Dec 4, 2016

BCG Retrospective XXXII: Beam Weapons

Melee and Shooting Weapons are direct counterparts to each other that synergize by being best at what the other lacks. Beam Weapons, meanwhile, are just subtypes of Melee and Shooting weapons with additional rules, they have the same strengths and weaknesses of their primary types, so they can't be pigeonholed as easy. They do have their own shtick, in a way, but it is not as gameplay-defining as that of other specialists. Melee specialists are good at controlling single targets and doing reliable Damage-per-Turn but bad at target selection and controlling mobs. Shooting Weapons are good at target selection, area-of-effect attacks and have a higher Damage ceiling but they need a sizable investment in MP to do those things well which usually makes them rather vulnerable. Even Beast and Artillery specialists have a very defined role, with Beast wanting to attract enemy attention to power itself up as the 'hard carry' build in the game and Artillery being absurd at striking multiple targets but lackluster against single bosses.

Beams are more about flexibility. Beam Weapons consume your Energy to Boost them, a considerable powerup that makes them hit harder than other Weapons by default. But you can forego the Energy spend and just use a version that is slightly weaker than average but has less drawbacks. When your Energy is being drained or paying Energy costs does you Damage, not Boosting your Weapons can be a good idea. Furthermore, some Beam Weapons gain the Slow ability when Boosted, while others become Overheating or gain some other form of recoil that harms the user. Thus, it's often a good idea to have some alternative ways to spend Energy (Active Defenses, Restorations, Supports) so you can still use the resource when you're not Boosting your Weapons. Beams are the easiest specialization to combine with others (except Beast, I guess, since there's no default Beam weapon), and they essentially play much like other specialists but doing more Damage at the expense of having just a handful of available Weapons to pick from.

That last thing is important because, until BCZ, having a total of 10 Beam Weapons meant that two specialization Upgrades limited your options to pretty much just one possible build for each such archetype. Let's take a look at the Core Beam Weapons:

Beam Saber
I'm a fan of the vanilla Beam Saber and Beam Rifle. Two Energy for one Advantage without any special abilities is a pretty bad deal, I admit, but it becomes one Energy for one Advantage with Experimental Reactor and suddenly you have a pair of Beam Weapons that you almost always can afford to Boost for a tiny bit of extra Damage without any downsides. This is a very strong build at low Power Levels that gives you a powerful pair of fallback Weapons at high Power Levels, when you can opt to use other Beams as your primary ways to do Damage instead.

Beam Rifle
See above. I think these two work best when combined that way and are rather lackluster the rest of the time. Unlike other Beam Weapons, these don't have any other special abilities, so they lack the flexibility and power found in the rest of their subtype.

Beam Ripper
This is our first innately Crippling Weapon. The flavor of a huge beam tomahawk or scythe that is somehow more precise and unlikely to hurt allies in Duels is... Not something I'm a fan of, but I do like the part where it lets you choose which limbs to Maim and how it debuffs the Enemy when hit. In fact, this was originally just called "the Headtaker" and its only ability was to let you choose which Areas it Maimed. Turns out, that's just a really weak version of the Suppression ability, so the Weapon got Crippling + Slow for some more power and and tactical value. The flavor is questionable, but it's a really good Weapon so I don't mind much. Beam + Crippling makes for very good Damage with a considerable debuff, and it makes you want to alternate it with other Beams while the Slow ability is in effect, keeping people from doing one-trick pony builds... And having them do two-trick pony builds instead. Look, I never said it was a perfect solution. The options for a partner weapon were more limited in core, but Burnout Edge in BCZ is a very, very good secondary Weapon with similar control potential.

