During PAX Prime and over the past several months the developers at Intrepid have revealed a considerable amount of information about the combat mechanics which are present in the initial Alpha Zero of Ashes of Creation. The game is very early in development and many mechanics will undoubtedly change along the road to launch, however by analyzing common features and themes from the data which has been announced reveals a surprising amount about how character development and combat mechanics will likely function in the final game.
This article delves into many of these common themes and provides my interpretation of the data. Be sure to check out the Ashen Foundry Compendium for a rich store of knowledge about game mechanics in Ashes of Creation.
Combat Resource Pools
There are three primary resource pools which describe the player's general combat status: Health, Mana, and Focus. Only these three resource pools are currently known, however other forms of combat resources may exist in the final game.
The role of Health is self-explanatory. Mana provides a resource which is spent to activate normal abilities. Focus is an alternative resource gained through combat and spent instead of Mana to activate signature "ultimate" abilities. These primary resource pools are modified by several abilities, like the Cleric'sMastery or the Tank's Mastery passives.
Damaging and healing abilities modify the Health of the target, while there are also confirmed examples of abilities which provide Mana Heal. There is not yet any confirmation of abilities which cause Mana Drain, but given the duality of many other combat mechanics already announced I expect that certain abilities will incorporate this effect.
While the player might begin an encounter with full Mana and slowly deplete this reserve during combat by activating abilities, the player starts combat with zero Focus and builds it gradually by successfully executing combo chains with your equipped weapon. In addition to this combo-based generation mechanism, certain skills also present a mechanism to generate additional Focus:
Since Focus requires investment in combat to obtain the skills which can be activated using Focus are more impactful, but can can only be used sparingly, an example is the Cleric's Divine Form:
In order to force players to face interesting trade-offs in combat regarding the use and management of these resource pools, active abilities have both a resource cost and a cooldown which jointly restrict their effective utilization. Each ability also has a cast time (which may be instant) and a minimum or maximum range which mechanically allows for battlefield awareness and positioning to play an important role.
Primary Attributes - A Remaining Mystery
While combat resources fluctuate during the course of a typical encounter, most RPG character systems also feature primary attributes like Strength, Dexterity, or Intelligence. These primary attributes generally advance with character level and equipment. In an early live stream Steven and Jeff confirmed that different races will have different initial base stats which will progress according to the player's chosen primary and secondary archetypes.
You have base stats, the first growth variable includes your race, the second growth variable involves your primary class decision, your third growth variable is your secondary class choice.
The PAX Prime build of the game did not feature any observable attributes and none of the mentioned abilities for Alpha Zero reference any modifiers for conventional primary attributes. Therefore, further details on which primary stats will exist in the game and how they will influence character capabilities is a remaining mystery which will likely be clarified over the coming months.
Secondary Attributes and Combat Modifiers
While uncertainty exists around the presence of "primary" attributes, we do know there will be a large number of secondary meta-attributes which will influence character performance in combat. Most abilities in Ashes of Creation incorporate short-duration buffs or debuffs which temporarily modify these secondary attributes. For example, a Mage can temporarily increase their Evasion chance by using the After Image ability:
These secondary attributes can generally be characterized as offensive, or defensive. Known defensive attributes include Armor, which reduces incoming Physical Damage, as well as avoidance modifiers including Block Chance, Evasion Chance, and Disable Defense (chance to resist crowd control). Known offensive attributes include Weapon Power, Spell Power, Critical Chance. Abilities like the Ranger'smastery probably increases damage dealt by increasing a secondary attribute like Weapon Power.
Targeting Mechanics and Threat
There are a variety of targeting mechanics already confirmed for Ashes of Creation. Most abilities automatically apply to the current locked target, however some abilities like the Ranger's Power Shot implement a manually targetted skill shot:
Other abilities like the 2nd progression ofor the Mage's allow for the placement of a template to determine the area-of-effect on the battlefield. Enemy NPCs choose which players to target with their attacks based on Hate, a meta resource that determines how likely a NPC is to prioritize attacking a particular foe. Most archetypes feature abilities which can either deliberately increase or decrease Hate to manage threat levels in combat.
