Who put a major rebalance in my PAX build?

This is an abbreviated work week for us as PAX West preparations (which have been going on behind the scenes for the past several weeks) are consuming most of the studio as of today. We’ll be setting up our booth tomorrow, and then a good chunk of the team will be manning it from Friday through Monday. If you’re attending PAX West, please come visit! We’ll be on the 6th floor and will have two free posters for you to choose from. 🙂

But let it not be said that we forgot you all at home! Far from it. In fact, a big chunk of the past several days was spent carefully processing and discussing a ton of great feedback that we’ve been receiving from our wonderfully supportive Discord community. Several topics came up, including:

  1. A desire for a more robust end-game experience / long term meta,
  2. A desire some folks have for additional plane variety as you level up, and,
  3. The difficulty of getting a plane from level 1 to 20 and finding appropriate gear without having to leech it.

#1 (end-game) is something we’ve got lots of plans (and even more ideas) for, but none of them are trivial to implement, so it’ll be a little while more before we have anything to announce. We’ve always planned to celebrate our most skilled and dedicated players, and that will ultimately be part of the answer, but we think that guilds are another very important answer, and we intend to invest quite a lot of effort into a robust and engaging guild system.

#2 (plane variety as you level up) is something that we are still thinking about. Keeping the system simple and easy to understand (but very difficult to master) is important to us. However, there are certainly ways we could inject a little more variety without jeopardizing that. Suffice to say, it is on our minds. I do not yet know when or how we will address it.

#3 (difficulty leveling up / getting gear) is where we’ve put the most concrete effort over the past few days. What we realized is that, when we (the devs) play Steambirds, we generally play as a relatively large group, and this gives us a distorted sense of the game’s difficulty as our combined efforts make tackling bosses much easier, and we frequently drop items for each other. But, at least in the current closed alpha environment with very few people, new players often tackle the early and mid-game either solo or with just one or two other people, which is a much more challenging experience. And that may continue to be the case during open beta – hard to say, but it wouldn’t surprise us. Consequently, we’ve made a number of pretty significant changes:

  • T4 and T5 bosses, such as the Pharaoh and Bosstrain, have had their health dramatically reduced (up to 66% in some cases.)
  • T7 and T8-level “group leader” (i.e. nontrivial) minions are 3x to 5x more likely to drop loot.
  • All minions (except for the really low level ones, which were already generous) are more likely to drop loot suitable for your class. It’s still nowhere near 100% chance, but roughly 3x higher than it used to be.
  • We carefully reviewed all the minions in the highlands, mountains and palace areas and implemented damage nerfs to anything that could eat 50% to 100%+ of your health in a single blow if you made a simple mistake. The palace in particular is still quite deadly, but there should be fewer one-shot kills up there, assuming you’re appropriately equipped.

We may have over-corrected in some places, and under-corrected in others, and we still haven’t had time to do a sanity check of all the dungeon content. These changes won’t be perfect, but we playtested them carefully and they felt like a big step in the right direction to us, so we’re excited to put them out there and see what ya’ll think! This Friday is a great time for folks to take the Hutty Challenge and see if you can get a plane from lvl 1 to 20 without twinking yourself. RNG is always an issue, so any given run might feel easier or harder, but hopefully the group consensus will let us know if we’re generally heading in the right direction here. (Btw, I think Hutty would agree it doesn’t HAVE to be a Shieldmaiden – try your favorite class and see!)

We also finally got around to rebalancing and tweaking the remainder of all the ultra-rare untiered weapons in the game. Now all of them should be compelling, relative to their T10 counterparts. I might hand out a few of them to folks I see in game since we’ll inevitably have to do a wipe soon anyway. 😉

That’s not where the changes stop, though! Other notable stuff we’ve tackled includes some great engineering and art progress. For example, we’re finished (for now) updating the terrain beneath each setpiece boss. Gone are the days when every single boss appeared in the exact same construction-site-looking-area! For example, check out the new Solaris terrain:

We discovered in playtesting that many new users don’t even realize when they’ve unlocked a new plane class! That’s a bummer because it is one of the most important and fun moments in the game. So feast your eyes on this new special effect that kicks in when you unlock a new plane class:

And there’s more:

  • Item auto-equip has been disabled by default, but if you like it, you can enable it via the options menu.
  • Most of the engineering work necessary to localize the game has been completed. We still need to lock down the text in the game so we can get it translated to languages other than English. That might take a little while, but we’ll get there!
  • Controller buttons no longer have ugly names in the options menu.
  • More improvements to the tutorial experience.
  • Auditing system continues to make progress. Certain forms of cheating are now verifiably detected by the system, but no consequences have been engineered (yet.)
  • The default controller binding has been modified so that teleport is associated with bumpers and not thumbsticks.
  • Enemy health bars are now less pixellated around the edges. We now also have the ability to change their height for specific enemies where the default size looks less nice than we’d like. This is a short-term improvement; long term, we hope to revisit enemy health bars more substantially if time permits.
  • Variety of bugfixes and maintenance tasks.

Anyway, we now enter the blackhole of PAX. There won’t be a livestream this Friday as most of us will be manning the booth and/or chatting with press, but Friendly Friday playtesting will still be happening (unless some crazy problem arises, in which case, uh, I guess it won’t!) We’ll have 6 PCs at PAX, so there will be an endless stream of newbies in the game for you to ideally assist or, at worst, gawk at. 😉

Good skies, everybody!