MMO Games:
The Pwnage Principle

By Shamus Posted Monday Nov 10, 2008

Filed under: Video Games 78 comments

xMEGA MANx offers us his Sun Tzu-esque advice on battle strategy.
xMEGA MANx offers us his Sun Tzu-esque advice on battle strategy.
MMO games inevitably follow their own variant of the Peter Principle: Players will choose increasingly tougher foes until their defeat is assured.

This has always been my #1 gripe with online games, that a majority of players are idiots at risk assessment and are impervious to teaching. No matter how many times they end up face-down, they refuse to consider an alternate strategy.

In City of Heroes (and most other MMOs) foes in the game are color-coded. The coloring varies slightly from game to game, but in general it works something like this: Foes with White names are about the same level you are. Yellow foes are a little above you and so slightly tougher. Orange means it will be a challenge, Red means it will be very dangerous, and Purple is nearly insurmountable.

There is a bonus to XP when you fight something above your level. Some players assume more bonus=more better, and thus the thing turns into a sort of monkey trap for clueless players. Sadly, you have to team with these people, and the monkeys outnumber the smart people.

According to the CoX wiki, fighting Oranges is worth 1.4 times the normal amount of XP. If you’re level 10 and you knock over a same-level foe (which is quick and easy and completely safe) you will get 17 XP. If you fight an Orange you will get 25 XP x 1.4 multiplier for a grand total of 35 XP. The reward is about doubled, but what about the effort? I think that once you take into account their higher hitpoints, higher resistances, and (worst of all) greater evasion, it takes more than twice as long to defeat an Orange than to defeat a White. But let’s be generous here and assume it’s a wash.

But even if it was equal, fighting higher level guys is still a loser. You never ever have to rest when fighting Whites, but some classes will need a breather when facing Oranges. So every once in a while you have to spend thirty seconds earning zero XP. That’s like bowling a pair of gutterballs – how many subsequent strikes to you need to roll to counter those and bring your average back up for this game? (Remember, we’re talking about XP over time here.)

Fighting Whites is easy and idiot-proof. Even if your strategy is off, or your blasters use too much AoE (Area of Effect powers – which usually makes them the punching bag of every bad guy in the room) or other characters aren’t experts of positioning and timing, or your healer is lagging, it’s okay. You’ll still prevail. When fighting Oranges, you have to muck about “pulling” (baiting them to come to you a few at a time, which is slower) and chatting about positioning and strategy. Again, that time spent forming a strategy (which turns into arguments often as not) is just more gutterballs against your average of XP over time.

A group fighting Whites will be slowed by an unexpected Boss or a random disconnect. The same event happening to a group fighting oranges can result in players dying. And as soon as someone goes down, you have demolished any possible benefit you could claim to be getting. Everyone – not just the victim – must stop fighting and wait for the team to recover. The victim is now earning half XP for the next couple of minutes, which really hurts them in the long run. More importantly: The team as a whole is just rolling more gutterballs. That time spent running, regrouping, recovering, and talking about What Went Wrong is a massive time sink. (And don’t forget that when you’re pushing the limits of the team, failures are often cascading. A key player falls, and the rest of the team just collapses behind them like dominoes.)

Too many party leaders aim for foes a couple of levels above them, forgetting that half the team is a level or two below them. Sure, they’re Oranges to you, but to the other team members they are Red or Purple, and those players are going to be little better than useless. They will miss more often than they hit, and when they do connect they will do tiny little bits of damage. Your team is fighting at fractional efficiency because many are out of their league, thus making battles take longer still, and leading to more player deaths, more slowdowns, more gutterballs. (Or if the party leader is a Smart Person, they will have a couple of Monkeys on the team who whine about it being “too easy” and “crap XP” simply because they aren’t facing a wall of invincible Purple foes. None of them ever thinks to look at the clock and ask themselves how they are doing compared to being in a group where they’re always working off XP debt.)

A lot of these people had a great session once where they tore through high-level foes and earned a bounty of XP. But that was probably in a group that happened to be tuned just right, or had lots of expert players with maxed-out characters, or a group of people who knew each other and how to work together. They think they can just round up a group of strangers and recreate that magic. It’s like the person who hits a winner on a slot machine and then goes broke waiting for the lightning to strike twice. You can prove it’s a bad idea over time, but some people need risk, and they enjoy nothing more than sharing that risk with the rest of us.

But above all this carping about XP, the real reason to fight level-appropriate foes is because the game is much more fun that way. I’m here to play a damn superhero, and I don’t want to lose one out of every ten fights to a bunch of thugs. I don’t want to whiff like a loser when I unleash my powers. When I lay the smackdown on someone, I want to knock them over. Blast them over a railing or toss them over a cliff. Send a group flying like Obi-Wan tossing battle droids around. I want to score a critical and knock a guy right out of the fight. That never happens when fighting higher-level foes. You guys fighting Purples should know that as awesome as the ragdoll physics are, it’s even cooler when used on the bad guys and not on you.

As always, playing with others is both the point and the major drawback to online gaming.


From The Archives:

78 thoughts on “MMO Games:
The Pwnage Principle

  1. Kel'Thuzad says:

    It’s why I don’t play MMOs.
    So, are you going to stick with CoX?

  2. Rex Blunder says:

    I dunno. A lot of people find the challenge of fighting difficult opponents, where you must play your best to succeed, more fun than a guaranteed easy walkover. I, for instance, prefer playing chess against someone around my level (where I lose 50% of the time) rather than against a four-year-old.

    The “I’m a badass” White strategy may well be the optimal strategy for leveling quickly, but I think that the optimal fun strategy varies from person to person.

  3. Loneduck3 says:

    Back when I’d play WoW, I’d either solo, or play with friends. I admit, there is a sense of accomplishment when you beat a monster 5 levels higher than you. But that doesn’t mean it should be your routine. I also suppose it’s based on the endgame model. Players have a level cap, monsters don’t. So in WoW, when you were 70, the endgame dungeons mobs were 70, 71, 72, or just a skull, which means you can’t see the level. Endgame dungeons are based on the calculated party make-up, positioning and pulling. But you do those when everyone has reached the level cap. Bringing level 68 players on a raid is the kind of thing you’d do either out of stupidity, or bravado to show you really “pwned” the place. But with WoW, theres the excuse of trying to get better loot. CoH doesn’t really have the same character changing drops that WoW has, so its even more nonsensical. But there’s never been a shortage of idiots in the world.
    The main goal is to avoid dying constantly. All games have some kind of death penalty, and incurring that in the normal course of play is frustrating.

