This will no doubt turn out to be one of those long-winded sorta pieces that nobody reads, as opposed to the flash and porno nonsense everyone seems to enjoy, so be warned.  :P

It is my firm belief that the dev team has finally lost touch.

In the last rant, I mentioned some things which were intrinsically wrong with the way that AC worked, from an economic perspective.  I also mentioned that it was too late to fix those problems, as AC as a game has taken shape and more or less coalesced into its "final form," as far as game structure goes.  This happens with any evolving persistent world game… it reaches a point where the mechanics of play become somewhat standardized over time, and any major overhauls to the way things work would basically mean you are producing a new game, something which is upsetting to the the playerbase who have grown to expect things to work in a certain way.  Of course this has happened before in AC since final (spec curve patch, sticky melee, etc.) but these changes occurred fairly early in the game’s history, and were thus more acceptable.  Problems that exist now are unlikely to receive more than a band-aid treatment at best, as AC shifts into "content and maintenance" mode, as it must.  The problem is that the deeper flaws in the AC system directly affect the new content, and so as the game continues to be updated with material geared towards these flaws, all remaining players must "adapt" (design and play in order to exploit these flaws) or "die" (be relegated to a life of boredom, or cancel account).

The game is in this phase because the controlling influences on content and balance, having tweaked it for about a year since final release, are reluctant to make radical changes to the game which would ultimately be for the better.  I personally believe the reasons for this are:

  • The continual process of optimization and min-maxing by players leads to content which is designed for those players only, leaving all others to look forward to a life of meaningless levelling on lugians, olthoi and tuskers, as non-optimized characters not only have more trouble with the content but are completely ineffectual when confronting it;
  • Existing easy xp farming methods are outright encouraged by the dev team as a preferable alternative for extreme spec characters to the exploration experience sought typically by diversified characters, while at the same time being a bone for the diversified characters when they are unable to do anything new and interesting, i.e. "you can still own citadel/OHN/BSD…";
  • Balance changes are strongly biased by effects of changes on PvP, specifically in favor of the melee 3-school life spec PK, wreaking havoc with any other character type, especially the non-PK mage;
  • The influence and tacit endorsement (by the dev team) of SplitPea has made magic of all circles easily accessible to all players, skewing content even further (this was elaborated on last month, so further explanation would be redundant and bounce off the pointy heads of everyone who didn’t grap the concept the first or fiftieth time);
  • AC is no longer in the "get revenue through lots of new subscriptions" phase, and so upsetting a large portion of the player base with radical changes to game mechanics means lots of lost income with no recoup.  This is perhaps the most influential, and most valid, reason why things which are deeply and horribly broken will not be fixed within the lifetime of AC version 1.

A PRELIMINARY WARNING FOR THE BARELY LITERATE

Many of you who are anxious to defend your self-interests as a player of one of the few types of characters still allowed to experience new content will no doubt be quick to jump to the defense of your mandated… sorry, "chosen" style of play with some quick incisive commentary like "STFU U WHINER," etc., in the misbegotten belief that this is some sort of a specialization rant, i.e. trained should be as good as specialized.  For those of you who managed to train the Reading skill at level 70, this is not the case. To save you the inevitable strain and confusion associated with prolonged use of the Reading skill, the basic premise here is that new high level content is geared specifically for one type of character design and approach to play and if you do not follow this mandated play style you can do NOTHING AT ALL.  In addition, since this is a seemingly unstoppable trend, this means that eventually if you are not playing in the mandated style there will be no new high level content at all appropriate for you and the game life of your character ends with infinite tuskers and certain parts of Aerlinthe if you are lucky.  I personally feel this is bad for the future of the game; you may not, which is fine, but you are horribly wrong.

