Balancing Roles Matters Just As Much As Balancing Classes

Though I haven’t been commenting and publicly hanging on every announcement made by the team at CSE, I have been following Camelot Unchained rather closely over the past year. My inbox is constantly blowing up with an evening update, an alpha test announcement (which by the way are always so last minute or during horrible times for me… come on Mark!), or a newsletter from the team. I think they’re making what looks to be fine progress on the upcoming PvP-centric MMORPG.

The latest newsletter (#19) discusses one item in particular that I think will hit home for a lot of us MMO vets: Balance. CSE is aiming to balance around rock-vs-paper mechanic rather than an apples to apples one. In other words, one class type can bet another class type — or taking it a step further, one class specialized in a certain mechanic can beat another class specialized into a certain mechanic like magic vs plate being strong and physical vs plate being weak.

This rock-vs-paper idea isn’t original — it’s been around forever. Even Dark Age of Camelot utilized the system. What’s also not unique is how difficult the idea of balance can truly be, and no matter how hard anyone has ever tried to create the perfect scenario, it never works that way. Paper doesn’t always beat rock in MMORPGs… and perhaps it shouldn’t be a hard counter. The idea of a perfect counter doesn’t exist, and that’s honestly part of the fun. I have no doubt CSE is well aware.

Taking things a little bit further out of the nitty-gritty mechanics side of this conversation, I like the concept of filling a role. When I say filling a role, in this context we can consider a role as a counter or a necessity — or both.  I’ll dumb it down. I used to really, really like the idea of being the guy who killed archers on the walls of a keep. Those archers were countering melee who would run up to the doors, and to counter them I had to sneak into the keep and take them out.

I like to imagine a PvP world where players will say willing specialize to fill roles. If people are going to carry a battering ram, who is going to hold the shield above them to protect them from arrows? Who is going to repair that door? Who is going to protect the people repairing the door? There are so many complexities when you take a PvP game’s balance outside of “my class heals and your class shoots stuff.”

Balancing ROLES to me is just as important as balancing the mechanics of blunt damage vs. plate armor. Without a balance of roles we are left with a very sterile system where we just worry about what class we’re up against or what weapon they are using rather than how they are playing. Balancing classes around roles becomes even more complicated than simply balancing roles against roles.

The “HOW is my enemy going to defeat me this time” is something I want to see balanced around. It may seem obvious, but that’s where most of these PvP games fail even harder than class balance.

Camelot Unchained “Bater” Details

The Camelot Unchained beta bater test (sorry Mark) is potentially coming pretty quick. Sheesh… it’s already October? Beta is coming (subject to change) early 2016 which means CU should begin taking the shape we can expect to see around launch relatively. Despite backing the game, I’ve purposely been avoiding CU whenever possible. I’ve had access to the alpha tests and I get all of the emails and newsletters, but I’ve kept this distance in order to protect myself and the game.

Getting too close too soon to a game like Camelot Unchained is like asking the fire not to burn you. Even with the upcoming beta, I am foreseeing a lot of change will occur to bring CU’s beta version in line with what MJ and team want to deliver, and what the backers and general public are expecting. The way they are discussing things, it sounds to me like launch is still quite a ways off.

There’s a video you can watch that’s about an hour long. I went ahead and watched it to extract the details you’ll want.

Camelot Unchained Abbot

In Beta Phase 1:

Classes (one of each for each realm (9 classes))

  • Fighters (or “tank” but that felt ambiguous)
  • Healers
  • DPS


  • Generic class without plans to specialize them
  • Gathering materials will be in
  • Full crafting reveal expected before the end of October


  • 1 Larger map
  • 3 small maps with plot ownership, contested stuff, etc.

Lots of other stuff like basic itemization, travel, technical stuff, basic guild system, etc., were mentioned. Most everything was stated as “basic but will be built upon.”

We’ve all been here before. The realistic picture being painted is that this is likely a fall 2017 launch at the earliest. Just like Mark said for beta’s launch date, “Expect the worst,” I’m expecting the worst for release.