  4. Factoid says:

    If your premise is that the goal here is maximizing XP per Time Unit efficiency, I’ll agree with you that more lower level bad guys is probably better than fewer higher-level ones.

    But doesn’t it get boring fighting easy targets all the time? Risk and reward for some people isn’t a straight up polynomial function. Maybe if I’ve been fighting Whites for a while, an Orange starts looking pretty good to me, and if I’ve been dying a lot, easy targets get more and more appealing. That turns into Fuzzy math…which I sucked at in college, so I won’t go there.

  5. MechaCrash says:

    While I agree with the point you’re making, I think you put the cutoff point too low. You only need to stick to even level enemies before 22, because after that you start getting into SOs. By the time you hit the late 20s, you can steamroll +1 enemies as easily as evens, and by the mid 30s, you can generally take on +2s. +3 isn’t worth it, though, and if you routinely find yourself fighting +4s, it’s probably time to find another team or get sidekicked.

    Also, the CoX wiki moved, you can find it here now.

  6. tuck182 says:

    One of the things I didn’t like about Lotro at first, but have grown to appreciate (partly for this very reason) is that they don’t offer any kind of bonus for higher-level foes/quests (beyond the normal increase because it’s a bit higher). Kill an orange mob or complete an orange quest, or do the same thing once it’s white, and it’s worth the same XP either way. There’s merely a slight penalty for killing or completing stuff that’s below your level.

    This motivates people (at least the ones paying attention) to actually save that stuff until it’s on-level. I’ve never that’s complained about not earning XP fast enough or fighting stuff that’s too easy.

    But then, leveling in that game seems to progress fast enough that nobody really worries too much about it anyway.

  7. Mark says:

    xMEGA MANx is the reason why I don’t play MMOs.

  8. Danath says:

    I was going to make a long post but a few others have already mentioned it, efficiency isnt what everyone is after for sure.

    I personally have always gone out of my way to fight incredibly tough foes for the hell of it, in Realm I fought level 100 monsters at level 1 (you could win by the way). When I moved onto Dark Age of Camelot I occasionally fought red con monsters (the ones just before impossible purple), and even took it on myself to solo a red con quest monster for one of my epic armor class quests, it was fun and I felt GOOD when I finally won. And onto FFXI, I repeatedly tried to solo powerful Impossible to Gauge and Very Difficult monsters on my thief, sometimes I succeeded, sometimes I didnt, sometimes I just tried to hold them till my linkshell arrived.

    I died alot in all these situations, but I didnt make a habit of trying to LEVEL doing this ill admit, not unless im a class that can do it (Hunters in WoW).

    EDIT: I also tend to make sure im solo or the people im with know exactly what im doing before we go out and try these things.

  9. Mike the ExDragon says:

    While inflicting my philosophy on a team is a different matter, personally, if I know the outcome of the battle before hand, why bother?

  10. Burning says:

    While I agree that there are other motivations to go after tougher opponents, the fact of the matter is that there are people who do that for the very reason that they yield more xp. I’ve played with them. They will veto any plan of going after weaker enemies, and they don’t give the reason that they want a challenge. Having been in parties in FFXI where we were both getting better XP per hour and having more fun, I am completely sympathetic with todays post.

  11. Hirvox says:

    I don’t enjoy shooting fish in the barrel. If I know I’m going to win, why fight at all?

  12. Hal says:

    As always, playing with others is both the point and the major drawback to online gaming.

    I’ve never seen such a concise summation of this principle. You, sir, deserve a cookie.

  13. Joshua says:

    The principle is entirely correct, but the exact conning level you can take on as easily as low-level toons can take on plus 0 (whites) really depends on circumstances. Not only do Single Origin Enhancements make a huge difference in to-hit and down-time, team composition does even more. A Pick-up Group fighting plus 2 or more is usually a waste of time, but a team of friends w/level 22 characters can usually take them in no more time than a PuG team in their teens spends on plus 0s. A team of friends with toons emphasizing team-friendly powers (e.g. everyone on the team has Tactics for the Accuracy, there is at least one toon with a Rec boost power) can easily take on missions filled with purples at similar speed. A team of friends with toons specifically picked for synergy (e.g. one of the Repeat Offenders all-Defender teams) can steamroll purples almost as fast as they can move through the mission. Foes matter, too. Warriors are basically helpless bags of XP compared with the similar-level Tsoo; ditto Family compared to Sky-Raiders (where you have to spend time chasing down the teleporters even if the Force Field Generators don’t make you whiff all the time), and so forth.

    A related gripe is the people who insist on a team of 8 before they start, for the fat xps. You do get a bonus for team size, but it caps out at 5 (iirc) and if you really care about the xp/minute waiting around every time somebody drops until you can get back to 8 is just as big a time-waster as coming back from a team-wipe…maybe longer if the leader is one of those yutzes who insist that they must fill the empty slot with a particular AT (or worse, particular power-set like Empathy).

  14. Avatar says:

    FFXI has that problem, quite badly.

    Though it’s not a matter of miscalculation, really. It’s just that there’s not a tremendous difference between a mob of +2 or +3 or +4 levels – they’re all tough. Thus, players who target mobs that are right on the edge of what a group can take out get a big experience bonus, and working on weaker enemies doesn’t present the same bonus.

    The problem is that the difference between enemy types is pronounced. Certain enemies have relatively low HP, but devastating special attacks that can tear up your tank and wipe your party. Other enemies have relatively high HP and armor, but aren’t nearly as much of an offensive threat. The latter type are overwhelmingly preferred, in a game where dying gives you a 10% EXP penalty off your level. So there’s a huge disincentive to chain lower-level foes with powerful special attacks – eventually you’re going to get unlucky and one of them will hand you your hat, wiping out a hell of a lot of experience gain.

