Darkfall: Stats in a Skill-Based game?!
Posted by SERIAL GANKER [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 5 April 2010, 4:06 pm
I’ve been playing Darkfall for a little over a month and while I like the game, it’s becoming painfully obvious that it has a major flaw. It’s not the full body looting. It’s not the lack of moderation in chat channels. It’s not the scamming or other abuse that happens. It’s not even the unattended macroing (i.e. botting) that players use for skilling up.

Hmm. Well, I take that last one back. The macroing is a symptom of the greater problem, but not the cause. In any event, the flaw is not the macroing itself but the reason players feel compelled to macro.

Stats versus Skills
In Darkfall, everything you do levels up on use. Resting, Crafting, Archery, Spell Casting, Running, even Crouch-Walking – all level up based on usage. If you don’t Parry, you’ll never skill it up. Now there might be some benefit in wanting to macro up a particularly boring skill (like a magic buff) but for the most part, this is not a bad system at all.

Actually, it’s quite fun. How your character develops is really a function of how you play. If there are things you want or feel you need to develop, you need to work on them. In combat situations, this also has the added benefit of providing practice experience using the skill. For example, a special Power Attack is more difficult to land than a normal attack. Using it in combat not only ranks up the power of the skill, but also has the double benefit of improving YOUR ability to know how to use it through practice and repetition.

No. The issue is that this game isn’t just about Skills. It’s also about Stats. You see, every skill has associated Stats. Archery, for example, contributes to your Dexterity. The higher your Dexterity, the more damage you will deal through Archery. Now obviously, using a Bow will improve both the Archery Skill and the Dexterity Stat, but the Bow isn’t the only way to improve Dexterity. Sprint (a faster run) will also level up Dexterity.

Stats actually level up much more slower than Skills. How slow? Well, in a recent thread I was reading on the Darkfall Forums, the highest Dexterity anyone has ever heard of is in the 80s (out of a possible 100).

Admittedly, that’s one of the more difficult Stats to increase, but even players who put a hundred hours a week into the game don’t have these stats leveled to 100.

Stats are important
The amount of health a character has is determined by your Stats.  Players typically start out with a bit more than 200 health. All other skills being equal, a player with 300 health can take 1/3 more damage than a player with 200 health.

Of course, all skills won’t be equal, so the player with more health likely has other skills that will further reduce the amount of damage taken. Additionally, they’ll have better damage dealing skills which will deal significantly more damage.

Or in other words, not only is there a pretty high delta caused simply by the Stat difference, this difference is dramatically amplified by the Skill gain difference. For example, let’s say that our 300 health player also deals 1/3 more damage and takes 1/3 less damage.

It’s likely more than that, but let’s just pretend.

So if 200hp player deals 30 damage with an attack, then the effective damage dealt to 300hp player (after a 1/3 reduction) is 20. By contrast, the 300hp player deals (after a 1/3 increase) 40 damage.

The net effect in this scenario is that the 300hp players deals twice as much damage as the 200hp player. So, in addition to the 100 extra health, they also hit twice as hard.

It takes 15 successful hits for the 200hp player to win. But it only takes 5 hits for the 300hp.

Now let’s remove the extra 100hp from the scenario (so no Stat gain). It still only takes 5 hits for the more advanced player to win. But it now takes the other player only 10 successful hits.

Even in this reduced Stat scenario, the less advanced player is still not likely to win the engagement.

So why do they need the extra 100hp? My point here is that making something three times more challenging instead of twice as challenging is simply excessive.

And that’s just a very simple example. The reality is even more dramatic.

Suggestion: Get rid of Stats
Honestly, I’m 100% OK with the skill gain difference. A more developed character should be more powerful. My issue here is the amplified effect that Stats have on that Skill difference.

Simply put, the gains through Skills should be enough.

The only purpose that Stats have is to amplify the effect of Skills. This is totally and 100% unnecessary because you already have a factor that increase Skills: the Skill level.

If you want Skills to have a bigger impact, then add additional skills which modify the impact. But do so in such a way that players sacrifice something else. Want to increase Magic damage? Sorry – you lose access to that Skill which boosts Hit Points as well.

How much Mana, HP or Stamina does a player have? Make it Skill, not Stat based. Melee Skills determine HP, Magic Skills determine Mana, General Skills (Jump/Run/Sprint) determine Stamina.

If you insist on having Stats, then do it the way that EVE does it. Stats change the rate at which you learn Skills. They don’t amplify the effect of how you use the Skill.

Other Symptoms of the Problem
As I wrote above, the biggest issue I have is the amplification effect these Stats have on the outcome of a fight. I think the advantage gained from Skills is more than fair for having a more advanced character. Adding an amplified effect to it by modifying the damage with Stats like Strength, Intelligence and Dexterity is simply excessive.

Point being, I’m not against competitive advantage. I’m against excessive advantage.

And as anyone who has every played an MMO knows, if you make something rewarding enough (like Stats) then it influences how players approach your game. I think perhaps the best example of this problem are the AFK Swimmers. People AFK Swim or Run or Non-reagent Cast (like Heal Self) because it also increases Stats. If there were no Stats, then you might see some macroing to increase skills, but you wouldn’t see it to increase Stats.

But more importantly, it would also shift the focus to activities that generate the Skills that you want to USE. Players wouldn’t take the easiest route to increase the Stat, they would do the things that more often matched the style of play they want to develop the character into doing.

The point here is not to get rid of macroing, but to more narrowly focus on actually benefiting from PLAYING the game the way you WANT to play the game.

The whole Stat system also creates some other oddities. For example, in most games, the converted price of something is typically worth more than the non-converted price. The reason is simple. If it takes time to get thing A turned into thing B, then there is a value to players to not have to convert it.

However, in Darkfall, the stat gain benefit from converting it from A to B outweighs the time investment. Therefore, you end up with the oddity that unrefined Ore or Lumber go for more than the refined Ingots or Wood.  And the additional oddity that people actually WANT to waste 3-4 hours crafting useless crap like low-level cloth armor.

The long and the short of it is that I just don’t see the purpose in having Stats in a game like Darkfall. You already have Skills, so why do we need Stats?

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