Okay, so I did not expect this to drop on a Saturday. Well played, Pixonic, you got me out of the household chores. Instead, with a cup of coffee beside me, I spooled up the Autumn release video, sat back, and took it all in.
And man, was there a lot to take in. If you haven’t watched the video or read the article yet, you might want to. Much of what I say here presumes some foreknowledge.
I remember thinking a few months ago that the pace of the game’s development seemed slower than it had in the past. We had the Wild Bunch at the end of last year, and months went by before we even started to test the Dash bots on the test server. By comparison, the second half of 2017 has shown that there’s plenty still to come in War Robots.
So let’s jump right in and talk about some of these changes!
Okay, first things first, we’ve got a trio of new bots looming, just after getting the Dashes.
Inquisitor: Heavy jumping bot that takes advantage of stealth to leap into the fray
Glider: As close to “flight” as we’re likely to see in this game. I was reminded of World of Warcraft when Pixo discussed why unfettered flight was off the table- zones just aren’t designed/balanced for them. This contrasts with an in-development game like Battle of Titans, where the flight option has been a design consideration from the outset.
Hellburner: Whoa, where’d this guy come from? If he was on the test server, I must have blinked and missed it. If you’ll forgive the grim comparison, this guy is essentially a suicide bomber with enough weaponry to fight its way to where it wants to discharge.
I love that Light bots are finding ways to be viable, and the comedy factor of people scrambling to get away from one of these things is not to be overlooked (I can’t wait for Andro Man to get ahold of these things for his Funny Squad vids). Again, we’re seeing Pixonic use space (or in this case, proximity) as a design mechanic, and this will have a comparable effect to the in-development chain lightning weapon by putting clumps of players at risk.
I’m also surprised that Pixonic didn’t take the opportunity to link these three bots together into a “set” like they did the Dashes and Wild Bunch, but then story, narrative, and the “Vorthos” stuff has never seemed very high on their priorities list. Le sigh.
Pros: Hello diversity! You don’t have to be Methuselah to remember the days when people remarked on the ubiquity of the Griffin. More bots means more options for niche diversity and a rock-paper-scissors approach the game really wants to have.
Cons: It took how long to iterate the Dash bots on the test server until Pixo got it release-ready, and even then there’s a strong chorus of voices pillorying them for making the Dashes too strong. There’s a risk of too-much-too-soon here, and if Pixonic intends to rely on post-release tuning to get these bots “just right” then they’re going to have to expect a lot of playerbase frustration every time.
What, you didn’t think Pixonic announced a new weapon? Look again:
Now, the Ember is one we’ve seen on the test server (the flamethrower, I believe), but seeing it here more or less is confirmation that it’s coming, and not that far off.
But the real news is for the end-game. Coming soon, you can re-upgrade your level 12 weapons, taking them to a (virtual) level 24. If I had to guess, I’m calling this one as the most controversial/polarizing of the update’s offerings.
Pros: This gives the game vital end-game objectives for the most advanced players. While there are some who will feel that the endgame should remain static, happy to be free from the arms race against other players and preferring the relatively even playing field the endgame offers, there are others who are likely to welcome the opportunity to make use of their stale hoards of resources. A lack of endgame engagement is one of the primary drivers seeing a game’s most enfranchised players leave it to seek novelty elsewhere.
To again invoke World of Warcraft, I remember when Wrath of the Lich King came out, a lot of players burned through the content and had little to do except grind daily quests, which grew stale and boring in very short order. Games need to have things to engage players at every stage, or they risk losing those players.
Cons: Making the game’s most powerful weapons even more powerful is definitely going to benefit the most well-resourced players (the “whales,” a term I’m not big on), furthering the gap between the haves and the have-nots. Less-well-heeled players who have grinded their way to the top will suddenly face a gulf in class as they enter the battlefield, and with almost a grim irony may find themselves on the receiving end of ye olde seale clubbe.
