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Reichmar's Rant: Synergy, CC and the Fear of Ultimates
by Reichmar12, Member — Category: Editorials
Post #25539

In the weeks and months that we, the fans, have been waiting for The Elder Scrolls Online, one of the key features that gameplay hawks like myself have been anxious over is the push for synergy abilities to be actually … useful. Now, to be fair, synergy abilities aren’t revolutionary – Guild Wars 2, for example, has a combo mechanic that accomplishes [roughly] the same thing. But where Zenimax Online Studios, and Lead Gameplay designer Nick Konkle, differ is a desire for this mechanic to play a central role in both PvE and PvP combat -- an emotion that they conveyed in a recent Game Informer Interview. Another primary item in TESO combat is that of ultimate abilities – a mega power that you can fire off after building up a resource in combat. With the potential for these abilities to be really fun, but also really gamebreaking, Mr. Konkle made a point to defend their implementation and allay concerns over their use. Finally, the team made an effort to address crowd control with a little more specificity. In this rant, I dive into TESO combat and discuss the role of synergy abilities in combat scenarios, I look at ultimate abilities and what we know so far, and I revisit a favorite issue of mine: crowd control.

At a very basic level, synergy abilities allow a player to affect an ability used by another player. The clear intent behind this mechanic is to provide in impetus for closer cooperation between players besides “burn that guy down”. To give a recent example, in Guild Wars 2, if an archer shot an arrow at an enemy, and if that arrow passed through fire laid down by an ally, the arrow would inflict fire damage on its intended target. The same basic principle impacted other abilities and other classes from ranged to melee, and across the magic spectrum. It provided a neat little mechanic that added extra flavor and a little bit more “oompff” to abilities.

However compared to what we’re being promised in The Elder Scrolls Online, that mechanic appears lackluster in comparison. In a recent Game Informer video interview, Lead Gameplay Designer Nick Konkle started the segment talking about synergy, using a trap laid by a rogue character as an example. Now, in itself, laying down a trap is a very, very old concept. But where Mr. Konkle expanded the tradition was indicating that those traps can be influenced, or enhanced, by allies. Mages can plant a rune that silences enemies caught in the trap and warriors can drop caltrops (if you don’t know what those are, imagine being barefoot and stepping on the most painful Lego pieces you can think of).

This interactivity is not only much more in depth than what the MMO playerbase is accustomed to for the most part, but it points to a larger aspect of their over gameplay design. Using the traps as an example, Mr. Konkle points to the concept of ‘area denial’ – the ability to control the battlefield and fight battles where you want, and on your terms. Counters play a large role here. While synergy abilities can be devastating, they can also be mitigated with buffs and healing abilities – you might not want to walk through that firestorm now, but you’ll feel much better about it when a healer places an AoE heal over the same area, for example. In this way, large scale combat in ESO almost centers around the deployment of AoE abilities, synergies and their counters. Creature Combat Designer Maria Aliprando claimed that battles, at least in what they’ve been able to observe, tend to morph and progress around this aspect of gameplay.


This gameplay mechanic isn’t relegated to the world of RvR. PvE encounters, and the AI in general, are designed to make use of synergies and the tactics around their use creating a more ‘organic’ (their favorite word besides tactical) experience. Dungeons and raids are intended to be group vs group and not group vs mob. It appears that this is a constant and intentional attempt to bridge the gap between what players experience in RvR combat, and what raiders will experience in AI-driven content. In my humble opinion, this is one of the most positive and forward thinking goals in terms of game design. Players are pushed into tactical roles all the time – they’re forced to think on their feet, to use their spellbook wisely. As a theorycrafter, a hardcore raider and PvPer, and a fan of game design, there is nothing that I dislike more than players behaving like zombies – standing still and spamming abilities without thought. Anything that turns on the lights upstairs is gold in my book.

Another big component of TESO’s combat design philosophy is the use of ultimate abilities. Now, I’m going to be honest, I have concerns about this. These kinds of powers make sense and are fun in smaller group oriented games like LoL, but when you try to apply them in a setting including hundreds of players, things can get nasty. Game Informer’s Adam Biessener echoed my concerns when he bluntly asked, “How do you keep that from being unfair in PvP when you get ‘Ultted’ on by three guys, right? Is it your fault, just don’t get ‘Ultted’ on?” Logically, we all need to recognize that if you’re getting targeted by four mages and they all hit you with a powerful spell, you’re gonna’ have a bad time. There isn’t much you can do. But distributing IWIN buttons is something that should be done carefully.

My concern was addressed when Mr. Konkle flat-out stated that there are no ultimate abilities that simply do damage-on-activation. Their logic is that such an ability would simply add a layer to a rotation, and rotations are something they’re against. Ultimate abilities are, instead, duration oriented. They allow you to do something over X period of time, whether that be setting an area on fire, or summoning an Atronach, to use their examples. Because of these cases, I am led to believe that ultimate abilities are quite avoidable and able to be countered with abilities of your own. All of these facts make me feel more comfortable that ultimates aren’t instant IWIN buttons. That makes me happy.


