Ragar sees something in Carbine's new MMO that FFXIV could do better
Hello and welcome to the twentieth edition of the Eorzea Examiner, ZAM’s column on Square Enix’s Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. For this week’s column, we're going back to look at the recently released MMO from Carbine Studios, WildStar. The last couple times we took a look at WildStar, I pointed out areas of their game design that I thought FFXIV could learn from and incorporate into Eorzea. This column’s going to be a little bit different. We’ll still be talking about something I’d like to see brought over from WildStar to FFXIV, but it’s something Carbine still needs to work on: Adventures.
Choose Your Own Adventure
For those of you who aren’t familiar with WildStar’s Adventure system, it’s fairly simple in concept. These are the five-man instanced content in WildStar that falls outside of the normal “enter dungeon, clear trash to boss, repeat till cleared” design we’re all familiar with. While there are still bosses and trash like one would expect, there is no longer a straight path from start to loot. Choices made along the course of the map affect everything from the bosses you fight to how difficult the journey is.
One of the Adventures, War of the Wilds, treats the instance like a League of Legends map, facing you off against a team of five members of the opposite faction. In this instance you can’t go in with the normal PvE attitude of pushing your way to the boss – now you have objectives to capture and you have points you must defend if you wish to succeed. Another map, Siege of Tempest Refuge, provides a bit more structure with trash waves and bosses, but now you have tower defense elements mixed in with troops to position, morale to manage, and a core to protect. Crimelords of Whitevale is more traditional, but here is where the “choose your own adventure” system comes into play. Whenever you finish sections of these instances, a popup will appear for all party members asking them what their next course of action will be. Which gang do you believe torched your hangout? Who will you ally with? Your party’s votes will be tallied and the winner determines your group’s next course of action. All of these choices have an effect on your playthrough: some will prove more difficult than others while others are safer yet require more time to complete.
Lastly there’s The Malgrave Trail. For this Adventure, picture something like a cross between Crimelords and The Oregon Trail. Your job is to lead a group of refugees from their torched town in Malgrave to safety. Along the way you’ll face ferocious beasts, marauding bandits, choices in which path to take and the worst threat of all, resource management. Those refugees I mentioned? It’s a long road through the desert and all of those people need supplies to survive the trek: food, water and feed for their Roan cattle. In addition to killing all of the critters and other ne’er-do-wells that assault the caravan, your group also needs to be on the lookout for supplies to replenish their rapidly dwindling stocks. Fail to do so and your settlers will start dropping like flies. Speaking of flies, there are also random events you need to watch out for: flies on your Roan, missing settlers, etc. So we have instances with replayability from branching paths and random events to spice things up – sounds great, right? It should be… so why does everyone in my WS guild swear them off once they’re past that part of the Attunement chain?
Random Shouldn’t Equal “Double the Dungeon Time”
The concept of Adventures is perfectly sound, but there are a couple fairly major problems with their current implementation. The primary one stems from that branching path system. Having options for running your dungeon sounds great, but when you read strategies for the Adventures online, you’ll notice that they all tend to focus on one or two ways to do everything. You might be thinking “So what if they recommend a path? Why shouldn’t I go where I want?” You certainly can, but it’s going to add to that timer. Some path options are fairly minor and only add a few minutes here and there, but put them all together and you’ll looking at some striking differences in path lengths. Using Malgrave as an example, it’s possible to have two runs of that Adventure where one takes around 30 minutes and the other takes 60 or even 90. At this point we’ve stepped beyond variation and into the realm of punishing those new to the instance.
Run times get even more varied when we take into account the other major issue with WS Adventures, the random elements. In theory these events serve to add replayability to an instance by ensuring that no two runs are identical, similar to the random modifiers on monsters and loot you might find in a Diablo-style game. When it comes to Adventures, it’s one more thing that can turn a Gold medal run into a group disband and requeue. Things can be going perfect, then you get that one bad combination of mob spawns on a Siege wave or bad luck on the resource spawns for Malgrave – skill helps to mitigate these problems, but when the deck deals you a bad hand, the timer and all the requirements for Gold can go out the window in a hurry. WildStar players going for their raid attunement chain will be quite familiar with this, as it’s quite common for Adventure groups to disband the moment Gold is unlikely or impossible. As much as I may have complained about FFXIV’s dungeon attunements in the past, I never had to deal with pickup group implosions to this degree.
