Explore is boring. There’s five main aspects:
Rewards are too low.
We use the same team, over and over.
It demands too much attention, too often.
Earning XP, Class XP and finding Gnomes has been nerfed.
Too many pain points.
Basically, the psychology of Explore is badly unbalanced.
How to fix it without changing the balance of the game?
a) Increase the apparent rewards.
b) Emphasise Traitstone rewards.
c) Change the frequency of Mythic battles (maybe).
d) Rebalance Vault Event weekends.
e) Rebalance certain rewards at higher Difficulties.
f) Remove the pain points (at least give us the option to, with a Setting).
I’ll explain all of this, below.
Even Tacet finds the new Explore dull and repetitive. In fact, watching his Explore streams is really indicative of just how boring it is (to watch or play).
I’ve played Explore with two accounts: an end-game account and a level 150-200 account. On the latter, I’ve so far earned just one Badge (not even a Medal). On the former, I’ve still not earned more than a single Badge of Nysha. I just can’t bring myself to play Explore more often.
Rewards are Too Low
On my low-level account, at D2 it was taking me more than a dozen runs – 70 battles! – to get a single Token. That feels incredibly unrewarding. I can now manage D4, which is still 7 runs, or 35 battles. And the result is nearly always just a single Token.
On my main account, I’m getting 2 Tokens most of the time, with a Mythic Battle every 4 runs out of 5. That’s better, but still frustrating. Truly, any time I don’t get an upgrade of some kind from a Boss Chest, I feel disappointed.
Any grind in a computer game requires the rewards to feel substantial. Being ADHD, I am particularly sensitive to and aware of the level of reward. This is a purely psychological issue, and is exploited by many games makers. But even when it’s not exploited, it does need to be present.
Increasing the Apparent Rewards
In order not to upset the economy of the game, we can’t just increase the rewards from Explore. Instead, we need to change the reward psychology. Let’s look at some possible approaches.
There are three main reward points in the current Explore system: reaching the Mythic Boss, getting an Arcane Traitstone, and getting Tokens (especially when they upgrade).
First, Tokens: there’s just too few of them. My actual suggestion is to introduce another upgrade tier between Tokens and Medals, and triple the number of Tokens dropped. Possible names for the new item: marker, emblem, insignia, disc, coin, brooch, cockade, escutcheon. Let’s go with Disc, for now.
Obviously, we can’t have Discs behave identically to Tokens. My suggestion is that they give the same boost as a Badge, but there’s some restrictions on how they can be equipped. For example, perhaps you can only equip one Disc at a time, or perhaps only one Disc of each type; perhaps they can’t match an equipped Medal or Badge, either.
So that fixes the sense of reward when opening a Boss Chest.
More Mythic Boss Battles
There’s also an argument to increase the frequency of Mythic Boss battles, especially for early game players. This would need to be balanced by a reduction in Tokens (which is easier to do, if we’re getting triple the number). However, there’s also arguments against this. First, Mythic battles are harder, especially for early-game players. Second, there’s a better option for early-game players. So I’ll leave this as a possibility, to help balance the psychology overall, but I won’t encourage it.
Arcane Traitstone Rewards
For early and mid-game players, Explore is really about earning Arcane Traitstones. Yet the current structure of Explore emphasises just the earning of Mythstones and Tokens. So when you don’t get them, you feel bad. You don’t even notice the Traitstones you’re getting!
The solution is both simple in concept, and tricky to implement. Basically, we need to emphasise the earning of Arcane Traitstones, so players see that as an equal part of Explore to Mythstones/Tokens. And then they’ll feel more rewarded.
There’s lots of ways to do this, and I have no idea of the best option, so I’ll just mention a few.
Some kind of up-front message about earning Arcanes.
A message on the Mythic battle panel noting, “One guaranteed Arcane Traitstone.”
A message on the Explore panel on the Kingdom screen, “Earn Traitstones and Tokens.”
A special card backing when you earn an Arcane Traitstone from the Mythic battle.
I want to emphasise that, while this may seem minor and unnecessary, it really does need to be done. Done properly, it will have a big impact on the satisfaction level of players, and will retain some that will otherwise be lost. This is true even for end-game players, since it will cement the idea that Explore does have more than one goal, one of which they simply happen to have moved beyond.
Lack of Team Variety
This is a hard one. I definitely do not advocate nerfing Urskaya. In a sense, the speed of particular teams in Urskaya is a way of giving us a choice. Basically, we are choosing to forgo the 20% bonus in order to farm faster in Urskaya. Choice is a good thing.
I actually don’t think team variety for D12 Explore can be improved much. It’s enough that there are three or four possible teams, each with a variation or two.
That said, it would be good if some kingdoms could have targeted, equally effective teams. The most obvious examples would be teams that prevent summons, and teams that attack troops with Immunity to Stun (in particular). I think this needs to be considered with the design and release of future Mythics and Legendaries. I suspect the best players could suggest what sort of troops would work best as substitutes in existing D12 teams, specialised to specific kingdoms.
Beyond that, it would be good to have some clear team variety between the farming of different Difficulties. This is partly addressed elsewhere in this post.
Too Much Attention
Farming Explore used to be pretty mindless. The rewards were low, there were really only two team options, and we would do the same thing over and over for hours. But the reason it wasn’t boring was primarily that the amount of attention required to play these teams was so low, we could turn off our brains or multitask (watching TV or YouTube, for example). Again, this is all about psychology. A grind feels a lot less painful when we’re not really paying attention to it. And even better if we feel like we’re multi-tasking.
