We had a dramatic shift in how Crowfall‘s skill trees and training will function land on Thursday. I’ll stick to the facts in this article, but the changes revealed yesterday invalidates a significant portion of our previous theorycrafting (we’ll endeavor to replace these). I don’t believe these changes were knee-jerk reactions to community demands, nor do I feel they will cause Crowfall to fail. I do believe it over simplifies the interdependencies we’ve written about in the past by several magnitudes. Again, not necessarily a bad thing when keeping the environmental conditions Crowfall is building for (more on this later).
Training & Skills
To those who don’t follow closely (and now I know I have quite a few readers who don’t), yesterday’s reveal altered the game play by shifting from…
- 3 Skill Branches in General Tree; Crafting, Exploration, Combat. These coincided with the three “roles” you could take on in Crowfall: an explorer/gatherer, a crafter, or a combat-oriented player. The most you could train ever was one of these at a time (effectively making your account that role…sort of…).
- Archetypes had their own trees, but their days were numbered when Crowfall announced their split into individual races and classes. A titantic-sized change for this MMORPG.
- Non-VIP (Crowfall‘s Subscription “name” .. awful I know) could pick 1 of the general tree above to train and one of the Archetypes. VIP members could train 3 archetypes at a time, but were still limited to 1 general tree skill.
was thus transformed into…
- A “Profession” tree which contains the previously mentioned “General” tree concepts.
- A “Racial” tree, which contains skills that impact your character when you use groupings of races or individual races. This is the only tree that contains “attribute” bonuses (the most impactful of bonuses we are told). Important Note: Training individual races does not exist, you’ll train a grouping of two races at the specialized end of the trees; “Underfoot” will train both Guinecean and Stoneborn.
- A “Class” tree, basically containing similar skills that the previous Archetype tree had. Important Note: Training individual classes, no longer exists by design. You’ll train groupings of classes at the specialized end of the trees; “Mercenary” trains both Assassin and Ranger simultaneously.
- All of the trees were redesigned to be more forgiving to newer players. The first column of skills you can train grant general bonuses available across larger portions of the characters you may end up playing. As you move to the right, the skills apply to increasingly more specific classes, races, etc.
- Non-VIP members get to train 1 each of the above trees (for a total of 3 simultaneous trainings). VIP members can train 2 each of the above trees (for a total of 6 simultaneous trainings). This has actually widened the gap between Non-VIP and VIP in terms of the number of simultaneous skill trees they can train in. While normally I’d be able to write that Crowfall’s VIP doesn’t grant more power, merely more flexibility; I’m finding it incredibly difficult with the proposed changes to see how that’s going to remain true. More trained skills, that impact and benefit numerous professions (combat/crafting/gathering/etc) have actually made the opposite true. VIP currently is staged to grant significant training advantages to VIP players over non-VIP players.
The new skill tree, as designed, allows for newbies to sort of pick up the ropes before being forced to make lasting decisions. The previous system was unforgiving in this regard. If you picked the “wrong skill” or wanted to try out a different playstyle tough luck. The new system allows players to experiment with races and classes before being forced to settle on which one you like the most. The time span before the choices start to get specific seems to be measured in terms of months. This new pyramid skills design is very forgiving to new players.
Advanced players do retain the ability to skip through some of the general stuff if they know what they want to focus on. Most skill trees will allow you to move on to the more specialized step in the progression after you’ve achieved 50-65% completed training. This is actually a balanced design that takes care of addressing concerns for new and veteran players alike.
The Time Bank
Another major introduction was the solution to the problem for players who couldn’t see how they’d manage to queue up skills after weird training end times. Needing to log in at 3 am just because you planned poorly was clearly not going to fly with this audience or the team developing it.
Enter the Time Bank. This system basically starts accruing time the moment your skills finish training. For non-VIP members, you can accrue up to 24 hours of time, where as VIP members can store up to 30 days. When you log in, if you have time in your Time Bank, you can apply that to the next skill you queue-up. No training time is wasted.
I personally feel it’s way too forgiving having come from an EVE Online background (with no such safeguard in place to protect players for screwing up training queues). A common theme with all of the changes announced Thursday: Crowfall is easier and more forgiving to newer players. Despite my misgivings on this change, it will make working through the skill trees less tedious.
Beyond that, this system is pretty straightforward. It continues the passively-trained skill system in Crowfall that allows for people with lives, kids, and jobs to still have a place to come where they aren’t obsolete after missing out on “grinding time” for a day or two.
A ton of people immediately picked up on all sorts of potential ways to abuse this system. So let’s just try to drop those from the center of the discussion. The developers have already responded to people’s concerns on the forums and it seems as if they will take action to address changes in this system to fix them. With that said, Skill Tomes is the EVE Online equivalent of Skill Injectors. It allows players to capture training time they don’t want to use and convert it into a tradeable item they can give to others to help them catch-up.
It’s an interesting solution to a problem that in theory won’t exist for years. That’s why they aren’t introducing it until 6 months after launch. It should help some late-comers, however, to overcome the early-mover advantage veterans will potentially hold over them. I find the system adequate to cover the concerns of catch-up players who were worried friends couldn’t be convinced to play after a significant time had passed since the launch of Crowfall.
I also recommended (and JTodd responded saying he was amiable to the change) that they limit the ability to advance beyond the maximum potential training time. I don’t want players to take advantage of this system as a “leap-ahead” mechanic. If you prevent veterans from consuming tomes because the tome would put them ahead of this formula (today – launch day) you’ll find me a happy camper with this system. The proposed diminishing returns will also make it costly to catch-up fully, which is fine by me. ACE has to make money for this game to survive!
The new changes are a very favorable shift for players and guilds who were worried about how they were going to fill all of the roles they’d need to gather resources and construct final products. This change dramatically shrank the number of people organizations needed to be self-sufficient. It also, oddly, reduced the number of alt-accounts that Crowfall might have had.
This has always been a running “problem” in EVE Online, as specializing is all but required in that game (except for 10-year-old accounts). As a result, EVE Online had a healthy percentage of the population who owned 2 or more accounts to help them play in all of the various ways they wanted to inside the game. That said, Crowfall is still going to have limitations as to what a single account can accomplish, even with VIP. So alt-accounts are still going to be a thing, but the total number, per player, has been marginalized considerably.
The team making Crowfall will eventually work out the exploitability/manipulation of their new catch-up and training systems. This, in turn, will create a game environment that treats veterans and newcomers in a fair way. These changes successfully introduce a healthy amount of flexibility to VIP players, and will provide an order of magnitude in self-sufficiency to smaller guilds that previously felt impossible to attain without an army of alt-accounts. This also grants leeway in how guilds approach Crowfall, with the burden of finding dedicated Crafters greatly lessened.
While I personally feel this eliminates some of the best strategic elements the game previous to this change offered, there still remains some elements of economic warfare. The longer article we had written before, The Definitive Guide to Crowfall Doctrines, was as a result of these changes immediately obsolete. That saddens me, as it likely will a great number of EVE veterans.What I must take solace in, is that while EVE Online has an environment with tens of thousands of players in its lone universe, Crowfall would never have worked with this system in the 1000 and under population they are currently targeting per campaign. By opening up the professions to more players (requiring less accounts), Crowfall will be far more stable in terms of permitting players and guilds to actually achieve full-scale economic production. In the end, I concede that these changes as a whole were a solid move for the health and future of this unique fantasy sandbox.