MHW: Under the Covers

I’m actually going to start off with Dauntless to help set the stage.  The game is solid, if a bit on the shallow end.  You have a few weapon types, some rather simplistic combos (I’ll get to strikers), elemental attacks, slotted gems, and monster weaknesses/breaking parts.  Oh, and there’s some very rudimentary gathering for potions in game.  Behemoths have flat resistance/armor based on their level, and a strength/weakness to a particular element.  It helps to use their weakness, but due to the way weapon skills are balanced, it often is best to ignore it.

So let’s cover balance for a second.  All weapons (except strikers) have simple combos.  You need to know when to use them so as not to get hit, but they don’t necessarily chain into something larger.   Strikers though… they have an interesting buff mechanic where if you apply the buffs, your damage starts reaching crazy levels.  It’s a high skill ceiling weapon, and since it’s been around in late summer, has been leading almost every chart.  Combine that with a specific skill set to increase attack speed and critical hits… then it’s a walking death machine.  Cue calls for nerfs – when in reality it’s the other weapons that need a similar overhaul.  To be fair, this is only a concern when you’ve killed every single Behemoth, maxed out most of your gear, and are farming mastery levels.  Until that point, the game is a blast.

MH Weapons

There are 14 types, and each one is entirely viable for the entire game.  Speed runners with max level gear will likely end up with the Heavy Bow Gun due to some rather ridiculous boosts within, but it comes with some major defensive drawbacks.  Longswords provide a lot of damage, with some OK counter ability.  Charge Blades are opportunistic and can deal the highest single attacks in the game.  Hammers can chain ledge-jumps to easily stun almost every monster.  Insect Glaives keep you off the ground more almost the entire fight.

And each weapon comes with an upgrade path that is not simply “more numbers”.  They get more decoration slots, different critical values, different elemental attacks, more (or less) augment slots.  In specific cases, it will change the type of ammo you can use, the recoil from attacks, and the reload speed.

I’ll compare 2 Charge Blades to illustrate a point.

  • Deep Schnegel II – 900 dmg, 0% crit, 480 ice damage, power phials, level 10, 2+1 decos
  • Luna Eostre – 1044 dmg, 10% crit, 420 poison damage, impact phials, level 12, 2+2 decos

On paper, the Luna Eostre (LE) is better in almost every regard.  It does more base damage, it has a higher crit, it does poison (which deals lots of damage over time), it has impact phials (which can knock down a monster), is a higher level, and has better decoration slots.  If you had this weapon, honestly it would be pretty amazing.

But…

Deep Schnegel II (DS) is 2 levels lower, meaning it gets MORE upgrade options.  And there’s a particular armor set skill (Namielle’s 4 piece) that boosts elemental damage by 150, and with Ice Attack 6 (from a necklace) you’re looking at even higher.  Combined, that 480 ice damage climbs to over 1000.  Since elemental damage can’t crit, and isn’t impacted by wounded parts… you don’t need to aim as much as you would with the LE, and can therefore attack much faster.  The challenge here is that you will find some monsters that are immune to ice, so you’ll need to swap to another element.  It will absolutely demolish Shara.

And that only covers 1 weapon.  Heavy Bow Guns are even more complex due to ammo restrictions and play styles (sticky ammo for distance fighting, or spread ammo for close up), let alone the bit about reloading while ledge jumping, or the dodge evade increases.

And I haven’t even gotten into the various monster parts that have varying levels of defense/weakness… which can change during the course of battle too.

It feels like a rabbit hole.  The beauty of which is that this “hyper optimized” numbers game doesn’t at all detract from your personal playstyle.  Unless you’re doing something extremely wrong, you will always beat the clock to kill a monster.  And if you’re having fun that way, hell, all the more power to you.

 

Anthem – Wishlist

Right, we’re at the 1 year mark (-ish) and Anthem is due for a complete overhaul.  Might has well put down a wish list.

World

  • Flying works, but needs more vertical combat (not just hovering)
  • Remove the need for incessant loading screens, and the need to return to town to do 99% of the gameplay set up
  • Script the world so that there’s always something going on, and it’s clearly stated and accessible.  An alert for an open mission on the other side of the map that despawns by the time you get there sucks.
  • Have a “transport to player” button
  • If there’s going to be an overworld, it needs more people.

