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PSO2 – Episode 4 Review & Episode 5 Hopes

Phantasy Star Online 2’s controversial Episode 4 is ending. It was a mixed bag of an episode. Some changes were good – NT weapon grinding and 12-star units made gear sets more flexible. Some were interesting, like Skill Rings and gathering. And some just make me wonder what they were thinking, like Maron Strike being a feature.

Now, Episode 5 is almost here. To usher it in, the level cap was increased to 80, with some very steep requirements. There’s talk of hard-capping damage at 999,999 to ‘balance’ cross-class Chain Trigger, and more Collection Files in the pipeline.

Where Episode 4 Ends

The development team seems to have settled into a fairly stable formula. Each Episode comes with one tower defense, a couple raids, a few free fields and one experimental quest idea like Challenge Mode, Extreme Quests or Battle Arena. For the most part it works, there’s a steady flow of new content to keep players busy.

When any game ages enough though, there’s a two-way challenge. On one side, keeping hardcore players occupied even if they’ve done everything. On the other, staying accessible enough for new players to hop in and get up to speed.

To solve that, they introduced new systems where you go a long way for a tiny bit of improvement. With gathering and Skill Rings, there’s a new grind to go through for that last 3% damage. Photon Art crafting is another one, where there’s a large investment involved in getting the most optimal craft. Affixing too, where Elegant Boosters and Weapon Factors like Phrase Weak and Sentence offer that tiny percentage of improvement for a lot of investment.

Trouble is, they’re band-aids. All they do is railroad you down a single path, but what makes games fun is being able to make decisions. For example, choosing between two playstyle-defining skills. If all they have to offer in Ep5 is yet more farming for 3% more damage, it’s going to be a boring ride.

Balance is also a mixed bag. Weak classes have been buffed. However, various changes have made the Hunter the most popular subclass for Fighter, Ranger, Gunner, Braver and Bouncer. Out of nine classes, only three classes in the game shouldn’t have a Hunter icon somewhere next to them by default. That suggests a huge problem with subclass balance. Tech Customization offers two options per craft, but the obvious better craft is usually something like a damage increase or faster cast time for a reduction in status chance. Photon Art customization very often changes a useless photon art into a strong one, rather than offering two options.

Episode 5 Wishlist

Every episode, I hope against hope that they ditch the current skill tree system. Right now it’s a free-for-all. You have 94 skill points, go throw them wherever. Some classes will need you to sink tens of points into useless prerequisites, others don’t. Some classes have a cooldown skill that gives you its full benefit in 5 points, others need 25. Stat boosts are worthless compared to multipliers, but players aren’t told that so they’re newbie traps. I also find it silly that fully charging an attack and hit a weak point is harder than Just Attacking, yet a Braver subclass using Weak Stance does less damage on charged melee attacks on weak points than a Hunter.

At its core, PSO2’s classes can be summed up as:

  • A bunch of weapon proficiencies
  • Two or so passive damage boosters like Weak Hit and Standing Snipe, or Zero Range and Perfect Keeper, or Fury and JA Bonus.
  • A main cooldown skill like Katana Combat, Weak Bullet, Chain Trigger
  • A utility skill like Attack PP Restorate, Flash Guard, Elemental PP Restorate Field and so on.
  • Some skills that really should be built into the class itself, but is a skill for some reason, like Jet Boots Escape.

So what I feel would make things easier is if they standardized classes to give exactly the above, then offered options to customize each skill, for example:

  • At level 10, you get your first damage booster! Choose either: JA Bonus for a flat 10% JA bonus, or JA Combo, for a stacking 5% bonus per consecutive JA, up to 20%.
  • At level 20, you learn a stance! Choose either: Fury Stance for 20% bonus damage, or Guardian Stance for 25% bonus damage from the front (0% from behind) and +50% threat gen
  • At level 30, you learn a defensive skill. Choose either: Charge Parry, to parry for 0.5 seconds of a charge, or Massive Charge, to super armor for 1 second of a charge.

And so on. Even more ideally though, I’d like to really see skills opened up and be cross compatible. Techers and Bouncers should not be forced into Elemental Stance or Elemental Weak Hit and make rainbow sets, and classes like Bow Bravers should not be so bound to weak points and standing still. If we could just just choose two weapons at level 1, then four passives, two actives, two utilities – perhaps offered at 10 level intervals so they’re done by level 80… I’d make so many alts just to screw around with ideas.

I don’t think that’s going to happen, so…

New Class Speculation

Looking at the current classes…

  • Striking classes have plenty of anti-boss and mob weapons, and there’s a serious over-demand for SATK affixes.
  • Ranged classes have good boss killing weapons, but no fast mob killer and the damage gap between a Ranger sub and the next best is huge. A mid-range RATK user with good damage boosters would be a nice alternative subclass for Bullet Bow and Gunslash.
  • Tech classes are bound to element masteries, making them very inflexible. A tech class with another gimmick to get its damage, like zero range techs, would help Techer and Jet Boots with subclassing.
  • An alternate Summoner-type might be possible, like AIS Pilot that needs to collect and upgrade mecha parts subject to Star Gem cooldowns on upgrading.

The challenge with RATK is that Twin Machineguns already cover handgun and SMG models, Rifles cover all the mid-sized gun models and Launchers have taken shotgun models like Final Impact. Any new gun will have to be a departure from something with a barrel at the end.

The challenge with TATK is that techs are innately ranged, so a melee hybrid makes more sense. There’s already been two attempts at hybrid melee casting though.

I seriously hope it won’t be an SATK class. If I had to make a guess, AIS Pilot is the most likely.  Maybe it plays like D.Va and can self-destruct its mecha on a cooldown for 999k.

My personal preference is a class that uses two floating bits for a tech-capable mid to long range class. Normal attacks can be two smaller Rod Shoots, and techs can be slotted and cast. Also give it a small selection of three to four Photon Arts. One for kiting, like Sharp Bomber – jump in a direction and fire a barrage of shots. One for anti-boss damage, similar to Final Nemesis but faster. Finally, one for knocking back things that get too close, like Add Bullet or Ein Raketen. Perhaps a 180 kick while grabbing the two bits, then firing one in the air and one on landing. Techs can cover the rest.

Give it a skill similar to Bullet Bow Charge Bonus to reduce the cost of techs on that weapon while cranking up main class tech damage to rival Element Conversion. Also give it bonus damage for staying at range and give it something like Attack Tech S Charge – reduce tech charge time if JAing off a normal attack. It’d be a kitey TATK class that can’t sub Techer because its PP management doesn’t come from Charge PP Revival. Would it sub Fighter for Tech Arts JA PP Save? Or Gunner for Attack PP Restorate? Perhaps Braver to make Attack Tech S Charge hit harder?

Who knows, but I’d like Episode 5 to shake things up along those lines.