Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Halls of Torment is Goated Too + Weapon Mechanics

Based on this other post about Vampire Survivors.

With this burgeoning game genre of "Garlic-likes" as some may call it; the concept of fighting hoards of enemies in a short burst, with permadeath, has become popular. Several games have copied this formula; though in my opinion, none of them really were quite as good as Vampire Survivors. That was until a game called Halls of Torment caught my eye.

It's a top-down indie hoard survival game with permadeath, much like vampire survivors. A few things set it apart; the most obvious being its artstyle. I absolutely love it. Even though I know it is designed to trigger that nostalgic Diablo 1 & 2, Fallout, early digitized 3d computer- almost shamelessly so- I still love it.

Secondly, the game has some unique features. Firstly, it is a lot harder then vampire survivors, and much more involved. Enemy elite and bosses have telegraphed attacks and danger zones you have to avoid, and you need to focus some of your level-up bonuses on your defenses to avoid being killed later in your run when enemies simply become too numerous to avoid completely. On top of this, there is a secondary form of progression in the form of items. Much like Diablo, these items are lovingly rendered in that early 3d style, and you have a set of equipment slots with different bonuses. While you can find these on your runs, your main source of them is from your loadouts you can take with you every run once you "retrieve" the item- meaning you place an item you find in a bucket and have the Wellkeeper pull it up for you.

It's an extremely cool system because this means if you find an awesome item; you have to sacrifice it for the rest of your run. You can also only retrieve one item per run- which is a great way to make early "farming" runs of the game feel more meaningful. That was one issue I had with Vampire Survivors- with so much of your power coming from your upgrades- it often felt like runs where you made a mistake or with the weaker characters were just filler content to get permanent upgrades until you get to your "real" run where you actually try to survive the full 30 minutes on a map or complete an objective. Halls of Torment avoids this issue somewhat; but unfortunately it doesn't avoid it completely. You also have a "Shrine of Blessings" in this game, which let you upgrade your stats for a gold cost. I somewhat dislike this; as I thought the focus on recovering and retrieving items (and buying them from the greedy Wellkeeper of course) was much more interesting. Since the items are all kinda-sorta balanced with each other, it makes the concept of finding new items to unlock or empower certain builds more interesting. I don't necessarily hate the Shrine, I just feel it adds an unnecessary layer of power creep on top of a formula that is already pretty interesting. I could also understand it if the blessings were really weak, like 1% or 2% boosts, and cost thousands upon thousands of gold to get- a sort of endgame upgrade system for players once they've found and purchased all of the good equipment in the game, but no- these blessings are actually cheaper then most items and provide bonuses that are similar in strength. If we just say this is the "early game discovery" part of the game and we assume you've maxed out your blessing shrines first, then that's fine, but the fact you can refund gold from it and you unlock new blessings to upgrade as you do more in the game makes it feel more like a "permanent" fixture of your base. It just feels a little unnecessary, almost like it was included to increase the games parity with others of its type and the grind instead of having a more tightly focused, item and build focused type of game I was imagining early on.

But enough complaints; the biggest departure from Vamp is the fact characters actually have to aim. Each only has one weapon or attack type by default- but all of them are unique. This is probably the biggest draw of the game and most interesting part. The Swordsmen for example chunks a big cone in front of him- dealing damage to all enemies within. Getting multiattack upgrades on him makes more "waves" come out when his attack cooldown is refreshed. This is hugely different from the Archer, who fires more arrows with long range as she levels up. More interesting characters include a Cleric who deals a set amount of damage equally distributed in a large cone (meaning it absolutely destroys bosses and elites but does very little damage against large hoards) and the Warlock who summons ghosts who home in on enemies, which synergizes well with summoning items, or the Exterminator, who uses a flamethrower and burns every thing with damage over time, but lacks burst damage up close. It's great.

But this also gave me a new idea; much like my original Vampire Survivor blogpost- more abstract ideas on combat systems and damage which I think are interesting- not just for video games, but tabletop games as well.

In the last post, I talked about damage in a hypothetical tabletop game with no rules or mechanics in the combat beyond just flat damage plus a range or frequency variable. Not even armor or damage mitigation of any kind. I was a bit disappointed with how it worked out- because the idea was more based on how even something as small & simple as this could be leveraged into a pretty wide and diverse set of character strategies and tactics with the intention to improve the gameplay.

I've talked about weapon differentiation before in its myriad forms- but let's go simpler and wilder. Let's say that weapons are fundamentally different in how they work based on how you make your attacks. Things like damage or To-Hit values are totally separate from this. You don't pick a weapon based on its stats, you pick it based on what you actually need for the situation. Also also; I am 100% sure somebody else has written these exact same concepts, if not entire published games using the same ideas, but I've got a vision here- the sort of nega-space game design where you make basic mechanics shittier and harder to use but in exchange gain a more rewarding and complete experience, the QWOPlikes of tabletop roleplaying.

For this; we're going to assume you're playing a tabletop game with the minimum amount of setup for tactical combat; a grid with miniatures or tokens to represent squares. I'm sure there is a whole 'nother blogpost one could make on pure theater of the mind versions of these; we can save that for another content drought.

Weapon Attack Patterns

Swords are reliable. Pick one adjacent square and attack it. I think this not only fits swords thematically, but gives them a practical tactical use as a 1v1 duelist weapon; the weapon of the main character, etc. Two Handed Swords do the same thing, but you can also choose to hit two adjacent spaces next to each other around your character instead; splitting the damage evenly. You obviously also lose out on using a shield, dagger, or second sword.

