Interview: Crowfall’s Rhea Shelley on what to expect from Revival’s big class update

It's all about domains

    
6

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been covering update 6.200 arriving in (the now beta) Crowfall. The Revival, as ArtCraft is calling it, introduces significant changes for the character talent and build system with a new level of customization: Domains.

To get the scoop on what to expect from Domains, I chatted with ArtCraft Rhea Shelley, Principal Designer for the studio and mastermind for Domains. Read on for his thoughts on what makes the new specialization system so unique and why it’s destined to empower players on their quest to build their own special characters.

Massively OP: Over the past few weeks, ACE has been really drumming up its next update, called The Revival. Can you tell us a little bit about why this update is an important milestone for Crowfall?

Crowfall Principle Designer Rhea Shelley: Yes! We spent a lot of time talking with the players about the state of classes and character creation and we saw opportunities that we felt would allow us to strengthen the system. ArtCraft, and the players both wanted to add more variety to the possible builds a player could create within the various classes. For those not familiar, Crowfall has 12 Races and 11 classes. Before the update, we found that players often picked many of the same talents and disciplines (powers); gravitating towards the same promotions or sub-classes. What players wanted was for their characters, or “Crows,” to feel more uniquely differentiated and to that end they wanted more choices and more diversity added to the specialization system. What this milestone does is create a system that allows for a deeper level of exploration and discovery to ensure you find that build that you want to create.

I believe in May of this year, we got our hands on the final playable class, the Frostweaver. This was big for players not just because it had been anticipated and teased earlier, but also because we finally had the chance to try out all the classes Crowfall has to offer. Now with all the classes developed, was it always ACE’s plan to revamp and change the class talent trees or was this something the new team decided to address after hearing feedback from your players?

A little of both actually. We were busy working on finishing up other systems and hadn’t revisited the talents and specialization system, but we knew we wanted to get back to it. As we started finishing our priority features and core systems, we heard from the players that there were some areas where they felt the system could be improved. The more we listened, the more excited we got about the opportunity to really step up the array of options to give the players that unique profile they were looking for. So, we made the decision to tackle this monster of a task. In a game like Crowfall, the build you have is a big part of how you see yourself fitting into this world. It is your “vessel,” to use our game terminology, and it defines your capabilities and your special role in this universe. It is a big part of your player identity.

I recall J. Todd Coleman mentioning before that the vast amount of options available for customizing and designing your build make balancing individual classes and builds almost impossible. What kind of balance considerations were involved in the new design?

There’s a lot that goes into balancing this type of system. To expand on Todd’s point, it’s virtually impossible to perfectly balance every single facet. There are just too many variables. That being said, we have a team of people who go over every detail from multiple angles to try and provide the best possible experience for our players. We look at a significant number of impactors; functionality, feasibility, tech limitations, stackable effects, fit with the game, the Race and the Class expectations — not to mention all the math behind it all. It’s a massive amount of data.

Now, with all that being said, giving players options is key. Every player has their own vision of how they want their character to contribute and what role they want to play in this world. What we want is to empower the vision they have for who they will be and allow them to discover options along the way that serve that vision. There’s play and counterplay; specialization and optimization, and all sorts of vectors to try to consider when creating a build. It’s a little daunting when you break it all down across all the components! At the end of the day, the options offer players a lot of knobs they can turn to create the build that fits their playstyle. Along the way to their ultimate final build, they are going to have to make tough choices as they cannot have it all. That is how the system self-regulates.

While ACE has certainly streamlined the talents, I’d argue that you’ve increased the amount of options and variety in builds by an order of magnitude with the Domains. You’ve stated there are fifteen domains and each class has access to about nine of them (three per each promotion class). What was the specific goal of the new specialization system? Was it simply to add more player options and creativity of build diversity or were you aiming to pull a class out of the one role it had primarily been assigned to by the community?

Both, actually. There were a number of promotion (sub) classes that were less popular, so we saw an opportunity to breathe new life into those options. In some cases, we just put more focus on what they were uniquely able to do. In other cases, we removed abilities from certain classes so that others had room to shine. And in other cases, we completely changed what a promotion class did to add more variety in role choice. So now, if all the promotions are interesting and viable, how can they be differentiated? How can one Vandal be different from another?

