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Behind the Mask: Charging to maximum

Patrick Mackey

Once upon a time before the Champions Online beta, I was introduced to the idea of charged attacks. The concept seemed pretty cool; you had your basic attack, and charging the attack would do something neat and special. Unfortunately, CO kind of fell short on my expectations. Energy is used for all attacks, rather than just special or charged attacks, and it builds much too quickly. The choice to charge an attack is not as much of a tactical decision and mostly hinges on how much health the enemy has left.

This week on Behind the Mask, we're going to cover charge powers. Although some of this may seem obvious or simple, there is a lot of nuance to be understood. I won't treat you guys like noobs or idiots when it comes to these mechanics; we're going to look at the in-depth reasons why charging powers isn't the best idea in CO.

Charge time and how it affects a power

When you look in the handy detailed power information window, it shows you all kinds of cool info. Included are some things like "activation time" and "charge time." As you might imagine, activation time is the time a power takes to go from charged to hitting. Charge time is the maximum amount of time you can charge a power. Some powers must be fully charged to work. Adding these together gives you the total activation time for a fully charged power; for instance, Massacre has a total activation time of 1.5 seconds (.67 activation and .83 charge).

Tapping the power gives you the minimum strength attack. Unfortunately, the game adds on some amount of charge time no matter what you do. I suspect that you must charge the attack for at least one-sixth of a second even if you tap the button. Thus, a "tap spam" attack will generally be slower than a maintain attack with the same time interval. As an example, if you tap spam Ice Blast (half-second activation) it will hit slightly slower than if you press and hold the attack button down for Assault Rifle (which has a half-second maintain interval). I'm not sure whether this is true for all tapped attacks or just those that can be charged. I have heard that there is input delay on any button press, so it's possible that even half-second combos such as Defensive Combo activate more slowly than half-second maintains. It's also quite possible that even fast combo attacks like Thundering Kicks are slower than expected, although I haven't tested it thoroughly.

Charging a power has a somewhat linear increase on the effects of the power. Generally, a power with minimal charge deals minimal damage, while a full charge deals much more. Of course, this is probably an obvious thing to say. However, what is important is that this does not take the activation time into account. This means that generally, a fully charged attack deals more damage than repeatedly tapping the attack for the same amount of time. Let me use Ice Blast as an example again: If you tap it four times (which takes longer than the two-second total activate time), you will do less total damage than if you fully charged a single blast. This also applies to charged heals such as Vala's Light and Psionic Healing; they heal tiny amounts when tapped and large amounts when charged. This makes them kind of bad since taking the time to charge a heal means your target might die before your heal finishes charging, activating, and traveling to him or her.

If that were all we had to consider, fully charging chargeable attacks would be the most important thing to do with them; we would never tap spam.

Consequences of charging attacks

The first problem with fully charging an attack is overkill. If your hero does not have a lot of damage buffs or you're charging a low-end or low-ranked power, your first charged attack might not outright kill the enemy. However, stronger attacks and bigger damage buffs make charging often a waste of time. Obviously, if your attack deals 3000 damage when fully charged but the enemy only has 1200 HP, there's really no reason to fire off a fully charged attack unless you're looking for a big damage number. The energy and time spent charging would probably be better off used on another enemy.

It's not a really big deal to waste energy or a second charging, though. Another big reason to avoid charging attacks is to apply on-hit effects. Ice Blast is again a perfect example: The Hard Frost advantage deals bonus damage every time Ice Blast hits a Chilled target. Since a fully charged Ice Blast deals roughly twice Hard Frost's damage, tapping becomes much better DPS. Other powers, like Telekinetic Burst, apply a 100% effect on tap (in this case, Ego Leech on self). You want to tap TK Burst rapidly to build Ego Leech stacks to consume with TK Lance or utilize Mental Discipline-powered Ego Leech crits. Brimstone has a 50% chance to Disorient any targets in its AoE, so tapping it is your best bet if Disorienting foes is your goal.

In some cases, charging a power may yield some beneficial effects, though. Some attacks scale their effects up with a full charge. Shadow Blast gives a 35% chance to Fear on tap but a 100% chance with a full charge. Telekinetic Eruption grants a damage and resistance buff when fully charged.

In PvP, one of the greatest benefits of charging attacks is simply the element of surprise. If your Force Cascade deals over 10,000 raw damage on a full charge (this is not an exaggerated number), your opponent won't get a chance to react if he has only 6000 HP and no bonus defense. Bursty damage is powerful in PvP regardless of the game, and Champions Online is no exception.

Charge versus dodge

CO does have one aspect that makes charges naturally weaker, however. That factor is dodging. Dodge in CO works by giving a character a chance to reduce damage by his or her Avoidance factor. This chance is multiplied by the total activation time of incoming attacks.

To explain why this is a problem, I'll use a basic example: a character with 30% dodge and 50% avoidance. This character has a 30% chance to dodge a one-second activation attack, which if successful, reduces damage by 50%. A half-second attack cuts this dodge chance in half, to 15%. A three-second activation attack triples this chance to 90%.

The implication on charged attacks is obvious. If a fully charged attack has a total activation time of two seconds, it doubles the chance that the enemy will dodge. Against dodge builds in PvP, taps and maintains are mandatory in order to deal any sort of respectable damage. A fully charged Haymaker against a Lightning Reflexes character will be dodged 100% of the time and deal only 40% or so of its raw damage, which will be further reduced by defense. This is not that big of a deal in PvP; dodge builds are vulnerable to fast pulsing rapid attacks and other effects that can't be dodged (like falling damage). It just means that big bursty spike builds have to work harder to defeat dodge builds.

In PvE however, dodge is a big problem. In all difficulty settings higher than Difficult (Hard and above), PvE mobs gain bonus dodge rating and avoidance. On Elite, this amount is very substantial (probably 20-30%; I'm not sure of the exact numbers). This means that charged attacks are a terrible idea on higher difficulty settings unless you really need the extra effects from charging.

A lot of players have asked me to join the crusade to fix Elite, and one of the biggest problems voiced to me is that giving mobs dodge is one of the stupidest ideas ever. I have to wholeheartedly agree. Giving dodge rating to some mobs is a great idea; it encourages tactical play because you can't just fully charge Gigabolt and clear the spawn. However, charging powers is fun, and if it just means that people consider Gigabolt trash, that's definitely a problem. Raising difficulty shouldn't mean removing fun gameplay elements.

When he's not touring the streets of Millennium City or rolling mooks in Vibora Bay, Patrick Mackey goes Behind the Mask to bring you the nitty-gritty of the superhero world every Thursday. Whether it's expert analysis of Champions Online's game mechanics or his chronicled hatred of roleplaying vampires, Patrick holds nothing back.

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