Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
WAR Crafting: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Personally, I love crafting systems in general. And the WAR crafting system has some very good ideas at its core. But it also inherits some very bad ideas from other games, and is plagued by ugly bugs. In this post I'll try to sort into good, bad, and ugly categories the various features of the WAR crafting system:

The Good: WAR crafting is based on a very different design philosophy than crafting in most other games. Crafting in WAR is not in competition with other ways of acquiring things; you can't craft weapons or armor. Instead you craft consumables, that is potions and talismans to enhance your gear. This cleverly avoids having to make lots of useless gear nobody needs. It is a lot easier to sell 20 healing potions than to sell 20 bronze daggers. Interestingly the gathering skills in WAR are also non-competitive. There are no resource nodes which you have to get before some other player. Instead you get most ingredients from scavenging / butchering the mobs you kill, or disenchant magic items, or grow plants. Another huge improvement to crafting is getting rid of fixed recipes. You don't need to hope for some ultra-rare recipe drop from some boss mob in a dungeon to craft something, you just mix the ingredients and go. Rarer ingredients and critical successes give better items. Except for the scavenging part, crafting in WAR is decoupled from your character level, which enables those players who prefer to play crafters instead of adventurers to do so.

The Bad: The flaw that WAR inherits from previous games, like WoW, is making ingredients the limiting factor of crafting. Any crafting system must have some limiting factor, as creating anything in a virtual world must involve some effort. But systems that require time or player skill (not character skill) are usually better than systems that are limited by tradeable ingredients. Because if somebody has enough money, he can simply buy all the ingredients on the auction house, and power level his crafting. That not only encourages gold selling, it also leads to players ignoring crafting at the lower levels, and then power leveling crafting later, when they have the higher cash drops from the higher level monsters. The only part of WAR's crafting system that requires time in addition to ingredients is cultivation, as it takes 2 minutes to grow a plant. And of course for scavenging / butchering you are limited by the speed at which you can kill monsters. But for everything else you can just load up your inventory with bought ingredients and advance many skill levels in a very short time. I would much have preferred some sort of mini-game or puzzle, requiring some attention and time, to make crafting more interesting. As long as crafting as process is trivial compared to adventuring, crafting will never be a real alternative mode of gameplay.

The Ugly: WAR crafting suffers from a range of bugs and inconsistencies, as well as from its link to the horrible mail and auction house system. For example some magic items can't be salvaged (disenchanted). Now that could be by design, but then it is hard to understand why what items can be salvaged changed with the last patch. And currently there seems to be no general rule as to what items can and cannot be disenchanted, I had two magic shaman belts of similar level of which one was salvageable and the other not. I can only assume that there is some bug behind that, or otherwise there really should be some indication for every item whether it can be salvaged or not. Other inconsistencies are for example that the apothecary window has a handy "repeat last recipe" function, but the otherwise very similar talisman making window doesn't have that. And there are a couple of minor bugs, like not clearing the contents of a crafting window correctly, or how buying stacks of ingredients works only half of the time. The most annoying thing is how user unfriendly the process of for example making 20 talismans and selling them is. Every step from crafting, to putting the item on the auction house, to getting the money from the mail, seems to have been designed to require the maximum possible number of mouse clicks, plus some false alarm warning messages when you try to delete a mail you already took the money from. The situation is aggravated by the fact that you can't craft anything using only ingredients gathered from one character. You must either buy ingredients from the auction house, or make several alts with different gathering skills. And even if you decided to buy ingredients from the auction house, the fact that it is currently impossible to search for e.g. all apothecary ingredients of crafting level 50 makes the process quite difficult. The only good news is that presumably the bugs will be fixed and the user interfaces improved with time. Further possible improvements would be a better tutorial, and maybe even integration of discovered recipes into the tome of knowledge.

In summary, assuming the bugs and UI problems will be fixed, the WAR crafting system is quite good. We are not a the level of a virtual world yet, where crafting would be an activity of equal complexity and interest as adventuring. But as optional game element to provide optional stat enhancements, the WAR tradeskills are already very nice. And they are useful, a couple of potion buffs and enhanced stats from talismans can really boost your power. It is clear that Mythic didn't put as much effort into crafting as they put into other parts of the game, but their basic concepts behind it are solid enough.
You sort of mention this, but one of the biggest problems with the crafting system in WAR right now is the mail system which is so amazingly, intolerably, unforgivably slow that you can spend 5 minutes retrieving a single attachment during prime time.

The Auction House: to be honest it feels like a prototype an intern put together in an afternoon. It was added very late in development, so maybe that's not all that far from the truth. Very little thought was given to how people are actually going to use the darn thing. Simple searches take several clicks. What you'd like to search for, you know, useful things like "show me all the armor and weapons that I could use that are around my level" require many clicks, and return less than reliable results (search for Rune Priest gear, and the AH will also unhelpfully show you Archmage gear that you can't use).

The mail and AH problems hit crafters especially hard. I wanted to buy some seeds at the Auction House the other day, for instance, but the GUI gives no way to search for seeds around my skill level or rank the results by skill level, so I had to scroll through the whole list and mouse over each seed to see if it's something I want. Buying the seeds was the easy part -- transferring 120 seeds through the mail from my AH alt to my main took an entire evening of click and wait for Mail Server. If you want to sell your crafted items on the AH, you have to wrestle the mail system again, to get the proceeds from your sales.

You want to see a group of frustrated WAR customers? Head to the nearest mailbox, and you might want to turn on the profanity filter.
I've now got a character with Apothecary/Cultivating and you would think that Cultivating would support Apothecary quite well but that's not really true. At around 125 apothecary you will start to have problems with stabilizing the potions because it requires better water than what can be bought from the merchants. This became better with the new patch that makes goldweed act as stabilizers, but it's still much too little. Fortunately some people in my guild have put some of their looted stabilizers in the guild vault that I can use, if that hadn't been the case I would have stalled. Also it seems like the drops of seeds have become MUCH less in tier 3 than the previous tiers. That will probably have bad effects on the skilling up. I wish they would make them drop more, and espescially goldweed seeds.

All in all it seems like a decent system, but there are major drawbacks as you mention. The dependancy on other crafting/gathering skills is too much in my opinion. Having to give up because it's too expensive to buy ingredients from the AH isn't fun. I've checked the AH and some watering cans for cultivation for example cost 10g and more! And that's just for a silly watering can which you can easily do without!!!
I've noticed that around 100+ scavenging and 100+ apothecary, that water that is useable at your skill level is hard to find. I am on a high pop server and the AH is absolutely barren of water to use. It drops maybe 1 in 10 scavenges.

Crafting just needs a good once over to balance out the rate of drops. Seeds are plentiful compared to everything else.
Another thing that I don't care for, with regards to crafting, is how there are like 5 or so gathering skills, yet only 2 for manufacturing stuff. You'd think they'd even this out, or at least let you have 2 gathering skills.
They need to allow players to have 2 gathering skills. Also vendors should sell higher skill level mats as you progress in tiers.

It seems like they are trying to force an economy down the players' throats rather than just letting one develop.
I've pretty much put my crafting activities on hold until the Mail system is fixed.

The AH is bad too, but the mail is completely unusable. I wish I had known how bad it was before I posted a large number of items for sale. It's way too hard to retrieve the expired auctions- I'm just leaving them in the mail until the system is fixed or the items are auto-deleted.
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