Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Latest developer blog highlights combat in SWTOR

Last week Bioware released a surprise developer video showcasing information about combat in SWTOR. The video included scenes we’ve seen previously but it did include a handful of scenes that we hadn’t yet seen, including one of a Sith Warrior fighting two Jedi and using an explosive Force Push to propel the two Jedi off a ledge. That was truly magnificent and made me laugh as visuals swam through my mind of Shaman and Druids using the same sort of mechanics to propel attackers and defenders alike off the cliff in AB and off the land bridge in EoTS in WoW. I can see how that might be a very fun ability in SWTOR as well. While much of the developer video illustrates information we already knew it was still interesting to hear them discuss the ideals behind the combat system and then see a few select scenes highlighting specific abilities of the classes.

Of course my favorite was the scene with the Sith Inquisitor using a devastating Force Lightning area attack to kill three attackers. But next on my list was a dervish ability used by a Jedi Counselor to ward off attacks by two Sith Warriors. That looked truly amazing and made me realize all the more there is still so much about the classes that we don’t know. Bioware has said they want to veer away from the holy trinity of classes and we’ve now seen several instances of classes using specific abilities that lends some credence to them having done exactly that. In typical MMOs the holy trinity of healer, tank, and dps classes creates relationships between the classes as no one class can do everything. Players are thusly encouraged (required) to group and play with others for mutual benefit. But that works best in a more open, traditional MMO whereas SWTOR is expected to be more attuned to individual game play and will be highly instanced.

Healers are highly defensive in the sense they can heal themselves or shield themselves from damage but generally have limited offensive abilities. They’re primarily responsible for healing others in a group. Tanks are highly defensive in the sense their abilities are generally aligned to reduce or shield themselves from damage, but have limited offensive abilities and usually have no or limited means to heal themselves. DPS classes are typically all about offense and have limited defensive capabilities and either no, or limited means to heal themselves. Many MMOs have what are called hybrid classes, which do not fit any one of the typical roles in the holy trinity, but rather have abilities pulled from two or all three of the roles. Balance is maintained (arguably) by limiting the abilities to some level shy of a corresponding ability in a pure class. Blizzard calls it the “hybrid tax” in WoW. Bioware appears to be developing classes to be all hybrids, which really isn’t as much of a stretch in MMO development as many people took their statement to believe, not realizing there really isn’t anything new under the sun in terms of class role creation. When you shear away all the fluff from a class there truly is only three things you can do with it. Tank (absorb damage and shield others from it), Heal (self explanatory), or DPS (also self-explanatory).

Hybrid classes are terrific in enabling a more solo-istic game play style, and removes many of the requirements that force group or cooperative play. It’s a theme we’re seeing more and more often in recent MMOs as developers are coming to grips with the real desires of those playing MMOs. Players, by and large, want a world where they can group with others and play cooperatively, but do not want to be hobbled and required to do so at all times. Bioware is simply following the trend. I’d expect content to be the determinant in regards to group cooperative play being required or not. The class story will probably be mostly solo-able as will much of the planet and other story-arcs. But there will be content that you will need to group for.

In the case of the video we see a DPS class (Sith Warrior) using a decidedly defensive ability that I can only assume will have some kind of stun or root mechanic appended to it. When coupled with the known force rush ability and strong offensive attack abilities can be used to effectively deal with multiple attackers quickly. The class also has defensive capabilities like parry and dodge that are MMO combat mechanic staples and can only assume the class will have other niche abilities. And we can assume the Jedi has the same abilities, though perhaps presented differently. What isn’t known yet is the level to which each class can heal itself.

In the case of the Jedi Inquisitor, we see what has been called a ranged/support class, use a strong defensive melee ability (dervish). In another scenes we also see a Jedi Counselor use a force push ability to debilitate an attacker by raising him in the air and slamming him back to the ground. If we assume the Counselor and the Inquisitor are roughly analogous to each other we have two support classes that have a bevy of defensive and offensive abilities available to them but we have not yet seen their healing abilities though Bioware has indicated they will have them. The classes are primarily ranged so you’d expect these classes to be standing in the back either attacking or healing their party members.

Much the same for the remaining four classes – Imperial Agent, Bounty Hunter, Smuggler, and Republic Trooper. Each has been shown to have a bevy of offensive and defensive abilities but information on their individual ability to heal themselves is yet to be known.

Right now is a very trying time in the MMO development cycle. The marketing machine is in full swing, creating hype everywhere it can get its message out to; the “community” is in overdrive attempting to find out more about the game and in discussing the pros and cons of various game elements; and the developers are still working on key aspects of the game and will be able to release details only slowly. We’re still undoubtedly about a year away from release, so the beta period probably won’t even begin until some time this Summer when we could expect to start hearing a little more about abilities, mechanics, and game play.