Hello everyone! We’ve got a big topic to discuss today, both literally and figuratively. We’re going to take a look at the biggest dragon we have on the roster, The Behemoth.
The Behemoth is basically a tank with wings. Boasting the highest max health of any dragon so far, it also has a dragon-seeking missile launcher strapped to its back, so that’s a thing. The Behemoth’s primary attack, aptly named Missile Barrage, does the most damage out of … well, everything we’ve currently implemented. You also get a helpful indicator in the UI to show how many targets you’ve got in your sights, so that you can see how many people you’re about to blow up.
As befits a tank with wings, the Behemoth isn’t the most maneuverable dragon out there. In fact, it can be kinda vulnerable to other dragons getting up close and personal. Luckily, the Behemoth can fire off its secondary ability, Shockwave, and send those folks flying. Shockwave produces—you guessed it—a shockwave, pulsing outward from the Behemoth and pushing enemies away. Even better, the force from the shockwave keeps enemies from using abilities for a short time, buying you some time to breathe.
"Allied dragons can use the Behemoth as a spawn point to amass an invading force"
Now, both Missile Barrage and Shockwave have pretty sizeable cooldowns compared to most other dragon abilities, so you still need a solution for dealing with enemies in between activating your board-sweepers. That’s where the Behemoth’s passive ability, Convoy comes in. Allied dragons can actually use you as a spawn point, so you can amass an invading force to retake a capture point, or just suddenly swarm the enemy and blow them to bits. Of course, you can’t spawn on a Behemoth if you are also flying a Behemoth, because recursion. But it’s still a pretty nasty surprise to look away from a Behemoth, and then look back to see six enemies bearing down on you (as well as missiles).
The Behemoth is the third dragon we implemented for Dragons of Elanthia, and he’s still the largest. We’ve talked about it in our Kickstarter campaign, but we really do look at new content as a challenge to one-up ourselves. And when it comes to bigger and more badass, well the Behemoth kinda has it covered. Unfortunately, that has made it a tricky dragon to get right in practice, largely because of its immense size.
See, when we talk about "realistic dragon physics," we actually mean it. And the Behemoth is basically as massive as any two other dragons put together. This turns our crazy-long list of flight variables into a veritable minefield, where the slightest mistake can make the dragon completely unplayable. So perhaps unsurprisingly, at various points in the Behemoth’s evolution it was completely unplayable. And sure, it might seem appropriate for a dragon like the Behemoth to fly like a brick, and maybe Behemoths just need to watch their endurance meter more closely. But that just wasn’t FUN.
There’s a lot of times in the development process where we have to forge a compromise between our preconceived notions and what’s actually fun. And in this case, the Behemoth had to be able to keep itself in the air, even if physics was insistent on that not being the case. This led to some lower endurance costs on the Behemoth’s abilities, a more generous recharge rate for said endurance, and some light massaging of the flight numbers so that it could stay in the air. Granted, the Behemoth still handles in a way best described as "slow and ponderous," but again, a flying brick. At least it’s a brick that stays in the air.
Another significant compromise came with the Behemoth’s abilities, since Missile Barrage and Shockwave are two of the outright strongest abilities in the game. The missiles deal more damage at once than just about anything else, and you can nearly one-shot the more fragile rider/dragon combinations. And Shockwave is such a powerful area-denial ability, particularly if you can get multiple Behemoths firing it one after another. Even if you don’t just slam someone into a wall with it, they still get locked out of using abilities for a while.
Obviously these two abilities on the same dragon raise major red flags to me as someone with an eye on game balance. And in our early playtests, we saw a lot of people trying to exploit these abilities, spawning on a capture point and immediately triggering Shockwave just to disrupt attackers. Or they’d spawn in, fire their missiles, and then just kamikaze into the enemy team, because it was faster to die and respawn than to wait out the cooldown on Missile Barrage. So, what to do?
I tried adjusting cooldowns, damage numbers, pretty much everything I had at my disposal. But every time I would nerf the radius of Shockwave, or weaken the tracking abilities of Missile Barrage, I’d hear the same thing, that it just wasn’t as fun. I could get close, but something was just missing. The solution wound up being a code change, adding functionality in the form of an initial cooldown. This let us keep cooldowns where they were, so that abilities weren’t refreshing too quickly in the heat of combat, and at the same time discourage people from just killing themselves to indirectly refresh their cooldowns. Today the Behemoth is situated right where it should be, as a powerful and tanky dragon that needs to be supplemented by a faster rider, or an aggressive team composition for backup. Fun, but not overpowered.
If you’ve got more questions about the Behemoth, the balancing process, or explosions, let us know in the comments!
Stephen Hmiel, Game Designer