GAMEPLAY & SYSTEMS REWORK.
In F4E players chose between 100+ interchangeable active and passive powers, each powers is part of a larger group of powers, or "branch" that each has its own gameplay system.
These powers then slot into a character chassis, or "base kits" that serves as the foundation for each character.
This rework fixed the main problems in trying to achieve this with the Frost Barbarian character:
Base kit wasn't meeting our quality goals in terms of gameplay.
Systems lacked the design space necessary for reaching our target of 100+ unique powers.
Systems weren't conducive to quality gameplay or a coherent, compelling character fantasy.
01. Starting Active
The starting active is the 1 power players have every time, making it the biggest influence we have on the character. It necessarily informs much of the characters play-pattern and team-play identity.
Because of the drafting system the starting active needs to ensure the barbarian clearly feels and performs like a MOBA-tank or bruiser, while still being useful and feeling good in a wider range of play-patterns.
We achieved this delta by giving it 2 cast modes, Tap and Hold. Designed to feel like 2 variations of the same axe swing.
Wild Swing: Hold
Holding down Q lets the player charge up before dashing forward and swinging in a full circle around the character.
Designed to be our quintessential tank engage ability, the wind-up time helps give it some heft. The swing taunts enemies, forcing them to attack the Barbarian.
Wild Swing: Tap
Tapping Q would result in a quick swing in a cone. Dealing modest damage and applying Freeze.
The center line interrupts enemy spell-casts — meaning that we keep some of the tank disruptor identity, while giving players a more agile option that easily fits into a wider range of play-patterns.
02. Starting Passive
The passive rewards players for both dealing and absorbing damage. Granting a potent heal that grows stronger the lower health the barbarian is, deepening his identity as a gritty brawler.
Freeze slows enemy movement whenever a stack is applied, stacks 3 times. The first stack is a mild slow and the second severe. The third stack stuns enemies.
It's an effect with a subtle baseline that we can utilize over a large variety of powers, but feels rewarding to invest into for players.
It is also thematically strong enough that the branch feels discreet and clearly belonging to the Barbarian.
Frostfeathers restore health over a short duration, scaling with missing health.
A lot of work had previously been put into different Frostfeather assets — small birds that would hover around and assist the barbarian in an old iteration of what became the Freeze system. We decided on reusing them here to become a visual signifier for each instance of the healing, and associated effect tied to it.
CONCLUSION & LESSONS LEARNED
Much of the success of this project came from focusing on creating tight, simple systems and powers that become tools for players to play and express themselves how they want, instead of trying to force them into a too clever, to controlled pattern.
Another big factor was a establishing a clear core fantasy for the character, and from there letting that fantasy guide our mechanics to embody it.
It was very tempting to want to discard much of the previous content made for the barbarian — it was made with different design philosophies, trying to achieve different goals.
But, by being flexible and looking for solutions we saved weeks of production time by repurposing or updating old content with minimal effort.
Thank you for reading :)