Closing Doors

If you spend any time over on the Fallen Earth forums, you might notice that a large number of threads, regardless of where they begin, end up with someone mentioning “respec” and derailing the thread into the same old arguments.  On one side you have people who think there should be no way to respend points and that a poorly made character should be deleted and the player have to start over from scratch.  On the polar opposite you have people who think there should be a way to respend points at any time, or with a very minimal cost (the joke is, they suggest a cost, but unless a game has sufficient money sinks, eventually everyone is rich, just look at a game like WoW where money sinks of 1 gold were put in early in the game but new money sinks are much higher).  In between you have all sorts of ideas, like allowing people to respec once a year or other time frames, or attaching a huge cost to it, or requiring people to re-earn their points, essentially de-leveling to respec.

Where I fall in the argument is that given the design choices they made with the game, there does need to be some option to change your point spending.  Every time you spend a point in Fallen Earth, you are closing a door.  Most games are actually built on closed doors.  In WoW, if you make a warrior, you have closed a door — you can’t be a priest, or a rogue, or a shaman, you are a warrior, forever.  In a game like Fallen Earth, the closing of doors is more subtle.  A point spent at level five may not seem like its doing anything, but when you get to level 45 and you are one point short of being able to buy that one skill you need to complete your character, now you’ve hit a brick wall, one you cannot climb or break through or go around — delete and start over is your only option.  The result is that in order to not screw up a player needs to spend time researching choices, spoiling the game in order to make sure they aren’t gimping themselves by just playing and having fun.

Where I fall in the argument is that the game shouldn’t have been designed this way to begin with.

Anything, not Everything

A player in a game should have the capability to do anything they want.  People, specifically the hardcore players who demand that choices be permanent, will tell you that hard decisions are “just like real life” but they are only partly correct.  Yes, real life is full of things you can’t undo, but in real life you also do not have to lose your entire identity to choose another path.  If you spent the first 25 years of your life going to school, to college and working hard to become an accountant, you are not required to be an accountant forever.  You can go back to school, or pick a new career, and you can do this without changing your name or losing your friends.

Of all the game systems I’ve seen over the years, in my opinion, EVE Online is the only game that has done it right.  I’m not talking about the real time based training system.  I’m talking about the fact that you can start a character and decide that you want to fly Amarr frigates that fire missiles.  You train your skills and fly your frigates and shoot your missiles.  Later, however, if you decide you’d like to fly Caldari Cruisers, you simply start training those skills, eventually buy yourself a Caldari Cruiser and there you go.  The limitation in EVE is that you can learn and do anything, but you can’t do everything at once.  When you step outside the starport in your Caldari Cruiser, your Amarr frigate skills mean absolutely zero.  If your cruiser is armed with cannons, your missile skills mean absolutely zero.  In a sense, in EVE, you are what you drive.

Guild Wars also works somewhat like this.  Yes, you do have to pick classes to level, but for each class you have you can learn tons of skills, but when you leave town you can only have so many of those skills equipped.

I would love to have seen Fallen Earth follow those models.  Let you grind and train an unlimited number of skills, but limit your character’s carrying capacity and make him be what he wears.  Right now in FE you can carry kits for all the trade skills at once, but I’d prefer it if there was no limit to the training of your skills, but you could only carry two “active” kits at any time, so you’d have to choose what tasks you were planning on before you left town.  Rather than force you to pick one kind of combat to specialize in, I’d prefer letting you learn them all, but having to choose primary and secondary weapons before leaving town.

The main thing here is that if I spend the next six months playing this game and making friends and joining a guild only to learn that while I was having fun leveling I was making decisions that would make the game totally un-fun later with no chance at all of correcting those decisions without starting over, that point, the point where my character isn’t fun because of misspent points is where they will lose me as a customer.

I really hope that Fallen Earth can come up with a solution to let players salvage “broken” characters, and I hope more games in the future consider implementing more dynamic character creation paths that don’t so heavily utilize closing doors.

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