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Thursday, December 4, 2014

Wizard101: The Evolution of Group Dynamics

Wizard101 Group Dynamics

Working together has always been a fundamental part of Wizard101. While soloing is certainly possible, the game was designed for players to help each other with certain bosses and instances. After over six years of assisting other wizards and interacting with friends, the basics of these in-game relationships may be changing.


How Players Interact

It's a pretty simple concept - you sometimes need help from other people in an online game. It's not unheard of by any stretch. But Wizard101 is often a first MMO for many players, or a first online game period. As far as I recall, Wizard101 has always had a friends system, so locating people in-game that you'd either met up with because you were on the same quest or because you made arrangements on Central or elsewhere was not difficult.

Assistance Groups

It could possibly be said that the first major assistance group was Mercenaries For Hire, a Central-based help service involving extensive training and which is made up of a very particular group of people. The original founder was Christo Deathgiver, and he maintained his leadership position for some time before handing it off in his absence, at which point it passed through several sets of hands before settling on Katherine Light, and eventually becoming more of a collective effort with multiple leaders.

Upon his return, Christo Deathgiver started another group, one of two (M4H being the other) to have their own sub-forum in the meet-ups section of Wizard101 Central. The Assistance Specialists is a smaller team that is still expanding. They, much like M4H, offer guides on new and difficult areas, and provide assistance where requested.

Team Up!

Team Up is a fairly new feature, released just recently - earlier this year, in fact. It allows players from any realm looking to do a particular dungeon to click on a "Team Up!" button and join a group to go inside that particular instance. There's been lots of objections to using this optional feature, as it, although intended to provide assistance to those not present in the community outside the game, often leaves people with disconnected teams that cannot coordinate.

Wizard101 Group Dynamics


In the Beginning: 2009

When the game first opened in late 2008, it had virtually none of the features it does today. My first question is this - how did we survive without a Bazaar?

True Friends

2009 is when the real fun started. In February of that year, we gained the ability to add True Friends, a feature meant for wizards who knew each other outside of the game and even the community, but eventually used as an easy way to meet up with someone for a trade, dungeon, a hatch (sometime down the road yet), or whatever else.

Expanding Player Base

I remember way back in 2008. There weren't exactly a ton of people around to help you out, and there weren't near as many realms as there are now. Most battles were fairly simple and straightforward, but as you progressed in the game, you did find that some battles for school spells and other special occasions had to be done individually.

Dragonspyre was the first world to introduce Gauntlets, a type of instance you couldn't teleport into, so having friends for assistance was becoming increasingly important. It was around this time that I, and I suspect many others, began to dual-box. For those not familiar with the term, it's used to describe a single player running multiple accounts. It gives people who use it a distinct advantage, as their ratio of players to enemies tips to their favor.

Wizard101 Group Dynamics

Wizard101 was beginning to gain a more significant amount of players during this and the coming few years. That was evident based on the content production rate and all of the new features, even when compared with today. We were getting two or three new worlds per year, new spells, expansions, and even major features. Never did we have something like "Miscellaneous Updates."


Fast Forward: 2013

Add a couple years. Wizards and KingsIsle alike are a little older and a little wiser. This is the year that everything started to change.

Aquila Dungeons

By the time Aquila had arrives as side content in Wizard101,  we'd done a cheating boss or two, and fought more than one tough battle. This new location offering content for wizards level 30, 60, and 90. It followed instances like the Waterworks and the Tower of the Helephant. It brought with it what was widely considered the best gear in the game by far, but brought with that a lot of complaints about the difficulty of the dungeon and the drop rates.

Argument on Side Content Drops

One of the most hotly debated topics in KingsIsle games today is this: does the fact that something is side content mean that it can be extremely difficult? The general consensus? Yes, it does. The real question is this: Does the fact that it's side content and really difficult mean it can't have the best gear in the game? The answer here is going to be a split down the middle, with different answers based on who you ask.

