When Legends was cancelled, some of us talked about the potential it would have had if it ever was fully released as free to play on Steam. In this post I'd like to describe what the ideal and most promising version of this free to play game would have looked like in my opinion.
Disclaimer: I know that Legends is very unlikely to happen in any form. @admin pointed out that they lack the manpower to develop and maintain two games at once and I completely understand this point of view. It's probably the right decision to focus on getting Naval Action out of early access first with all core features finished to a certain extent. Nonetheless I refuse to completely give up hope and if the developers ever want to revisit Legends they'll might get one or two ideas out of this post.
Naval Action's combat and sailing model is in a pretty good shape and I don't see a lot of issues to be solved there. (Apart from the boring click.boarding maybe, but even that is at least functional.) In my opinion the battles are the best part of the game and would make for a solid core for an arena game like Legends. Just like in the latest build we had of Legends, hull and crew repairs should be left out to not drag the battles out too long and to make your losses during the battle more meaningful.
In case of gamemodes I'd keep it simple for the start. Stick to simple deathmatches that are decided by one side disabling all ships of the other side. Bring back the old circle of death to prevent players from dragging out battles that are already over. Alternatively bring in a large circle in the center of the map that grants points to the side that has ships in it, but stops doing so if at least one ship of the other side is also in there.
Further gamemodes could be introduced after some testing and community feedback but I don't think they are really necessary. Just shooting other ships over and over again with no real purpose might sound boring and repetitive on paper, but in the end that's how all those arena games work, right? I've played Mechwarrior Online for quite a long time and while they have several gamemodes (deathmatch, conquest, escort, base defend/attack), all of them are usually decided by one team eliminating the other one since the objectives get ignored in favour of shooting some enemies.
There should be a counter of five minutes maximum. A match starts either when the maximum amount of players is in the queue, or after the countdown has ended with all players that are in the queue at this point. The matchmaker should try to roughly balance the teams based on the ships' BR and maybe some sort of captain's skill rating. (Not sure about this as it doesn't seem to work really well in most multiplayer games I know. Could be a way to balance groups though.)
AI ships should only be present if there is a BR gap between the teams that can't be closed by balancing the present player ships. This should guarantee that there are never more than one or maybe two AI ships in one match. If the matchmaking queue ends with only one player waiting for a game, there should be a notification for said player that he can either enter a match against an AI opponent or return to the main menu. If there is for example a 2v2 match with somewhat acceptable balanced teams, bots shouldn't be present at all to artificially boost the match to a 5v5 as we saw it in the latest build we were able to play.
I suggest two different queues. One for 7th and 6th rates only and one for 5th rates and above. This way you have one place for the smaller ships to shine and for new players to learn the ropes and another one for the bigger ships and more experienced players. (The tutorial that was made for Naval Action could be offered as an option in the main menu as well, of course.) It might come into consideration to allow 7th and 6th rates in the queue for the bigger ships too if someone really wants to bring one of those to a bigger battle.
Battles with mixed rates aren't a problem in my opinion if the balance doesn't rely on bots as much as the „old“ Legends did. At least it's easier to approach a bigger ship with several smaller ones if everyone involved is a player. The whole range of 5th to 1st rates will also provide more variety in the ships you encounter than the latest build of Legends did with its BR restrictions.
Besides the two main queues there should be the option for a custom lobby. Those lobbies should have some options for the creator to determine the rules for the match that is created. For example:
private / public (free for all / join with password or invitation only)
rate limits (free for all / ships of one specific rate only / ships of a specific range of rates only)
gamemode (Maybe even consider to enable players to turn the circle of death on or off for private lobbies where everyone agrees to a set of rules anyway.)
turn on/off automated matchmaking – While it's switched off the players can organize their teams however they like.
No rewards could be gained in custom battles to prevent people from farming them.
Keep it simple, I'd say. During Sea Trials we had a system that was solely based on damage. You had to deal a certain amount of damage in one ship to unlock the next one. While that system is a bit too basic for a game that is supposed to be more than a test and that is based mostly on progression, the main idea is still good. Reward players for inflicting damage to the enemy by translating the damage they dealt throughout a match into XP and ingame currency. This would also provide a good solution for several ships working together to take down an enemy:
The enemy has a total of X hitpoints.
The players deal Y amount of damage to him in order to sink/board him.
Player A is responsible for 50% of Y.
Player B is responsible for 30% of Y.
Player C is responsible for 20% of Y.
V hitpoints are left on the enemy as you don't have to get them to zero in order to win.
The amount of damage the players dealt is directly translated to XP and ingame currency at a fixed ratio. This way Player A gets the most out of the fight and Player C the least, which represents their share in the battle. Player A also gets the kill for his statistics but no extra XP and ingame currency reward.
The V amount of hitpoints that is left on the enemy after he is out of the fight is also distributed between the three players according to their share. Player A gets 50% of V, Player B 30% and Player C 20%. That's necessary to prevent some options of winning from becoming less rewarding. (If your first shot hits the enemy's magazine and blows up the ship, Y is a very small amount. By also rewarding you for V you get 100% of X nonetheless.)