    The problem comes in when you consider that, for a given level band, there are a limited number of foes with weak special attacks… and everyone running a party of that level wants to fight them. Moreover, everyone wants to fight near a zone transition, because that gives party members a chance to escape if things go terribly wrong. So it’s not hard for an area that could support two parties with constant pulling to be populated by five parties, all fighting for mobs…

  15. karln says:

    I have to say, I’ve found that good groups (I’ve had a couple) really do steamroller straight through most ‘trash’ groups on very hard settings (everything purple to me, huge, huge groups). In full groups I tend to find that fighting whites barely even constitutes ‘playing’ in the sense that nothing I do really matters. If I’m quick enough off the mark that I actually manage to blast someone who’s not dead already, that just means I beat my teammates to it but they could easily have done that without me. If I get a control on someone, I may as well not have because they died 2 seconds later anyway.

    As a Controller I am essentially useless on an 8-man team against whites. Against purples it really matters that I’m holding hard-hitters, sleeping outlying Blasters and (best of all) confusing enemy support types (one time my groupmates even left the confused alone without being told) :) ‘Too easy’ is not always a trivial complaint; it can indicate that someone is not really contributing at all because everything’s dying too fast.

    This seems to be related to the fact that AI enemies generally need a big material advantage against genuinely intelligent players. I think the ‘human intelligence’ advantage increases better than linearly with player group size, so in 8-man teams it really can be necessary to bump up the enemy to invincible level before every player is really contributing. Of course this only works if most of your team really does know what they’re doing, hence your problems with pick-up groups I guess, Shamus.

  16. Nilus says:

    Not to totally disagree but I have found that a group of players all fighting whites gets really boring really quick. A well tuned team just isn’t going to find much of a challenge there. I agree cranking it up to Inv is not always smart but if you got a good well rounded team of 8 you can generally crack Reds without an issue.

    The trick really is to get a good team all at about the same level who knows what it is doing. I know its in bad form to quit a team half way through a mission but if the team is just grinding on a mission that is way to high of a level then its just not worth it.

  17. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Let me respond by some of my observations on my playthroughs of kings bounty(because thats what Im playing now):Once in a while I decide to upgrade an artifact of mine,even though I know the battle will be tough.And I end up winning with just one of my stacks alive,and probably severely decimated.While this fight gives me just slightly more XP then a fight against matched armies(about 3 times more,which isnt much in this game),and not so much bonuses(usually double the effect of the artifact),I still tend to repeat such fights after some time,even though it doesnt pay of.

    It gives me pleasure to test all my powers from time to time,to really sweat it through the encounter,to pump up my adrenaline(not going to argue how much adrenaline playing games can provide),and win,no matter how costly.I know I can do these things later when I become stronger,and with much less casualties for the same rewards,but thats simply not the same.

    But,this requires me to be completelly engaged,to use all of my abilities,to play flawlessly,never to rest.In an MMO this would mean that a group would have to be perfectly tuned,to have perfect sinergy,and that is extremelly hard to achieve.You need a superb leader and excelent players to do this.So yes,it would be a waste to always strive for this in a game where you arent just the only factor.Group gaming isnt really suited for adrenalin junkies,unless they plan to have a steady unchanging group.

  18. Sydney says:

    I do this too, both in MMOs and single-player games. Not because of some misguided EXP goal, but because I role-play my games, and oftentimes it fits the story better to just go for it rather than kill bunnies for the next four in-game days.

  19. DaveMc says:

    Many of the above comments can be reduced to the following: XP per time and Fun per time are different functions. Some people find that their Fun function is not optimized in quite the same way as their XP, so they prefer tougher foes, etc.

    Myself, I love levelling up, so XP/time and Fun/time are strongly correlated, since I’m always eager to get that new power or enhancement. Still, they aren’t quite identical: I tend to play at Rugged difficulty, resulting in enemies about a level or two above mine, which I find to be sort of a sweet spot between more interesting/challenging and stupidly difficult.

  20. See, I didn’t have this problem in City of Heroes. I regularly set my missions to the highest difficulty setting and went about my business killing purple foes.

    The XP gained from a Mission Complete is incredible. In short, if you can pull it off, you certainly are maximizing your XP per time function. But only if you’re good enough not to die.

    It sounds like you’re still pretty low-level though. Trust me, as the game goes on, purple becomes less and less of a threat.

  21. craig says:

    I know that in WoW, although I’ve never gotten to endgame, I just get frustrated or bored fighting orange or red enemies. I need to be fighting same level or green enemies, and usually switch between two leveling areas to keep it easy. Since MMO’s are essentially time sinks, I’m not there to be challenged. Occasionally I’ll try to take down a wandering elite just to see if I can and such, but really I’m just trying to keep the game moving along. I want to get through this, explore it, and then move on to the next area. The fun is in progressing through and exploring the world. It’s frustrating to get bogged down with frequent deaths, no matter how compelling the challenge is.

  22. Sam says:

    I cannot count the number of times that exact scenario had happened to me when I was playing WoW. Some moron who’s three levels below the recommended starting level for an instance and six levels below the final boss wants to get into a group because they think they’re good enough, when in fact they usually end up costing the group huge amounts of time when they end up dying during a third of the battles we have against regular enemies. It’s insane.

    I haven’t yet gotten into an instance in CoH, but I may do so soon. Although I think my free trial is almost up…we’ll see, I guess.

  23. Kevin says:

    I think most of those folks are actually having fun playing that way. For them the enjoyment of the game is in overcoming difficult foes. They like the fighting, and the XP is just a nice bonus.

    CoH’s death penalties were one of the biggest factors that drove me off of the game. I’d already failed, I didn’t see why I had to be penalized additionally for it. It felt like an insult, and really impacted my fun. I too prefer to fight the easier enemies, because for me the game is about interacting with my friends… which isn’t any fun if everyone is frustrated and upset. I’d suggest looking for a guild (or superteam or whatever they call it) that shares your sensibilities and play with them. I bet you’d be much happier with your game.

  24. Illiterate says:

    As someone who doesn’t play mumorpuguhs, I would say that in RPGs in general I would prefer to attack things a level or three above my own, to make the game challenging and fun.

