The Merits of Healing in Crowfall
I’ve brought this topic up a few times in the Crowfall Discord server, and on both times it caused a bit of a back and forth on the subject. Most of the debate centers around the confusing definition of what exactly “Firehose healing” is. If you’ll recall shortly after the original Kickstarter for Crowfall, the discussion around roles and healing became a much talked about aspect of the game’s design. At some point, a developer used the phrase “No Firehose Healing!” and it became a rallying cry for some players in the community.
Crowfall has always been healing-light, a sort of uncharted land not really in existence in the MMORPG space right now (nor has it ever really been done before). Currently, the game has implemented two specific archetypes that focus entirely on support and based on what we know of the remaining to be developed archetypes, that number isn’t likely to change. Only two out of thirteen archetypes can heal others regularly (15%).
While this isn’t a large problem, most MMORPGs that feature healing of any kind won’t permit you to be successful without them. Take a quick look at MMORPGs that do have healing; can you imagine raiding in World of Warcraft without one? FFXIV? Everquest? Does that mean the same would be true within Crowfall?
This is the true center of whether or not to have healing. Is it even possible to balance a healing role in a game where the intent is to minimize healing’s impact? I’d argue it’s virtually impossible (with one exception, and we will get there…eventually).
We’ll get to exactly why I believe this. First, let’s discuss some related concepts.
Crowfall‘s Greatest Feature, Customization, Makes Balance Impossible
Crowfall has an extensive list of ways players can customize their character. Because I like to reference things over and over repeatedly, I’ve decided to spend some time listing all of the different ways you can:
- Archetypes (13 choices)
- Promotion Archetypes (2 to 3 per Archetype)
- Disciplines (can equip 2 to 4 per Archetype, from a potential list of 300+).
- Powers (Disciplines/Archetypes/Promotions grant you access to new ones, and you can drag and drop them around creating customized power pools)
This list comes with some significant challenges. How can you possibly balance with all those levers? The short answer is you can’t, and the Crowfall developers have largely admitted balance is an uphill battle. It’s far easier to address outliers as they crop up, than it is to try to create a fail-proof system in the first place. They’ve stated multiple times that balancing 1v1 isn’t a design objective.
We’ve been exposed very recently to just how much customization and specialization that a player has access to and the above list should attest to that (though I could write a dozen articles on the depth of each customization). The amount you can change your in-game avatar is mind blowing. This is true, regardless of how much a player can buff a single stat or metric, or to what extent we can impact the final output of a specific power.
Further complicating the balance question is the concept of quality accessibility. Quality accessibility is a metric that measures the ability for a player to acquire certain quality levels of materials or raw resources within a campaign. If you haven’t read about the changes to gathering lately, it’s worth reading up on.
The basic principle is that each resource node you encounter (stone, ore, tree, etc) is ranked 1 through 10. The higher the node, the better the quality of resources you’ll get (slag, common, uncommon, rare, legendary, etc. which are reflected in game as white, blue, purple, orange, etc.). Hit a tier 10 node and you stand a good chance of purples and oranges coming out the other side. Hit a tier 1 node and you’ll never see them.
Each campaign “band” represents a difficulty; the greater the difficulty, the greater the reward. Lower difficulty bands won’t even spawn high-tier nodes.
Okay, so how does this apply? Remember the list of customization choices you have? Nearly all of the items on the list are crafted items in Crowfall (even the archetypes are crafted in the form of vessels!). Crafted items have stats based on the rarity of the resources used within it. Some people playing exclusively inside Gods’ Reach might never see a Legendary quality Vessel.
So the major question of balancing is preventing players from making something too powerful. For instance, you wouldn’t want to allow someone to kill someone with a single shot. It reduces the ability of the player being killed to react, and that reduces that players ability to enjoy his time in the game. Similarly, if someone can heal themselves to full every time you hit them, your ability to enjoy the game becomes equally frustrating.