Axes swing and cleave. Whenever you use an axe, you have to pick a square and the two squares adjacent two it around you are also attacked. For example, if you pick to attack an enemy in a square directly above you, then the upper left and upper right squares are also attacked. You hit all the squares and damage is split evenly between them. To compensate for this, axes tend to have the highest base damage of all the weapons; or at least those who use them prefer to stack on strength and the like. However, there is a catch. It is anyone in the squares you can hit with this- meaning you can also hurt your allies. You can't focus on a single enemy, such as if they are in a formation, and enemies who reflect damage or have a "thorns" effect will be very difficult for you to deal with.

Greataxes / Battleaxes do the same thing as an axe but at a range of two, and hit everything in that area- or a cone of 8 spaces. Yes really. Sounds amazing until you give enemies the ability to counter attack, or enemies who get enraged when they take damage.

Maces can only attack in the four cardinal directions, no diagonals. This means you'll want to be in formation and get right in the enemy's face. Presumably, you'd combine this with armor piercing, chance to stun, bonus damage vs undead; etc. to make it a more attractive choice over a default sword since its more limited. Originally, I was going to make it so these can only target nonliving things; but I have a better idea for its big brother-

Sledgehammers / Two Handed Blunt weapons pick one square adjacent to you and attack that. Remember, these attack squares, not necessarily what is inside the square. You make the action on your turn and it is only resolved at the end of the round- meaning a fast enemy can simply move away. You also can't change your target once you make it, meaning if an ally gets shoved prone onto that square, you're going to splat them. Omega damage bonus to compensate. You'll also be doing damage to the environment itself since you're attacking a square; if you're fighting on a boat you are 100% going to knock a hole in it doing this. If you attack an empty square of open space (such as over a pit in a dungeon or side of a roof), the momentum carries you over the edge.

Spears can poke, letting you target any square a distance of two spaces away to attack. You only attack one of these distant squares, meaning your allies can stand between you and the enemy and you can attack thru them without hurting them. However, you can't attack any squares adjacent to you.

Daggers act as an instant attack; but only against an enemy who has already been attacked and only diagonal to you. This means you couldn't use a dagger with a spear or weapons with good reach, because they'd be out of range, but you could hit enemies that your allies have hit. It also makes it good with a sword, which is realistically the only weapon people are going to dual-wield with a dagger anyway. Tactically this makes daggers feel sneaky, as they should, especially if this hypothetical combat game only allowed you to move in the cardinal directions. Just imagine a thief dual wielding daggers, dashing around to stay in poking distance of enemies while never actually committing to their face. It's perfect.

Polearms attack two spaces in a row in any direction. You can't shorten it- you always hit two spaces. This makes it really good at hitting enemies hiding behind the frontline but less effective on single foes- and way less effective on defense.

Flails attack and move at the same time. You have to move in the same direction as your attack; pushing enemies out of the way. This is a really simple rule that I am 100% sure has been made or posted about by others before but its so simple and thematic I love it.

Whips are the opposite of flails, meaning you move backwards the opposite direction you attack. They have reach- so you can attack up to two spaces in any direction, but you have to move back after it. Unlike flails, you don't push people out of the way when you do this- meaning you can be cornered.

Staves / Double-Blades can attack any adjacent target and attack twice a round, but the second attack must attack a different target on the other side of your first target. Staves are already pretty well differentiated in tabletop games- usually having a defense bonus or something similar- the idea here is if you're surrounded this weapon is useful, otherwise, not as much.

Unarmed attacks deal a set amount of damage and split that damage evenly among all adjacent enemies. This one requires a little explaining. If you're in a fistfight, you aren't going to be able to focus all your effort on one person if a bunch of people are all around you at once- and there's a pretty good chance a wild swing or elbow will connect with someone you didn't mean to. The idea here is that Unarmed combat is very strong against single targets, but much less useful against crowds. The only class who benefits from high amounts of unarmed damage would be a Monk, who also have the mobility to get around and put themselves in the best positions to make use of this reliable damage. Plus I'd imagine that if you have a hand (or two) free, you can also push enemies around, or grab an ally to pull them back, etc.

Bows can pick any space up to a range(?) and fire an arrow at that space. Much like sledgehammers; this damage is only resolved at the end of a round, meaning its possible to miss your attacks if enemies can move out of the way in time. This also gives the game a bit of a troll-physics feeling, with arrows falling down in slow motion. However, you can fire from behind your allies, making using a bow all about prediction.

Crossbows fire a bolt in a straight line up to (range). They do not pass thru allies and will hit whatever is in the way. Also they take a round to reload and do a gazillion damage. Actually I have a pet peeve about crossbows where people assume they must be insanely strong because of their drawstrength, but not understanding the length of the string/string action meaning its similar to a warbow, but it's a game so I don't mind plus it's fun.

Slings can hit any space you want beyond adjacent and don't hit allies. They deal more damage up close and extend their range by 1 every round you spin it around without throwing; so first round you can only hit guys two away and it deals 1 damage, second round you can hit people two or three away and deals 2 damage at two range or 1 damage at three range, and so on until you're one-shotting Goliath.

Boomerangs fly two spaces at a time in any direction, but only in straight lines. If you hit an enemy with this, it chains to the next enemy you can hit in a two-space straight line, and the next, etc. You can only throw a Boomerange if it has a valid path back to you. And yes, you can hit allies with it. Will be the most Based weapon-user at your table because their turn will take three times as long as anyone else.

Magic spells could obviously do everything here and more- but any spell should be equally as clunky or hard to use as any of the weapons on here. Magic Missile is reliable but does low damage, Fireball blows up everything on half the battlefield, Touch Spells are countered by whip-users zoning you out, and so on.

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