Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Improving RvR in Warhammer Online

Mark Jacobs made a big announcement yesterday about Mythic's plans to focus on changing and fixing the RvR portion of Warhammer Online. It sounds like their brains are moving in the right direction, but I think there needs to be some significant changes to RvR in WAR aside from simply adding in an influence system.

Below are some various thoughts and ideas I've had about Open RvR and Keep Sieges in particular. And no, this article doesn't discuss the maligned contribution system and the gold bag rewards. I really don't care so much about the items. Having fun is my focus when I play. This post will also not touch on any issues regarding scenarios.

Note: My babbling below comes from playing up to level 31 on an active server, participating in a handful of Tier 4 battles and sieges as well as too numerous to count fights in Tiers 1-3.

Second Note: Most of this was written long before the announcement from Mythic linked above. But this information did prompt me to finish up this post.


Lets start this off with some talk about Open RvR. Open RvR is combat in the RvR areas, usually centered around Battlefield Objectives or pushing the opposing side back into their warcamp.

One of the big issues with Open RvR is simply the large, empty spaces. Coupled with scattered objectives, awkward terrain (such as thousand foot high cliffs), and lack of anything else to do, makes it very easy to march in, capture the area and then march back out without ever seeing an enemy player.

Another issue is the lack of purpose regarding Battlefield Objectives. Aside from the experience and renown gain when capturing them, these spots really serve no strategic or tactical use. Give each side a reason for controlling these spots.

BOs should provide some advantage to RvR in the local area. The buffs from the guard captains at BOs can be nice (aside from the fact that the easiest BOs to get to always seem to have the merchant buff!), but give us something interesting and useful. Maybe a long-range siege battery that if controlled by your side, can be commanded to drop AoE catapult-type attacks on either the keep or the besieging force.

Or how about Bugman's Brewery in Blakfire Pass or the Tavern in Tabelecland? If Order controls this spot, then the NPCs in the BOs and keep in this zone have plenty of beer to drink and thus are emboldened to fight harder. Something small, but meaningful like making them do more damage. BOs could provide also provide a discount to owning a nearby keep. For each BO owned by your side near the keep, upkeep costs for claiming that keep are reduced by 5%.

Here are some other thoughts and ideas about Open RvR in general.

  • Markers on the world map are not up to date. There have been a number of times where I've traveled to a land where I saw the enemy held a keep, only to find when I arrived that the keep had already been taken by my side.

  • Keeps under attack should have better grading of how much of an attack is occuring. One player wandering by and getting one hit in on a guard is treated the same way as an assault by four warbands with siege equipment as far as the indicators are concerned.

  • On a related note, the cryers in warcamps should speak up whenever ANY keep is under attack. Along with slightly varying messages, such as "The outer door has been breached by our foes at Gnol Baraz!"

  • Battlefield objectives should have a little marker on the zone map indicating whether or not they are available to be captured. It sucks to spend time running to an objective only to find that you can't even try to capture it yet.

  • There needs to be more points of interest in the RvR areas. Something else to fight over besides the one to four focus points that are currently there. (Just one example.)

  • Ability to bind in a Warcamp. Making it difficult to get to the RvR areas was not a good decision. Why do I have to bind in a PvE area? (note: This was just added recently but since it was already in my list of things to improve, I figured I would leave it in for future reference)
  • More Contested PQs. There seem to be only a handful of these, and they are awkwardly placed so that one side has a clear advantage to accessing them. Contested PQs should be everywhere. Give us a reason to engage in PvP outside of the RvR zones

  • Add in more NPC patrols to the RvR area when one side controls all the objectives. And not just around the fort, but between the BOs as well.

  • NPC 'scouts' that shout out warnings about enemy warbands. If they see more than XX number of enemy players, they make a zone-wide shout announcing their presence and where the enemies are located. So, in order to move through the area without drawing attention, you would want small, scout-killing parties out in front of your main force that can dispatch the scouts without causing them to raise a zone-wide alarm.


There are numerous problems and bugs related to keep sieges. The biggest defensive issue is getting to the keep before its taken. A full, prepared warband can tear down the outer doors in the time it takes me to recall to the nearest warcamp and run to the fort. The problem for attackers is the lack of options and strategy. Basically, there is only one. Bash down the doors, charge up the one ramp and kill the lord. There really is no strategy involved. And if there are player defenders, the ONLY way to succeed is to have them heavily outnumbered.

Step 1: The Initial Siege

First off, someone really needs to very carefully go through every single siege pad in and around every single keep and check their LOS, as well as actual visibility (ie what the player can see). Their are numerous places where siege engines have no LOS to other siege engines, or, they are out of range. A catapult placed on a siege pad should never be useless. I should be able to see and target all the enemy siege pads.

Secondly, move the guards back from the doors. Having them run in and out constantly getting in single hits is extremely annoying and just plain dumb. Or better yet, keep them from runing through the doors altogether. And on a similar note, increase the leash range for the guards and patrols. Too often I see them rubberband back and forth because they decide to attack a healer who is out of their leash range.

