Sunday, August 24, 2008

On the WAR path

Sidenote: This is a very simple blog. I play games. I write about them. If I had fun I'm more likely to write something enthusiastic, if I got frustrated I'm more likely to write a rant. There is no agenda for or against certain games. Nor is it inconsistent to write both good and bad things about the same game, because that is how games are, they have both good and bad sides. My apologies to those simple minds who feel the need to classify me as "game X fanboi" or "game Y hater", but that is not how this works.

So while I was having a lot of fun during the Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning preview weekend, I also noticed a huge problem: Pathing. Previously I had played mostly melee characters, where that wasn't so obvious. Or maybe the problem was introduced with a recent patch. But the Archmage I tested this weekend is a ranged spellcaster, and if you hit a mob with your first spell and that mob either stands still or runs into any other direction than directly towards you, that becomes quite noticeable. So I began to experiment. The Archmage has a lot of instant cast DOTs, think warlock/healer hybrid. So instead of standing still, I started to run around and cast DOTs on mobs. And that worked far too well. Quite often I could totally confuse the mob, which due to the bad pathing routines was unable to follow me, and wasted valuable time to just stand around or run in the wrong direction.

As I was playing from US servers, but from Europe, I wondered if that was lag related. So I logged on the European servers and tested the same strategy with a level 31 shaman, and that worked as well. I could cast a spell on a cat, and as soon as the cat had run up to me, I would just run away, turn around, and fire more spells on the cat, which hadn't followed but was just standing around looking for a path. So it isn't lag, it is really the pathing routine. Back on the US servers I discovered a public quest with nobody else around, where in the second stage I had to destroy 8 bolt throwers, each guarded by a group of 4 mobs, one of them a "champion". Normally that would be hard to solo. But I just ran around a lot and cast spells on the bolt thrower, and the 4 guardians never caught me. I even managed to do that with up to three bolt throwers one directly after the other, and 12 confused mobs running after me and never finding a good path.

That is really, really bad programming, and shouldn't happen in a triple A MMORPG. Pathing, and the prevention of exploits based on it, are very important. You simply don't want ranged classes that can't be hit by mobs, because the mobs never get there. Even the most bug-ridden MMOs of the last years at least got pathing right. Mythic will have some serious work to do if they want to fix that before release.

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