This would be less of a concern, I suspect, if the higher-end of the league system was well-populated and -defined. Ideally, the upgraded-weapons hipsters would self-select into an even higher league given their improved performance and battlefield effectiveness. But that league? It doesn’t exist. Pixonic has had to make the highest leagues of the game less restrictive for want of players to populate them, so chances are they’ll all still be in the same shallow pool.
That means the skill-based environment they currently enjoy will- once again- become more gear-based. I’m not there, so I can only speculate, but I look forward to hearing the opinions of the folks at the top on this one- good, bad, or indifferent.
Dreadnought is here. I’m pleased to see that Pixonic is not just limiting the fast pace of development to stuff folks have to earn, but adding in things that players of all levels can enjoy. New maps really can help keep the game novel and fresh, and they’re coming at a commendable rate.
We just had Valley, now we’ve got Dreadnought, and there’s at least two more in the works (Ship, and the new Castle).
Pros/Cons: Hard to see any cons here- variety is the spice of life!
Here, we’ve got an upgraded acquisition system. Like any systemic change, perception of value will vary widely in the community. Some will think it’s great, others will find it to be the worst thing ever and yet another sign that Pixonic is circling the drain. But let’s step around the steaming pile of hyperbole and give this the attention it deserves.
Pros: This is an answer to the “too many currencies” complaint- and indeed, Pixonic references that concern directly in the update article. If you’re gonna slag a company for not listening to players, you should at least acknowledge when they do.
So now we have a “component” system that allows players to “save up” for new weapons and bots, and a likely replacement for the now all-but-obsolete Workshop system. While the devil is in the details, this gives Pixonic a lot of options to keep the playerbase happy.
Previously, bots have been “all or nothing.” You either own a bot…or you don’t. Simple, right? However, this also placed a constraint on Pixonic’s ability to have a graduated ownership structure. Why is this important? Because if “whole bots” are a prize in the roulette system, then they’re going to be relatively scarce. Being able to in effect give away “partial bots” opens up the range of possibilities Pixonic has at their disposal to make the chest system feel more rewarding to players.
Let’s say I want an Inquisitor (because who doesn’t, amirite?). I’m going to spin the roulette wheel as much as I can to get it if that’s my only avenue for acquisition- up to the limit of what I am willing to spend (which could very well be $0, mind). The more I spin and don’t get it, the more apt I am to be frustrated by the entire process.
But let’s say instead I walk away with 65% of the components needed for an Inquisitor. I still won’t be as happy as I would have if I’d won the thing outright, but I’m also less likely to feel like I’m walking away empty-handed. I’ve made real, tangible progress.
A free-to-play (F2P) game I used to play in my pre-WR days, Dungeon Boss, came right to mind when I saw the component system announced. In that game, you assemble a party of heroes to raid dungeons and fight in PVP. There are scores of heroes to choose from, each with their own strengths, weaknesses, and special abilities (think League of Legends). You can win heroes outright from opening special “portals”, or- more likely- you win “tokens” that get you closer towards unlocking them.
At no point in my Dungeon Boss career did I ever feel really shortchanged by this system. Winning heroes outright was rare, and consequently you didn’t peg your hopes on it. Instead, you looked to get there step by step through tokens. Now, the difference here was that the portal/token system was in place when I started Dungeon Boss, so I never had experience or expectation that didn’t conform to that system. Existing players of War Robots already have a different experience (and this expectation), but overall, I think this is a tremendous upgrade over the cycle of new/obsolete currencies I discussed in my last piece.
Cons: Watch this space. It’s hard to gauge this since all we have right now is the concept. I’d be very curious to see some of the finer details of implementation. For instance, since this is being floated as a possible replacement for the Workshop system, will we have some steady, incremental way to earn components outside of the lottery system? In other words, if you want a Carnage, you can save up WSP each day and know at the end of the road you’ll be guaranteed a Carnage.
If you’re allowed to “workshop” components each day for a desired bot or weapon, it’s going to be a lot harder to find fault with this system. Sure, we can argue over the rate of accumulation, but that’s premature at this point. At least conceptually, being able to incrementally earn your way to new gear seems like a lot of upside when compared to the current implementation of “Russian roulette.”
