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A lot of good points and issues have been raised in this thread. I'll comment briefly on a few of the topics raised.
Regarding custom enemy design:
Many of the custom enemies that have been put out in recent updates, but mostly in A1S2, have little to no counterplay. This is true whether you are fighting alone or in a group. The combat system in Mabinogi is one that really shines for 1v1 combat, and in my opinion, fun designs should play into that strength. Monsters that have mechanics like the ability to avoid being knocked down (hereby referred to as kd resist) really punish melee more than any other archetype because it limits followup options. You can't assault slash mobs that can't be knocked down, and after you smash them or windmill them or whatever, they're now out of your range, and you have to start playing silly guessing games with the mob over what it's doing, or rely on skills like counter (which does very little damage and is avoided by many AI, among other problems). Punishing melee users for using windmill is not good. People use windmill often because it is one of the only good/"safe" melee skills. When you windmill a kd resisting mob, they will just run towards you again and smack you before you can react, and then you have to rely on pets. Anyway, that's to say that kd resist seems to be a common mechanic that punishes melee more than any other archetype. Ranged archetypes never have to deal with the issue of attacking/knocking stuff out of their followup range, and don't care whether a mob is knocked down or knocked back. In fact, ranged users may even prefer to fight kd resist mobs because of how hits cause the hitstun to "reset" if not timed correctly while a mob is knocked down. Spamming ranged attacks/flameburst/magic on a kd resist mob is pretty much the same or better than doing so against a mob without that.
To elaborate on this topic on a broader scope, mobs punishing individual archetypes or designs that favor punishing one archetype (i.e. many, many mobs being very "anti-melee" when it is the riskiest archetype) isn't even the biggest problem with the monster design in new content. The issue is that the mobs have very little or no counterplay. Monsters like the Sporangium (little flying plant bulbs in the cavern depths) don'to have many or any reliable strategies to fighting them, for example. They have natural shield and mana deflector, instinctive reaction, teleport into range after you knock them back and instantly attack you, load chaincasted icebolts and mess you up, poison you, the whole 9 yards. Melee cannot touch these because trying to hit them with anything other than windmill, you will get hit by instinctive reaction (even when buffering with a pet hit). If you windmill, the mob can teleport at you before you have time for anything else, and will start hitting you (and probably kill you with a normal combo because they are insanely strong). If you try to use ranged attacks, hitting natural shield will cause them to teleport towards you and normal attack you. If you use flameburst or other magic, similar things happen. The best way I have personally found to kill them is to magnum shot them with a fast bow and spam ranged attack (as elf) or arrow revolver (as human) to finish them off, but it's unreliable. Alternatively, flameburst sometimes works, but it all depends on passive defense procs and the AI on that particular day. All this to say there is very little you can do to safely kill this mob. That is not fun design and just makes the player feel powerless. Creating mobs that have unique strategies to killing them or force the player to play a different way than they usually might is cool, but creating mobs whose only counterplay is "gang up on them" is not fun. That is taking away the mob's ability to act, doesn't feel clever, and isn't interesting design.
Likewise, mobs that are untargetable and fire projectiles at you from very far away is also just annoying and is often unfun because there is nothing to do about them. The untargetable floor plants in the depths could be killed with counter between waves of monsters prior to the most recent update. I thought this might have been intentional hidden counterplay, but it is clear that the intent is for there to be no way to dispatch these mobs and to forever have them interrupt you while you fight other enemies and hit you from across the room, meaning you can do very little to avoid them. This just creates frustration for the player and makes them feel powerless. Not a good feeling. Good game design rewards players for smart play and overcoming obstacles through ingenuity - not through brute force and persistence, like these mobs would have you do.