Next up, you need to stop the ability for defending players to run inside through a gauntlet of foes. If a player is in combat, they shouldn't be able to go in through the doors at all. This will give the attacking players incentive to defend the postern doors, and it will also provide incentive for those inside to make a sally outside in order to secure that door for their reinforcements. Getting in and out of the keep should be about control, not about who has the most lag-free connection.

Add in some interesting siege options such as the Orcapult (Greenskin special catapult that Black Orcs can use to try and launch themselves onto the walls. Sometimes they miss with disastrous results.) Allow the option to seize the gatehouse from the inside and open the gates (put a lever in the gatehouse with a long interaction time that can be used to open the gates).

Along with these changes to give more options to the attackers, you need to help out the defenders as well. The main issue I've found when defending keeps is simply that by the time I recalled to a warcamp and ran out to the keep that was under attack, the outer doors would already be down. So give the gates some more health and make it more resistant to spells and bleeds (in fact, I think that doors should be immune to all sorts of things, but that's another issue).

Also, put some NPC archers up on the walls! What kind of shoddy keep defense has noone on the walls!?

Step 2: Inside the Outer Walls

For Tier three keeps and up, we really need to some more points of interest inside the first keep walls. You have all of this area inside the walls that is virtually useless and generally ignored. The only points of interest are the gates, the walls and the postern doors. Much too narrowly focused.

Having such a single, narrow focal point throughout the entire keep assault really makes things boring. Here are a few random ideas that popped in my head.

1) A Barracks with a hero-level guard captain. If the attacking players don't go and kill this captain, he periodically spawns a full group of guards that head for the front door. Not enough to seriously hamper a sizable warband, but enough to be annoying and provide another point of conflict in the fight for the inner keep. Attackers have a reason to kill him, while defenders have a reason to defend him.

2) Magical teleporter - This provides another way for defending players to get inside aside from the postern door and also a way for the defenders to sally from an unexpected spot. Attackers will obviously want to destroy this.

3) Add-in the ability to break down a postern door. These are doors after all. However, they are generally small and placed in awkward attack locations so that a ram cant be used. However, if the attacking players want to try and beat it down with their swords, that should be an option. Inside the postern door should be a narrow, easily defended hallway. Not the best solution for storming a keep, but something to add another layer of potential strategy and tactics.

Step 3: The Final Assault

Once inside the keep, things really get ugly when you have defenders (and are simply boring when you don't). Trying to crowd up a single-narrow staircase that opens directly onto a tiny room with more narrow stairs up to the third floor is just annoying. In particular, a heavy mass of players combined with the decreased room for camera angles makes this fight not much fun. Make the room bigger and make the Lord and his guards move faster if you're worried about players kiting them.

Make the inside of the keeps interesting. Currently they are extremely plain.

Turrets and whatever else attacking through walls, floors an ceilings is a pretty awful bug. This really needs to be fixed ASAP. These bugs seem to result in lots of extra lag as well.

One of the worst things about the Lord room is the fact that the Lord and his bodyguards reset when they reach the top of the stairs. And where is the first place they make a beeline for when they get low on health? That's right, the top of the stairs. The easy (and sensible) solution is to just make it so that they don't try to run at all. They should stay and fight to the death once engaged.

The inside of keeps definitely need some love. Multiple stairs, larger interiors, hallways and passages to fight over. One room down, one room up is so boring and uninteresting. The rooms themselves should be larger to start with. Give us some room to maneuver and engage our foes rather than having everyone pile up into one big mass.

Step 4: The Aftermath

Killing a Keep Lord is a bit of a letdown after the crazy combat of an all-out assault. Insta-spawn guards and keep lords are boring. Have the new troops spawn slightly outside the keep and march inside, taking their assigned spots.

I understand that supposedly, keeps NPCs do upgrade after a while when a guild claims a keep and holds onto it for extended periods. However, I have never seen evidence of this in-game, nor have I seen any official info about this feature from Mythic. It sounds good in practice, but given the fact that a keep can go from completely safe to dead Keep Lord in 20 minutes, makes it pretty much impossible to ever maintain a claimed keep on servers with active, balanced populations (and even on those servers a late hours raid could easily make short work of any NPC defense).

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Pimpin' the Interface, WAR Style

After a month of getting by with the default UI options, I finally broke down and looked into installing some player made addons.

My general goal when looking at addons is giving myself more empty screen real estate and a cleaner, more streamlined UI. I like to do as much as I can with the built-in interface options and find addons that are simple and to the point, without a lot of extra fluff that I don't use. I also try to keep the number of addons I'm running to a minimum. The more you have, the more you have to worry about conflicts, updates, etc. Five or Six addons at most would be ideal for me.