FLAWS DETERMINE CONTENT, CONTENT REINFORCES FLAWS

Let me elaborate on exactly how the new content is being affected by, and reinforces, flaws in the game.  Example: Life magic is far and away the most overpowered skill in the game.  Protections, vulns, drains, transfer spells… all for 12/8 skill credits.  This has been discussed far more widely in other places, so there’s no real need to elaborate further on this point.  The fact that life magic is so overpowered, effectively multiplying the power of its wielder manyfold by itself, meant that specialized life magic became a popular flavor very early on.  Specialized life mages with any complementary attack skill (archery/melee/war) were more successful than everyone else, levelled quicker, were able to enjoy the high level content faster, etc.  Soon specialized life magic became an expected part of a character design, and if you didn’t have it, you were a gimp.

Life magic suffered a minor nerf in the early days when drain ranges were considerably reduced, but this effect was mostly noticeable only outdoors… basically a PvP balance.  Spec’d life archers, mages, and melees soon rolled over the countryside, killing things with great efficiency, levelling quickly, and complaining that things weren’t "challenging."

The solution to this was monsters getting higher and higher resists.  Spec’d life mages increased their skill, people rerolled to get a few more points of life in the 50′s, and new content was added with even more resistance, or total immunity.  The trend continued and continued, and meanwhile those who maybe did not specialize life, or god forbid actually used war as a primary attack, were left in the dust, as they needed to pour astounding amounts of xp into their skills to even approach touching the monsters, with no hope at all of reaching the skill levels that were taken into consideration when the content was added.

The ultimate realizations of the extremist-template-as-standard-to-do-fucking-anything-new-at-all trend today are the 3 templates which are considered "valid" by and large:  spec’d life melee, spec’d life archer, Og mage.  These character types are what new high level content is designed around, and by and large they are the only character types able to deal with it at a "reasonable" high level (50-70 range).  Even the Og has problems with the hyper-resistant content, as magic resistance does not work differently for different schools, and so while it may be challenging for one to land a vuln on something with a life skill of 340, it’s impossible to actually do significant damage with a war skill of 300.

Likewise, new content creatures with insane melee defense mandates melee attackers with 100 in all controlling attributes (strength/coord or coord/quick for the rare dagger user who hasn’t quit by now) and specialized weapon skill to have a hope in hell of hitting, thanks to the bell curve behavior of contested rolls in AC (i.e., the closer you are to 50% chance of winning a contest of attack and defense, the greater a difference every point makes).  Those players who wanted to try some "fun" skills instead of optimizing to fight new content are left in the dust, whiffing ineffectually for all time until they are mercifully put down by whatever it was they thought might be an interesting opponent in the first place.

An example situation would be a group of players grouping up to take on the enemy which is supposed to require a group to defeat… in fact, it requires a group of extreme optimized characters to defeat.  The group, defying the odds of stupidity in the gamer community, has a tactical plan which divides members into attackers who will do damage to the target, and support players who will vuln the target and provide healing and revitalization for the attackers.  The group consists of extreme life spec hybrid melees/archers, Og mages, non life spec melees/archers with specialized weapon skills, non life spec melees/archers without specialized weapon skills, and nonspecialized archmages.  (There are no specialized war mages in this group, since such a thing is extremely rare and the players of them have long since given up on their 28 skill credit wiffle bats.) 
 

Extreme Specialized Life Melees and Archers Can successfully do damage to the target.
Can successfully vuln the target.
Can heal and revitalize.
Og Mages Maybe can damage the target if war is very high or he neglects support duties to drain/harm.
Can successfully vuln the target.
Can heal and revitalize.
Non-Spec Life Archers/Melees with Spec Weapon Skills Can successfully do damage to the target.
Can heal and revitalize if they happen to have life magic trained at least, but they would be better served doing damage.
Non-Spec Life Archers/Melees without Spec Weapon Skills Might be able to do damage to the target if they have archery.
Can heal and revitalize if they happen to have life magic trained at least.
Otherwise useless unless you need one as a lockpicker.
Non-Spec Archmages Can heal and revitalize, sorta.
If they managed to train lockpick even with their 16 point useless non-specialized war, maybe they aren’t dead weight.  Better to leave them at home and just lag through the doors though.