Combat

  • Enemies need tactics rather than just being bullet sponges
  • Mini-boss mechanics should be more than just “spawn a lot of grunts”
  • Find a way to sticky target, especially when fighting in very open spaces
  • Add variety to weapons so that there’s a clear tradeoff.  No one in their right mind uses a high ammo, low damage sniper rifle.
  • There should be weapon skills rather than just player skills.  An alternate fire more would go a long way (e.g. unload entire shotgun clip)
  • Address clipping / player hit box management
  • Set a TTK goal and manage to that number
  • Manage combat challenges under the rock/paper/scissors context rather than bullet/sponge

Players

  • Abilities should not come with stats, they should mostly be unlocked as you level up.
  • Add weapon/ability modifier drops (with no stats)
  • Add stat slots for gear, with a very rare chance of an item drop that increases rarity
  • Set floor/ceiling values for gear drops based on rarity, with priority rolls  (some of this is there now)
  • Put in a trial room so that players can test out builds
  • Clearly indicate synergy between abilities, above and beyond the primer/trigger concepts
  • Provide horizontal growth options through experience (e.g. faster movement speed, increased collection area, faster harvesting, increased defense)

Classes

  • Balance the classes so that they have 2-3 viable playstyles at max level
  • Ensure consistent scaling of abilities (e.g. % and not linear)
  • Add class-specific items with fixed stats.  There is nothing worse than triple+ RNG (the item you want, the rarity you want, the stats you want).

Gameplay

  • Add more difficulty tiers, and gates in order to access them (similar to the D3 difficulty structure)
  • Add timed runs with cosmetic rewards (not power) – including boss rush mode
  • Add drops that can be used to randomly acquire other items (e.g. shard gambling)
  • Test run group content for duration / complexity, so that there’s some parity between the content.  This avoids Maw runs.
  • Have a voting system at the end of a run that allows picking an MVP, with cosmetic currency
  • It’s going to be there –> daily login rewards + monthly cosmetic passs

 

There’s a few more I have on my list but this is long enough already.

Anthem Year 1

It’s not often a game dev gets to make two hail mary passes.

A year ago, nearbouts this time, I was playing the initial release of Anthem.  It was really rough around the edges and only a few weeks from launch.  It reminded me a LOT of Star Trek Online in that regard.   BioWare had staked a lot in Anthem, and the hype machine was in overdrive.

Anthem officially launched on Feb 22, 2019, do disastrous acclaim.

There are many lessons to be learned about that launch.  One that all successful indie developers have figured out by now.  Find a few basic concepts, iterate the crap out of them until they are perfect and build from there.  Each game picks a specific set of things to do well, and to be successful, does those things extremely well.  Anthem’s largest mistake was that it didn’t pick anything… it was just mediocre in every aspect.

There are folks who would argue that flying was extra special.  I’d go so far to say that it wasn’t, because of the overheating mechanic and the fact that the game was designed with 2D combat.  With rare exceptions, there are no flying enemies – everything is ground based.

That Anthem launched at all is its own miracle.  That people still play it today feels like flat earthers.  That the devs think it’s worth salvaging is at another level.

So call me surprised when Mr Hudson announced what is ostensibly Anthem 2.0.  All the fancy buzzwords are there.  All the platitudes about taking the right amount of time to iterate.  All of that with a cup of salt, mind you.  Do recall, this is the same company (either them or EA) that abandoned the Mass Effect Andromeda team and effectively shuttered the studio.

The light here is that most of the senior brass has moved on, and what’s left are the actual worker bees.  Postings for people with experience in ARPG mechanics last spring hopefully have brought fruit as well.  It would be a self-inflicted wound for EA/BW to simply abandon a relatively bright IP when it can clearly work as a game-as-a-service.

Who knows, maybe they learned their lessons and will deliver a quality product.  The pieces are certainly there.  And we know it’s possible since both FF14 and Diablo 3 were able to get it right the 2nd time around.  Guess this has piqued my interest.

MHW: Rajang & RedBull

Iceborne launched 6 months after the consoles, and there has been a fair chunk of content added in that time.  In the base game, PC was always a fair bit behind consoles, and so I’ve sort of grown accustomed to it.  Seems the devs really want to close that gap, which is great.  Having parity across all platforms is just logical in 2020.