One other thing that I found interesting was the discussion on crowd control and diminishing returns in the interview that I’ve been citing. Now, I’ve talked about CC before in my very first rant. I personally love the mechanic, and love it when it’s a part of greater strategy. One thing I don’t love is when you can be rendered useless in a fight through chain CC. We’ve known for quite some time that CC-breaking abilities are a big part of combat – using your stamina resource, you’re able to break out of a stun or other crowd control effect. In itself, that doesn’t reduce the risk of chain CC as you can still be hit again and again once you break free. Therefore, what I really enjoyed hearing was their intent on a 3-second immunity timer upon breaking a CC. While that doesn’t eliminate the risk of getting repeatedly controlled, it gives you a good window to be able to counter and strike, or escape and evade. It also plays into their desire to remove ‘chance’ from combat – citing examples of passive avoidance, or a hidden diminishing returns timer.

Ultimately, without being able to see the implementation of these mechanics, I can’t make a definite argument as to their successes or failure. However on the surface, and based on what we know, I’m pretty happy with what I see. I’m not going to be naïve though: I’m still pretty concerned about how ultimates can drive a battle. I’m envisioning scenarios where everyone holds their ultimates and dumps them at the same time, which forces those on the receiving end to counter with their own, leading to a situation where a ton of cool sparks fly, but nothing ends up happening because they’re dumped almost simultaneously. Essentially, I’m concerned about them being a layer of combat that devolves into redundancy. I’m also still concerned about synergies and their balance, but I trust that ZoS understands the risks. I’m not losing sleep over their CC decisions though. Those are great.

But what I really came away with was a rekindled confidence in their design philosophy over tactics. I really believe that they’re trying to turn players into players and not into button-spamming zombies and that, my nerdy friends, is a beautiful thing.


What do you think about the Synergy abilities in TESO? What's your opinion on Ultimates? Do you agree with their decision to have a 3 second immunity after every CC break instead of diminishing returns?



The opinions in this article are those of Reichmar and do not reflect the views of TESOF.com, Zenimax Online Studios or any of its subsidiaries.
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Comments on Reichmar's Rant: Synergy, CC and the Fear of Ultimates
Post #26266
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I don't see the problem with the ultimates.

As long as you keep the meter build relatively slow, slow enough to make an ultimate really an ultimate, there won't be any of this abuse everyone fears.

And the idea that they're not instant-damage anything, but rather a gradual buff/debuff just reinforces this.
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Post #26267
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Everything sounds awesome, cant wait to see this stuff in action.

Now when it comes to the Ultimates they sound like Dragon Shouts or Powers from Skyrim to me, something powerful but not game breaking. Something rewarding to pull off but won't totally gimp you if you don't use it. Adds variety to combat and the potential for crazy cool fights.
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Post #26351
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I agree that the end goal of game play should be getting the player involved mentally. I've played SWTOR, and still do from time to time, and while I enjoy it being a Star Wars fan it needs work, and in fact i would be overjoyed if they switched to a GW2 combat style. However, even the GW2 style of combat needs work. What drew me in with the ES games was the freedom offered in combat with the only restriction being your stamina/endurance. I could switch from the sword to a bow and throw a spell when needed. It was amazing being able to block some damage. If Zenimax Online Studios really wants to bring the roof down they need to stick as close as possible to the classic ES style of combat. That being said they will need to be very careful when it comes to "Ultimate" abilities. They should not be instant kills, which makes me glad to hear they are not taking that route. However, they should not be scared to allow multiply people to target the same person with "Ultimate" abilities, as it would be no different the being attacked by multiply people with regular abilities; one way or the other in that case you are going to go down.

So simply put I agree with Reichmar12 to some degree
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Post #26364
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One ultimate has already been talked about: a VERY powerful fire DoT that was able to be used during the pre-alpha test that a few people were invited to. It was basically an AoE DoT centered around yourself. The character that was able to use it also had a kind of pull skill that has a slight stun and a knockdown/stun skill. I think certain ultimates, when paired with other skills, have a very high possibility of being basically "i win" buttons. Think of the combo I just stated, mixed with some other kind of fire resistance debuff. However, it was also stated that to use your ultimate you need you build "finesse". Finesse is gained by being skillfull in battle: blocking attacks, dodging and enemy's blows, interrupting enemy attacks, etc. In other words: the more skilled you are, the more ultimates you get to throw out. If implemented correctly, I think ultimates are a GREAT way to reward the player for not being a zombie while playing and they have my full support.