Overall, I’m getting excited. I’ll allow myself that much. The classes revealed were the ones I voted for (which is exciting) and I like how I can already feel the class diversity starting to roll in. Hopefully it’s true diversity and not just the same spells reskinned for 3 classes. I want to see a class coming and think, “Incoming Abbot!” rather than, “Incoming melee/healer hybrid!” The class identify needs to be strong. My hopes are realistically high.

DAoC was about PvE

In yesterday’s post about Crowfall I mentioned long-term goals and driving factors for why players should care. What makes someone wake up at 3am to defend a relic? Why should I care if I lose my keep? Many games creating a PvP system these days seem to look to DAoC as an example. WAR, GW2, ESO, and Crowfall all have the keep capturing mechanics and really did/do borrow heavily from the system. While they miss many features like proper character advancement in PvP, map size, and the nitty gritty details of how sieging should work, etc., there’s one bigger picture key ingredient they’re all missing: A focus on PvE.

DAoC was about PvE. The game long-heralded as the best RvR/PvP game of all time was driven by the players caring about PvE and how their characters performed outside of the frontiers (where the realm war/RvR took place).

DAoC had relics which increased your character’s stats and damage. Owning these was paramount and the goal of RvR was typically to try and push hard enough that you controlled the keeps necessarily to make the relic vulnerable. To make players care a bit more about those relics, the realm controlling most keeps had access to the best PvE zone in the game: Darkness Falls. Darkness Falls was the best place to level characters, get gear (that wasn’t player made), and earn money.

I have memories of being in Darkness Falls grouping for Legion and hearing the announcement that Albion was advancing and taking our keeps. We bailed out as fast as possible and rushed to the frontiers to defend or retake our territories in order to keep our coveted Darkness Falls longer.

Player made gear was typically the best back in the day. You weren’t going to earn that gear by PvPing. PvPing gave you realm ranks and points to buy new abilities which made you much stronger, but you still needed that player made gear. Player made gear, like all gear, wore out and broke over time. There was always a need to earn money which meant PvE.

Perhaps I should have started with this, but getting to level 50 was through rigorous PvE. Leveling wasn’t quick (before people macro’d and abused the leveling system like they do in every game). Leveling could take months to reach 50, and you weren’t a ton of use before level 50 out in the frontiers. Leveling through PvP wasn’t an option, and the silly “scaling” systems of today (another way for these games to ignore Pve) did not exist.

Although the “end-game” of DaoC was PvP, and one could PvP the entire time they played (after reaching level 50 and gearing up), the core of the game still maintained a healthy focus on PvE. The key isn’t to ignore PvE or come up with systems to avoid it. The two play-styles needn’t compete against each other. A great game can and perhaps should utilize both in harmony.

Vertical vs. Horizontal Progression: Can one ever really exist without the other?

Horizontal vs vertical progressionI was thinking tonight about what to write tonight (I’m suffering from some massive writer’s block) when I decided to catch up on the Camelot Unchained videos that released while I was moving; Mark did like 5 of them in one day.  I watched the video where Mark talked about character progression and how he wants Camelot Unchained be a game all about horizontal progression with very little, if any, vertical progression.

The knee-jerk reaction these days is to immediately think that horizontal progression is the way to go.  So many people are tired of the gear grinds and this constant desire to chase the carrot upward.  Vertical progression is this horrible monster that makes characters stronger the older they get, and lets them one shot new or ‘less vertical’ characters.  While true, that depiction chooses to demonize the worst aspects of vertical progression while ignoring the upside.  Horizontal progression isn’t perfect.  I get really bored when I feel like my character isn’t progressing in strength.  Being able to do things ‘differently’ isn’t always as satisfying to me as being able to do something better.  Achievements are boring.  Relying entirely on the skill of the player and teamwork can only take me so far before I feel like I’m playing an arcade game or Counter Strike.  Sometimes I don’t want the playing field to be perfectly equal.  Sometimes its not enough that my fireballs are green and yours are red.