The topic of melee versus ranged versus alchemy versus magic
I've been over this one a lot. I will write a quick summary with very little explanation so I doubt it'll be super helpful. The gist of my feelings on the issue is that in high level content, melee struggles due to having to "play by the rules of the combat system" the most, while other archetypes can pretty much ignore most of the decision-making melee has. Sushiburger's example described this pretty well. In his example with the golem, a ranged user for example would never have this problem with a golem, because they would just spam magnum shot on it and if they missed, a pet would stall the golem long enough to resume hitting it with magnum shots. On top of having to make the most decisions, melee have difficulty following up and putting out DPS. Assault slash has a long cooldown and is the only followup to smash to that leads to more damage and doesn't lead to "wait with a defensive skill loaded that the mob will camp in front of you with until you cancel it and then start attacking you" or "wait with windmill loaded and put yourself deeper and deeper into deadly/pot poison, reducing all your will and crit". Even when using full combos like smash -> assault slash -> wm in later content, you will not kill the monster in front of you and then have to resort to heavy pet micro and face many difficult situations that ranged classes do not face. Note: none of these things are true for early/midgame content because melee is very powerful in that context, being the most efficient and fastest to rise to power/effectiveness archetype. It just falls off really badly in the lategame. Early on, melee gets you out of combat the fastest with the ever powerful dual-wield wm clearing rooms easily, and few mobs surviving the bread-and-butter smash-as-wm combo. Melee's problems are in the late/endgame, which is where every player that sticks around will inevitably end up. It is hard to fix these problems, but one thing I've always felt would help is to lower assault slash's cooldown, if not eliminate it altogether (and no, this does not allow you to repeatedly spam assault slash on knocked down mobs - it doesn't work that way, I've tested). For humans specifically, allowing humans to charge without a shield equipped (somewhat of a challenge, but happy to discuss ways to do this with anyone interested) would also be helpful towards making melee more consistent. Lowering minimum range is also helpful in giving melee more followups (but this change currently favors giants heavily). If it were possible, like live did at some point, lowering the animation time/startup lag/endlag of melee's animations would help them keep up. Not being able to move or act for a long time after windmill, smash, and using normal attacks, and even counter (but no one uses it anyway) is hugely hindering in high pressure situations and again just increases melee's idle time where they aren't doing damage (which is high compared to archery, the other "primary" archetype).
Alchemy, particularly flameburst, is pretty great in higher level/grouped contexts where the prep time is rewarded with high dps on mobs that actually require that damage, and is very safe when played correctly. In early game content it falls flat. Outside of flameburst and golems though, and life drain, alchemists don't have a whole lot in the toolkit, but I do not see it as a primary skillset in the same way I see melee and archery. I also view magic as a secondary moveset as it is highly situational and resource intensive. Only when you view alchemy as a primary skillset does it look like it has a problem, in my opinion. If the goal is to make alchemy a primary skillset, it will require a lot of work, as the issue is not damage, but core mechanics.
Elf archery is the safest and most powerful archetype with every required tool under their belt (good AoE in crash shot, reliable/fast spammable single target dps in magnum shot, good transformation with hugely powerful AoE in magic missile, ability to shoot mounted). People may have the impression that archery is weak if they haven't played the game much because it is bad at lower levels. With 800 levels or so into a character though, elf archer soon begins its climb towards being the most powerful archetype in the game with all its tools and access to the most of its stat (dex) available to them compared to other archetypes. The ability to shoot while mounted is not to be disregarded as it is an aggro manipulation tool (dismounting "resets" mob aggro and causes mobs to drop skills for a second before cycling over) and a way to stay at close quarters to aim very quickly, and also a way to very quickly clear SMs/farm. On top of all of this, elf archery, if not already powerful, benefits from campfires in Tail SMs (the most profitable missions for exp/gold) which raises their damage by 50%. No other archetype has access to any such damage buff.
Human archery in comparison has long load times and low damage/dps. Arrow revolver does very low damage, and humans must rely on it a lot because magnum shot's load time (1.5s for humans compared to the 0.5s of elves) is too long in many practical situations. Because of its clunkiness, it does not serve well as a primary skillset for humans. This is mainly due to the two points I've raised above (low AR damage, slow magnum shot). Further, not having access to mounted archery hinders humans' ballistic capabilities. Buffing AR's numbers (I know this has challenges due to the damage values not being exposed in the files), decreasing Magnum Shot's load time (from 1.5s to 1s, for example -- a very easy change), and/or giving humans mounted archery (I also know this is challenging) would be helpful to helping human ranged be more viable.