Which, finally, brings us to…
There’s a lot to unpack here. Right now, I’m not a fan of the current system, so I’m encouraged by what Pixonic has revealed.
Pros: You can influence your destiny! That’s a huge pro. To explain, compare a Haechi with a Lancelot. If I want a Lancelot right this very moment, I can open my wallet, swipe my card, and buy it (or spend accumulated Gold). In other words, I have 100% ability to get a Lancelot when I want one.
The same may not be said of the Haechi. Even when it was up for grabs in the Black Market, there was no way to ensure ownership. I could open my wallet and spend the same money I would on that Lancelot buying Keys, and still walk away empty-handed. Certainly a willingness to expend real money made ownership more likely, but ultimately it was up to the whims and caprices of Lady Luck.
For those of us who enjoy the certainty of purchase (I want something, I buy it), that’s a pretty frustrating distribution model. This is particularly acute for those highly-enfranchised players who see little else of interest on the prize wheel. Johnny Newplayer can hardly go wrong on the spin if it comes up with gear, but for me, yet another Galahad is just a disappointing Ag cashout.
This new “prize card” system (which is “in addition to” the Black Market) allows you greater control over outcomes in two ways. First, you can discount up to four prize options. Here’s where a skeptic might suggest that Pixo can simply inflate the number of bad prize outcomes, providing the illusion of influence without any actual change in the odds- just like a store raising prices before offering a “sale discount.” But for now, it’s too early to call.
Second, you will only win each prize once. This is pretty clutch, because it splits the difference between chance and certainty. Let’s take a look at how this works:
So here we see a prizecard tableau. Note that four items have been excluded by the player. Naturally, not every prize is as good as the others, but- this is the important part- each prize can only be won once. That means if I want to get a Haechi, I can keep on rolling until I’ve gotten both outcomes that deliver Haechi components, with the understanding that the maximum number of rolls to this outcome is eleven.
That does offer some certainty. Is it the equivalent of a “direct buy” option like the Lancelot? No, but it’s a big step closer than the “roll until you win (or give up)” model we saw with the first wave of Dashes.
Again, the devil’s in the details. If I roll and win both Haechi prizes above in my first two rolls, will there be a reset mechanism for the prize table? I’m guessing there will be, otherwise there’s not a lot of incentive to roll when you know all the prizes are inferior.
Cons: It’s closer to direct buy than the current system, but it’s not direct buy as we know it. Those wanting to simply buy something off the shelf will be disappointed that that option no longer appears to be available. It may seem the business minds at Pixonic have learned from the industry that random chance systems offer a greater rate of return than direct buy, and the days where War Robots was a rare beacon of free-to-play purity in a somewhat grimier landscape may quite rapidly be coming to an end.
However, this screen offers the tantalizing possibility of direct purchase. There’s a “Purchase” button on the right, and in the demo video, the narrator clicks the Purchase button to get the Kumiho at 7,600 components– 2,400 shy of a full bar. Does this mean real money can be used after all?
If so, this presents the possibility that bots can be purchased at a discount, which would also be a positive step. For instance, let’s say 10,000 Kumiho components are $50. If you save up 5,000, maybe you only have to spend $25 to finish the job. We won’t know until more details are released. After all, this could be a sort of “purchase” option for uncommitted components (sorta like stem cells here), as the video does promise the possibility of being able to convert stockpiled WSP into components.
Is all that so bad? This too remains to be seen. If the Dash bots, Inquisitor, Glider, and Hellburner are all cut-above premium bots that offer a competitive step up, then yes, War Robots stands to lose quite a bit of its F2P credentials.
If instead they’re like the Wild Bunch in that they’re generally balanced but shine in certain niches, then that ensures players with them can enjoy them without leaving other players behind.
Overall, what we don’t know at this point well exceeds what we do know, but fair play to Pixonic for the knowledge dump. We here at MECH*SPECTRUM will be keeping a close eye on how all this unfolds!