The answer is “Domains.” A Domain is a themed collection of major and minor disciplines. Each discipline offers one or more benefits, such as bonuses, traits, and powers. The Domains are themed, such as the “Domain of War,” or the “Domain of Shadow.” The disciplines themselves can often be found in multiple different Domains; so if you have a particular power that is critical to your character build, there are often different ways to get there.

For example, let’s say you really wanted the Ghost Army power. To get that, you need the “Grim Reaper” major discipline. That discipline is found in the Plague and Death Domains, which makes them available to certain Assassins, Duelists, Rangers, Frostweavers, Knights, and Myrmidons.

This approach means that even characters of the same promotion class can feel very different based on the choice of Domain. While one Vandal might take the Shadow Domain, which deals a lot with stealth powers, another Vandal might take the Plague Domain, which deals with poisons. Even two Vandals who both take the Plague Domain might choose different Disciplines to equip, creating a wide array of combinations even within the same Class AND Domain choice.

In just about every game I play, I look for the paladin-like character. In Guild Wars 1, I was a Warrior/Monk and later a Dervish main. In Guild Wars 2 I main a Guardian. And in Crowfall I’ve seen the Templar as the main for my chosen playstyle, however, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say I’ve been side-eyed a bit for it in my guild. Primarily because its role is kind of narrow and there isn’t really a strong reason to have more than one or two in the group. If the team needs a healer, they usually want a cleric or druid. If they want crowd control or DPS there are a bunch of other options as well. How do you see these new Domains changing a class’s role? Would you say it expands the class’s flexibility or does it more focus the class into a role by doubling down on its CC, damage, or some other abilities? (Mainly I want to know if my Templar is going to be more useful though!)

HAHA!! Well, Templar definitely got some love in this update. We spent a lot of time trying to make classes viable and impactful in their primary roles. So, while there might still be a ‘best’ healer or ‘best’ tank, we hope that to be debatable… and that doesn’t mean that there aren’t other options to fill those roles with their own unique advantages. The power gap between the ‘best’ and the ‘next’ should be much, much less now. With that in mind, your Paladin can now be a viable healer. We also strengthened some of the Templar’s other powers so that they feel more unique in how they play.

Now, the Domains function by giving the players a set of Disciplines as I understand it. Did the team create a whole new set of Disciplines or did you simply gather up existing ones? Do these Disciplines replace the existing Disciplines that players would equip from drops and crafting, or do they supplement them?

Again, we did both. Many of the powers on the old Disciplines weren’t being used. So, we took our existing set of Disciplines and broke them down into smaller parts, paired them together to create a theme of sorts, and revisited the powers to try and make them as desirable as possible. We also brought back some old powers that players had requested we return and did the same thing – giving them new pairings within the system. And THEN we added a whole new slew of Disciplines to fill out various holes in the system.

Before, I think we had around 30 Major Disciplines and about 35 Minor Disciplines. After this rework, we had 111 Major Disciplines, and 89 Minor Disciplines. So yeah, things got big fast. And yes, these 200 new Disciplines replace the old ones. That’s not to say that some of the old ones didn’t carry over to some extent.

Thinking about just how many options there are for players to build their characters; I wonder if ACE has considered some sort of tool for players to experiment with class builds. The min-maxer in me really likes to see the best way to pump up those numbers. It isn’t really reasonable for players to level up and try out every possible combination they’re interested in, but if they have a web tool for allocating points and seeing how a build’s stats would look could be extremely useful. Has anything like this come up?

Great question — we are actually working on that right now. We are creating a help system that allows you to query, filter and sort all of the options, sort of like an in-game wiki or a site like dndbeyond. We call it the Crowpedia. There are a LOT of Disciplines to sort through now. Also, we not only have Disciplines inside the 15 Domains, but each Race and Class grants direct access to some Disciplines, also.

Finding the various ways to acquire certain powers is a spider web of possibilities. With the new in-game tool, you’ll be able to filter and search through the various Disciplines and discover the ways to achieve the things you’re looking for. As for a specific character builder, we don’t have that on our schedule at the moment, but there are players in our community out there who have already scrubbed the data and used it to make online character builders.

