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5.4, 5.5 and the Bittersweet Road Ahead

Crowfall has certainly come a long way in its three years. When we started this blog, it was just two guys (one who mostly acts as an editor now) with a game nowhere close to completion. I personally have taken a ton of flack for not spending my waking free time playtesting, especially when coupled with being the primary author of a theorycrafting blog (and all of my other projects ::cough::). Yet, tracing back my roots to when I really enjoyed this sport of mathing up my gameplay, I find myself oddly entertained by recent developments.

I remember some of the criticisms of my Doctrine piece. No one thought it was necessary to plan your guild’s “build” strategy to that extent. Some recent changes to how training and the VIP system work, absolutely lessened it from “critically important” to merely “important”. Yet, as 5.4 landed and the Crowfall vision™ for crafting and gathering started to be realized, it quickly dawned on quite a few of the naysayers. Wait, I need a dedicated crafter to make gear? or better, I need how many alts to make this stuff? Instead of debating which combat trees to pursue, players started picking between gathering or crafting choices. The field of viable choices (as determined by the hardcore tester playerbase) expanded with this VIP change, but the burdens and realities of succeeding in Crowfall did not.

Guilds are essentially a sort of pseudo network of (potentially) organized players. These networks would need redundancies and plans, long before any would use them. Many guilds recognized that the organizations who had these plans in place for achieving critical mass in crafting and gathering would be way out in front of their enemies. Before our eyes, players began to see glimpses of what Crowfall would become. We saw assassins and duelists moving about, seeking out enemy crafters to loot their corpses and ruin guild master-plans. We saw players spending their entire days crafting or gathering, and combat players waiting eagerly for the results. It was at this moment, the glory of what Crowfall might become was revealed. The machinations were exposed. The curtains pulled back.

Then, in an instant, it was taken away. The sullen truth of what Crowfalls soft-launch would look like was laid bare.

Soft-Launch: A Bleak and Harsh Winter

It struck me as oddly poetic that Crowfall would likely incorporate seasons and that each campaign would culminate in a brutal Winter. After 5.4 launched, it felt like the opposite had happened and we had kicked off a campaign in the dead of Winter. When 5.4 launched on the “Live” test server, a technical upgrade forced them to wipe the entirety of all skill trees of the active testers. Every one was effectively “restarted” to zero. Happening at the same time, Advanced Crafting was altered to require the use of crafting stations. These stations would only be found inside contested keeps and forts (at least in the 3-faction campaigns). The race to fashion advanced gear was on… except everyone was a tortoise.

Before you could even get serious about crafting, you had to gather. You had to gather with horribly awful tools made from subpar materials despite being surrounded by a cornucopia of high-end resource nodes. Everything was taunting the playerbase; the tools, the nodes, the skill tree and the arduous time it would take to be able to craft anything of merit or note. It is, to be frank, a bleak herald of things to come.

Shortly after it became clear that most people were going to be in for a rough time, a quick tweet to the amazing J Todd Coleman and he implemented a fix for the players. ACE implemented a radical 10X speed increase on the training of all skills. This solved everything… for awhile.

The problem is what happens at launch? Or worse, what happens when new players entering the game have that change taken away from them. When all you know is 10x speed training, the skill tree doesn’t feel that oppressive. When it’s removed, a good portion of the playerbase might revolt. I equate this to politics and how its always easier to ADD entitlements than it is to take them away. Once people rely on something to enhance their experiences, it’s incredibly difficult to remove it without causing people to get upset. The difficult choice ahead lies in when to remove this skill training crutch. The fallout from that decision is going to be an interesting challenge for the community and the developers.

The Source of All Evil

The Skill tree remains one of the most divisive aspects of Crowfall. The pro’s and cons of the system have been debated more times than I care to count. A few points I can’t seem to get past myself, however, are;

  1. Crafting is locked behind skill requirements (and GREAT crafting behind even more).
  2. Gathering efficacy is locked behind Crafting requirements (but GREAT gathering is locked behind skill requirements).
  3. Combat is not locked behind any skill requirements.

Needing to wait for “great” tools to be able to efficiently access higher tier nodes means that the early game in Crowfall will likely be a balancing act. Do you wait for better tools to try to get uncommon or rare quality materials? Lots of interesting questions pose themselves to players and guilds early in Crowfall’s cycle. These questions start to disappear the longer Crowfall is out (and the farther down the skill trees players achieve).

Why is combat not locked behind any skill requirements? Why can you use every piece of gear the moment you set foot in the game, but crafting a mining pick is locked behind arduous amounts of real-time training? Part of me believes its intended to diffuse some of the (valid) criticisms of EVE Online’s skill training system. Because combat effectiveness is largely tied to your ship and your ability to even enter a ship is tied directly to specific checkpoints in their skill tree, it can be seen to outsiders as preventing you from ever being competitive in the game.

Of course, veterans to EVE understand that you can be deadly in any ship, given the right focus and specialization, even against veterans with years (or a decade) of training time under their belt. Yet, one has to acknowledge that few outsiders bother to investigate much farther beyond the quickly digested look at the game (and thus far newcomers to Crowfall also seem to be unable to realize this). If at a glance, your game seems unfair to new players, that reputation will stick with your game forever (and in EVE, it has). Even if it is simply not true. Thus it makes sense that Combat might never be locked behind required skill nodes.

Why have anything locked at all behind skill requirements? Why treat one profession differently than another? Why is a Crafters job harder to access than a Combat player? We haven’t received an answer to this question yet. At best, its meant to reward players who elect to specialize in the profession. Apparently, the other jobs in Crowfall don’t need similar treatment.

I find myself wondering what exactly Crowfall will look like on launch day. Players all over will discover the brutal reality of the fledgling Crowfall universe. Its harsh learning curve and onerous skill tree might anger and frustrate the masses. Especially when they go out to gather resources and then again when they come home to craft better equipment. Fear not though, Combat will be accessible to all. There seems to be some purpose in that decision.

The question now becomes, will players enjoy a world that starts difficult and unforgiving but actually gets easier the longer Crowfall is out? Ironically, only time will tell.





Started playing MMORPGs back on AOL in Neverwinter Nights Online around 1996 and has been a passionate advocate for the genre ever since. Currently an admitted Crowfall obsessed-fan; leading a Crowfall-exclusive stealth-first guild Obsidian, managing a web-magazine Stealthed (@stealthedBlog). He is also the project manager of the Malekai Project; a community-driven open-sourced API for sharing Crowfall related content.

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