There’s actually two aspects to paying attention: how often and how much. “How often” is approximated by the number of taps/clicks. Obviously, all the extra clicks are a big pain-point that exacerbates this. “How much” is about how well the team operates without us having to think, and is best summed up by how carefully we need to look for matches or conversion alignment. So casting Mountain Crusher requires a lot less attention than finding alignment for Apothecary.
Obviously, having a D12-capable team that works as brainlessly as a good Rowanne team is too much to expect. However, I would like to see troops added down the line that reduce the amount of thinking required when using some of the existing D12 teams (Harpies, Tesla, Shield of Urskaya, Zuul’Goth, etc).
Beyond that, reducing the number of taps/clicks would make a huge difference to the amount of attention required, and hence our willingness to grind.
The Great Resource Nerf of 4.6
Yep, it really is bad enough to deserve such a grandiose title.
For end-gamers, the necessity of farming Tokens (primarily for high-bracket Guild Wars) makes it psychologically very difficult to switch to a lower difficulty.
Essentially, I think we need some changes that encourage people to farm Gnomes without feeling that they’re missing out on other resources, thus maintaining the specialness of Vault weekends.
The need to switch down and miss out on Tokens is especially keen on a Vault weekend. As a result, we get far fewer Vault keys, and feel very deprived. For example, the last three Vault Events, I found 28 Vault Keys (intense farming before the patch), 7 Vault Keys (heavy farming at D2 after the patch) and 2 Vault Keys (minimal Vault farming, because Diablo III started a new season). That feels pretty awful.
In order to solve this, we need to be clear on the Rewards that are valued by end-gamers from a Vault Event. I think it’s fair to say we’re looking mainly for direct Glory and Key drops, and from Vault Keys, Orbs of Ascension/Clans and copies of Gnome troops. Anything else is pretty much worthless (eventually).
The hardest fix would be to rebalance the Token and Mythstone rewards so there’s a profitable way to farm Mythstones at a low level, then do the Mythic battle at a high difficulty. The first problem is that the speed difference between Rowanne at D2 and Harpies at D12 is only a factor of 4, at most. Yet the difference in Mythstones is a factor of 10. Secondly, D12 actually earns too many Mythstones to mix difficulties like this. Essentially, mixing D2 and D12 results in a balance of about 7 runs at D12 to 3 runs at D2. That’s not a good ratio for getting more wins. There probably is a better balanced pair of difficulties, but the current rewards don’t encourage this style of play.
The easiest fix would be to increase the number of Vault Keys earned at higher Explore difficulties.
Other things that would help: allowing Tokens to drop from Gnomes during a Vault weekend (encouraging people to farm at low Explore difficulty); allowing us to target rewards from Vault Keys, so we can focus on Orbs and/or Gnome troops; or just increasing the rate of Gnomes or the size of their drops on D12. Some of these do address the Vault issue, but not the XP issues.
Hero XP and Class XP
Vault Weekends used to be the perfect time to earn Class XP in Explore. That’s because you’d get Class XP (and Hero XP) quickly, and simultaneously get lots of resources from Gnomes. This is no longer the case.
Class XP can actually be earned more quickly in Casual PvP than in Explore, even before v4.6. But it requires a particular team and a particular approach. And it was still better to farm the old Explore on a Vault weekend, for the extra wins.
The rate of Class XP on PC now looks roughly like this:
D12 Explore: 0.7 XP per minute
D2 Explore: 2 XP per minute
Casual PvP: 5 XP per minute (fully optimised)
Old Explore: 3 XP per minute
The Explore rates are about 30% faster on touch device than PC.
Obviously, the earning of Class XP has been severely nerfed in Explore.
I’m afraid I don’t have an answer to this problem, but I hope clarifying the problem itself will help you come up with a solution.
I would start by looking at increasing the amount of Hero and Class XP at higher Difficulties (perhaps even more so in Boss battles). There might be additional Class XP bonuses during Vault weekends, to encourage people to actually hunt those Gnomes in Explore, too.
And also remove some of the pain points in Explore…
Pain Points in Explore
I’ve already spent a lot of time identifying pain points in the new Explore in this thread: Gems of War GUI Pain Points
Unfortunately, it very much feels like all of that analysis is going to be ignored by the developers. I think that would be a tragic mistake.
I don’t want to revisit the whole topic, so I’ll just make two points I haven’t made before:
I think it would make a lot of sense to increase the speed of low-D Explore wins back to a level similar to that prior to v4.6. The bullet points in the previous section indicate that a 50% speed increase is needed.
All the extra reminders that you’re about to enter a special battle are both unnecessary and misplaced. The Victory-screen card really is sufficient warning for most players (arguing strongly for a setting to turn off the pop-ups). Furthermore, the correct place for the warning is on the battle screen itself, where you can see your opponents. That’s because, if you come back to a kingdom straight into a Mini Boss battle, you’re going to miss 2 of the 3 current indicators! Much better to emblazon the fact it’s a special battle prominently across the bottom of the Fight screen.
Note that the latter conflicts slightly with the Mythic Boss, because I suspect we want to keep the spending of Mythstones where it is in the state machine. I recommend prominent text both on the Mythic Boss panel (differing, if you’ve spent the Mythstones or not) and on the Fight screen.
As before, there are many possible solutions to the problems I’ve described. I’ve tried to highlight those that seem to have the least impact on other parts of the game and its economy.
Regardless what you think of my solutions, I strongly urge you, the developers, to take the problems themselves seriously, and prioritise solving them over brand new features.
Thank you for listening.