    However, if I were playing an RPG with a randomly selected group of 8 cretins, dimwits and teamkillers, I would probably be inclined to go after level appropriate fare in the hopes that I won’t lose too much XP as they insert fingers in random orifices of their own and others rather than deal with the enemy at hand.

  25. froogger says:

    Those punks pushing the limits to gain max XP haven’t learned how to enjoy a game. Never mind that they’re wasting time, focusing on levelling seems silly to me unless you’re trying to catch up with friends (which you don’t need to in CoX thanks to the sidekick system). Sure, you gain new abilities, but most likely you’ll be powering up your main abilities that you started out with anyway. For me it’s the road that matters, not getting there, so I don’t feel at home in (most) MMOs. My playing style is trying to find the “flow”, so sure I try some challenging stuff once in a while. But like Shamus says, if you’re supposed to be super it isn’t fun being knocked around. The good stuff, like learning flight, I take as pleasant little surprises, rather than reading up in advance and pushing it to get there. Oh, well, it takes all kinds of people, I suppose.


    All games have some kind of death penalty

    ..I know of one that doesn’t. AtitD has no dying, no enemies, no fighting at all, in fact, no NPCs even.
    That is, unless you count the annual scarab invasion on 1.April. :)

    Man, I’d sure like to see Shamus’ take on that particular MMO.

  26. Merle says:

    I do enjoy the challenge – but I prefer to avoid purples and stick to oranges and below. When you have a good team that is tearing through enemies that, by rights, should be stronger than you, you get a nice sense of satisfaction.

    Also, probably the single best team I was ever part of in City of Heroes was a pick-up group in the Hollows. I played in that party for the better part of an afternoon. We took on Frostfire three times, in between rampaging our way throughout the zone – and only two people in the group had ever played together before. The leader was both friendly and highly competent, and despite people leaving and joining continually over the six or so hours I spent in that team, I never felt that we were dragging or failing to work together.

    Yes, that kind of thing is a rarity – but if and when it happens, it can give you warm, fuzzy memories that last through your whole gaming career.

  27. Chris says:

    I’m surprised you’re getting such strong push back on this post. Because I’m like you: I’d rather feel like a badass and carve my way through hordes of enemies. You replace the challenge of heavily-strategized near-death pulling for the glee of feeling like a hero. The strategy becomes about handling more foes, not wailing on a single one until they eventually keel over.

    This is actually one of the things I really enjoyed about Tabula Rasa. More enemies at once = fun.

    XP/time != Fun/time, but they do strongly correlate. But even if you take optimum XP gain out of the equation I think being successful more often than failing is more fun. The ideal place for that ratio is debatable. 60%? 75%? 90%? I totally agree that 100% would be no fun. But I’d lean towards something like 80%. I hate failing and feel like my time is being wasted being frustrated. I play to have fun.

  28. karln says:

    A couple of people mentioned WoW above. I think WoW is quite different in that it /severely/ punishes you for fighting mobs above your level. Your chance to hit nosedives at around 3 or 4 levels difference, so you can barely function against higher level mobs. I didn’t like this BTW; I wouldn’t mind them cutting off the extra XP for higher levels to prevent people gaining like 3 levels with a single kill, but to keep people who could handle higher level mobs if they could only hit them from time to time… seems a bit unnecessary.

  29. Kameron says:

    I preferred playing Rugged when solo or on pickup groups. Invincible missions were only fun with experienced players who knew how to work together and make the most of their builds. I found Heroic missions to be boring beyond the first 10 levels because you only fought minions and lts.

    Waiting for a full 8 was more frustrating–and I’d bet a bigger drain on the XP/minute–than running Invince missions. The greatest frustration, and biggest drain, was wasting time trying to explain it to the team leaders who obviously didn’t get it. Quitting the team and finding another was more efficient.

  30. FNORD says:

    It can work, with a good, skilled, balanced team, which can make it efficient. But the xMega Manx’s of the world are not as good as they think they are. So it’s not just a math-impaired quest for max xp, but an expression of delusions of grandeur.

  31. Hotsauce says:

    It looks like others have already mentioned that most player’s goals appear to be different from yours, so instead I’m going to post a tangential rant:

    “If you're level 10 and you knock over a same-level foe (which is quick and easy and completely safe)”
    This just doesn’t make sense to me, even though it does indeed seem to be the way of RPG-style video games. I would think that if I’m level ten and my opponent is level ten, we’re equals and therefore the odds of victory should be 50:50. Otherwise, isn’t there a huge disconnect between Player vs. AI and Player vs. Player?

  32. Noah Lesgold says:

    As many have pointed it, it depends a lot on your team makeup, level, and the enemies you’re fighting. A solid team in the 40-50 range is probably wasting their time if they’re not at least up on the third difficulty level (I can never remember the name of any of them besides Invincible, where my characters generally lived when I played the game). Certainly you end up in some situations where going nuts on difficulty is going to be a serious issue, like against some of the tougher archvillains. And, of course, going much above the base difficulty level before you have SOs (or a reasonable quantity of IOs) is going to be a real problem due to the accuracy issue.

    The real issue you seem to be having is that some of your teams (and/or their leaders) suck, which is certainly not something I am going to dispute.

  33. karln says:

    Hotsauce, yes there is usually. AIs are dumb. Very, very dumb. They stand together in little clusters (occasionally they have to be tidied into a little cluster, but they’ll do it) and are (metaphorically) surprised when they all get nuked by 5 or 6 area effect spells in the space of 3 seconds. They can be persuaded to attack the one plate-armored lunk consistently and leave the glass cannons alone. When they have controlling abilities they use them indiscriminately, disabling the wrong people, putting sleep on someone who’s being attacked so that it breaks immediately etc. AIs generally need significantly bigger numbers to hold their own against players, and it seems the bigger the player group, the greater the relative advantage needs to be.

    Of course it’s also often the case that a player can beat down an even-level mob just by auto-attacking and randomly using whatever skills are available, but not always. Sometimes it’s achieved by fudging the numbers (mobs are weaker than even-level players) and sometimes by giving the players more skills so they can do super-hard hits more frequently. Not all games do that though; Guild Wars is an example of a game in which just behaving randomly generally will not work against even-level enemies (after you get past the beginner areas).

