Saturday, October 15, 2016

Nochd Vs. Generic Monk

"When she wishes she wishes for less ways to wish for
More ways to work toward it"

Metric - I.O.U.

This is Nochd Nightbringer. To be precise, since I've recruited him into the Feral Empire and my capital always has one of two predictable names he's now Nochd Nightbringer of Nyctimus ... and for extra redundancy he carries a midnight stone in his pocket. He's not happy to see me. Since I've been over-using him in battles, Nochd has almost accumulated more wounds than he has hit points. At the moment he's got both a flesh wound and a rotting wound, typhoid fever, broken nose, is missing a finger and blind in one eye, is hallucinating and (quite understandably under the circumstances) is deathly afraid of dying. Given everything he's been through, maybe his extra cherry topping of amnesia's more of a blessing.

Curing him of all that will consume my empire's entire treasury for about a decade. Then I'll probably end up running him through the wringer all over again. We always hurt the ones we love, and I love this guy.
Why, I hear you ask?

As your kingdom / empire in Legendary Heroes grows, you're occasionally presented with the option to recruit one of two random schmoes. Nochd belongs to the very first pool, level 1 n00bs who haven't even decided on a class yet. Not that it takes a literary critic to figure out Nochd's every detail, his shadow magic, his background story, the dagger he uses as starting equipment, all scream D&D-inspired assassin / shadowdancer. He even starts with a high-level assassin ability, the teleportation spell Shadow Shift. Hm. But then if he's already got that, why bother training all the intermediate abilities; why make him an assassin at all? Let's make Nochd an iconoclastic shadowy, sneaky...  stalwart plate-clad defender. See, just a few levels into the defender skill tree lurks another teleportation spell, Rescue.

Next to time manipulation, invisibility or mind control, teleportation's one of those insanely game changing superpowers that routinely constitute entire multi-issue villain plots in comic books or central top-tier superhero powers. In PvP games they can hardly be implemented without completely unbalancing everything else. In single-player games they can make for interesting challenges, opportunities or gameplay styles ... so long as they're accorded their due importance. There's a reason you can only castle once in chess, after all.

Nochd can double teleport, swapping an enemy into a deathtrap and an ally into perfect striking position and finish off his triple combat action with a stunning attack (or if you're lucky like I was to get that blink ring he's wearing, yet a third teleport.) But Nochd is rather unique in his setting. Elemental: Legendary Heroes was a weak game in many ways, but at least the power to ignore positioning wasn't handed out to every Tom, Dick and... Zahua.

Yeah, I'm talking about Pillars of Eternity now.
That's Zahua, the Monk NPC from the White March expansion. Two seconds ago he was at the top of the screen. Now he's dashing across the battlefield second by second, stunning two enemies and debuffing everything in his way. It's called Flagellant's Path, and it's one of the most stupidly broken single gimmies I've seen in games in a long time.
No cooldown. Unlimited uses. More range than even most spellcasting. All you have to do is absorb a little initial damage and you're off! Now that's some castling. Or maybe en passant capturing... look it was a workable metaphor up until now, alright?
Yeah, as a level 11 ability's it's sort of an "end-game" power trip and it may seem unfair to compare a TBS with a stop-and-go RPG but really in terms of battle size, unit numbers and blocking mechanics, both games are quite similar. They define a front line in battles, and unlimited bounciness is just freakin' imba! Teleportation, invisibility, mind control, time manipulation. Just like castling in chess, they need limitations, they need to be accorded proper scenery-chewing villain monologues and their requisite kryptonites because they're not just a better kind of ammunition or armor, not merely a little speed boost. They change the rules of the game.

There's nothing special about Zahua. Any monk can get this. No pre-requisites, no planning required. Complete freebie. PoE was clearly a better game within its own genre than Elemental, but it's got a terrible habit of just handing you such goodies with no effort or choice required on your part. I mean, damn... how can you suck all the fun out of teleporting? By making it too easy.
Not that Nochd's double-teleport routine was any big secret. His special use of Shadow Shift was obviously meant to leave such options open, but the game made you work for it: a little luck in recruiting him and a string of purposeful actions on the part of the player.

Nightcrawler's supposed to be special, damnit!

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