The discussion on volcanoes has been going on for a while and I wanted to pitch in. Basically, I would argue that the way volcanoes are "difficult" is wrong and
not fun not as fun as it could be.
Volcanoes are "difficult" to deal with because there is :
- Boiling water
- Lava floor
- Most importantly, falling meteors
In games, players should have some sort of tool to mitigate or counteract any kind of added difficulty. (For example, if skeletons can block attacks, players can sword lunge or shoot at them). This truth is more important for mechanics that add more difficulty. Let's look at the tools provided for each of these difficulty mechanics :
- Boiling water : Players can cannon themselves over the water, use a rowboat if available, or simply park the boat close.
- Lava floor : Players can take a second to look where to walk and dodge it. To some extent, players can learn where the lava is and remember not to walk there without even looking.
- Geysers : Players can look at the ground around them and watchout out not to get blasted in the air. That's all. No audible sound cues (because there are so many geysers at once), and only a short time to dodge. This is weird, because this mechanic deals more damage than Laval floors and is not as predictable. It could be argued that in exchange for these downsides, geysers can be used to defeat skeletons.
- Earthquakes : Nothing, but the impact on difficulty is pretty small, so it's not that bad. (I'm actually wondering if being drunk during an earthquake cancels out the effect)
- Meteors : Players can wait out the eruptions for a few minutes far away at sea or hidden in a cave. To some extent it is possible to look at the sky and try to dodge the meteors, but doing so prevents you from looking at lava, geysers and from doing anything else. Being vulnerable to meteors is very dangerous, as an unlucky streak can kill your whole crew and sink your ship. This is the real problem with volcanoes : The only tools available to players to counteract meteors (Patience and luck) are not engaging at all.
So what does that tell us? Completing voyages in the Forsaken Shores is mostly challenging because of meteors. As we've seen above, meteors are mostly challenging because they ask you to be patient or lucky. So… Forsaken Shores are hard because it is hard to be patient or lucky?
This exact same issue is present with Order of Souls high level voyages. In these voyages, enemies are not more clever, they don't have new abilities. The only added difficulty is their increased number and increased hit points. What must players do to overcome these increased challenges? Well, they either need to be lucky so that skeletons spawn close to gunpowder kegs or shore to be defeated quickly with the ship, or they need to be patient enough to deal with skeletons for a while longer than lower levels.
This is not increased difficulty. This is increased tediousness in exchange for greater rewards.
The good news is, Rare knows how to design engaging difficulty. They did it for multiple things in the game, but let me take one as an example : The Megalodon, more specifically during the Hungering Deep.
Meg, just like volcano islands, is an environmental threat. Meg had a few mechanics :
- Movement : Her circling movement made her hard to attack constantly. Players could try and turn the boat around, keeping her in the cannoneers' crosshairs.
- Bite attack : Every once in a while, Meg would stop circling and swim directly towards the ship before biting it. Players had a big tell, and could run to the other end of the ship to prevent being damaged and thrown into the water. Which was a problem, because…
- LOTS of sharks : Meg had a school of sharks waiting for unlucky pirates that fell into the water. As mentioned above, careful players could relatively easily stay on the boat. Players that fell out of the boat could be helped out by directing the boat towards them to save them faster.
As we can see, Meg didn't even require that many mechanics to make the fight fun and hard. Many players did it more than once, without any additional rewards, because it was so fun. Compared to that, Forsaken Shores' doubled rewards are not always enough to entice some of us.
Meg required on the fly teamwork, quick thinking, accuracy.
Volcanoes and high level Order of Souls voyages require patience and luck.
Volcanoes and high level Order of Souls voyages should be improved because they are not truly difficult, but indeed tedious.
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