One side claims that because it's side content, it can be as easy or as difficult as it needs to be. After all, it's not required, so the E10+ rating doesn't necessarily apply given that this is optional extra content. It's a sort of nod to the older players who have hit the end-game and are looking for some extra ways to spend time in-game.

Wizard101 Group Dynamics

The other side argues that gear is central to the game and therefore cannot be a drop in overly-difficult side dungeons not engineered to the specifics of the E10+ rating. This group states that dungeons can be hard, but shouldn't be ridiculous to the point that certain demographics cannot complete them because of difficulty or time requirements.

Gear Imbalance

One thing that had been a long time coming, but was made extremely clear with Aquila was that gear was not balanced. When the game was initially designed, Storm was made to be the most powerful, but it was given the least powerful of all power-ups. For example, Storm Snake would do more than Dark Sprite, but Stormblade only have a 30% bonus, while Deathblade gave a 40% bonus. That made all classes equal to some extent.

What has happened now is that not only does Storm get the best damage, but they get the most damage bonuses on gear. But the low accuracy balances that out, right? Wrong. Elemental schools now often not only have the best damage, but also higher accuracy that spiritual schools because of gear bonuses. This breaks basically every principle and precedent set forth by the early game and is still in play on gear today. Unfortunately, without flat out changing stats on many major pieces, it won't be a fixable problem for at least another fifty levels, about two and a half years from now.

There are other noticeable flaws, too. One major example is the Hades wands, on which everyone gets a little universal critical rating and a little school critical rating. Then, each one gets four or five percent piecing, except Ice. As an already-powerful school, Ice didn't need any additional boosts, but somehow rather randomly got seventy block instead of the piercing, a significant advantage over other schools.

Wizard101 Group Dynamics


Present Situation: 2014

This year along with 2013 have brought about the biggest changes in how groups have to function in Wizard101. It used to be that fairly few factors actually affected them. Any four people could go in together and be successful doing their own things. It wasn't until the introduction of locations like Waterworks, Tower of the Helephant, and Aquila and Darkmoor even more so, that players really had to start coordinating.

Team Up! and "Randoms"

There was some discrimination against particular types of people with the introduction of these new dungeons. Menu-chatters were almost always not considered, as communication was an absolute must inside these tough dungeons, and even for some of the cheating bosses in Khrysalis and later main story content. The Team Up! feature attempted to rectify this situation by allowing players to get together, and it worked amazingly well for general dungeons, mobs, and regular bosses. It still functions effectively.

What it has trouble with is pairing adequate groups for locations like those of the Four Dungeons, where certain spells are almost must-haves and no pre-dungeon coordination can be a killer once inside. It's really even worse than entering the dungeons with random players, because at least people you meet at the sigils can make plans and judgement calls before actually entering.

The Four Dungeons

These four new dungeons re-introduced Malistaire the Undying with new loot - his outfit and wand to be had, with pretty incredible stats. Many players would consider it must-have gear. The only issue? It was buried in the hardest dungeon of the game.

Wizard101 Group Dynamics


The Graveyard Situation

Malistaire the Undying is locked away inside the Graveyard dungeon, the last in a series of three long dungeons full of cheating bosses in Darkmoor, a location which wizards get only a glimpse of by teleporting from Nightside. The Graveyard itself contains three cheating bosses that are not exactly favorites among players. I have done it once, and it started out being pretty fun. It is a good little challenge, the issues is just that this must-have gear is contained within and it's a very difficult dungeon to farm.

Side Content Drops Revisited

My argument has always been that this type of gear has no place in these side-content dungeons. Many claim that you don't need it, and maybe that's almost true, but you really do to be competitive in the game. When people are selecting groups, and they do love to stick to their select little groups, they will pick people with experience, full chat options, that have specific gear and capabilities like healing or tanking, and of certain schools.

Think about it - what are some of the most common sets in-game right now? Waterworks gear, Hades gear, and Malistaire gear. All side dungeons. If a wizard wants to participate in Player versus Player (PvP) matches, they need this sort of gear.