There are some benefits that come with the proposed system. First of all it forces people to fight. You run away? You don't deal damage and don't get any rewards. Secondly it rewards players according to the role they played during the fight. Supporting a larger ship against another larger ship is as viable in terms of rewards as your support is to your ally. But there's more! Since X, the total hitpoints of a target, is different for every ship, larger vessels are encouraged to rather fight similar sized or even larger vessels first. Smaller targets will give less rewards as they have less hitpoints.
Last but not least this system prevents players from being discouraged by an unfortunate loss. If you have put up a good fight but lost due to other circumstances, you'd still get decent rewards for your effort. To prevent further frustration a sunk player should be able to immediately join another match and not have to wait for the ongoing battle to end. I'd also leave out repair costs for ships completely to prevent anyone from getting a minus after a match. The only way to get negative rewards should be (extensive) friendly fire and maybe running out of bounds to kill yourself.
I really think the linear system we had in the Legends prototype wasn't the best solution to come up with. My suggestion would be a combination of ship and rate unlocks. The 7th rates are unlocked from the start and you can pick one of them as your starting ship. A description of their stengths and weaknesses would be required for new players so they know what they get before they are stuck with it. Something like:
Privateer: fast, nimble, fragile
Pickle: sturdy, less manoeuvrable
Yacht: bonus for everyone who owns regular Naval Action
Once you've picked your first ship you can hop into battle and earn XP and ingame currency. XP is needed to either unlock new ships or the next rate. For example: You picked the Cutter as your first ship. With the XP you earned you can either unlock one of the other 7th rates or you can save it to unlock the next higher rate of ships, 6th in this case. This doesn't unlock a ship, but the posibility to unlock 6th rates with the XP you earn from now on.
If you choose to unlock another 7th rate however, the amount of XP needed to unlock the next rate of ships gets lowered. So you can either focus on one ship you like and save up enough XP to unlock the next set of ships, or you can try out different ships and unlock the next set of ships by unlocking enough ships of your current set.
Once you've unlocked a ship, you have to purchase it with ingame currency to get it into your dock and be able to use it. Cannons have to be purchased separately and the bigger they are, the more expensive they get. No XP is needed to unlock bigger cannons but they should be quite expensive. So you can again either choose to earn some more money with your smaller but well equipped vessel, or you field your new larger vessel but without its biggest possible guns until you can afford them.
The upgrade system could stay as it was in the prototype. Every ship unlocks up to five upgrade slots at certain thresholds of XP earned while using it. Purchasing a new or changing an already applied upgrade costs ingame currency. The upgrades should provide small bonuses to customise your ships to your likings but not make them overpowered in comparison to non upgraded vessels.
Different wood types could be introduced according to regular Naval Action but I'm not sure if this is a good idea. While it would be nice to be able to choose your build when purchasing a ship and to play around with different versions of one ship, I'm pretty sure a lot of builds would be more or less useless in an arena game. In addition different wood types make the balancing between the ships more difficult since you have to keep more than one version of each vessel in mind.
A game needs to generate money and I think Legends has a lot of potential to do so without being disrespectful towards players. Some options:
Each paint you purchase is an unlock for the specific ship you purchase it for. Once you've purchased the „Classic White“ paint for your Bellona for example, you can use it on all the Bellonas you'll ever own. Offer single paint purchases and the option of a paint collection that contains all available paints for one ship. Purchasing the collection is a little bit cheaper than purchasing each paint on its own.
Additional options are one use paints, that are cheaper than the unlocks but can only be applied once to a single ship, and a premium paint collection that unlocks all paints at once for a high price, that is still cheaper than purchasing every single paint individually.
Those shouldn't be tied to a specific ship but unlocks you buy once and then can use on every ship you want. Again, offer single flag purchases and collections of several flags that are cheaper in total than buying every single flag individually.
Sail Decals and Colours:
Work the same as flags. Neither decals nor colours for sails are yet announced for or implemented in regular Naval Action, so I don't know if there's something planned at all. They shouldn't be pure fantasy but match the historical setting we have though.
Pretty much a standard in free to play games. You pay for a specific amount of premium time that grants you a bonus on XP and ingame currency you earn in battles. Options include different time spans offered for purchase and maybe even a lifetime purchase.The latter could come with a special ingame title and maybe even some other bonuses included (depends on the price).
The idea is to tie the right to create a custom lobby to a real money purchase. Everyone should have the ability to join one of those lobbies without having to pay for it, but if you want to create your own one, you'll have to make a small investment. Either as one time unlock or as part of premium time. (As long as you have premium time, you are also allowed to create custom lobbies.) Both options could be offered for those who want only custom battles but no premium time and for not double charging those who already pay for premium time.