Dark Age of Camelot had vertical progression.  Realm Ranks were almost like an experience system for max level players killing others in RvR.  You kill a player, you gain some realm points. Those realm points earn realm ranks, and with those realm ranks you can unlock abilities to make your character stronger.  That is vertical progression.  A RR8 character had abilities that a RR2 did not have, and as a result that RR8 had an advantage.  Was the advantage huge? No, in fact a bad RR8 player would still be killed by a good RR2, but the RR8 was technically elevated above the RR2.

Emphasizing horizontal progression, or making your character different from others, is fine if you can truly create a game where players can be different without gaining power, all the while not creating a completely boring experience.  I have never played a MMO offering me the ability to truly seek after ways to make myself different from others in such a way that I feel like I have truly PROGRESSED horizontally. Choosing a different starting configuration is not progressing horizontally.  Dying my armor another color isn’t progressing horizontally.

I’d say I want to expand the breadth of my abilities, but can that really be done without it being at some inching towards moving vertical?  If I unlock more abilities that others won’t have if they haven’t unlocked them, isn’t that vertical progression?  If I have more tools in my tool belt than you, with everything else held equal don’t those abilities become an advantage that an older character will have over a new one?

No one should be quick to dismiss vertical progression. I truly believe a game relying solely on horizontal progression is destined to lack depth and become boring.  At the same time, if vertical progression is emphasized at the expense of horizontal, then an equally boring game about nothing more than chasing the next tier with absolutely zero depth will be the result.

In the end, it appears that what I’m really saying is horizontal progression should be more vertical, and vertical progression should be more horizontal.  Maybe, in an ideal state, they should be the same line, minimizing the power gap while still creating some room for growth.

Camelot Unchained’s Building and Mining Systems

Camelot Unchained is getting closer to their goal, but even closer to their deadline.  I’ve pledged, and I think a lot of our readers have pledges as well.  CU’s building, and in a way part of its crafting, system was revealed recently.   Personally, I would have lead with this information.  This is huge.  In fact, this is indeed unique and revolutionary, and something that really needs a lot of attention.  I think Camelot Unchained’s building will be at the forefront, at the very core, of everything players are fighting for in RvR, and everything players are working towards.

Why fight to win in RvR? Simple: Finite Resources.  What do you do with those resources?  You build whatever you want in a system that resembles Minecract.  Watch the video below.

CU Mine OwnershipI have my concerns.  These past few days my thoughts have been centered right on the necessity of guilds, and one of my all-time biggest complaints about modern PvP games has been this elitist jackassery that we see in games like GW2. There are these big guilds who think they are God’s gift to the game and they the only ones allowed to own, do, or lead anything.  There becomes this stigma and unwritten rule about taking an area or even participating in PvP if you’re potentially taking the spot of someone else who for some reason ‘deserves’ to be there more than you or should own a keep because victory is more assured if that guild owns the area.

I’m worried that the mine locations in Camelot Unchained will be treated with this same inevitable elitism.  I’m calling it right now; if I roll up to a mine that Wart’s guild has built around and I start tapping away, I’m going to get grief for taking resources away from Wart’s guild who, for some reason, think they own the thing and have a claim to the resources inside.  Just because a mine doesn’t run out right away, that doesn’t change the nature of the typical entitled elitist.  I see on the list that mines can be claimed.  If individuals or guilds claim mines, this will be a disaster that will destroy realm pride and unity.  I still need to be convinced this isn’t destined for epic failure.

The building system sounds awesome, though.  Placing each cell individually the same way I would if I played Minecraft has me already thinking up ways I’d build a base.  Being able to roll up on an enemy’s base and break it down into raw materials introduces this entire new way of getting the crafting side involved.  If a player just wants to set up a house/shop and sell weapons, he or she can do so.  But if a crafter wants to be apart of the combat, they can roll up to a siege, or participate in the salvage operation.

My mind is racing with creative possibilities for this system, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself and start imagining things that CSE isn’t capable of doing.  So for now I’ll just take what they’ve said in the video and know that it sounds like a ton of fun.  I have my doubts about the mines and their faith in humanity, but maybe there will be a way to keep people in check.

If you haven’t already, consider pledging.  Camelot Unchained needs your help to get funded because without it we’ll just have a bunch of ideas and no game.