GROUP PLAY ENCOURAGED FOR SOLO PLAYERS

Before anyone comes back with the standard dev response to unplayable characters, "Fight in groups," let me blow that argument out of the water.  AC does not encourage group play.  The mechanics do not support it:  there is no quick way of seeing someone’s status in a fight, there is no good chat option for a group, and worst of all, the 10 level disparity rule for fellowships means that higher level players often cannot fellow, despite the fact that a difference of 15 levels over 60-65 means far far less than it would in the 10-20 range.

What does this mean for the non-extreme guy?  Let’s take the classic example of the "support mage."  I have always disliked this idea, since the way that magic works in AC dictates that the mage in question (a) gets less xp on the whole since he’s not doing damage, (b) is expending all of his mana on support functions, which is fatal if your front line is stupid and dies, leaving you a manaless target, and (c) you need to really know the people you are adventuring with if you hope to get any sellable loot to replace you components and charges.  This means that at lower levels, it is rare for a mage to actually want to be in a support role; at high levels, when he discovers that war doesn’t work on anything anymore due to the content gearing, nobody really needs a support mage since everyone has super life magic and, if he does get to tag along to cast heal and revitalize, he can’t fellow with the higher level uber templates, gets no experience, and lags further and further behind.  It is in this way that the diversified and interesting archmage is relegated to the role of a halfassed cleric.

In general though, the reason that non-uber characters are unable to travel in groups for the high level content is that high level content is designed for extremist powerlevellers, and unless you are being twinked, powerlevelling is a solo function by and large.  You gain more phat xp solo, you can concentrate on getting the phat xp solo, and you don’t have to take any valuable powerlevelling time out for that useless crap like socializing.  Thus, the effective solo player levels faster, becomes more formidable, and is thus the preferred teammate for your group about to go on the ungodly-earth-shaking-event-du-jour.  Jack of All Trades with his trained sword, crossbow, and item, who can’t get past 50 without ripping his eyes out in frustration, is definitively not the preferred choice.

FARMING IS MORE REWARDING THAN PLAYING

Ultimately, AC is about going out and killing shit.  This is a flaw in a level based game, a game without a "cap" on character prowess.  It doesn’t have to be specifically about this though… the devs did a great job in creating a setting where there are lots of interesting places to explore, things to do for players of any level, a backstory which although cartoonish at times is leagues ahead of anything put out for EQ or UO.  I personally know players who are not powergamers and/or new who love this stuff, but can never find a group to go explore with at their power level.  This is because nobody plays for exploration and interest anymore.  A low level character is automatically assumed to be either a mule or someone who is waiting for their twinker to come along.  This is because as content gets buffed to match extremist players (see above), players feel the need to become extreme specialists and powerlevel like mad just to experience the content.

Somewhere along the line, the goal for powerlevelling fell the same way that the goal for perching archery and draining did… so that you don’t have to do it anymore.  Powerlevelling became the goal in itself, as evidenced by the large number of insane and lonely people living their lives in BSD, mindlessly killing the same goddamn tuskers over and over again so they can… kill more tuskers.  The same applies to macroing for experience so that some day you can step out the mana pool and suddenly own monsters… typically monsters like tuskers in BSD so you can powerlevel even more.  Many extremist templates virtually mandate twinking to powerlevel through "the hard part" just to be survivable.

You would think that someone who created a big interesting world would want people to explore it.  By implementing safe xp farming havens like the Lugian Citadels, the Olthoi Horde Nests, and the Black Spawn Dens, the team has basically said, "We don’t care.  Powerlevel forever."  By adding content that mandates extremist powerlevellers, the team has also said, "If you don’t powerlevel this type of character, you can’t explore and see new things either."  Since these are the only two things (now combined neatly into one thing) you really have open to you in AC outside of the hot cyber chat interfacing, you are out in the cold if you don’t make your "acceptable" extremist and level the fuck out of him in the most expedient way possible.