Coordinating With a Team

If you're lucky enough to find a good team, these new dungeons (not just Darkmoor, but all the way back to Waterworks) force a new kind of strategy on groups and teams. Instead of functioning as individuals, they must function as a team. In a way, this is a good team-building activity and develops an ability to work together with others, but a majority of the time, it's simply frustrating at its present level of difficulty.

Wizard101 Group Dynamics

Menu-chatters are going to have a near-impossible time ever doing Darkmoor dungeons because they can't communicate and do turn-by-turn strategical adjustments like other players, and so they'll automatically be singled out and not as effective as others. These new dungeons are not just steps, they're leaps. A more appropriate level of difficulty would have been a move from players doing their own thing to players having to instead coordinate. But that's not what happened. What happened was that, suddenly, players had zero room for error and had to cast specific spells on specific rounds, a hard-to-grasp concept for oversized-deck builders and casual players.

Wizards, more than ever, must communicate. They must build decks to fulfill specific roles and to carry out specific tasks. And that can certainly be a good thing. The role of wizards in combat is not yet set in stone, either, as new main storyline content will likely introduce new difficulty levels and implied requirements for working with a group.


The Verdict

There's no question that how we work with other players is changing. The question is whether or not the direction we're heading in is positive or negative. If you ask me, it's too early to tell, but there are plenty of new precedents and standards being set with each new update in Wizard101. Remember that while it might just be one update now, there will most certainly be similar updates in the future. So, whether you're ready for even more difficult dungeons, or hoping for easy-to-beat bosses, be sure to leave your feedback for Wizard101 and comment below with your thoughts.

Thanks for reading and see you in the Spiral!

3 comments:

  1. REALLY well done here. You have totally thought things through and come up with some excellent conclusions. I really enjoyed the reliving of the history of the game. You really know your stuff and your writing style shows that you are also a great teacher. You are good at this. Please keep it up and those that use their smarts and read this will come away better and wiser players. Well done. :D

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  2. Realy wise, good job

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  3. Talon Dream CallerJanuary 5, 2015 at 11:54 PM

    Very nice post! I also like how you pointed out the "menu-chatters" Kingsisle really cut them out of having an opportunity to get the best gear in the game. like you said these new dungeons require communication and well thought out strategies to even make it past the first boss (part 3 dungeon of darkmoor) to have a chance at facing the great and powerful Malistare and him drop the BEST gear in the game. Not only is this gear the most powerful, It is a key element that comes with these new Super Powered Shadow Spells this gear gives the ability of a extra 5% chance to gain a shadow pip (if you have full gear) it may not seem like a lot, but it really is for example ever since i have gotten my full malistare gear for my max lvl balance i gain a shadow pip usually within the first or second round compared to if you do not have the full malistare gear setup waiting for that shadow pip could mean life or death in PvE or PvP. this is a huge advantage not only for PvE but for PvP also and i mean HUGE! The new shadow spells are a very big game changer in PvP it gives you a chance to deal a mass amount of damage for a low pip cost my experience with the new spell gaze of fate has made us more powerful and more dangerous then ever before the main reason i say this is because the plus 25% balance damage bubble its balances first damage bubble this gave us the opportunity to control the field of play before i wouldn't even bother or attempt to change the bubble mainly because it would cost the opponent 2 pips or 1 power pip to change it but it would cost me 4 pips or 2 power pips to take it away when you know or a fact they got at the least 4-5 more in their deck(depending on the school) it wouldn't be wise to go in a bubble war it would not only waste your pips but you would lose lol. Now i am able to not only change the bubble but i can deal mass damage to my opponent while boosting my future attacks 3 in 1 combo i guess you could call it, i honestly think that Gaze Of Fate was specifically made for PvP but you could use it in PvE wouldn't really be wise to use on a balance boss (first hit is balance & puts up a boost to balance attacks). Also you can't really use it on any other boss because there is always that chance of hitting their school which as you know they have major resist to.

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