I’ve been reading and rereading the producer letter and I’m not sure what to think. At first I thought they had changed the producer, but I can’t find any news that even hints at that. Barring that, the only conclusion I can draw is that they decided to throw in the towel and give up on the “Siptah experiment”.
What made Siptah unique was the vault-storm-surge game loop. That idea had the potential to breathe new life into the game. It gave T1s and T2s a purpose, it provided opportunities for conflict on PVE-C and PVP servers (other than “I’ll attack you because I can”), and it established a progression curve.
Of course, the potential is worth little on its own. To realize that potential, they would have had to keep improving on things that need improvement. What they’re doing now is giving up and throwing that potential away.
Why are they doing that?
First, let’s take a look at the “Review Breakdown” from the letter:
Forget the pie chart and focus on the list. What’s the biggest problem? “Buggy”, at 21%.
Now, I don’t have access to any hard data, so I can only judge from what I’ve seen on these forums. Based on that, the biggest source of Siptah-specific bug complaints are the vault chests. I would guess that the second biggest source of those complaints would be the delving bench. Neither seems like an insurmountable issue with the game design, so I don’t think anyone can honestly say bugs are why they decided to break the Siptah game loop.
What about the rest of it? Okay, let’s look at the pie chart now. The two biggest chunks of it are “bugs/misc” and “thralls”, both at 28%. When you cut out the “bugs” from the “bugs/misc” category, that brings is down to 7%, so the biggest problem here would be the “thralls” category.
What are the thrall-related complaints? The biggest one is the “grind”. And the grind, as people keep repeating on the forums, has to do with the RNG-dominated mechanics of the surges. Every time I’ve seen a complaint about summoned surges, it has always been “we’ve done X of these, but have yet to get a T4 of Y type”, with various combinations of X and Y. Is there really no other way of making this aspect less grindy without throwing the whole loop away?
As a matter of fact, the more I look at the picture, the less I understand it. The use of pie chart implies that these problems are somehow mutually independent. So 21% of people complained that Siptah was buggy, but that doesn’t include the 2% that complained about the vault chests? What bugs are we talking about then? Also, why are “healing revamp” and “2.1” included at all? Those aren’t Siptah-specific at all.
So maybe the Review Breakdown infographic isn’t very good. Maybe we should just look at the problems mentioned in it and disregard the numbers.
Again, in the absence of hard data and judging basically from my erstwhile obsession of hanging out on these forums, the biggest Siptah-specific complaints I’ve seen so far are, in no specific order:
- There’s no way to play the same character on both maps.
- The map feels much emptier than the Exiled Lands.
- The vault chests are buggy.
- The grind is awful.
The first complaint can be solved by implementing the “character transfer” mechanism. It’s a relatively thorny issue, because if that mechanism allows you to transfer items, then the whole point of unique game loop is pretty much lost on any servers where that mechanism is enabled; if it doesn’t, then people will keep complaining that you can’t really travel from one map to another. Of course, even if they do implement that mechanism and enable it on official servers, it doesn’t mean they need to throw the game loop away. Private servers could still opt to make full use of it by disallowing the transfer.
The “empty map” complaint has different causes. The lack of human NPC camps is one of the biggest factors, but it’s not just that. In Exiled Lands, there are many ways to interact with the world. Sure, the map is littered with human camps, but there are also dungeons, caves with unique bosses, ghosts, lore tablets, religion trainers, special crafting stations, and a bunch of other details.
On Siptah, there really isn’t that much to do besides the “Siptah game loop” and other types of the grind. Sure, there’s a total of whopping 14 vaults, but that’s 14 variations of the same dungeon. In contrast, the dungeons in Exiled Lands are all quite different from each other. Plus, there are all those other details I mentioned above.
Moving on to other complaints, I’ve already written enough about the buggy chests, so let’s skip to the one about the awful grind.
What are the main sources of grind on Siptah? The one most people talk about are the thralls. Specifically, the T4 thralls. It’s undeniable that getting a full T4 complement is ultra-grindy. Different people might disagree about whether that grind is acceptable or not, but nobody will deny that it’s a process that takes a very long time and/or a lot of effort. Another major source of grind on Siptah are the recipes. They drop from the vault chests and from surge NPCs. Getting all the recipes requires pretty much the same amount of grinding as getting those T4 thralls.
Both of those sources of grind have the same underlying cause: RNG gating.
Getting T4 thralls in Exiled Lands is somewhat random, but it involves more than just chance. You need to know the map well enough, or at least know where to look up what you need to know. You need a certain level of preparation depending on the faction of the thrall you’re hunting (e.g. you can’t just waltz into New Asagarth wearing coarse wraps and expect to waltz out with a Njoror). And, for the top notch thralls, you need(ed) to get the Purge and defeat it. On Siptah, all you need to know is how to execute the Siptah loop. The rest is up to the RNG. Okay, so building a different altar will have some impact on that RNG, so I guess that’s another thing you might need to know. The end result is still much more RNG-controlled than in Exiled Lands.
As for the recipes, in Exiled Lands, there are many ways to get them. Some are learned by reading documents left in the open. Others are learned from tablets or journals in dungeons, with the expectation that you’ll have to fight for them. And yes, some drop as a random reward. But even those that drop randomly are not all in the same bag. Khari recipes are not in the same loot table as the Esoteric Library recipes. On Siptah, the decorative grindstone and the master weapon fitting are in the same RNG grab bag.
I’d say that covers the biggest Siptah-specific complaints. So, are any of those a good reason to throw away the whole Siptah loop?
It’s certainly the easiest way to deal with them. After all, people have been clamoring for “more of the same old” since Siptah came out. You can’t go that wrong with giving them what they asked for.
It’s also a waste of potential. The Siptah loop is an excellent idea, but the map needs a lot of work to bring to the same level of fun and engagement as Exiled Lands. The recipes need to be made available through something other than vault-and-surge grind. If getting recipes required interacting with the world in different ways, that would also make the map feel less empty.
As for the T4 grind, it could be made more bearable by tweaking summoned surge tables, but it would probably be much better to solve it differently. One idea is to get rid of wild surges, introduce NPC camps with T1-T4 thralls, and have the best thralls available from summoned surges, like the Purge in Exiled Lands. Another idea would be to introduce NPC camps with T1-T4 thralls, but leave wild and summoned surges as a source of “special” T1-T4 thralls who are better than their normal counterparts.
But all of that requires a lot of work. And I’m starting to suspect that they bit off waaaaaay more than they can chew. They’re trying to revamp a whole bunch of core gameplay systems, and implement anti-cheating mechanisms, and fix the Xbox stability problems, and make Siptah work before the official release in “early 2021”. Something’s gotta give, and considering that “make Siptah work” has a deadline, it’s hard not to draw the conclusion that it got sacrificed to give them a shot at all this other stuff.
Whatever the reason, I’m sad to see the uniqueness of Siptah go the way of dodo. I was one of those people on these forums who would occasionally point out that Siptah is in early access and that providing feedback for it is an excellent opportunity to make it better. I never dreamed that it would lead to turning Siptah into Exiled Lands v2. In my opinion, that’s not “listening to feedback” as much as “giving up”. I’m not sure that the end product – with all the changes they announced – will be worth the money I paid for it. For that matter, I’m not sure it will be worth the money they intend to charge for it on release.