Macroing is already at a completely absurd point, to where something retarded like Cooking Ineptitude Self II merely "surges."  How many people are macroing Cooking Ineptitude Self II?  This is not seen as a problem by the team.  I disagree.  At the point where it’s obvious your playerbase is interested only in macroing and twinking up through all the levels which were once considered "core" with extremist templates they HAVE to use and using taper programs, for God’s sake just fucking offer those templates to start with, maybe include some others as "Suckmaster" and "You’ll Never Get To Do Shit," and just hand them enough xp to bring their characters up to 50 immediately.  You can easily do it with the Split Pea interface, which really by now should have been licensed from Merry and added into the client as a feature.  Fill their spellbooks, give them some no drop quest gear, instantly kill anyone who trains war magic to 40% vitae so they get used to it, add some hotkeys to spam "NEED PORTAL TO SUBWAY PLZ" and off you go.  You can even delete all the lower level dungeons, interesting scenery, basically anything that people wouldn’t see on their way to the Black Spawn Den anyway.  Save some maintenance costs.

It’s less blatant than a big button saying "You WIN!"

TOO CLOSE TO HOME

I am finally becoming sympathetic enough to the plight of mages (despite the fact that I’ve been once since beta 1) to take a harder look at the progression of mage nerfs, since I can pretty much log in to kill tuskers, or maybe go to Aerlinthe, or be a weak cleric.  I have been sorta dealing with the changes to the game as they came, understanding that when AC was in its early final, mages were (a) overpowered and (b) super commonplace due to the availability of spoiler sites and taper calculators.  Since then, melee got sticky, melee got atlans, archery got a good quest bow, melee had improved damage, magic resistance of monsters has improved, melee got hollows, mages got some useless war variants, melee got ravenous, melee got shendolain shield, archers got a speed boost, magic traps and dispel traps and magic ineptitudes and magic-immune monsters appeared, melee got improved atlans and SOLL infusions, melee got an even better shendolain shield… For a while, I understood that melee was weak from the start (especially in PvP, in PvM it had problems but still hit hard), and that they would pump melee for a while, then swing it back down, then back a little, until a balance was reached, the way that it had worked in beta with overcompensating fixes.

It never swung back down.

In fact, the changes made to "balance" the melee issue were so progressively good that in order to "compensate" for the fact that melee was so strong now, archery was also improved!  Meanwhile, the 16/12 point albatross of war magic, hampered by insane point costs/expense to raise due to formula and controlling attributes/difficulty to spec and not be a joke at everything else/insane resist geared to combat the fact that everyone has spec life/component weight and cost/powerup time 4 times slower than melee/etc., slipped further and further into obscurity and ultimately uselessness at the level of play where new content appeared, mocking its futility more than ever.

Look carefully at several melee buffs and a pattern emerges.  While some of them benefit the average player as a sort of corollary, they are unquestionably PvP enhancements.

