With great excitement, it is our pleasure to bring back Link – a thrilling, fast-paced game mode, which won the hearts of many players, but ultimately did not hit the mark as far as our intentions and expectations went. Eventually, we decided to disable Link, and focus our efforts on Clash and Raid. We didn't scrap the whole mode, though. Instead, we discussed and tested various ideas with a simple goal: make Link a fun and unique addition to our game. This blog covers what went wrong with the first version of Link and how we approached making changes for its better future.
To fix something, one has to first find what is broken. We evaluated our own experience with Link, together with your feedback, and many actual games we played and saw. We observed certain patterns which we weren't happy with, so we investigated them further to find why things were not going the direction we wanted.
A round of Link could end only when the Main node was captured. Even though respawn times grew longer over the course of the round, a round of Link could last for a remarkable amount of time, which was not really suitable for a game mode intended as the fastest; or fast, at least. There were also reports of players using this mechanic for playing an entirely different thing. Purposely avoiding objectives turned the game into a simple team deathmatch, or could be used for wandering away, exploring the beautiful sights of Malden. While we do not mind too much about players doing stuff differently, it means we kind of failed to provide a mode that would be fun by default.
For more coordinated teams, Link provided some interesting tactical opportunities. However, those were not strong enough – neither disrupting the enemy Node 2 nor capturing the airdrop had an impact on the game that would be really significant. Since a round ended as soon as a team captured Main, many games turned into silly clown fiestas in the middle of the map, when players were repeatedly running recklessly to Main, shooting randomly for a few seconds before dying, respawning, and repeating the whole process. That was not a whole lot of fun, and any traces of tactics all but disappeared.
In Clash and Raid, every life matters and every death significantly affects the game. We wanted Link to be different and to have respawns, but it made lives worth very little and it rewarded mindless gameplay. Quite often, it was a good idea to spawn, run to Main, throw and shoot every grenade available, and die almost on purpose, just to replenish ammo.
Changing something might be an issue itself at the end, so it was also important to keep in mind what makes Link a game mode we like, and preserve its core features. Obviously, linking nodes was the key of the mode, and we wanted to keep it so. We also wanted to preserve respawns, so Link could be a little more forgiving than the other two game modes, thus presenting a good learning experience for new players. However, both features needed adjustments to address the aforementioned issues, together with other changes to improve the mode as a whole.
When we started thinking about possible changes, we opted for a specific way to do so, which I like to call "modular design". We created a list of ideas, sometimes with a few optional twists, which could be implemented independently from each other. That allowed us to test our ideas separately or in various combinations, and comfortably evaluate their impact on the gameplay. Some of those ideas failed spectacularly (allowing disrupting enemy Nodes 1A and 1B was an incredible mess), but others set us on the right track. After a certain number of iterations, things started to click, and people began asking to play another match after we had just finished a few rounds. We then knew that Link was about to get ready for its return – even if it would lead to our team wanting to spend way too much time on "playtesting". Hype aside, let's take a look at the changes.
We tried to make respawn waves longer to increase the snowball effect when one team was able to score significantly more kills than the other one, and to make players more considerate about their lives, but the change was hardly noticeable. Instead, we chose to use respawn tickets. At the beginning of a round, each team has five respawn tickets. Respawning or killing a friendly player consumes one ticket; killing an enemy awards a ticket. If all the players of one team are dead and the team has no respawn tickets, the team loses the round. With this change, respawning is not free, and players need to try to stay alive as much as possible. If you simply ignore this change, you will enjoy the short respawn times; however, if your team can adjust its playstyle based on the amount of friendly and enemy respawn tickets, you shall be granted a pleasant influx of some strategic decision making. Also, the variable nature of respawn tickets still allows successful teams to gain a significant advantage from their kills, with a possibility to win the game purely due to superior fighting prowess.
The most significant change is that a round of Link does not end when Main is captured. Instead, Nodes 2 and Main generate a certain amount of points. For Node 2, a player presence is not needed for points generation to work. Main, on the other hand, generates a whole lot of points once captured, but only when at least one player from the team that holds it is in the nearby marked area. In that case, the points are generated for each player from that team in the area. Once a team accumulates enough points, it wins the round. While Main is still a very strong objective, it's no more the ultimate one, which allows fighting all around the map, since the importance of other objectives (Nodes 2, the airdrop) is higher. Despite the change, the game mode fantasy of establishing and activating a full set of "Surveillance Array Device" is preserved, with the addition of needing to defend the Main node for a while.
Since Nodes 2 provide some points and allow capturing Main, disrupting enemy Node 2 (and defending your own) already presents an interesting objective outside of the central one, thus making fights erupt at several different places. Airdrop was supposed to further expand this idea, but it wasn't the case in the end. Now, capturing the airdrop not only disables the enemy team's ability to capture nodes, but also completely stops its points accumulation for the duration of the effect (30 seconds). The airdrop alone will not win you a game, but its stronger effect makes it a valuable objective to get, which provides yet another possibilities of teamplay and tactical thinking. We also pushed the spawn time of the airdrop a bit further into the round, so it's more difficult to pre-plan its capture and it rewards fast decision making more.
When teams are of comparable skill, it might be difficult to acquire the points needed for a win. Well, it will eventually happen thanks to passive points generation from Node 2 (when it's not disrupted…), but it's not very exciting. Without a time limit, the possibility of completely ignoring the objectives would remain, too. To keep the game fast and fun, we added a five-minute time limit – when the time runs out, the team with more points wins the round; in rare cases, the round might end in a draw, providing no points towards the overall score to either team.
The small amount of high-impact changes allowed us to keep Link what it was, yet to improve it in many aspects. With a group of strangers, many tactical layers of the mode might be left unnoticed, but rewards of good individual ideas and performance shall be significant. The true nature of Link unfolds with teamwork, though. Assigning players to certain nodes allows to quickly get the points income running, and coordinating attacking and defending well provides incremental advantages that will snowball to victory. Repeatedly running towards Main as headless chickens is not that viable with increased importance of Nodes 2 and the airdrop; seeing results of good decision-making and shot calling is remarkably rewarding.
This game mode is still pretty fast, although not frantic. Life expectancy is not very high, honestly, but staying alive or at least trading kills evenly is very important. The best result of the changes in our opinion is the bigger amount of tactical possibilities and higher impact of various decisions that teams and individual players make. We also decided to return Link to hardcore difficulty only, but there's no need to be afraid of it, even if you've preferred normal difficulty so far. States of nodes is still easy to see in your map and GPS (or minimap), and new voiceovers notify you about everything important. Also, the absence of the crosshair slows gunfights ever so slightly, which feels just about right. The new Link is exciting to play and quite enjoyable to watch, so if you're looking for an interesting game for a small tournament, definitely give it a shot.
As usual, feel free to let us know what your thoughts are. In the meantime, you have a new task – the nodes ain't gonna link 'em by themselves!
David "Locklear" Sláma (Game Designer)