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Nightmare Shard - Discussion Thread

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Responsible members of the Skylords Reborn team recently met to discuss possible changes to campaign maps. What is outlined here are the proposed changes to the map Nightmare Shard. These changes are not final and are only proposed. As a warning, other map projects such as more RPvE presets and Defensive RPvE have a much higher priority for our team. As such, these, or any campaign map changes, may not happen for a very long time. 

Some changes here are firmer than others, all italicized proposals have accompanying explanations for why we are considering them, but they are the most tentative of all the proposals.

Proposed Changes:

1.    Potentially decrease difficulty of waves on lower difficulties given how many new players struggle even with standard difficulty on this map.

2.    Increase clarity that player gains power while having units near the Shard of the Forge.

3.    Increase starter well capacity 600 -> 900.

4.    Increase starting void energy by ~100 to allow more options to approach the map.

Nightmare Shard is one of the hardest maps in the game, especially on expert difficulty. It can also be fairly long with a slow start. To alleviate both issues, we are considering increasing starting well capacity, which would increase their lifetime from 20 to 30 minutes. Also, our proposed increase to starting void power will mean less waiting around and more playing the game.

Eirias likes this
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I think there are various signs that maps have issues with either being unintuitive or uniquely vulnerable.

One such sign is when commonly advised tactics consist of outlier cards as crutches to easily overcome hurdles. These influence the progression in a round so heavily that runs with or without them become incomparable.

Another sign can be that people avoid interacting with certain aspects of a map entirely and instead circumvent them.

When the argument is that expert should be hard, then it completely undermines that point when those maps are rather broken in two. An expert map with half the enemies missing/not spawning or lots of its content not being engaged with no longer has a claim on being expert difficulty.

However, as initially mentioned, when expert maps are unclear, sometimes on top of being hard, then the entire thing is running into major approachability issues. Which in turn make players feel like they have to employ some exploit or meta strat, which curbs the creative process.

A big factor is also how easy a tactic that trivializes a map is to execute as well as how widespread it is. High-execution strats that are generally unsuitable or unknown for the broader playerbase don’t warp a map on a major scale. Meanwhile, low-execution tactics degenerate to “cheese strats” and make the content feel lame and unappealing.

It also creates the issue that people come to rely on meta strats and exploits to the point where even thinking about alternatives becomes unappealing. The perceived power gap between the established default strat and whatever they might come up with seems so big that it feels futile to even attempt something else.

The oppressiveness of meta strats and exploits erodes maps in multiple ways, effectively leading to a much shallower experience.

So I want to first look at what issues a map has. Then why they might occur and what parts of the map are getting undermined. Afterwards spitball some ideas on how these issues could be addressed. And finally various elements that could be changed to make these maps more approachable from different angles. Can also be possible compensation nerfs to maps in response to fixes that make them harder.

Main Issue:
The biggest hurdle is the T1 → T2 progression. It also gets dominated by T1s that can clear the Vileblood-camp quickly and without much trouble. That there are two other camps each side that are vulnerable to different approaches (Whisperer-camp and Dancer-camp) gets drowned out simply by the close proximity of the Vileblood-camp.

The first camp is extremely fortified and overwhelms a T1 army with ease, especially combined with the Maelstrom cutting off a potential retreat. Simultaneously stronger and stronger waves have to be intercepted while the most reliable source for power, the Nightmare Shard, is constantly getting contested.

Players intuitively attack the closest camp but get crushed by Vilebloods and the Deathglider with powerful spells trapping them in this meatgrinder.

Takeover balance pass. Entities with strength equivalent to T3 units should not be able to be insta-killed while also becoming completely power-unbound assets for the player on T1.

To allow players to make more informed decisions about which camp to attack the three outer ones should be permanently revealed and exempt from Fog of War. This way players can gauge the military strength and form an attack plan that doesn’t simply involve going to the closest one (which then goes the usual way of getting crushed, asking in chat and then cheesing the map with some meta strat).

The ideal result of this change would be someone looking at all three camps and going “Holy crap, I am not messing with those Vilebloods and the Deathglider. But I can probably handle that other camp …”

As an added benefit it could entice players to play the map in drastically different ways and orders, making the possibilities it offers more apparent instead of simply always grinding against the Vileblood-camp.

Cutting back some of the idle time in the beginning sounds like a good idea.