Powered Rifle
This little gun here has a lot of range and hits quite hard, for a lower Energy cost than that of self-buffing yourself with Assisted Targeting for your Sniper Rifle. It has a drawback, however, in itsminimum Range of 5 Zones. The lower investment required and the drawback mean that it isn't a primary weapon, but rather an utility gun for Beam specialists or generalists looking for a long range option with a very manageable drawback. Sniper Models with Experimental Reactor used to have this as their only Long Range non-Technique but that's no longer the case since the addition of Point Singularity Projector, Bits and Lux Cannon to the game. Those have more considerable downsides (They're ALL Slow when Boosted) so Powered Rifle is still a solid, if less impactful, pick. Yay for options!

Extending Blade
Extending Blade is probably the best ranged option for Duelist Models in the Core armory and the only viable Weapon with a Range higher than 1 if they're also a Beam Specialist. Maximum Range 10, no ifs or buts, is very good when all your other options require a sizable Systems investment and you'd rather spend those points in Speed or Energy instead. It doesn't have any drawbacks (it will pretty much never gain the Dueling bonus, but that's kind of a given with ranged Melee options) so there's not a lot to say. There's more ranged options for material Melee Weapons users now, but there's still not any real competition for it when it comes to its Melee Beam brothers and sisters, so it's just as good now for them as it was back then.

Charge Cannon
Charge Cannon is... An okay Blast option. The Blast area is the same as that of most other Blasts but the Boost is a little too expensive for what is essentially Rail Bazooka without the Long Range ability and one more Advantage. I consider this a rather underpowered gun and I believe it ended up this way because I was worried about the raw power of Experimental Reactor + Artillery Frame... But, thinking about it, this could have been a Blast (3) at least, just to make it more attractive compared to other options. With that said, it still has a niche, as it is an AoE Weapon for the Beam specialists who don't want to spend MP on Systems and want a bit more range than that of Magneburst.

Incinerator
Against Units that can't fly, Incinerator is like a Technique with TRIPLE the Tension bonus instead of double. Not only that, but it provides a good AoE attack for Melee specialists who have a bit of trouble in that area. So it overheats, fine. That's a small price to pay for all it does against Enemies without Extreme Terrain protection and, unlike many other Overheating Weapons, you don't need to buff up your Tension to make it hit hard. See, Extreme Terrain uses the victim's Tension instead of yours, because they're the ones rolling the Test against the Terrain even though you created the Terrain in the first place. While this does mean that you can't power up Incinerator's secondary effect with Tension bonuses, it makes the Overheat kickback hurt less and has the benefit of being a very decent counter against Limit Engine users. While it is currently described as a flamethrower, the first version of the Incinerator was actually inspired by the chest beams of the Mazinger series that melted down the monsters of the week.

Double Blaster
This is one of my favorite Weapons on a conceptual level: Two strong attacks for the price of one! It's solid, but it is not an actual Blast (or Burst or Line) so it doesn't get the benefits of bypassing single-target defenses. On the other hand, it lacks the downsides often seen in such guns and all it does is Overheat when you Boost it. Speaking of the Overheating part, the Double Blaster is Wing Gundam Zero's Twin Buster Rifle. You can tell it is the Wing Zero Custom version from Endless Waltz because the mech melts down and collapses after firing all of three times. I guess Heero is one of those people who take the highest number even when it is odd.

Radiant Fist
This has three Advantages to its attack when Boosted and in a Duel, plus double Tension bonus. It doesn't have any particularly interesting abilities or factoids about it (other than being an obvious Shining Finger reference) but it does good Damage and sometimes that's all you really need. It is not as exploitable as the Burst and Line Techniques, because it only hits a single target, but it also doesn't hurt as badly when it fails. I think this could have afforded to only be a Technique when Boosted, losing the Tension penalty the rest of the time, because the other Techs are just more unique and lend themselves more to optimization. At the very least, that would have made Radiant Fist slightly more interesting.