I did quite a bit of interface tweaking in WoW via addons, and its obvious that the WAR addon community (as well as the WAR API that allows addons) is still in its infancy. So while the addons themselves are generally easy to install (simply copy the folder into your Interface -> Addons folder), they all use a variety of slash commands to change options in-game and there are a number of minor issues with a lot of them.

One of the first addons you will likely need is Libslash. This is a dependency that many other addons require. It allows the addon authors to easily incorporate slash commands to allow users to control the addon settings.

First off, a quick note about what I changed with the default UI options. Looking at this first screenshot you can see that I have hidden both my experience and renown bars. It's not overly important to me to know exactly how far along in rank I am, so out they went. I decreased the size of the game options bar and the zone control bar, putting both in the center. I've also broken my chat into three tabs and removed the combat tab altogether. One chat tab is the basic default tab, the other is for all guild and alliance chat as well as tells, while the third is for say, emotes, party, warband and scenario. General and guild chat tabs are on the left and the local chat tab is on the tight. I also moved around a number of screen elements to try and keep everything compact and near the edges of the screen.

Click on the images below to see a larger version.

In the bottom right you can see my minimap, provided by Custom Map. Not only does it remove the extra graphic fluff around the mini-map, but it makes it into a nice square shape (which is great for fitting it into a corner) and also allows me to zoom out to the zone level, which is nice for getting a quick view of the local battlefield objective and keep status. Current location is displayed above the map, and at the bottom of the map, it gives your percentage influence for the current area.

Warband and party healthbars are controlled by Squared. Makes everything nice and simple and also has numerous commands for changing the shape, size, layout, colors, etc. It has an option for displaying buffs/debuffs on players in your warband, but I have that disabled to try and improve my system performance. You can move the Squared display around by going into the Layout Editor and moving the Squared Anchor box.

The only issue I've had with this addon so far is that every game session, I have to go into the warband UI and manually tell it to not display the default warband healthbars. There doesnt seem to be a way in Mythic's UI options to just not display this. Apparently there are are other addons that will take care of hiding the default warband interface, but so far I've just been manually disabling it every time rather than adding in yet another addon.

Healthbars for myself, pet, target and friendly target are all controlled by Clean Unit Frames, I've never really understood why MMOS force me to look at photos of myself and those I have targeted. It would seem like this would be an obvious option to add in from the beginning. There is a little bit of weirdness with this addon in that each UI element has a small sliver of black space on the left side, and to get mouseover info on buffs and debuffs, you have to hover over a very precise, tiny area at the top of the buff icon, but otherwise it works great and has a compact, sleek look that I appreciate. Character rank and renown rank are both displayed on my healthbar. Champion, hero and lord level mobs are noted by the + signs next to their names on the target healthbars.

Vertigo is used to control the layout of the action bars. You can change the number of buttons each bar has as well as how many columns the buttons are arranged in. The bars can be moved and sized as normal via the layout editor. I have Action Bar 1 reduced to 6 buttons and use it for storing all of my attacks (it switched pages based on my current 'plan'. See the PlanB info below). Action Bars 2 and 3 are below that along the bottom of the screen and I altered the hotkeys for one of them to use the F1 through F8 keys. And then, over on the right next to the mini-map, I have a smaller, vertical bar where I store consumable items for quick usage.

MinChat is a simple chat mod to remove the scrollbar from the side of the chat windows and also removes the extra graphics fluff. The mousewheel is used to scroll through the text in the chat windows.

Note: It looks like I hadn't yet installed MinChat when I took the above screenshot as you can see the scrollbars on the chat windows.

On top of those I also have two mods that cant really be presented in pictures.

PlanB - This mod is a godsend for Black Orcs and Swordmasters. It sets things up so that your first action bar will change pages based on your current Career status. This way you can reduce icon clutter on your screen. Unfortunately, Mythic has it setup so that page 2 of action bar 1 is the same as action bar 2, which makes it kind of useless for people who want more than one action bar on the screen. Luckily, PlanB has ways to handle this. First off, I used the /planb pagemax slash command to increase the number of pages available. Then I used the /planb pages command to make it scroll through pages 1, 5 and 6 on action bar 1, so that those buttons wouldn't overlap with my other action bars. Very handy. I held off on installing this mod for a while, but as soon as I got it setup and configured, I kicked myself for not installing it earlier. It makes combat as a Black Orc much easier to deal with.

Buff Throttle - Controls how often buffs and debuffs refresh. Given the extreme number of these seen during RvR, this addon seems to be pretty much required if you are interested in engaging in large RvR battles. It definitely put a dent in the amount of lag I was having to deal with.

So that comes out to 8 mods total. One is simply a library for some of the other mods, and another is only in place due to WAR's poorly optimized client. I'm sure there are lots of other mods out there that many people would find useful. I don't do crafting and I also don't get a lot of emails, so I haven't looked into any mods that help out with those two features.

So this is just Round One. I expect to continue tweaking my interface (and in fact, I've already made some modifications since taking these screenshots). Look for another post on tweaking the WAR interface soon.