So what do you balance for? If you could balance, you’d probably do so for when players hit peak power. This is common in games like World of Warcraft, where end-game raiding bosses are designed for players to have a certain minimum level of gear to be successful.
In Crowfall, however, this is largely impossible. When you consider that various rarities of materials are only available in certain areas, combined with the number of adjustable customization knobs that are each impacted by the qualities of materials used to create them and you have a snowball effect that would make balance nearly impossible.
For example, consider if you only had 10 variables that could be tweaked to improve your character in a specific way (let’s say healing!). In a Gods’ Reach campaign, you have the following percentage enhancements to your support power stat (which impacts your healing).
1.25 * 1.25 * 1.25 * 1.25 * 1.25 * 1.25 * 1.25 * 1.25 * 1.25 * 1.25 = 9.3% more power (assuming multiplicative stacking benefits).
Now increase the quality of the components by playing in the Dregs by a mere 25%
1.5 * 1.5 * 1.5 * 1.5 * 1.5 * 1.5 * 1.5 * 1.5 * 1.5 * 1.5 = 57.66% more power.
If each tier offers a 25% improvement over the previous, the multiplicative impact of 10 separate 25% improvements can cause a huge difference in power levels. You can, of course, lower these percentages, but that doesn’t change the fact that minor increases in itemization due to quality levels have an exponential impact on your character’s power level in the game.
Considering we know of more than 10 ways you can customize your character, the impact is even more substantial than what we are showing here. As a caveat, it might not be possible to stack “support power” in each slot. Yet, ultimately something that enhances your ability to heal in our above situation, increases your character’s power level.
Okay So Why Focus On Healing?
This article is not advocating for the removal of healing because I hate healing; I played a WoW raiding healer for 7+ years. It’s because the developers themselves have singled it out as being unnecessary in Crowfall. They’ve repeated this desire to minimize the impact of healing on Crowfall repeatedly over the last 3 years since Kickstarter. So it’s not a new concept or an about-face in their stated design goals.
In fact, I did some research to grab all of the quotes they’ve used in regards to healing. It’s a pretty consistent message:
“The term “healer” carries many assumptions with it. Which we wanted to avoid.
The intent for support to have key buffs, debuffs, physics related powers at a cost of damage or defensive is exactly what we want to do. That isn’t to say in the Discipline Runestones (or combination of Disciplines) there won’t be healing, it’s really hard to predict. There just won’t be a primary Archtype devoted to it.”
~Thomas Blair, Jan 2015, Official Forum Quote
“…Figuring out a way to have some healing that doesn’t give us back line “fire hose” healers. “
~Thomas Blair, Feb 2015, Official Forum Quote
“…I could write a long paper on that PvP style and it almost always boils down to “remove the healer from the equation” either via CC chains or Burst the target with all available dps cooldowns to overcome the healers healing throughput.“
~Thomas Blair, August 2015, Official Forum Quote
“…we just don’t have firehose healers, because the game isn’t being made with the goal of having parties fight monsters with 40,000 health. It’s a different mindset, so we changed the roles to fit the new paradigm.”
~Todd Coleman, “A Year Ago”, Reddit AMA
“…Without a steady stream of AoE healing a Zerg ball falls over.“
~Thomas Blair, April 2016, Official Forum Quote
“… we stand by our “no firehose healers” position.“
~Gordon Walton, October 2016, Reddit AMA
“… they aren’t traditional MMO ‘firehose healers’ so if that is the expectation, yes, you’re going to find them disappointing. we want them to act in a support capacity, and thrive in team situations, but we don’t want victory to boil down to which-team-brought-more-healers, because that is lame.“
~Todd Coleman, October 2016, Reddit AMA
If you think I went overboard, it’s worth mentioning no less then 3 entries in their official FAQ echoing this sentiment. I think the point is pretty clear.
So how does this all link together? The customization in Crowfall is a prime reason why trying to prevent so called “firehose healing” is virtually impossible. One multiplicative factor we haven’t discussed yet? What happens when more than one player in your party uses heals? Now you’re multiplying the healing factor by factors of factors. Talk about a juggling act.