Every month, PC will catch up to console a bit more, as per the following overview.

Sidebar for a second.  Feature parity is a requirement for online play.  MHW’s greatest weakness is it’s version of social tools.  It feels like a giant throwback to the LAN days.  If they can get their content stream under control, they can start to focus on larger system changes.  I’m not a betting man, but I would guess than MHW will have a couple test patches on that front, which will work into the next mainline game.

Back to the patch.  The room updates are good (focused on the social aspect), the Raccoon City is ok, but the big thing here is Rajang.  He’s been around in past games, and always at the apex level of challenges.  That continues here, as he has more in common with Goku than Nergigante.

Thematically, the monsters in Iceborne share the common trait of non-stop attacking.  When you first meet Tigrex, it feels like an avalanche of attacks.  When you meet Rajang, Tigrex feels like an old man.  See tips video below.

Add the fact that Rajang hits like a TRUCK, it makes for a fight that is more frustration than fun.  He has a high tendency to combo his moves, jumps around like he’s crushing Red Bulls, shoots a massive laser, and has a dive bomb that will 1 shot most players with next to no notice.

I play Charge Blade, which is one of the slower weapons.  It focused on opportunities after a monster commits, then I strike.  There are very few openings with Rajang, and those that do exist end up being shorter than my attack duration.  So I have to get quite creative.

  • Shock traps when he’s in phase 1
  • Pit traps when he’s in phase 3
  • Shoot his butt with bombs in phase 3
  • Always sheathed in phase 3, to be able to dive dodge the bomb attack
  • Flash pods for when he grabs you and stands to attack (his hit box is broken, need to aim for your own feet)
  • Never grapple his head as he will always knock you off.  50% chance of grabbing you on his shoulders too
  • Pray to baby jeebus that another monster instigates a turf war
  • Slot for Divine Protection 3+ and Health Boost 3 in order to dramatically reduce incoming damage

Actually defeating him feels more like luck than skill.  Feels dang good mind you!  Still…

The good news is that you don’t have to defeat him to open up the volcanic area of Guiding Lands, and he only starts showing up in battles AFTER you do beat him.  His armor isn’t all that good (except his helmet), and I don’t think anyone is looking for lightning weapons.  That told, you may be best just ignoring him until you get to the farming portion of MHW.

Happy hunting.

MHW: So Many Decorations

It’s the Appreciation Festival in MHW right now, and I’ll be honest, I can barely keep track of all the special events and things to do.  The game really does a poor job of explaining half of it’s systems.

Anyhow, this festival comes with a bunch of things to do, items to craft, and stuff to hunt.  This often results in some sort of token that can be exchanged for something else.  VIP tickets give you access to some cosmetics, gratitude tickets to gear.  The really interesting bit is melding tickets.

MHW has a Melder, a person who takes things you don’t want, puts them into a pot, and randomly spews something out.  Something you may want, but not very often.  Normally, this is done through a combination of a catalyst (rare drop) and some points (the items you don’t want).  It takes a lot of time to get all those things sorted out, and it was a very long tail in the base game.  Even in IB to be honest, since the rare drops were from the late game.

But now we have Steel, Silver, and Gold Melding tickets.  These are used for a 1:1 decoration swap.  Still random, but extremely generous.  The more important part here is that these tickets are rewards from the Steamworks… a mini game that normally only gets used once a day for a melding reward.  Well now a single cycle of this minigame should reward a dozen steel, 5 silver, and 1 gold ticket.  Steel doesn’t reward very good decorations, but silver and gold do.  Silver in particular contains all the rare drops from the base game (Ironwall and Mind’s Eye), making it a ridiculous source of decorations.  The problem is getting fuel for the Steamworks.

Enter the guiding lands and Dragonvein drops.  With minimal effort, you should be able to get ~30,000 fuel in an hour.  Since it takes ~800 fuel to do a cycle… the math is in your favor.  I run a similar cycle to the one in the video below.

Botanist, Geologist, Master Gatherer, and Intimidator are all required.  Gillie and Temporal Mantles as help.  The respawn times of the nodes means that you can do 2 zones at a time, if you’re collecting both bones and ore (only ore is of value for fuel).   I get further optimization by collecting the local Grimalkyne, who will loot more on your behalf.

