Talisman Skill Matters
Vertical Progression in the Secret World
This is the first part of a three-part essay dealing with weapons and talisman in the Secret World (part 2 is now available). TSW is a game with a flatter than normal leveling curve and it is a game for which the relationship between attributes and appearance has been completely decoupled (attributes come from talisman/weapons while appearance comes from clothing). Further, the talismans themselves come in three basic flavors (health, attack and healing) and at three broad echelon (green, blue and purple). On top of that, talisman are often customizeable with glyphs from very early on and some additionally have both glyph and signet customization later in the game.
The end result is a system in which a player can really customize his or her gear to fit his or her play style. It is a gear system which nicely complements the flexibility of the deck system in the game. However, just as the deck system itself lends itself to unplayable and substantially sub-optimal choices, so to does the gear system leave you plenty of rope to metaphorically hang yourself. When the game launched, we positioned our My First 60 and Blue Mountain builds as options to help players find synergistic, low-AP builds to play. It is now time to turn our attention to the relationship between gear and builds.
Poor gearing choices can make a build play bad. A good deck becomes difficult, a sub-optimal deck becomes painful and a bad deck simply results in continuous trips to the nearest rez conduit. Often, when the gear choices are at fault, the player won’t realize it and will instead focus on the build as the problem. While sometimes the build is the problem (e.g. you can’t use super-gear to turn a bad build into a functional one), there are a host of gearing problems that we believe underly a number of “this [game/zone/quest] is too hard,” complaints.
I am writing this as a series of three essays. Essay #1 will address the fallacy of asymetric vertical progression (don’t worry, I’ll explain it in a minute). Essay #2 will address the talisman distribution conundrum. Essay #3 will address glyphs, signets and you.
Vertical Progression in TSW
TSW is billed as a “level-less” game, but that is largely marketing distortion. There are clearly quality levels to gear, there are clearly skill ranks needed to get into said gear, there is clearly visible stat benefit from increasing the quality level of your gear and finally there is clearly a difference in how monsters “con” as you change your skill level.
True enough, the levels as they are in TSW are flatter than those of other games. A player in mid-game gear (Q6 and Q7) can function in much harder environments, albeit with necessary caution. However, as anyone who has spent any time listening to general chatter in the Kingsmouth, Savage Coast or Blue Mountain regions can attest, pick-up groups will often try to form requiring gear 2+ QL over the content they wish to face. It is clear, from this alone that over-gearing certainly makes content a good bit easier.
The game assigns you a vertical level using some form of weighted average of your talisman and weapon levels. While we do know the weight each individual talisman contributes to the stat pool, we do not know the exact weights for your vertical level calculation. None the less, you can visibly see this happening as you level up your skills. Monsters that used to be red dots become yellow, yellow becomes white, white becomes blue and blue becomes green.
While the level calculation is based on your current skills, the con system appears to work off the assumption that your skills are reasonably symmetrically distributed (e.g. a rank-4 in your weapons and talisman is a level 4 player). Certainly in the leveling process, you get off balance as one skill gets a point while another doesn’t. But, as long as your talisman and weapons are reasonably adjacent, your opponent con color is a reasonable expression of the difficulty.
What is Asymmetric Progression?
One of the interesting phenomenon about TSW is that there are about as many opinions of how to play as there are players. For the most part, most of these opinions work reasonably well and the best advice is to find a working approach that fits your play style. However, some approaches simply don’t work and others only work for people who play a very particular style and/or play that style very well. One of those ill-fitting styles is the asymmetric advancement model.
In asymmetric advancement, the player focuses all of their skill points into a single tree (typically a weapon). They do this until they hit Q10 with the weapon and then go back and flesh out their second weapon and talisman. The logic of this model is that the one Q10 weapon (often a blue or purple) is “so much better,” that they have an advantage over the content they face, thus making subsequent content easier.
This turns out to be a fallacy. It’s a playable one, but for many players it will actually make the game harder rather than easier. There are two reasons why this is fallacious thinking: (1) the actual weapon power contribution of your weapon and (2) the skewing of the con system. It turns out that the entire approach is based on a mistaken attribution that the benefit comes from the QL when it actually came from the echelon. I will address each of these in-order.
The relationship between weapon power and combat power
In the figure below, I have mapped out my combat power based on my weapon and three pieces of attack power gear (a head piece, a major talisman and a minor talisman). For reference, the gear depicted is blue echelon coming from elite end dungeons. The weapon is a 347 weapon power sword, the head is a 439 attack power head piece, the ring is a 343 attack power major talisman and the belt is a 255 attack power minor talisman.
I have graphed my compbined weapon and attack power on the horizontal axis and my combat power on the vertical axis. Combat power is the attribute used to determine my damage per swing and it is influenced directly by attack power. The first data point is for a weapon only. The second data point includes the weapon and head piece and combat power jumps significantly. The third data point is weapon, head piece and major talisman with approximately an 80 point jump in combat power. The final data point is with the three pieces and an additional minor talisman, yielding a much smaller jump.