Under normal circumstances NPC enemies will choose a target based on Hate levels and players are free to choose whichever target they prefer. However, there are certain abilities which force an enemy to either immediately acquire or lose the player as their current selected target. Examples include:
Damage Types and Resistances
Based on current ability design, there are two overarching damage types Physical and Magical. This is evident from the design of certain abilities which explicitly grant temporary bonuses to damage reduction for each type:
We do know, however, that there may be sub-types of Magical damage which correspond to the three different elements (Fire, Ice, and Earth). This is evidenced by the Mage's passive ability. Furthermore, we know that Burn is a specific type of magical damage-over-time which corresponds to fire damage.
It is possible (even likely) that sub-types of Physical damage like Slashing, Crushing, or Piercing may also exist. We already know that several physical abilities including the Ranger'sor ability can cause Bleed damage.
Lastly, we know that Intrepid will support some forms of counter-attack damage through abilities which provide the Riposte effect, for example:
Movement Abilities and Crowd Control
The initial Alpha Zero ability list reveals a considerable emphasis on movement in combat. There are many abilities, some offensive, some defensive which alter the positioning of the player or their target during combat:
- Charge - the player moves from their current position to their target's position
- Pull - the player moves their target to the player's current position
- Knockback - the player forces a nearby target backwards
- Escape - the player leaps backwards from a nearby enemy
- Dash - the player jumps directly forwards from their current position
To offset the wide range of movement-enhancing abilities there are also a number of crowd control effects that restrict the mobility of enemies.
- Stun - Disable the target in-place, preventing any action
- Knockdown - Knock the target to the ground, disabling actions and breaking current animations
- Slow - Reduce the target's movement speed
- Immobilize - Root the target to the ground, preventing movement but allowing other actions
To counter the use of hostile movement and control effects, most archetypes have access to at least one ability which allows them to Break Free of enemy control effects as well as gain temporary immunity to such effects for a brief window.
There are some aspects of the currently known abilities which represent potential mechanical weaknesses of the current systems. One of my largest current concerns as we approach Alpha Zero involves the effectiveness of healing and resurrection. Many of the current Cleric healing abilities are either instant cast or smart target, empowering a Cleric to provide a lot of in-combat healing even when being directly pressured by an enemy.
Furthermore, if a Cleric's ally does die, the current implementation of Resurrection for a full in-combat revival only at the cost of Mana (rather than Focus).
I worry that group vs. group PvP battles may result in stalemates where both sides possess sustain and healing which outpaces the capability of damage dealers. To counteract this, Intrepid might have to adjust damage values such that players can overcome a Cleric's impressive healing potential which could result in a lack of balance for 1v1 or other small scale fights. Obviously there is still plenty of time to worry about balance and adjusting the actual effectiveness of these skills, but the ease of use for the Alpha Zero healing abilities gives me a concern regarding the overall design.
Additionally, a significant concern motivated by the current system involves archetype abilities which are fairly strongly bound to a specific choice of weapon type. Intrepid has stated that they want weapon choice to be independent from class choice, allowing for far more flexibility and variety in character design, however several of the signature abilities for the Tank seem to strongly bind the player to the use of Sword and Shield:
Similarly, most of the Ranger abilities explicitly assume use of a Bow, for example Flaming Arrow:
Perhaps in the longer term these abilities will be unlocked through those respective weapon skill trees directly, rather than being base archetype abilities for the Tank or Ranger classes.
As we approach Alpha Zero, particularly given Intrepid's refreshing transparency thus-far during the development process, we are bound to see more live gameplay which further refines our understanding of how the basics of character development and combat systems work in Ashes of Creation. However, as I hope this article has illustrated, many of the key design points of the game's combat system can be already inferred from currently known information.
For me personally, many of my biggest remaining questions involve character development - what primary attributes will each player character have, how will those affect character ability and performance within the game world. How will the different weapon lines interact or modify the functionality of certain class skills.
With such a tremendous variety of potential character designs supported by the interaction of races, primary and secondary archetypes, and weapon choices it will be fascinating to see how many different build concepts can be realistically supported and how many ideas will fall into dead zones of ineffective combinations. Lastly, it will be fascinating to see how effectively will Intrepid tune the damage output of these skills to calibrate player effectiveness in PvE and PvP encounters of various sizes.
What are your big takeaways from the Ashes gameplay systems thus far, has anything in particular stuck with you as a big insight or a key concern? Let us know in the comment section below!