  • Hollow Weapons.  Obviously a PvP device, you could make the argument that this is effectively an option versus not only mages but anybody who uses a robe, but as long as a melee fighter is facing you (as he is when attacking), his shield will offer him adequate protection versus the hollow.  Since shields in AC do not merely deflect blows and distribute force, but act as some sort of personal force field, it is not inconcievable that a melee PK, with a great shield and probably exceptional melee defense, suffers a great deal less than the mage, or the archer (although the archer can also have a reasonable melee defense, and cast defender on his +6% MD composite bow).  As a result of hollow weapons being a standard no-brainer option, mages who have no shield and no way to get a giant bonus to melee defense if they have it (and crappy starting coordination/quickness anyway) are more or less compelled to wear armor instead of a robe, generally a tremendous strain on the typically low-strength design.  The result:  a common mage design on Darktide is 100 10 10 10 100 100, giving up the high endurance which is so important for mages, because they MUST wear armor, in addition to boosting their staff skill, as a free racial weapon is clearly more effective than war without (possibly even despite) runcasting and god mode exploits.
  • Hollow Monsters and Dungeons.  Almost too obvious.  See above, except now magic-ignoring scarecrows wander the obsidian plains and dires of every server and stand ready to mercilessly clobber any robed person who doesn’t happen to have a shield at a moment’s notice.  There are new hollow monster dungeons besides the lugian excavations, and I expect to see more.  The medium ore dungeon in particular, supposedly a difficult (impossible unless you pretend to be a melee or are an extreme hybrid prototype) quest dungeon for mages, is now seen as a levelling spot for melees.  Name a common place which is seen as a levelling spot for mages, yet is a death trap for melees.  None.
  • Shendolain Shield.  This one is quite strikingly a powerful PvP tool.  The previous answer to the question of how archers could fight a melee with a shield was, "Brittlemail/lure his shield."  A fine strategy, if you can get close enough and accurately target the shield and cast 2 level V-VI spells in order to have a chance to damage the target with your dodgeable arrows.  The Shendolain Shield, with its impressive statistics (180 AL, invuln V, health and stamina bonuses bolstering a 10 endurance start, negligible lore requirement, easily achieved melee defense requirement for extremists) also happens to be non-enchantable. So much for Brittlemail.  The options available to the archer are (1) attack with a melee buddy to reposition the target so you can shoot him in the back, or (2) pull out your melee weapon and fight on the target’s own terms, in his area of expertise.  The disadvantages of the shield were that it weighed about as much as a large round storebought shield, and it had a value of 20k, making it droppable.
  • Improved Shendolain Shield.  So much for disadvantages.  It now weighs 480bu and has a value low enough to guard against loss with greater mana stones.  Welfare PKing ahoy.  Meanwhile, mages got the Shendolain Orb, a device requiring 240 lore and item magic (more common at 240 on hybrids than pure mages), giving you some bonus mana (useful if you’re a hybrid a little starved for it) casting Item Mastery V and Creature Mastery IV.  It’s a mage orb which is useful for… buffing fighters.
  • Chorizite.  This staple of some "fantastic new mage content" is available in a fighter-only dungeon where spells don’t work, mana gets sucked away (see below), and the enemy uses nothing but hollow weapons, mandating the use of armor, preferably with a shield.  You can harvest 40 powders at a time with a wait between trips, and the fact that you must burn tons of this hard to get material (see last rant for more) in order to research dispells means you either have to trade with fighters for the stuff or else make long and annoying trips on a weekly basis.  On the other hand, the potions made from chorizite remove ALL spells I-V rather than several random ones, don’t require insane casting skill, and don’t suck 250 mana on use like a dispell V… in other words, a perfect, fast solution to the debuff problem for lore device-using PK hybrids.  Combine this with the fact that in a PK-intensive area like Darktide, it just might be difficult for a mage to get to the sole source of this vital element on a regular basis (which also happens to be a mage deathtrap), and chorizite changes from a new spell component to a combination refreshing anti-mage nerf drink/sucker bait.

Other changes to the game, although less obviously mage nerfs, act this way in practice.