Reactor Overdrive
What do you get when you combine Line and long range with double Tension bonus plus the Beam ability plus potentially Aiming bonuses? You get a recipe for wrecking face. It's not hard to catch three Enemies with it, and if they don't have countermeasures against burst Damage (which most Grunts don't), then they're going to take a very big hit. You can make the glassiest of all glass cannons taking this then casting bunch of Offensive Powers as your entire battle plan and there's a good chance that it'd be worth it even if you explode immediately afterwards from the counterattacks. This gun is one of the big reasons that things like Internal Fortification and Take Cover! exist. They're very, very hard counters, but without them the game would be in a worse place.

And that's Beams. The Core Melee armory has some duds in it and Shooting has one or two picks that are very niche, and I would say Beams are better designed than both of those. There's no real duds, the worst of the bunch is easily Charge Cannon and it has a niche. There isn't any one of them not worth taking, though there's a few that could certainly be better, at least they do solid Damage to compensate for it.

That's probably the main thing I've learned from Beams as a designer: If something hits hard enough, it is easier to forgive it for being subpar in other regards. The other thing I've learned is that attack buffs outside of those from the Weapon itself should affect just only one target, otherwise you end with a Reactor Overdrive scenario where you need very hard counters that borderline cripple the ability just to keep it in check.

As I mentioned when I discussed the Beam mechanic itself, these took a lot of work and were being tweaked until the last days of development, so I'm glad they're flavorful and fun to use on top of (mostly) being very powerful. It would have been a bummer if they ended up being all underpowered.

...But I could be wrong! What do you think? What are your favorite dealers of rainbow death and oversized immaterial implements of destruction? Yes, this is the last poll for a while, I'm not going to have fifty polls running at the same time.

Next: Now that we're done with PCs, we move on to NPCs! I've been looking forward to this section of the book. It's one of my favorites and probably the one subject I've most learned from.

Gimmick Out.

7 comments:

  1. " Incinerator is like a Technique with TRIPLE the Tension bonus instead of double."

    - Pardon? Doesn't seem so to me, could you explain?

    "I guess Heero is one of those people who take the highest number even when it is odd."

    I remember an old fanfic (seems gone now) called Gardening, which is essentially Heero vs a rabbit ala coyote vs roadrunner. Heero's solution is to blow up Wing Zero. Again. ;)

    Looking at techniques in core BCG, I can see now that you decided that techniques was too powerful a keyword and gave them all various liabilities to balance them out. Which I felt was a little unnecessary until Master Technician came into play, but, eh.

    P.S!!! Please explain to me how Countersword is balanced and supposed to be used! I'm not sure I get it at all!

    "Beam Saber. Two Energy for one Advantage without any special abilities is a pretty bad deal, I admit,"

    -> Well, at it's core, beams in general are 1 energy for nothing in return, lolz. ... leading to almost all beam builds grabbing experimental reactor?
    -> Also... boosting Radiant Fist, even with ExRe, is 4 energy for 2 advantages. mmm.


    ... Am I mistaken, or is boosted Powered Rifle the longest ranged weapon in the game? Why wouldn't it be a primary weapon? It's also one of the hardest hitting ones, isn't it?

    ... one issue I have with Reactor overdrive, radfist, Ground0, ObBust... I found that if I wanted to depend on these things, I really really needed master technician. On the other hand, with MT's 2 energy cost, and factoring active defences and such, I found that I could more or less NEVER boost these techniques. SADNESS! :( ...

    Oh, yeah. I feel that flying + Ground Zero makes Radiant Fist obsolete. Am I mistaken?

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  2. Incinerator hits once for the regular Tension value, then the Extreme Terrain triggers potentially twice using Tension as the DN each time. Hence, it is like a Technique that uses 3x Tension to do damage instead of 2x Tension. Obviously, it rarely works out like that, but I like using that comparison to point out how strong it can be in the right conditions.

    Countersword is a tank's Technique, you use your aggro management tools and then wait. If an enemy attacks you, you hit them with a fairly strong attack that lacks drawbacks and could Maim or destroy them preemptively before their attack has any effect. If they don't attack you, then they take the penalties to attacking them or trigger opportunity attacks from you (using other Weapons) as normal. You can even force an enemy to attack you with I Am Your Opponent. It's fairly difficult to use but it is very rewarding when it works.