On that note, I just want to say again that our community is incredible. We really couldn’t have done this milestone without them. The streaming, the feedback, and the support in the testing (which has been a massive effort given the number of combinations), it’s all been incredible, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the way our players have supported us throughout this process.

With the class specialization revamp in place, what can players expect to look forward to next?

Well, more of the same for starters. We’ll be taking feedback and making adjustments for a good while. Again, there are so many moving parts that it’s impossible to account for everything. But our player base is creative and thorough. Once we get these new Disciplines and Talents in a good spot, we’ll look to expand the Domains with new powers and abilities. The goal is to have hard choices… if there’s a clear winner in your pool of choices, then it’s not really a hard choice.

We’ve made great strides in getting things more in line and we’ll continue to do so moving forward. Outside of that, we’re working on completing the feature set that we promised during the Kickstarter and we are working tirelessly to polish the game and get it to a high shine.

We’d like to thank Rhea Shelley and others at ArtCraft for taking the time to answer all our questions and giving us a peek behind the curtain of The Revival update!
Click to open full press release for the patch
ArtCraft Entertainment Announces THE REVIVAL, an Innovative Character Specialization System in Crowfall that Delivers Infinite Possibilities

Crowfall, the competitive Throne War MMO, announced its latest Game Update, The Revival, today. The Revival delivers a significantly expanded set of options players can choose from to create uniquely differentiated Crow character builds. The system offers players more options in how they play while forcing tougher choices at each decision point.

We knew that giving players options was key, so we’ve extended our character specialization system, adding another layer to ensure players had more choices. With The Revival release, Crowfall is introducing Domains. Domains offer players the choice of one of 15 different groups of bundled Disciplines from which players can choose one (from a set of three) based on their chosen sub-class. Domains are themed around a style of play, for example the “Domain of War” or the “Domain of Shadow.” Within the system, there may be Disciplines that appear in more than one Domain. To be more clear, let’s say you wanted the Ghost Army power. To get that, you need the “Grim Reaper” major discipline. That discipline is found in both the Plague and Death Domains… which makes them available to Assassins, Duelists, Rangers,Frostweavers, Knights, and Myrmidons.

Ultimately, the addition of Domains offers deeper specialization by virtue of how the disciplines you gain in a Domain combine with your other powers and your promotion class. For example, you might have a single poison buff that allows you to apply a poison to your enemy when you attack them. But if you choose a Domain focused on poisons and select the relevant Disciplines, you could stack additional poison buffs and apply them all simultaneously intensifying the impact. That benefit is gained by your choice of a Domain and specific Disciplines within it. Two players with the same sub-class and the same Domain may choose different Disciplines creating a broad set of combinations – even when choosing the same Domain and sub-class.

“This update is a tribute to our players as it was their feedback that led us to innovate on the system. The system empowers players to be the architect of their Crow’s unique build – the power is in the player’s hands, it is only limited by our player’s imaginations,” said J. Todd Coleman, creative director for the game.

Crowfall is currently in Beta and will continue to release new game updates as they continue on the path to launch. The Revival also includes unique Campaign Rewards, each campaign war will now reward winning teams with unique rewards at the close of the Campaign and lastly, players will also see the game take another step forward in performance optimization.

As Crowfall continues to iterate on its innovative Throne War PvP experience, interested gamers can join the battle by registering for the free Beta at Crowfall.com.

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Vunak

Templar bit made laugh. There is and was such a misconception that Templar was a weak class. It was the hands down strongest class in the game. That’s howh Order the smallest faction at the time toppled the largest factions in the game with significantly less numbers 3:1 easy. The only way to beat a Templar ball was to literally exploit.

If your guild told you not to play a Templar they don’t know much about the game and are doing the “Winter blades Meta” which was easily destroyed.

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lostkoss

It is too bad they have screwed this up as badly as they have.

This could have been a really good game.

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Ben Rubinstein

I too would love to know. These details sound really interesting.

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lostkoss

Just to be brief, they went too far into trying to be a MMO yet have no real MMO content.

The original vision was superior.

1. There is nothing to do outside of the siege times.
2. There is no functioning economy.
3. Crafting requires too many materials.
4. The offline skill training is lame. (It could have been great like EVE.)
5. Domains just pigeonhole Abilities rather than making more interesting choices.

There are many, many more problems than just that, but I don’t have all day.