Replace the Twilight Bombard in the middle with a Hatecaster. That way players could approach the Dancer-camp more easily.

Slightly reduce tower-presence in the Whisperer-camp to make it a more attractive target.

Increase the intervals between the Maelstroms in front of the Vileblood-camp. This would leave players more room to maneuver.

Increase the intervals between the Maelstroms in front of the Whisperer-camp. This would give players more time to attack the towers.

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I'd like to speak to the advanced and standard difficulties. 

I dont consider this map to be excessively difficult. Maps like slave master and blight are much harder on advanced and standard difficulties. This map however does have a few surprises that can make it easy for new players to lose on the first try however once you know of them they arent too difficult. 


1: A fairly sustainable defense is required in these difficulties but it doesnt need to be excessively strong. Generally on standard and advanced you can leave a single building for regen and some ranged units. By t3 you want to have a more sizeable force including t2 or spawn a solid t3 unit and you should be fine. I do not think wave difficulty needs to be changed on standard or advanced. At least for most of the instance. I think in the much later waves they might start spawning multiple t3 units which can be a bit problematic but only if the player is already behind. 

2: ~Random abom spawns can definitely be a catalyst for newer players to lose the map. I think on standard they might be those twilight fathom lords but on advanced you get these aboms that can spawn from the random effect occurrences. I usually play right side and one almost always spawns to assault the t2 orb, other times it also often spawns northward to assault the top right camp, Having seen them before I know to reserve resources or place defense to handle them but for a new player this can cause setbacks that could prevent them from adequately defending the shard by falling behind. I think that before considering nerfing waves to the shard, nerfing the difficulty of these ~random spawns should be considered. 

3: The number one biggest problem with this map by far is the strength of the initial camp. I literally have to spawn to the unit limit using master archers and a few frost mages to have a significant chance of destroying the spawner. Granted I dont think ive played this since the wintertide buffs but still, just having to sit and wait for the unit cap just to destroy the spawner before then waiting similarly as long to go back in a clean up is a huge issue with pacing. When i played this more frequently i would use shadow and it faired similarly poorly. Fire faired a little better due to mine stacking and better damage vs structures. I havent played nature but i assume between stuff like manawings or root it would probably do well. The only other strategy is to have one teammate help another but they really dont get much benefit from doing so until the t2 player can help them in turn. Ways to address this:

-3.1: i see it was already considered to up starting void power and well capacity. 100 power for standard and advanced will do nothing meaningful assuch a small amount would only help in summoning initial units to say build a shard defense which needs no improvement from current. Additionally ive never found lack of power to be an issue on these difficulties so the well capacity is nice but once more not actually helpful.

-3.2: Firstly to destroy the t2 camp you should not need to hit the unit cap or use niche strategies like manawings with expert placement. To fix this simply lower the number of initial enemies spawned. Like a unit cap t1 army should not have to suicide itself to kill a spawn building because the initial force is so strong on advanced and standard. 

-3.3: Secondly On standard at least i think the time between spawns form the 2nd orb camp should be increased significantly. The combination of large occupying force and quick respawn for new players who may not even know to focus the spawner can be insurmountable. The reduction in the initial force (3.2) should be adequately difficult for advanced without needing to change the spawn frequency.

The last two points are important for the lower difficulties because the proposed changes dont really impact the problems experienced outside of expert as the pacing issue is not as important as the initial delay issue. 

Lastly I think it is important to better notify players of attacks, namely the large randomish spawns shoudl they be kept should be better notified and perhaps the witches, especially if their  wave increases in strength. Moon says so much sometimes with a lot of it being rather pointless that it becomes too easy to tune her out. Id rather see some better pings be added or new minimap icons for stronger enemy units attacking your structures or the shard area.

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Point 2,3 and 4 Sounds good.

I agree that the expert difficultly is too hard or to slow till you have a good army that can win the T2-Base-Fight. Normally I clear the T2 bases with joined forced with my teammate else it would take forever.

As soon as you hit T2, the maps swaps form “too hard” to “hard/ok”.
It’s still an expert map so you should be challenged.

So removing some units from the T2 camps would help a lot.
(Point 3 and 4 of curse to)

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  • 3 months later...

Watching people play this map again, I think increasing the well capacity for the T2 from 600 -> 900p would also be beneficial. Again would only help people who end up in long matches, but given the average completion time of Nightmare Shard is 48 minutes I think this is warranted.

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