  34. Daemian Lucifer says:


    Actually,no.In many RPGs,especially in MMORPGs,a PC of level X has numerous skills,enchanted equipment,boosting potions,or the equivavelnt of those.NPC of the same level has the same set of skills as any weaker of the same class,only a bit enhanced.Maybe a new one once in a while.No special equipment,no precasted buffs,no potions,nothing.Of course you should slaughter them.

  35. Neriana says:

    Choosing what to do in an MMORPG based merely on how much XP you’ll get is about as exciting as clicking a button 5000 times to get a pretty blue light.

  36. rose glace says:

    it is, of course, a case of YMMV. it’s possible to build an
    extraordinarily weak character because there are no warnings
    on the power selection screen that say things like “this
    power is essential to your build: take it NOW and slot it
    thusly.” similarly,there are no warnings like “friends don’t
    let friends take this power.” and no two people are likely
    to have the same risk/reward preferences or play style

    one of the roses _cannot_ be killed by most solo or small
    group spawns at the default difficulty level so that rose
    has the difficulty level set quite high. another rose blows
    through minions but has trouble with most bosses: difficulty
    set slightly differently there. a third rose is darned hard
    to kill but takes about a month to kill a minion: difficulty
    level varies depending on solo or teamed.

    and xp? it’s just something that happens. :-)

  37. kamagurka says:

    Question for you dudes:
    How do you follow a conversation in the comments of blogs? Sometimes I post here, but I never get to see the responses, since after posting I close the tab and there’s no RSS feed or similar way of knowing when someone adds a comment, and I really can’t leave the tab open for every post I commented on.
    Do you guys bookmark threads like that and just check back periodically, or what?

    On a related note: Why is my gravatar a beer glass? I didn’t set that up…

  38. karln says:

    kamagurka: I keep the tab open for the rest of the day and refresh every so often, then if it’s an interesting topic I come back later by typing whatever words I remember from the title into Firefox’s URL bar. Dunno about anybody else.

  39. Chris Arndt says:

    I don't enjoy shooting fish in the barrel. If I know I'm going to win, why fight at all?

    I’ve seen that philosophy in play by kids and fools stuffing quarters endlessly into irritatingly difficult fighting games.

    I play to have fun, not to have suspense. Fun usually means… WINNING. When I sit down to play I want to win. When I own the game flat out and I don’t win I want to travel toward the win. I want an opening of path to win.

    Hence why X-Men: Next Dimension for PS2 should be scratched to pieces.

  40. BarGamer says:

    This is the reason why I like Guild Wars. Leveling is easy, and has a low cap of 20. Thus, player growth is defined by various optional titles, knowledge of a variety of builds, not just your own, and skill at each build that you use yourself. Grouping with other idiots was entirely optional. While you could take AI-controlled NPCs (Henchmen) along for Prophesies and Factions, at the risk of not completing your mission, Nightfall and Eye of the North offered upgraded versions of these NPCs, to the point where you could customize these “Heroes” to almost the same degree as your own character. With a solid knowledge of build synergy, you could take a full group of nothing but NPCs and never have to party with another idiot player for as long as you play the game.

    Unless, that is, you’re taking their money for services rendered, such as running them through a mission. Then the power is AAAAALL your’s. XD

  41. Danath says:

    Double Posted

  42. Danath says:

    In FFXI Even Match foes for the longest time were ungodly difficult unless you were a ninja class, and I perfectly sympathise with wanting to take down foes quickly and easily, mowing things down IS fun.

    A good example for me is my group in Kuftal Tunnel back in the day, we were killing the lizards, who were Very Tough, just chewing through them… these are level 61-64 monsters, they were Tough-VT range, and then we saw Amemmit, a rare spawn who is around level 66, and is very powerful for his level. We decided to take him on, we kited him, had in combat deaths, lots of gear swapping macros, blew items with long cooldowns (we had to stop fighting a couple of times so people could get rez sickness and just had me and the warrior/nin trading agro/shadows so he couldnt use TP attacks) having to REALLY chain shadows (I was the ninja tank), and after about 10-15 minutes of fighting we BEAT him, it was exhilerating and EXTREMELY rewarding, not to mention those skins sold for alot of money back then.

    Sometimes a little challenge can be alot of fun, even when its not efficient, I played FFXI for a couple years and I can think of tons of examples just like that, such as soloing named monsters in Sky on my thief using kiting, blood bolts, and binding dagger TP attacks along with healing items. Or saving a wipe using ridiculous evasion and flee abilities to kite large NM’s while the group rezzed/recovered.

    I also deleveled alot. Yeah… alot.

  43. Danath says:

    Err meant to edit, not double post, sorry.

  44. Dev Null says:

    I’d love to have a well-thought-out and literate response to your irrefutable mathematics, but…

    Cuz boiling anthills is dull?

  45. Tuck says:

    My scrapper solos on unyielding or invincible. He powers through orange, red, and purple enemies without trouble (and thanks to every available regeneration and recovery power he rarely has to pause between fights).

    My blaster, though, normally fights on heroic. Often I’ll leave a mish for him till it’s a level or two below him (although that’s harder now due to the length of time between levels) so he can go through it more easily.

  46. Dev Null says:

    since after posting I close the tab and there's no RSS feed or similar way of knowing when someone adds a comment,

    Uhm… I use the RSS feed?

    I would swear that once upon a time there was a per-post RSS feed for the comments here, but it hasn’t been around in awhile (if I didn’t completely make it up in the first place.) But most posts older than a day or so don’t get many comments, so if you subscribe to the comments RSS feed on a day with a post that interests you, and then unsubscribe again a day or so later, you generally get what you want.

  47. Roy says:

    As a Controller I am essentially useless on an 8-man team against whites. Against purples it really matters that I'm holding hard-hitters, sleeping outlying Blasters and (best of all) confusing enemy support types (one time my groupmates even left the confused alone without being told) :) “˜Too easy' is not always a trivial complaint; it can indicate that someone is not really contributing at all because everything's dying too fast.

    Oh, how I wish I could get it through people’s heads “If they’ve got purple covering their heads and are punching their own guys, I’ve got them confused. Leave them for last.” As soon as I confuse a guy, any guy, the rest of my teams always seem to think “Hey! Look at that purple! That must mean he’s the biggest threat! Nail him!”

