudges can cast higher circle war than I can, and with better success. I’m just waiting for the day when the announcement comes out: “We at Turbine have decided that Drudge Skulkers were too easy to kill, and so they will now cast war IV in addition to I-III.”

Portal Magic Harder to Cast. You know, even I can’t disagree with this. Of course, it raises an interesting question for all those mages and non-mages who got Item magic specifically for portal.. are they going to be dumping hundreds of thousands of experience points into item just to use recall? Or millions for summon protal? However, the part I find amusing is this from the “Spin at Turbine” article: “Portal magic was meant to be a sign of status among higher-level mages, but they’ve been a bit too easy to learn.” Uhh, okay, arguably the most useful spells in the game intended to be showpieces. As if everyone wouldn’t run out to learn these as soon as they became possible. This is like the UO team saying, “E-bolt was never intended for such widespread use. It will now be eighth circle and require 80 mana.” Still, I personally agree with the idea… people become spoiled by recall easily, and it makes a number of cheeses way too easy for characters of all types, far too early.

Reducing range on Harmful Life Spells. Again the quote… “… this is unbalanced since these spells were never intended to be more effective than war magic spells…” Okay, a couple things here: first of all, Harm Other, with its piddling damage to mana ratio, is in no way more effective than war. War is the single best monster killer magic there is. Drain can be problematic just because its damage is percentile instead of static, and thus a good way to demolish high hit point enemies quickly to a point where you finish them… with war. From what I hear, the range cuts for drain will be extreme. This is doom for PvP mages. More on this later.

Increased Duration for Enchantments. About damn time. At least it will give all those suckers with item Enchantment 100 something to do while they whine about their lack of recall.

Vendors Not Reselling Scrolls. Uh… so they will sell their “normal supply”. I have seen ONE archmage which sold scrolls of her own. Oh well… I can’t say anything about this, since I mainly just research and cop scrolls off of corpses.

Quest Items Will Have Increased Skill Requirements. Apparently they just figured out that static quest god-items are a problem. Good morning!

Mattekar Hides Reduced in Frequency. For those of you who don’t know, occasionally a Great Mattekar will drop a hide which can be crafted into a lightweight full jacket with AL 120… perfect mage armor, making it popular since everyne in the goddamn world is a freaking mage. The announcement that they would become rare led to a mass camping of mattekar spawns, and prompted a number of characters (most notably Rail and a few others in the allegiance of Dwarmaj on Frostfell) doing exciting things like waiting for a lot of them to be trapped and killed by other players, then jumping in, stealing the hides over and over for HOURS, and recalling away. Reminds me why I went red in beta. If you think about it, there must be a number of item campers (most notably Rail and others under Dwarmaj… am I bitter?) who have been stockpiling mattekar armor, usually versus the interests of the other campers they steal from, against a future date when they can be traded for great items, or worse, for cash on eBay. Selling virtual property for cash is really a death knell for this sort of game, since as soon as a good item like the matty coat becomes profitable, it gets camped by eBay sellers to the exclusion of people who just want to go check out the area. I would urge people to scorn the sale of items you can get yourself by people who camp them (most notably Rail and… okay I am bitter).

Okay, in reference to that bit before about PvP mages and the range adjustments, this is what I mean. In PvP combat, the basic tool of the mage is (was) drain spells. High mana cost, no line of sight required, etc. if drains have a massive range reduction, what’s left to do damage except war magic, which while being efficient, is easily avoided by any experienced PvPer with half a brain. I keep hearing tales of woe from Darktide (PK server) and how it’s nothing but Force Bolt I gangbangs. The only possible explanation for the success of war magic there is that the enemies are incredibly stupid. I mean, come on, a frigging war missile is easy to see, and unless you’re right next to the mage (and stay there when you see war being cast because you are an idiot), you can duck the war spell in about half a second, making the mage waste mana at no cost to yourself. Add to this the bug which allows archers (mages too, with some difficulty) to sidestep while reloading instead of standing still, and war is totally useless against an intelligent opponent. If you somehow manage to get off a war V or VI against someone, with the now immense casting delays for higher circle spells, you were lucky.

So what’s left for the red mage? Well, you can try to tank the opponent… run up to them and start draining in their face, usually a bad gamble since mages are notoriously easy to kill in close quarters, where the arrows can’t be ducked and the SoLL is right there, merrily criticalling against the mage’s lousy melee and (especially) missile defense. You can try to run up to them and hope you live long enough to get off a war V at them, when they don’t have the spece to duck, but believe me, as soon as the spell starts the enemy has plenty of time to run and dodge. You can try to finesse the enemy, hiding and tripping them up with creature magic, but really who has the time/reflexes/mana to be able to cast a succession like Magic Yield, Weakness, Slowness, Frailty, (weapon) Ineptitude, etc. while someone is trying to kick your ass and slashing you for 50 points of damage all the time?

As to why the range reduction was done, as well as the resist tweaks that will no doubt make mages useless for a while until they start swinging the fix back a little (the AC way), I have one answer: golems. There is a place on the map where tons of golems can be found, in a dungeon environment which allows a careful mage to hide, safe from harm (usually), and casually drain his way to 40th level on level 103 golems which don’t seem to have all that great resist, despite their huge mana pools. I found this spot near the end of beta, and although it was fun and such, I bugged it as a real balance problem. Instead of reducing range and making monsters impossible to kill, they might have solved this by increasing magma golem resist or, better yet, making the monsters smarter.

Oh yeah, the balance raping bugs: they have to do with healing. There are exploits which allow a healer to use his kit about 10 times in one second, or a mage to cast Heal Self I that fast. These have been around since about halfway through phase 2 beta. I gotta say, I really really like AC, but goddamnit these should have, and could have, been fixed before it shipped. because they weren’t fixed until weeks after release, the high level twinks will now own everyone with levels, mattekar coat stockrooms, and early research of portal magic before it’s impossible. And, once again, this makes the most difference to… you guessed it… PvPers. Thus I am not red yet.

By the way, I have problems imagining Darktide as being anything more than force bolt fest, newbie spawn death, home of people too stupid to duck war magic, and a place where it’s so dangerous to just adventure and gain experience that it will be forever dominated by the early players forever. Someone please send me reports on this server, confirming or denying the truth of these theories.

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