Doing Branching Dungeons the Right Way
WildStar’s Adventures may have their problems, but there’s no reason we can’t fix these issues and bring the idea to Eorzea. The issue with path lengths is something that can be handled during dungeon tuning. FFXIV’s developers already add timers to each of their dungeons, so they’re quite familiar with coming up with appropriate time limits for a dungeon run. By taking their overarching time limit for the dungeon, they can look at the branch points and assign timers to the sections as a guideline for path monster population, difficulty, etc. Let’s say we have a dungeon with three pathing points with three choices each and an overall timer of 75 minutes. First choice is at 10 minutes in and the final boss should take no longer than 5 minutes – that leaves 60 minutes for the branching part of the dungeon. They can build the paths such that a pickup group will take an average of 15 minutes for each path option, while organized parties can push through more quickly. That leaves 15 minutes for corpse runs, random AFKs and all of the other fun stuff you see in random groups. If the developers want to add a little variance in the difficulty of the paths, that’s reasonable but it can be done without affecting the timer as significantly as WildStar does. Instead of fighting 10-15 minutes worth of trash on a path, there could be a new mini-boss to fight, or perhaps there’s 5 minutes worth of trash and now the boss at the path branch is a hard-mode encounter. We still keep the variance in path options, but now players don’t feel punished because their group chose the “wrong path”.
Random elements can stay in FFXIV Adventures, but similar to the path length differences, they need to be tuned properly. Groups should not want to instantly disband because the instance rolled a 1 on its Random Encounter table. You could include things like environmental effects during boss fights or even a mini-boss that can potentially spawn on multiple paths (more than one to keep from having “the one true path” in an Adventure). Randomness can also come into play on the encounters themselves. Let’s use an outdoor Adventure as an example with a boss that can summon reinforcements. Multiple kinds of mobs could spawn from this, forcing the group to react differently if it’s a sniper than if it was a melee mob. Depending on your group, you may have an easier time dealing with certain spawns than others, but this is a controllable amount of randomness and keeps the fight from being too routine.
With WildStar’s Adventure design issues out of the way, let’s get to the most important part: where would we put Adventures in FFXIV? That’s the fun part actually – we’re not as restricted with them as we would be with a dungeon. Most of the instances in FFXIV (for most MMOs actually) take place indoors; sure you might be outside for part of it, but the bulk of it is making your way through corridors of trash and occasional bosses until you reach the guy at the end. With a branching Adventure we can certainly design an indoor instance, but our options are far more expansive than that.
Picture some of the instanced story quests you completed while leveling, such as the attack on the Moraby Drydocks during Victory in Peril. That quest actually had you make a choice early on about which NPC to talk to, which had some effect on the rest of the quest. We could expand that quest into an Adventure-length town assault. Players could direct guards to watch the main entrance to the town, while the players covered the rear. Choices during the instance on which areas to protect could determine who the players fought as well as party bonuses from whatever they protected. In the end, the players would fight their way to the final boss, bolstered by whatever bonuses they received and whatever reinforcements were left after all of the various path choices.
The previous example is but one type of Adventure we could add into Eorzea to provide some variety to the instances. There are a multitude of other designs we could look at as well, from location to mob spawn design (static spawns to pull vs waves). That doesn’t even take into account mixing in concepts from other games. WildStar managed to mix in some League of Legends with their War of the Wilds map, so FFXIV could do something similar or even find a different game to mix in with the dungeon. Adventures provide a way for the developers to try something new with their game. Dungeons need to have a general flow to them – it’s simply the nature of the beast. With Adventures we can try new things and see what works and what doesn’t, while still providing players something new to try in the Duty Finder.
That’s it for this edition of the Eorzea Examiner. What do you think about adding Adventures to FFXIV? Does the idea of a non-standard instance sound like fun or would you rather stick with what’s tried and proven? Have your own ideas for an Adventure design? Tell us in the comments below. If you've got any requests for column topics, add those as well. Until next time, see you in Eorzea.
Michael “Ragar” Branham