  • Life Magic.  Did I mention that life magic is the single most overpowered skill in the game?  Why then has it not been suitably balanced?  Because, far from being a mage buff, overpowered life magic is a high-level hybrid buff.  Protections, transfers, these work the same for everyone, but Imperil is a multiplier on top of everything else.  A good vuln will give you about a 2.5x multiplier to a war spell.  A vuln + imperil will give you an ungodly multiplier with your weapon.  Aphonous: "I can one-shot things with 1000 health with bow, war will never come anywhere near that."  You can kill the Shendolain Crystal, a boss monster with 700-800 health, with one arrow and imperil/vuln.  You can one-shot an oak target drudge with your mage using a bow, vuln and imperil VI.  These multipliers apply to melee as well, which is why a melee with a clue will always beat out a mage in a straight-up fight versus the same opponent:  use Imperil and do 10 times the damage, use a shield and take 1/10 the damage.
  • Attack Skill and Defense Modifiers.  Does anyone on the team understand the implications of modifiers when they simply get a new monster, give it a 400 defense to everything, and let er rip?  I personally own a katar which, when buffed with Heartseeker and Defender VI, give the wielder a FREE 25% BONUS to attack skill and 29% to defense!  Put this in perspective:  a good, moderately high level UC character with base attack and defense skills of 300 plus full creature buffs has an effective attack of (300+63)x1.25=454 with this weapon.  Effective melee defense is (300+68)x1.29=475.  There is no benefit to casting spells on a wand.  There are no wands with skill modifiers.  WAKE THE FUCK UP.
  • Dispell traps/mana blight.  There are at least nine of these in the Aerfalle keep alone, something like 6 in a hallway filled with fast-spawning nightmare wisps which have been known to resist war 390 9 out of 10 times.  They litter the lugian excavation sites, surround the Shendolain crystal, etc. etc. etc.  One can surmise that these were put in place to prevent people from going in "welfare" to increase item loss on death, but in practice it renders mages naked and is only slightly inconveniencing to fighters and hybrids, as they do not dispell item spells like Blood Drinker and Impen, only creature and life buffs.  At times they can be a positive boon, as anyone who has seen a melee/archer deliberately walk through a dispell trap to rid himself of debuffs can attest to.  This problem can be slightly offset by having buffing devices and high arcane lore, a skill usually trained or specialized by hybrids but not by mandate-optimized mages, as the latter had to spend an inordinate amount of credits on his attack skill.  An attack skill which, coincidentally, becomes useless at zero mana after a mana blight, unlike archery or melee.  The idea in itself isn’t horrible, and a few here and there just to keep people on their toes might have been interesting, but nine?
  • Life/War Ineptitude.  To be honest, when monsters began to cast this on me I was actually interested, as finally there were things in the plains which were using well-selected, target-specific attack spells.  That is, until I realized that the same spells are cast on melees and archers, who can always do damage despite a temporary inability to vuln, if in fact they choose to vuln at all (many don’t), and to whom war ineptitude is meaningless.  An ineptitude V for -30 skill is like a 20-30 level debuff for a mage, whose attack skill (for example war, 16/28 credits, based on foc+self/4, versus unarmed combat, 0/6 credits, based on str+coord/3) is already only tenuously effective against his target, and in some cases completely hopeless after being nerfed.  Monsters do not cast weapon ineptitudes.  They do not use blood loather or impen/bane to make themselves immune to players’ physical attacks.  I think maybe 4 of them carry normal shields.
  • Quest Content.  Scenario:  A high level mage gets 3 "uber" quest items.  He gets the Aerfalle Pallium, the Aerfalle Staff, and the Shendolain Orb, all with the help of characters who can actually hit things and fight through the 8 billion anti-mage traps they will encounter.  These three items are mere status symbols, as he cannot afford to sacrifice points of magic skill by relying on V’s when everything resists him at full VI buff already, plus an orb which is useful for buffing his fighter vassals.  A high level melee hybrid gets 3 "sorta uber" quest items.  He gets the Shendolain Shield, the Baron’s Amulet of Life Giving, and a Peerless Black Fire Atlan Staff.  These three items afford him 30 points of health, 30 points of stamina (both of which can be further augmented by a "standard" Endurance device), Invulnerability V, Weapon Mastery IV, Cold Protection IV, Blood Drinker VI, Heart Seeker IV, Swift Killer IV, and the scary scary Curse of Black Fire, -50 to a Magic Defense score that wasn’t doing anything for him anyway.  Many of the quest items available to him (esp. the Atlan Staff) are not considered status symbols at all, because their utility is amazing to the point that they are often considered standard gear for high levelers.

I’m getting slightly off track.  Back to why the slew of aggressively antimage props are attributable to a perspective coming from a purely PvP standpoint.  Why is it that a common cry from devs in #asherons-call runs along the lines of, "As if mages aren’t overpowered enough already."?  How is it possible that it seems reasonable to regularly increase damage from melee patch after patch while at the same time rendering mages impotent through overtly aggressive anti-mage content?

Because mages are still powerful at PvP.