  48. GeneralBob says:

    No such problem in Runescape

    The xp is given at a flat rate of 4xp per point of damage dealt. This makes choosing a training monster based on the monster’s hp, def, attack style, poisonous?, drops, etc rather than its level. So a lvl 70 player can efficiently train on lvl 13 rock crabs for their weak hits and high hp or lvl 82 Ankous for their low defense and good drops. But lvl 70 jungle horrors would make very poor training because of their hard hits and bad drops.

    *I* think this makes for more interesting training where one has a dozen pros and cons to weigh and greater flexibility for players to experiment with monsters say 100 lvls higher than them. But that’s just me.

  49. Chris Arndt says:

    I should also say, I like a challenge, but I don’t like to lose.

    Even more importantly I want it to be awesome back-forth awesomeness.

  50. Nilus says:

    I’m honestly don’t see the point of playing an MMORPG to actually role play. To me the fun of the game is to level up and get cooler and take on more even cooler enemies. I can’t get involved in my character and the story if I have to beat up the exact same looking thugs for 2 hours to level up. So to me MMORPGs are about leveling up, creating a build that works really well and socializing a bit. For actual role playing I either go with a single player game with a good story(Right now Fallout 3 but in the past Mass Effect, Any PC Baldur’s Gate, Planescape:Torment, the Original two Fallouts all fit the bill). Or I just call up my buddies and actual do some table top gaming.

  51. Khorboth says:

    There is a lot of advice and speculation on which levels/classes/teams should be on which difficulty. To me, this is simple. If you feel “bogged down” or “frustrated” more than rarely, you need to lower your difficulty. If you feel “bored” more than very rarely, you need to raise your difficulty.

    This spot is in different places based upon all kinds of different factors, but it’s a really focused approach for having fun regardless of how fun is defined.

    Aside: I think it’s great that the game LETS you feel like a superhero. That was one of my major complaints with EQ: I always felt like a wimp.

  52. Derek K. says:

    Nilus: CoH is full of light RP – you shout silly things at your foes as you kill them. You don’t have 3 hour conversations about the morality of destroying a tree beast.

    I’m in the “if it’s not a challenge, it’s not fun” camp as well.

    Don’t get me wrong – I’ve got a fire/nrg blaster. Build Aim Fire Breath Fireball means anything yellow con or below is dead, and possibly oranges and reds too. But you can only do that so often, imo. Now, on the flip side, I *hate* waiting. SO if we’re wiping, it’s time for a new mission.

    I wish the difficulty slider was adjustable in real time, not just by talking to a single person in the zone.

    Also note for Shamus: You came in relatively recently. At some point in the past few years, they added a cap to the number of mobs you could hit with your powers. Prior to that, you could hit 100 mobs in one attack, if your tank did it right. That was the heyday of yellow mobbing – you got a stone or invuln tanker to run the entire mish (which was 8 man on invinc) and pull everyone together. Then everyone unleashed all their AoEs on the corner, and you just watched the bars fill up.

  53. kamagurka says:

    BarGamer: then why play a muhmorpuhguh at all? Sounds like the whole Guild Wars experience would be the same on a non-networked computer…

  54. Loneduck3 says:

    Frooger and anyone else: I said all games have a death penalty. I overgeneralized. I can mention many games where you can’t die, and some games where dying is a part of game progression. However, in MMORPGs where you can die, dying always has a penalty of time, and often a penalty of XP or money.
    I suppose it depends on the gamer. I play because I enjoy character progression and learning how to use my character better. There’s no point in telling people how to have fun, or that you’re having fun incorrectly. I don’t like running to my body again and again,to say nothing of paying repair fees when I’m saving for the epic mount. So I try to avoid dying. Plus, I find a game more immersive when I play to avoid dying. It feels closer to what I’d do in a pen and paper RPG. But I got exalted with them Timbermaw furbolgs in WoW, so I have no problem doing repetitive tasks.

  55. Krellen says:

    I generally run on the second-highest difficulty (I’m not quite at soloing AVs, I think, so I don’t run the highest), which results in a lot of reds and purples for me, but I mow through them pretty easy.

    Of course, I’ve got a heavily IO’d level 50 MasterMind, which is by far the most powerful solo archetype, so that might have something to do with it. (Robots/Traps is also apparently a very powerful MM build, given its popularity.)

  56. lplimac says:

    You’re just playing with the wrong group of people. I play every Tuesday (and Fridays when family stuff doesn’t get in the way) with the same group of people. We tend to maximize our team with one or two tanks or brutes (depending on which side we are playing) then picking a power to abuse, like say Accelerate Metabolism-AM (which we call Socks… the graphic for the power looks like one). Do you know how fast you can KO things when you have four instances of AM, Haste, all the Leadership pool powers and maybe a Speed Boost? Very, even if they are Red minions backed up by purple Lt. and Bosses. And even if you do get one or two KO’d just throw a Vengeance on them and tear through the remaining MOB’s when you have the bonus. We always ran on max difficulty and maybe wiped once in awhile, but only if we got unexpected adds or fighting multiple AV’s/Heroes. Playing on max diff is very possible, just need to have the right group, which includes having people that don’t mind getting KO’ed, mainly because you are defeating the MOB’s so fast that you’re out of debit almost before you can get a rez :D Believe me doing this you feel way more super than just pounding on white MOB’s

  57. Plasma says:

    #31 Hot Sauce: “I would think that if I'm level ten and my opponent is level ten, we're equals and therefore the odds of victory should be 50:50.”

    This may be true in some games, but bear in mind that City of Heroes is a game about super heroes, with super powers, fighting against often non-powered foes. It deliberately has more of a mowing-down-hordes-of-enemies feel to it.

    As for Shamus’s original point: at high levels, with good teams, you do regularly get to a point where you can take down reds and purples exactly as fast as you can take down whites. At that point, it makes no sense at all to bother with anything less than reds. The problem you’re encountering is that people are trying to apply high-level tactics to low-level teams. Plus, as many people have said, for some people cakewalks just aren’t any fun.

  58. TSED says:

    I played EverQuest (1) for a long, long time.