    Good point with Beams and Experimental Reactor. I think that some of them are worth grabbing without being Experimental Reactor, but a few of them (like the basic Saber and Rifle) need it in order to stay competitive with other attack-oriented builds.

    Boosted Powered Rifle has a drawback, and a noticeable one at that, if the arena isn't very large then one or more Melee enemies will catch up to you and then you're in trouble.

    I think obsolete is a strong word. It's certainly a strong combination, but spending all that energy will leave you vulnerable to attacks. If you're forced to land, you're screwed. Radiant Fist doesn't force you to find a way to survive your own superweapon, doesn't threaten your nearby allies, and is better against single targets - except the kind that resist single-target attacks. Ground Zero is potentially much stronger but to do that you must put in work in minimizing its downsides.

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  3. "doesn't threaten your nearby allies,"

    Except, that, like we discussed earlier about Burst (haha), I found that, duels happen A LOT. ... and the ability to walk up to a duelling pair and safely using an unboosted Ground Zero instead of Radiant Fist is just great. ;)

    Eh. I used Ground Zero as my main weapon quite a lot, and up to now, I have yet to ever boost it. Both for reasons of energy shortages, AND also reasons of allies in close quarters. heh.

    Countersword... err... you could do all that, yes. Or you could just hit them with Zweihander or something. I don't see the point of doing a " *IF* he attacks me, I hit him first, for 12 points of damage" instead of "I'll just hit him right now for 10 points of damage". OK in core, the other techniques have pretty serious drawbacks, but those are mitigated in BCZ, so yeah, as you said, it's fairly difficult to use. And when you say "very" rewarding when it works... I dunno, to me it's +1 advantage worth of reward? No?

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  4. If you never boost GZ to avoid the friendly fire factor then that pretty much proves my point that boosting it isn't safe, doesn't it? It hardly makes RF obsolete.

    As for Countersword, if you're building a tank you probably don't want to spend 20 MP and a bunch of Energy in Technician Upgrades. Countersword is a Technique that lets you spend the MP and Energy in other things, like Active Defenses or Support Upgrades, which offer you more ways to control the enemy. The reward is not the +2 to the attack roll, the reward is being able to use a Technique (one with a damage boost on top) with a build that isn't usually prepared for it. With said Zweihander, you have to build around it or suffer its very big drawback. With Countersword, the drawback plays into what you're already doing.

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    1. Darn. That's what I half suspected. So, the whole "skipping your turn and then pre-countering" gimmick isn't an asset... it's a liability, but built right, it's a smaller liability than Zwei and MM. :(

      In that sense, sometimes I feel that Techniques in general got a bit of a raw deal... but maybe I'm just not thinking creatively enough! :p ... though, to be frank, before Master Technician, techniques are already "One Shot" weapons... and IMHO, a lot of the weapons with One Shot as their keyword are actually stronger than most of the techniques.

      Anyhow, I could be wrong about this, but I feel like, most of the time, initiating Counter Sword is not going to be a much better option than Rocket Sword or Pressure Point Attack.

      Actually, if you think about it, Techniques are even more restricted than other One Shot weapons... one shot weapons can be reloaded by yourself or by teammates, or you could just have 5 different one shot weapons and use each one once. Techniques, without master technician, you get to use ONE technique in that battle.

      Hmmm... come to think of it, I need to look into loading more of these one shot weapons into my mech! ;) hehe.

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  5. How does aiming double blaster two target version work? If you target the aimed enemy do you also get 2 advantages against secondary target? What about using it in a duel? If you target your duel rival but use secondary attack on someone outside does it provoke attack of opportunity?

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    1. -I believe that by the rules as written aim bonus is vs both targets, like if you were using a blast or another aoe weapon. This is one of those things that would be different if I had to redo the aiming rules to prevent it from being too exploitable.

      -You're fine as long as your duel opponent is one of the two targets.

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