Wait, let me rephrase that… mages used to be gods at PvP, and can still occasionally kill melees with a lucky fat war VI or drain to 40 health and streak VI or, most commonly, by being forced to exploit a runcasting bug to land shit on their targets, but once upon a time they were overpowered and so they must be beaten into total submission whether they are PK or not.

This is the problem with perspective.  I really like the idea of devs actually playing the game they’re supposedly working on.  I really do.  It’s so much better than the Lady MOI "I log in a god character for events in UO" approach.  A dev team that actively plays the game it’s supporting has an insight into how the game works.  It’s well known that many of the devs play on Darktide nigh-exclusively as 10 endurance extremist spec life melee hybrids.  With a big fat shield in front of you, the only thing which really consistently hurts you a lot is an unfortunate helping of war to the head, because it’s not affected by shields and a typical hybrid has pretty poor magic defense.  (Not like any player has "good" magic defense by monster standards…)

"Hey, that 300 war skill somehow mysteriously got past my 180 magic defense, and it hurt a lot!  Mages are obviously still overpowered… BUFF THE MONSTERS!"  Wham… 400 magic skill, 320 magic defense.  Ineptitudes.  "Haha weakass mages… wait robes can be baned?  Oops… Hollows!"  "What about bow, it’s like war but twice as cheap and faster and harder hitting and can’t be resisted and… nah arrows are stopped by shields, no problem there.  We’re approaching BALANCE!"  "Should we test out those new dillos, in case they have some sort of bug which allows them to kill level 100 players instantly with 3 kinds of damage?… Shut up!  We’ll fix it in December or something!  I MUST OWN THEM ALL!   MUAHAHHAHAHA…"

And somewhere on Frostfell, a "diverse" non-PK mage is sitting at the edge of the exciting new content thinking about his 2% success rate versus relatively low-level creatures, and loads up Baldur’s Gate II…

By the by, end result of this campaign:  Mages are still decent in PvP.  Mages who are not PvP are utterly castrated.  Expect more of the same.  If you’re still here.

THE SOLUTION

Nothing.

Asheron’s Call as a game, warts and all, is basically done.  War cannot be magically brought up to merit its insane cost in credits, nor can those credits be refunded.  How can you give credits back to everyone who spec’d war at the beginning and then let them retroactively use the credits to spec something else?  Can you suddenly say, sorry shields are weird, they now help you deflect attacks but don’t absorb everything except war like a big fluffy force field comfortably?  No more than you can suddenly say, drains now work like they logically should and are useful only until your own health/stamina/mana is at 100%.  Or yes, sorry we really fucked up with endurance, it now affects how much stamina you lose through exertion, and how much damage you eat.  The content and mechanics of AC have been influenced by misinformed devs and greedy players in ways that have been effectively set in stone.

You can try to add content other than fighting to the game, elements in intrigue, etc., but due to the limitations of the engine the climax to every goddamn "event" must involve a big hairy fight for large groups of uber specialists at the top of the food chain, or so it seems.  Since the playerbase has evolved largely into a group of mindless tusker/coral smackers who feel it’s worth their time and energy to kill shit for 20 hours to buy a point of stamina, the way to keep them interested is not to challenge their imaginations, but to afford them opportunities to show off how well they can own the supermonster of the month by hitting the delete key.

Just for fun, here are some ideas that won’t be used because they might dangerously unbalance the game in favor of those mages who are so godlike they need to be beaten on the skull every patch.  These proposals are largely ones to bring war magic in line with skills requiring 1/4 the skill credits to get equivalent effectiveness.  These are sort of off the top of my head and directly ripped off from Aphonous and Kynn in IRC since I have little faith in actually effecting any serious change at this point:

  • Flatten the bell curve of contested rolls.  The way contested rolls works, especially for magic defense, means that a 20-30 point difference is the difference between being competitive with the target and being a eunuch.  Flattening the curves even a bit would mean that while non extremists would certainly not be as effective against insanely hard content, they have a hope in hell of connecting with the target.  Not as good, but possible.  This should be what trained means relative the specialization, as opposed to the current definition of "may as well have trained nothing."
  • Expand ineptitudes to cover combat skills in addition to magic skills and primary attributes.  Maybe losing an effective 30 levels of skill gain could be looked at as a challenge.  Fine.  Let everyone enjoy.  Maybe even limit the inepts to free skills (UC/Dagger/Staff) so as to counterfeit an image of giving the slightest bit of consideration for non-free skills.
  • Wands with modifiers and enchantability for modifiers.  Modifiers to weapons and item enchantment change effective skills in ways that must have just been overlooked out of sheer ignorance.  Example:  Specialized character with 300 unbuffed melee defense using a UC weapon with a +13% defense modifier (I have several personally) and Defender VI = +30% free melee defense, bringing it to 390.  Nerf Golem with buffed 390 melee and a +5% atlan staff with Defender VI = +22% free melee defense, bringing it to 476.  Similar formulae apply to attack modifiers and Heartseeker.  Even worse:  archer with 350 buffed bow skill using full accuracy and Heartseeker VI on a composite with a +6% natural attack = 350 x1.5 x1.23 = 645.75 effective bow skill.  In comparison, mages carry newbie wands because they don’t eat mana and because mages self-buff for masteries.  Mages rarely even care what the war spell is on their wand, except that if its circle is higher than the mastery it marks the wand for quick disposal.  Monster defenses do NOT take these modifiers into account.  Period.
  • War, as a primary attack form, ESPECIALLY one which costs as much as it does in terms of skill credits, has no critical potential and no way to increase damage through experience like melee skills and archery.  The only reason for mages to increase war skill is to overcome the borked resistance formula, which can be somewhat compensated for with wand modifiers.  War Magic needs to have a damage modifier based on either skill or a controlling primary attribute.  A level 300 mage will do the same damage, take just as long to cast, burn the same components, and be unable to affect the very same antimage creatures the level 70 mage suffers with.  He will also have exactly the same mana when passing through one of the umpteen million mana blights that decorate every new "mage" quest area.

These changes don’t even begin to touch on the astounding problems with attack speed, REALISTIC damage over time (not on a fucking oak drudge), massive downtime, etc… all of which have been commented on before in other forums and have largely been dismissed out of hand as baseless whining, mostly by people who don’t play mages.  If for some reason you still don’t get it, please click here for a short comparison of war and melee by Aphonous/Allerion/Jay/Alee/whatever he’s called now.

Note that many of the above changes with the exception of the bell curve flattening, which applies to all contested skill checks, are specific to mages and, more specifically, to war magic, the most expensive near-useless skill in the high game.  As I write this, the following conversation happens at Sho Roadside, a very common comment whenever any recently introduced content is discussed:

Alecia says "Are the new islands worth seeing?"
Triggermike says, "not if you are a mage, Alecia"
Triggermike says "my patron (level 62) can’t hit em"

As far as the more wide-ranging problems that stem from gearing all new content for a specific type of character played in a certain way, I have already offered my solution.

Nothing.

AC is slowly but surely transforming from a misnamed "role-playing game" into a "superhero fighting game."  Oh sure there are plenty of people left who roleplay, whatever that overabused term has come to mean in this genre, people who don’t read CoD to check out uber templates or spoilers, who don’t compete to see who gets the most kills in the BSD.  They want to be engaged by the world, to see the story unfold, maybe take part in it.

They can’t anymore.  They can’t touch the high end stuff at all, and will never be able to without becoming something different.  They can’t touch the low end stuff because it wasn’t important enough to test and find out if was horribly bugged and won’t be fixed for a month.  They can’t affect the world at all, or even get a glimpse into the story without resorting to a spoiler site.  All they can do is keep playing, maybe make yet another heroic attempt to root the tumeroks out of Dryreach in the hopes that it might have an impact this time.  And eventually, they will either "adapt" (design and play in order to exploit flaws) or "die" (be relegated to a life of boredom, or cancel account).

I’ve been giving this choice a lot of thought.

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