When healing is introduced into a game, despite having intentions of minimizing its impact, you run into some challenges. It’s clear that trying to balance healing is going to be an incredibly difficult job.
On one end, if you allow players to stack healers and multiply the effectiveness of healing as a result, you’ve in effect created a firehose healing group (but with no mana bars in Crowfall… one that doesn’t run out of mana). That’s not good.
On the other end of the spectrum you’ve minimized healing so much, that no one ever uses the powers. It’s tuned so heavily around legendary quality crafted goods, that anything of a lower quality is of questionable usefulness.
The current belief from some testers is that ACE can magically find a middle ground with all of the variables available for players to stack healing. Are you beginning to understand why I’m skeptical?
What’s The Solution?
This problem can be approached in a few ways. The simplest solution is to gimp healing by imposing a stacking debuff after each heal received that reduces the effectiveness of the next heal. This 50-75% healing debuff would mitigate players trying to overwhelm a group through sheer heals and penalize groups that tried to stack too many support players. This feels like a cheapshot at support and minimizes their value in the game. Now instead of trying to bring too many of them, you’ll be faced with the equal challenge of making sure you don’t bring too many of them (I’m against this).
Similarly, you could just cap the amount of healing that can be done, regardless of the amount of gear or +support stats they try to stack. This too is inelegant, as there shouldn’t be any arbitrary cap on any stat period (else why offer customization when you are just going to swat at players hands when they reach too high of a metric). Diminishing returns are an option sure, but even those won’t stop players from min-maxing stats well beyond what developers might find a reasonable level (or one that players would consider “balanced”).
The real solution to the problem is to re-envision the Support role in Crowfall altogether. I propose the following changes to bring Support to a better long-term position, one that is always-in-demand without relying on the crutch that is healing. If ACE intends to minimize healing, why not just go all the way and get rid of it?
- Remove in-combat healing that can target other players. If it exists, it’s a rarity or one-off type power (similar to the Templar AOE heal concept).
- Reduce the access to Crowd Control (CC) across the board. At most, archetypes should only be able to consistently have access to a single 3-4 second CC of any kind.
- Give greater access to crowd control to Support archetypes. They should be able to effectively crowd control a single player frequently and often, perhaps 5 seconds out of every 10 seconds in uptime (you want the opposing player to have some counter-play).
- Grant an increased resistance to crowd control to Support archetypes only. These might clear most debuffs a single target has and get them back into the fight ASAP.
- Allow Support roles to grant limited immunity to specific types of crowd control within a radius around themselves.
- Grant them access to some sort of group-wide buff, restricted by proximity to the group (don’t want buff bots hiding behind city walls a mile away… lookin’ at you EVE).
- Allow them to aid in the speedy recovery of a groups health after a combat encounter has ended. Think of the current “campfire” solution. It should not aid in any way during combat.
- Have little if any DPS output (the absolutely lowest amount possible). Promotions might allow them to shift this (sacrifice some CC for more damage, or alternatively sacrifice all DPS for more CC).
While not all of these are meant to be implemented simultaneously (I’d be okay if they were), you’ll notice none of these dealt with or included any sort of in-combat healing. It’s simply not necessary in Crowfall. None of the above solutions would scale with gear, and this makes support an appealing role for new players who don’t like to min-max gear, but still attains a level of indispensability to the role that no guild would want to go into battle without.
In the end, removing combat healing from Crowfall can work. What won’t work is what has been done so far. You’ll notice most large group combat in video after video includes numerous Legionnaires (centaurs), and some number of Druids. Stacking these has been the way to win thus far. Healing cannot be balanced, especially not when players will stack whatever allows them to minimize risk to themselves in Crowfall.
To me, the solution is clear. To wrap this argument up, I’ll just repeat a poignant J. Todd Coleman quote:
“…we don’t want victory to boil down to which-team-brought-more-healers, because that is lame.”