Magic, as I mentioned before, I also view as a secondary skillset due to being highly situational. However, with the now very reliable hailstorm, it is possible to be a pure mage in the endgame. Hailstorm is super safe and beyond its initial load (which you can usually do safely out of range), it is very reliable. Magic's only problems are that it requires a ton of mana pots to use. This is a mechanical problem and not a balance problem. However, personally I feel that one way to help address this would be to add MP30s to vendors. The common argument to not doing this is that mana shield is in the game, but the only archetype that abuses mana shield really well while spamming mana potions (and thus potion poisoning yourself and lowering strength) is the elf archer or pure human archer (kek). These archetypes can already very efficiently utilize mana shield with MP100s, which are very accessible to anyone who's trying to get them. NPC shop MP30s don't really change this much. Even as mage, you'd have to spam the crap out of MP30s to keep up the mana pool. I think losing all your strength and being locked out of melee would be a fair tradeoff if your conviction is really to be a pure mage.
Lastly, let's quickly talk about giant melee. Giant melee, and giants in general, are way more powerful than people would give them credit. Their weapons give them a ton of max damage and trade off some crit for it. But with the right gear you can still hit 110 crit (the golden standard of crit for elite missions) while wielding preferred weapons (mace + warhammer, or 2h sword + shield). Battleswords are often quoted as the "OP" weapons. While they shine as far as swords go, they are not the penultimate weapon by any means. Warhammer has very comparable stats in all respects. Iron mace ego has a ton of max damage and because of that, giants dual wielding will outdamage humans anytime with similar gear. Being able to charge with their preferred weapons is a huge deal and something humans do not have in their toolkit. Not to mention giant charge does way more damage. Additionally, large strength growth per level, access to fullswing, a 1.6s and 600% damage smash and large windmill radius due to model size (I almost never see people talk about this) make giants by far the superior melee users. The newly buffed smash also means giants will smash for 828% with all possible smash bonuses, and 690% while dual wielding. Because giant smash is easier to do (n+smash possible), this means they have a more reliable source of single target DPS. Giants not having access to ranged attacks and being locked out of a skillset is not that big of a deal because having access to multiple/versatile skillsets is not highly rewarded in Mabinogi content that is worth doing consistently (i.e. shadow missions -- the bulk of the content that a player will be doing on a day to day basis), but high damage in a specialized skillset is. The takeaway from this is that giants are mostly doing fine, and in fact are now incredibly powerful in my opinion, but still do suffer from melee's problems in the lategame/endgame.
The issue of content team/developers not communicating well with veteran players:
My understanding of this issue boils down to a few points:
- Developers work on this game for fun and as such will often cater to their own agenda (because that's what's fun for them)
- Developers are not veteran players and are often not knowledgeable about many of the game's nuances (I say nuances, but they are more like core rules/mechanics to a veteran player) and various aspects, so balancing often goes ignored or flies out the window when new content is developed
- When developers do reach out, they may not get the best advice, because most of the playerbase is unfit to comment. This seems elitist, but hear me out. If you look at mabinogi.ir/highscores, you will see that the bottom of the list starts just barely at 1000 (and this is a recent development). This means that only roughly 100 players are even at level 1k, which is the level required to participate in all content in the game. Many of the players on this list are inactive, and very few of the active players here are vocal. To me, anyone who has not even played long enough/dedicated enough time to reach level 1k, and has not experienced all the content, does not have all the information they need to make accurate judgments or comment accurately about the game's balance.
- When developers are "misinformed", they don't even know because they don't have an accurate frame of reference.
My proposed solution for these problems, if there is willingness to resolve them, would be the following:
Have a council of players (maybe 4-5) that are trusted and come from different social groups (because this community is small and has a lot of tight-knit cliques, and let's face it, there is a lot of circlejerking), or have demonstrated that they are level-headed and mostly unbiased. These players should be veterans and should be on the highscores page at a minimum so that they are able to consider balance problems with a proper frame of reference. This group of players could be part of balance discussions or maybe even given the absolute power to make certain types of balance decisions when they come into question. For reference, I have seen this model work for a very (financially) successful private game. The developers in that game also did not play at a competitive level, understood this, and knew that the future of the success of their game was contingent on having knowledgeable players weigh in on balance issues.
This post ended up being way longer than I initially intended it, and I couldn't even fit in everything I'd have to say on all of these issues. If there are any developers who would truly be interested in having productive/civil discussions about these topics, I would be more than pleased to join a voice chat conversation with them to humanize the discussion and be able to address some of these points more in-depth.