    For lower levels, this strategy worked.

    At higher levels, though? When you’ve got all this awesome mudflated gear and AAs out the wazoo?

    I was a bard. I was a good bard. I could keep a mob in the group and only one mob in the group. At all times. They’d look up right as the last mob died and BLAM THERE’S ANOTHER ONE. That hasn’t hit any one else.

    In this manner I could keep groups fighting solitary red con mobs in hard zones one by one by one, steamrolling them all. It was thanks to me that we could fight in areas we were undergeared for.

    In these situations, we sometimes grinded (ground?) for XP (you can get ‘Alternate Advancement’ points for XP even at max level, which you could use to buy things like special abilities or better damage mitigation or more crits or etc. etc.) and other times we’d work towards gear that were huge upgrades for us but for people ‘properly’ geared for the zone it was merely a ‘oh I have junk in this slot I’d wear that’ kind of deal.

    Anyways, with a good dedicated puller / crowd control (I’d also put in respectable DPS and lots of extra healing, mana, etc., but that’s because bards could do everything) any group can fight almost anything. We couldn’t go after things that’d one-round the tank, obviously, but that doesn’t mean we couldn’t do almost anything else.

    And if we were going for gear, XP was second place. We only killed what we had to and moved on.
    If we were going for XP, we went to things that still conned red (no colour higher than red in EQ) but we blitzed through them thanks to our DPS being focused on one target and our healer having no mana problems only healing one guy (the tank, no offtanking needed). Tank, puller, slower (you NEEDED one to turn mob dps from ‘chainsaw tied to a train’ to ‘pick up truck’), healer, dps, dps. Since the slower could either add more dps or spot heal or both, and the tank definitely had respectable dps (in order to keep agro), mobs started dropping really fast. 20-30 seconds or less each. With my knowledge of zones I could help hack up mobs down to as low as 20% before nabbing another, and mobs in EQ don’t all fight down to 0% (most start running at 9% or less).

  59. Scourge says:

    I’m glad I enver saw those kinds of people, although I see a lot of (xX)*”Insert random famous character”(xX)*

    They don’t strike me as to imaginative and i rather stay away from them, like those who call themself “D34th pwnz0r”.

    Only good thing about GW is that most foes are sorta in your range, 20 or so, although the endgame content is filled with level 26 – 28 foes, where you need a team to fight them.

    Some otehr foes are also quite hard and need tactics, even when they are barely 4 levels above your own.

    I once had an instance where I was playing my necromancer, Minion master build, and some other guy stole regularily the corpses to replenish his health. We had to do the mission four times, he enver stopped using it and then he eventually stopped.. but only because he went afk.

    Glady we kicked him the enxt time we tried the mission and then we made it.

  60. karln says:

    That’s a point actually (Scourge’s second paragraph), I also avoid grouping with those kinds of red-flag names. I dunno your grouping policies, Shamus, but if you’re accepting invites from xMEGA MANx types you probably should expect to encounter chaos and ineptitude :/

    Actually I did wonder: is the screenshot ‘real’ in the sense that you found this guy xMEGA MANx and he said that and you managed to capture the moment, or did you make that character yourself and pose the screenshot to illustrate your post? Either way it’s funny :)

  61. DKellis says:

    I’m going to have to chime in here again with another “it depends”.

    Statistically, assume optimum conditions in every way, the best XP-per-time-unit is fighting blues; that is, enemies one level below you. The reason not many people actually do this is because the conditions are almost never optimum.

    Firstly, it assumes powers that can hit large numbers of enemies approaching the efficiency of powers that can only hit one, or at least some ability to make hitting lots of enemies go quickly. As an example, my Fire Blaster goes around hunting lower-level but more numerous foes, while my Illusion Controller picks on higher-level but fewer enemies.

    Secondly, it assumes a constant supply of these enemies, ie minimal time spent looking for those big clusters of XP. One reason I pick fighting enemies one or two levels above me is because the extra effort in defeating them is made up by not having to travel as often. I progress at a reasonable speed (three or four levels above me is considered “too much effort”), and I don’t have to keep zoning and getting more missions.

    I generally push my difficulty up when I go through a mission and think: “that’s it?” This usually happens in the late 20s or early 30s, but some characters (like my Peacebringer) are still running on the lowest difficulty level.

    There have been reports of certain builds heading into hazard zones and laying waste to lower-level hordes, getting lots of XP and drops. I’ve never gotten the hang of AoE-centric powersets myself (aforementioned Fire Blaster and Peacebringer are perpetually shelved), but others probably have, so I’ll let them chime in.

  62. MRL says:

    @Danath: Hola, fellow FFXI-er! What server do you play on?

    The major difference, I think, between the argument of this kind of strategy as related to City of Heroes or other MMOs is just who you’re playing.

    In FFXI, you’re an adventurer. In WoW, the same applies, as it does in Everquest and everything else I’ve played.

    In City of Heroes, you are a superhero. I can see how more you might expect a game that makes you feel super.

  63. karln says:

    People keep saying the enemies in CoX are not superpowered. Um. In my experience they mostly are. You start meeting superpowered bosses around level 10 I think, and by 20 most enemies, even minions, are ‘super’, including all the origins available to players. You’re not fighting mundane thugs; you’re fighting cyborgs, mutants, various kinds of magic wielder, ninjas, robots, psychics, professional soldiers with high-tech gadgetry…

    Which is not to say you shouldn’t enjoy feeling more super than the enemy if that’s what you like, set the difficulty low and seek out blues and whites to mow down, but it’s not ridiculous in terms of the setting to be having challenging fights in which everyone needs to be paying attention and not doing anything too stupid.

  64. RibbitRibbit says:

    (Nitpick mode)

    I think you meant “characters dying”, not players.

  65. Shamus says:

    karln: The quote is real, but I wasn’t quick enough to grab it at the time. So I staged a re-creation.

  66. Jamey says:

    There have been a lot of responses (and just about as many opinions) on what is “fun,” and XP/Time functions.