End result is that after 1 Guiding Lands run, I ended up with 4 Ironwall decorations.  A decoration I couldn’t get after 100+ hours of trying in the base game.

Appreciation Fest indeed.

Iceborne Storyline Complete

I guess spoilers in some sense within.  But frankly to reach the end of Iceborne you’ve put in nearly 60 hours.

So the “last” elder dragon is down, and that’s a hell of a fight.  One move in particular I don’t think it’s possible to survive, and you need a Farcaster to avoid it (return to base).  It’s very similar to the Xeno fight, in that it’s a very LARGE dragon, and it seems like you’re tickling it more than anything else.  I won’t go and say that it’s necessarily difficult, but I can say that it punishes mistakes.  Painfully so.

There are a few more monsters to discover in the Guiding Lands.  I have a chunk of optional quests to clear out, including some arena battles.  Then there’s the whole process of levelling the Guiding Lands themselves.  That will be it’s own topic at some point.  The general idea is that it’s a large map with 6 zones.  The zones level up as you do battle/collect materials.  Higher levels = tougher monsters and better materials.  But raising one zone will reduce the level of another, so that you can realistically only max out 2 zones at a time.

While those are activities I can undertake, there’s still the underlying purpose of gear acquisition.  Iceborne put in a TON of new gear compared to base game, and really seems to have gone all out on set bonuses as well.  There’s plenty of new levels to charms (element attacks go to 5!), and the general augment/enhance options for gear is deeper than prior.

Quick math bit.  Deep Schnegel II has 480 base ice attack.  With augments it can be boosted to 550.  Then add level 7 Frost attack for an extra 100 + 10%.  Then the 4 set Namielle which adds 90 more ice damage.  The end result is something like 880 ice damage.  In more practical terms, it’s double the damage… and not at all clear to players in game.  Now, this only applies to Ice damage (since it’s based on the weapon), so you need a different gear set for Ice resistant/immune enemies.

The big thing here is that there’s a LOT of RNG to get to the end.  We’re talking about some decorations that have a <1% chance of dropping – on battles that take 15 minutes to complete.  Then the material to actually augment your gear is also RNG based (and guiding lands level based too).

MHW, in that sense, is very much like the long tail of an MMO.  You complete the main story in a week or two, then have months of re-runs of the same content.  Except in MHW, the monsters themselves have random spawns/battles, your weapons change your class at any point, and you’re always getting something.  No run ever seems a waste – whereas I could run 10 dungeons a night and get zero for it in WoW.  In that sense, MHW has a similar long tail, but a much wider one.

Overall Thoughts

I had some early thoughts, and this I guess would be the mid-point.

  • The story is more nonsensical than the base game.  Nergigante is somehow the ultimate badass.  (side note, Ruiner Nergigante is infinitely more fun than AT Negigante)
  • There’s a larger reliance on item pouch management.  Great that there’s a new slot for the garden, just wish personal inventory was a few slots larger.
  • There are 30 “new” monsters.  16 of them are reskins – generally just “tougher” with more damage or a new element.
  • The added movesets make combat more enjoyable than simply using the same combo over and over again.  Lateral moves and flinch shots are a joy.  Offset with the addition of snow/sand to restrict movement.
  • Clutch attacks are extremely powerful, but there’s a lack of training on how it all works.  A successful knockdown (to the wall) causes an enrage.  Attacking the head requires specific timing.  Combined with creature mounts, it’s a great way to “get off the floor”.
  • There are still some bugs that need to be worked out.  Using the radial menu to equip Mantles doesn’t always work.  Enemy health indicators don’t always trigger.  The new MASSIVE monsters can block camera angles.
  • Some new monster’s effectiveness is entirely based on their movement speed and your ability to react.  Tigrex/Barioth/Deviljho are good examples.  It’s cool the first few times fighting them, but eventually you just want the ADHD stuff to end.
  • The looks of the armor is top notch.   The player housing is also really cool, but sadly you need a loading screen to get to it.  The weapons though… there was a general lack of effort there.  Lots of reskins, or things that just don’t match the theme.
  • Fishing is still in the game.  All small creatures have a quest to capture a gold trophy (very large version) for some room cosmetics.
  • PC version has mod support!

