Tuesday, December 6, 2011

SWTOR difficulty level

One of the more remarkable things about the SWTOR open beta weekend was that I died. Several times. Both in group and in solo situations. And I liked it. Of course I was trying all sorts of crazy stuff, for example I had a "Hogger" moment with my Sith Inquisitor when at level 5 I came across a level 6 elite mob and absolutely had to try to kill it. No luck, got killed 3 times, then went back to base, leveled up by handing in some quests, trained up, and then went back are killed that elite mob. Even got a piece of blue loot, although it was heavy armor and completely useless to my character. Actually I have the impression that heavy armor loot drops from a level 6 elite mob are completely useless to everybody, as far as I could tell nobody gets heavy armor skill before level 10.

My character also died when trying to run through a cave full of mobs instead of carefully fighting them one by one. I died in a group at a boss which had a special attack that sucked everybody close to him and then hit us all with a point blank AoE. Thus we learned to move away as quickly as possible when the boss does that, and killed him on the next try. In fact, in pretty much all cases where I died it was clearly a case of me having done something in a sub-optimal fashion, and the death taught me how to do it better. And that is how it should be.

It is extremely difficult to unlearn skills in real life. Nils claims that the early game in WoW is actually quite hard, and only gets trivial past level 10 or so. But when I recently tried a new undead warlock in the free version of WoW (unlimited free play of WoW until level 20), I never felt in any danger, and quickly got bored. Unless you use the looking for group functionality to earn blue gear you don't need in low-level dungeons, it is rather likely that you play up to level 85 without a single death in World of Warcraft. Which not only is boring, but also fails to teach you how to play better.

I wouldn't want to play a game in which I need a dozen wipes before killing each simple quest mob. But the premise of these games is that you play a hero through his adventures, and if those adventures are completely safe, you don't feel much like a hero. Thus I do think that a game in which you can die if you risk too much is more attractive than a game which prevents you from taking risks. I find it stupid that in World of Warcraft you can't accept quests that are too high in level for you, and the xp rewards for killing higher level mobs are deliberately designed to give you less xp per hour than if you farm easy green mobs. If you give players a wider range of levels of quests and opponents to tackle, with rewards for trying the riskier stuff, you get a game in which everybody can play at exactly the difficulty level he wants. You don't need an "easy - normal - heroic" difficulty setting like for endgame raids now, you simply present the player with the option of doing quests below his level, at his level, or above his level, with rewards that are in line with the higher risk and time effort necessary to tackle the higher levels of difficulty.

I will have to see in how far this is possible in Star Wars: The Old Republic. But my first impression is that leveling is less trivial than in World of Warcraft, and that is a good thing.

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