    1) For the math-centric people: your hit chance coupled with damage adjustment shifts with each level, and the *optimal* point is actually Blue Minions (one level below you). A blue minion will provide the highest XP payout adjustment vs. the difficulty to kill him. HOWEVER: due to power slotting and damage totals, you might reach a point where you you are overkilling them. I’ll use my blaster as an example. A single trip mine flamethrower application to a group of Whites will kill all the minions (if they aren’t resistant to fire), so they are more efficient because of breakpoints.

    If you really want to make the most XP over time, find a mission on a large outdoor map that has lots of groups. *DO NOT* complete it. Notch your difficulty up *one step* (Tenacious for Heroes), and then outlevel the mission by one level. This will provide larger groups of blues. Clear the mission out without completing it, leave, reset, come back. That will be very boring to most people, but it will give you the highest XP over time you can squeak out playing solo. Once you have leveled, you can bump your difficulty two more notches (Unyielding for Heroes), and this will raise the level of the enemies by one (so in effect, you can use this mission over and over to get two levels fairly quickly).

    2) Most people just want to have fun. This is usually the sweet spot of challenge, but minimal chance of death. For “most” ATs, this is going to be normal difficulty to around level 12, then if you load up with level 15 DOs or IOs probably one or two notches up, and then at 22 if you can re-load out with SOs or IOs, then you can go to 2 or 3 notches up on difficulty, then somewhere in the 32-40 range (where you have some or all of your last few available powers from your main powerset) most can now handle one short of the top difficulty or the top difficulty for most of the Melee ATs.

  67. Danath says:


    Fenrir, alas I no longer play anymore, but my friends and I were pretty dedicated at pushing ourselves (we were one of the first groups to beat CoP without a RNG or ninja tank for the level 75 stuff). Unfortunately I quit shortly after Treasures of Aht’urghan hit :(

  68. Merle says:


    Sorry to hear that, I’m on Cait Sith. Splitting my MMO time with WoW, but still, it’s good to run into someone else who knows Vana’diel.

    I almost quit right after I got ToAU. Naja Salaheen pisses the hell out of me – I can’t remember ever encountering a more infuriating NPC. The blue mage job-unlock quest got me pretty steamed, too. I really don’t like being jerked around.

    The automatons are adorable, though – I started out RDM/whm (hurrah for pink mage!), but I think I’m going to make a try for puppetmaster/dancer when I get more time to play.

  69. Danath says:


    I was a thief from beginning to end, but I actually liked Naja’s character, I just ended up not having enough free time to play FFXI and I got tired of grinding xp/merit points, since I died/deleveled so much. I dont remember exactly when I quit in the lifecycle, but I remember having to fight a BCNM in the main mission storyline and beating all the assaults up to that point.

    Also, screw Puppermaster! Need more Corsairs! Bard 2.0.

    Right now I play wow, and am going to get into Warhammer once I can play Knight of the Blazing Sun (college student splitting time between games and study ftw).

  70. Master Mahan says:

    You’re absolutely right that fighting equal-level foes in an MMO is the fastest way to level. There are plenty of reasons to pick on more challenging foes, however. I *like* being challenged when I play. I only know WoW, but it can be pretty easy. Easy is dull. I might get less XP per second fighting red creatures, but I’ll enjoy it more, and I consider that a valuable reward.

  71. DKellis says:

    The interesting thing about CoH enemy group progression is that drug-addled superstrong toughs (Trolls), medically-reanimated zombies (Vahzilok), and elemental-powered mutants (Outcasts) are still weaker than a gang of guys in suits (Family). Yes, the bosses have superpowers, but the minions are supposed to be just Good Old Boys.

    Of course, suits with superpowers (Crey) are one level up.

    It’s not that there’s no logical progression at all: some of the toughest enemies in the game are highly-trained special forces types with specifically anti-super weaponry, as well as evil psychic clowns, and lots and lots of aliens. There are just some really odd cases which stand out.

    I’m not going to go much into CoV, where demons made of pure electricity are far, far easier to defeat than a bunch of miners on strike.

  72. Gasoline says:

    As you mentioned, it is not all about gaining XP, it is about having fun. And taking the challenge of more dangerous enemies – sometimes – can be fun.
    Due to the fact that CoX is an older game, veterans might have other goals than to rush through the missions and to level-up in the fastest way.

  73. Kalil says:

    You miss one thing in your analysis:
    Sometimes the challenge of fighting higher level enemies is a reward in and of itself.
    For example, I was leveling my Hunter in WoW, and decided to attempt to solo Deadmines.
    The XP sucked, it took a while, and I died a couple times, but I successfully soloed Deadmines at level 28. The challenge and boasting rights were well worth the inefficiency in leveling.

  74. DocTwisted says:

    First off: I agree with you, that cranking up the CR is a monkey trap, especially at the lower levels.

    However, I’ve found that my Robot/Force field Mastermind villain can take on a group of yellows only slightly slower than a comparable group of whites, especially since I’ve been Maxing Accuracy and Damage for the robots, and put off gaining a “travel power” to gain the leadership group’s Damage and Accuracy boosting aura powers. But this may be an exception due to my focusing on making super-bots that charge into battle for me whilst I point and laugh as the laser fire bounces my enemies around the map.

  75. Dave says:

    *sigh*.. NWN1 or NWN2.. IM some friends.. game together on something you built/downloaded.. or even DM your friends.. result.. only the monkey’s you invited and wanted to play with in the first place.. *listens to his words echo back after going unheard*.. *shrugs*

  76. Sam says:

    Haven’t read trough the comments but but but… if there’s no challenge or risk for failure where’s the fun?

  77. Ysabel says:

    At the levels I play, with the groups I usually play with, with the enhancements I usually have…if I’m playing a tank or scrapper, I wouldn’t have time to hit whites before the blasters took them down. I generally take yellows down in a couple of shots at most. Our teams tend to wade through oranges and the occasional red like butter. It feels pretty dang super to me. *grin*

    I’ve done missions where everything was grey, because someone had a mission that had aged and didn’t want to just delete the mission. XP issues aside, it’s not very exciting to be able to pretty much put my client on auto-hit and just walk through stuff and know I’ll kill them all. At least, in my world.

  78. Grom says:

    I’m with Dave (#75)… NWN1 is the place. Find a PW that you like and never look back! It’s the only way to MMO. And it’s free once ya buy the game. No monthly fee.

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