As for the synergy abilities, I always have some apprehension for these kinds of mechanics. If there's one thing that will really annoy me, it's setting down some kind of trap ability or DoT or AoE that lasts for a decently long while only to have someone run up and take away the effect using a very short-lived synergy. I think if a synergy is to happen, the two original effects should remain and least moderately independent of the new synergy effect. That way a thoughtfully and skillfully laid trap won't be ruined by someone just trying to synergy all over the place.

In an oil + fireball scenario, that oil might be the only thing stopping a large group of skeletons from swarming the group. Then a mage comes by and lights it on fire. Sure it kills the skeletons currently in the slowing area, but right after there's another wave of skeletons with nothing to stop them.

It basically all comes down to correct implementation.
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Post #26432
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(January 23rd 2013, 02:27 PM)Vandalus Wrote: making an Elder Scrolls game truly multiplayer, and not just a game played by a bunch of people together at the same time.

This is really my biggest fear for this game. All the ideas sound nice (and pretty close to TERA, which I like very much) but, apart from the Lore and the fact I've been playing TES since ARENA, I don't see much difference that would make me switch from TERA to TESO.

As for the synergy abilities, they already existed back in EQ2 so nothing new under the sun and they exist in other games (yes, in TERA too).
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Post #26496
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I think that ultimate should be a part in building specific gameplay.
For instance, a ranger using bow attacks should have the possibility to choose between different ultimate, such as "increase your arrow speed and range for a short time" or "decrease the cooldown of your bow attacks for a short period" or even "All arrow attacks poison your target".
But also, synergy with your actual skills. To my first example, "increase arrow speed and range", there could be an attack that increases damage, depending on how far is your target. To me 2nd example, "decrease cooldown of your bow attacks", there could be an attack that stacks up things on your target, and deal more and more damage the more you stack this thing (bleeding ?) and when you reach X stacks, deals bonus damage and remove the stacks. Or, for the third example, a attack could deal more damage on poisoned target and / or bleeding target, while another one bleeds target, so you have to use these alternately.
That's just an example.

About crowd control, I think they should be a reward for using CC right. For instance, immune the target when already CC is a good idea, like stuns in GW1. You can stun someone, but you can't stun someone who's already stun, so you have to think wisely before using a CC. I don't like short immune after a CC, so I think they simply should be rare enough to avoid "chain control". But 3 or 4 talented players should be able to CC another player for 5-6 seconds. Just simply avoid controls such as "morph the target into a sheep for 10 seconds", it's gamebreaking. Things like "a flash disorients the target for 2 seconds" (for a mage) or "fire a arrow that stuns the target for 2 sec" (ranger) or even "stun your target for 2 seconds with your hammer" (warrior) looks better to me.
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Post #26687
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I see you also haw mix feeling about ultimate ability, since we don't know how they actually work, i am hoping we need a lot of fines to activate them, so we only use them in 10m of combat or so, unless its weak effect so in that case it can be less time, i just hope we don't get to spam them in each battle.

Oh i also wonder will they haw "Blind" cc, in which case other players screen gets all White and they cent see, like actual blind, somthin like flash graned in FPS, that would be so awesome. A sun illusion/alternation spell that blind target, or flash grenade from assassin, or Blind dart from rogue, >_<, hope they add any of this.
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Post #28490
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I'm excited to see how combat plays out. I love the idea of the 3-second immunity to CCs. Synergy will make playing as a team all the more critical. And ultimates, as long as they do them the way they're claiming to be, shouldn't be so overpowered that they break the game.
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Post #28534
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I see how this could all work and am glad that it will at least require some skill in combat nothing gets more irritating then when some annoying person seemingly endlessly repeats over powered attacks again and again
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Post #31081
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(January 24th 2013, 03:46 AM)Lakthazer Wrote:
(January 23rd 2013, 02:27 PM)Vandalus Wrote: making an Elder Scrolls game truly multiplayer, and not just a game played by a bunch of people together at the same time.

This is really my biggest fear for this game. All the ideas sound nice (and pretty close to TERA, which I like very much) but, apart from the Lore and the fact I've been playing TES since ARENA, I don't see much difference that would make me switch from TERA to TESO.

As for the synergy abilities, they already existed back in EQ2 so nothing new under the sun and they exist in other games (yes, in TERA too).

I play TERA as well, 50 Amani Berserker. As for Synergy in TERA? It's almost neglible, just some debuffs, stuns, and knockdowns that help other people execute some of their abilities with more strength, and most of them one player can do without another's aid (Flatten>Leaping Strike, for example). EQ2 did have it, but it was more of a feature. What it sounds like they are trying to do here is make it an INTEGRAL part of combat. You are FORCED to work together, not just be a bunch of players wacking on something and avoiding getting hit. You need to use your abilities along with other people's in order to be victorious, because it's going to be a BIG deal, and the monsters are sure going to use synergy against you (which as far as I know will be a first in ESO).
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