Players who push to Q10 with a weapon are looking at the left most data point. The weapon adds more combat power than any single piece of gear. However, with the exception of the head piece, the other talisman come in triplets. Bumping up your major talisman one skill point gives you three potential gear pieces which would substantially exceed the value of the weapon’s contribution.
There are benefits from pushing your weapon forward. You do get a bit more +hit (as a hidden passive) and I would wager that some of the combat power contribution of your weapon comes from the skill ranking itself. Or, at the very least, weapon power gets more combat power per point to justify the purchase of weapon skill.
But, if a player pushes themselves to Q10 weapon while still sitting at Q4 talisman, they are really leaving a lot of attack power on the table. They spent 37 skill points getting to Q10 weapon (form Q4) which would have just as easily put them in all Q5/Q6 talisman (and both weapons). I know it sounds like the Q10/Q4 isn’t that far off (and is potentially better), but the net effect is that the player messes up how mobs con, and does so in a way that harms the player.
Messing up the con system
Recall that mobs difficulty con is a weighted average of your weapon/talisman skills. It does not appear to be effected by the actual gear, but rather by the skill investment itself. Using my example above, a Q10/Q4 player is about the same as a balanced Q5.5 player. I would imagine their cons are relatively similar too (the con system most likely uses the total skill point investment as its basis).
Our Q10/Q4 player has a weapon kicking out Q10 damage. Unfortunately, they have the hitpoints, complementary attack power and heal throughput of a Q4 player. From our chart above, their true damage potential is a good bit lower than it could be, their health is far below where it should be, and their healing can’t keep up with the damage they will face. The asymmetric player breaks the con system, and does so in a way unfavorable to themselves.
Is the trade-off worth it? Not so much it turns out. Using data from TSW-Loot, we can construct a figure of weapon attack power progression. To keep things consistent with my gear, I only used blue quality gear from the normal dungeons in TSW. On the horizontal axis is the quality level of the gear (Polaris Q3, Hell Rising Q5, Darkness War Q6, Ankh Q8 and Elite Q10, I left out Hell Fallen the Q9 but it should plot nicely along the trend line too).
So, our hypothetical Q10/Q4 player appears to be benefiting, right? The relative attack power from a Q4 blue to a Q10 blue seems to be about 2.5x greater. Clearly asymmetry wins? Well, no. While the weapon power more than doubles, but combat power is what matters. Remember, that 347 attack power bought exactly 144 points of combat power. Even if it turned out that the Q4 weapons provided half the weapon power the Q10, our first figure demonstrates that your combat power really amps up from your talisman.
The player Q10/Q4 player could have made up a good bit of the ground from their super weapon simply by acquiring a few attack power talisman with a more balanced progression. By doing so, they would also help to make sure they have the right HP level, the right heal level (if a healer) and just as importantly, the right glyph level (although you can twink glyphs, but that’s going to be in essay 3). On top of that, a balanced Q5/Q6 player is going to have also made up some of the weapon power gap simply from the Q5+ weapon they would have on over the Q4 the rest of their gear is compared to.
It’s really the echelon that matters
Our hypothetical Q10/Q4 player is seeking an edge, good for him, everyone is. But, the player is looking in all the wrong places. Rather than heading out and picking up a single Q10 and atrophying all other skills in the process. Any advantage from this path is minor and offset by the disadvantages to the con system. Unfortunately, the Q10/Q4 player is mistakenly attributing the benefit of their Q10 weapon to the Q-level when it mostly is coming from the blue (or purple) echelon of the gear.
Earlier, I noted that my weapon is a 347 blue weapon power item from an elite dungeon. For reference, a green Q10 weapon is 258 attack power. Using the chart above, a green Q10 item is roughly equal to the weapons out of Darkness War, a Q6 dungeon! The best bang for the buck comes from doing the dungeons at the right QL.
Run Polaris as a Q2/Q3 wearing greens. The gear will be an upgrade and will let you easily handle Q5 Hell Rising. Hell Rising gear sets you up nicely for Darkness War. As we saw in the proceeding paragraph, a good set of Darkness War gear is equivalent to green Q10 gear.
On top of that, you are picking up blue quality talisman. And, to make things even better, you can equip all those items for much less skill investment than the Q10/Q4 player.
You wind up breaking the conning system in your favor, if you do the dungeons.
There are a number of perspectives on how to spend your skill points. I see some advocate “reasonably balanced, but let your weapon stay about +2 above you.” That’s only a bit asymmetric and it is possible that the benefits of this offset the disadvantages. Aela will tell you to stay reasonably balanced, but buy up your weapon first. That will keep your gear in line with your weapon always giving you a slight edge. This does seem to make some sense since the weapon contributes more combat power than any other single piece of gear.
I advocate remaining balanced and being pragmatic with your point expenditures. If you have two items that are one skill level out of reach (a weapon and a head piece) and you can only invest skill points to get one, go with the weapon. But, if you are sitting on a pair of majors or three minors, invest in the talisman. Two majors is better than one weapon upgrade. Three minors should be too.
In the end, all of the approaches will work. They are all reasonably balanced and avoid the problems of extreme asymmetry.