Let the hunting continue.

Breadth & Depth

I’m further along into Iceborne, with a lot of sidetracking along the way

  • I’m only missing 2 canteen ingredients now.  Having more food choice is a major benefit
  • I’m still with Charge Blades, but I’ve moved from Blast to Poison.  That required a half dozen other hunts to get the pieces for a Rank 10 weapon.
  • I’ve upgraded a bunch of mantles and boosters.  This increases the effectiveness of items (like being able to take 50% more damage, or heal duration).
  • Velkhana is down.  I should have invested in more Ice resistance to simplify this fight, but hey, it’s down.

Going through this, I’ve come to a realization that this expansion requires a different level of thinking than the base game (or Dauntless for that matter).  It instead requires you to plan ahead of time, research the enemy, learn their tactics, then exploit them.  Sure, that sounds simple but it’s not in practice.  Some examples.

One of the first enemies you find in the base game is Great Jagras.  You can pretty much button mash and take him down.  Anjanath is a few bits later, and he shoots a ton of fire.  You need to learn to dodge roll.  Diablos comes along, and now you need to learn to guard and counter.  Nergigante shows up a bit later, and now you need to learn to evade dive (or you will be 1-shot).  Teostra/Lunastra teach you the benefits of resistance.  Along the way you learn that food buffs are super important, you need to use palico gear for damage/support, and that decorations can make a huge difference in end-game gear.

End-game is the base game was about perfecting skill builds, with both gear an decorations.  Hunting the perfect decorations was a very long process.  Some are so rare, I never found them in 100 hours of play.

Iceborne assumes you’ve mastered all of that before hand.  It doesn’t hold back, and throws a massive amount of preventable damage your way – but only preventable if you’ve been paying attention.  It assumes you know how to use the radial wheel, that you understand that resistances are a big deal, that instant use items (max potions, herbal medicine) are essential, that you always need slinger ammo, that you need to keep a farcaster at all times, and a dozen other bits.

When I started Iceborne, I had forgotten a fair chunk of that.  My first fight against Banbaro (the big moose) was a trainwreck.  I remember barely winning that fight, and then taking some time to re-assess what was going on.  MHW doesn’t ever provide any feedback as to what’s working or not – it just leaves you to it.  The player needs to discover what works, what doesn’t, and how it all intermingles.  I found I could just shoot a rock at the Banbaro when it has something to charge with, and it would just drop it.  That the head took way more damage than the legs.  That I could Clutch mount it after specific moves, but not after others.  The best times where I could pop a potion to heal, or lay down a healing booster.  All these bits together allowed me to take down a tempered version with barely a scratch.

There’s just a sheer breadth of things to take into consideration in this game.

In Dauntless, you consider the weapon type, the damage type/resistances, the passive skills, and then the enemy attack patterns.  There are some consumables, but they really don’t have a huge impact unless you’re speed running.  They are a pain to craft, and battles are so quick you feel like you’re farming more than playing.

In MHW you have the above, as well as:

  • Terrain
  • Grimalkynes
  • Palico gear
  • Canteen
  • Consumables
  • Environment  (reduce stamina or health)
  • Other monsters (turf wars)
  • Mounting

I could (and likely will) write something about the seemingly insane depth of weapon combat, but for simplicity I’ll talk about Terrain, since it seems rather simple.  Each map has multiple places to have a fight.  Maybe movement is restricted (water/mud/snow).  Maybe the area causes damage (spikes/fire/poison).  There are small creatures around that are likely to join the fight against you.  There are minor traps (poison/sleep/paralysis) that you can lure the monster.  There are large traps that cause major damage to the monster.  There are walls to jump off and attack, ledges to roll off and hit the monster on the head.  Heck, there are places where the floor just gives way.  Some monsters are just miles easier to fight on one map vs. another.

Each category of things has a high level of variety and inherent complexity.  When it all comes together, it looks like a cakewalk.  Reminds me a bit of people speedrunning something like Celeste on 1 life, when I went through a few hundred to complete the game.  Each hunt you undertake, even if you fail it, provides valuable information for the next one.  It’s a rare game that provides that level of challenge and reward – and dramatically improves the “stickyness” factor.