Another standard. You have a limited amount of dock space (maybe for 5-10 ships). After all your docks are full, you can either sell one of your old ships and replace it with a new one or purchase more dock space with real money. Personally I'm not a fan of this one as it feels too much like a restraint. On the other hand I'd probably be the first one to purchase more dock space, so I guess it's quite effective.
Ships that don't need to be unlocked by XP and ingame currency but are only obtainable through real money instead. They come with a bonus to all XP and ingame currency that is earned while using them. This one is tricky for the obvious pay to win reasons. You'd have to pick ships that have at least one viable alternative that is free for all to prevent a premium ship from becoming a must have.
A bad example is something like we currently have with Le Requin as it is the most powerful ship of its rate at the moment. This would be even more problematic in Legends if there were 7th and 6th rates only battles. In this case Le Requin would become the absolute queen of the seas in those matches. As premium ship she would be labeled as pay to win immediately and rightfully.
A better example is probably a ship like the Wapen von Hamburg. It's beautiful and quite unique in the game but not too powerful in comparison to the other 4th rates. (Assuming that the Agamemnon, Constitution and Ingermanland remain free for all.) So there would be a reason to buy her but at the same time buying her wouldn't give you an unfair advantage in the fights. I'm pretty sure l'Hermione and Santa Cecilia would sell well as premium ships too while not being overpowered.
The implementation of all options mentioned here can be done in two ways. Either you put everything as mini DLCs on steam, which would be easier to handle for customers but would also lead to an enormous amount of DLCs that might hurt the game's image. Or you implement a premium currency that has to be purchased with real money and can then be used ingame to unlock all the premium stuff. Small amounts of premium currency might also serve as rewards for special events. This solution is easier to handle in terms of Steam's DLC shop but a little less customer friendly since you might have to purchase more premium currency than you actually need for the one unlock you're interested in.
I know there's no money for that at all. What you can do however, is hand out codes for premium stuff (one nice premium ship would probably be the best option) to youtubers, streamers and journalists and ask them to cover the game a bit. Of course you'd have to pick some people that are likely to be interested in the game to get a positive effect out of this.
Some covered Sea Trials when it was made available so you might want to check their interest in Legends. Others can be suggested by the community. (I'm not the right one for this since I barely watch any Youtube/Twitch/whatever.) If someone decides to cover Legends a lot, there'd be the possibility to hand him some more codes he can then raffle amongst his followers to get more people into the game.
Some kind of notification for everyone who bought regular Naval Action would be nice too. There are quite a lot of people that don't play the game because they couldn't get into the open world. Legends could possibly be the game they'd be interested in more. (No offence to everyone who likes the open world here. Just different preferences.)
The yacht could get a premium ship bonus in terms of XP and ingame currency. This would give a little headstart to those, who bought regular Naval Action, and get them out of 7th rates a little faster.
Finishing the tutorial could grant some XP and ingame currency as an incentive to actually do it.
Events like the ones we had in the Legends prototype could return. They could be automated leaderboards that reset every week/month and count the 10 best matches every captain has done during this preiod of time. No opt in or opt out required and the top ten get some rewards. (Maybe premium currency.)
You could think about special events that are in game for a short time. A checkpoint race with Lynxes maybe or a Mortar Brig competition. Small rewards for winners.
Personally I don't really care for them, but a lot of people like Steam achievements. Especially in a game that is based on unlock progression anyway, they'd totally make sense. Just hand out achievements for every unlocked ship, for unlocking all ships of one rate, for matches played, ships sunk and what else you can think of. Some might grind through the whole game just for achievements.
You can even think about ingame titles that are shown alongside your name and are rewarded for some of the more special achievements.
Pros and Cons:
Legends is a second game that needs to be developed and maintained. Game Labs is a small studio and is probably – if ever – only able to realise Legends after regular Naval Action is somewhat finished.
Ship balancing can't be reused in Legends if the different wood types are left out.
There is no guarantee for Legends to be able to attract enough players to be sustainable for the developers and fun for the players (empty queues). Only a test with a full free to play release on Steam can show the game's actual potential.
The amount of advertising Game Labs can afford might not be enough.
Once regular Naval Action is finished, a lot of assets can be reused for Legends. Ships, combat and sailing model, the tutorial, some UI elements, paints, flags etc.
Legends' core already exists. We've played it.
The developers can focus on creating a great open world for the people who like it and then deliver a battle arena for the ones who just want the fights.
Legends appeals to another group of players than regular Naval Action does. This means that in total more people will be attracted and possibly pay for some DLC stuff.
Possibly a higher player retention than a hardcore sandbox open world.
Both games would benefit from the profit Legends eventually (hopefully) generates. New ships for example would be developed for both games.
Maybe – just maybe – less toxicity in the forums and game chats when two opposed factions of players don't have to play the same game anymore.
This is a basic concept. It contains blanks and flaws for sure. However I tried to translate a lot of the negative community feedback on the Legends prototype into improved game mechanisms. At the same time I didn't want to go too far away from the basics we already have, knowing that too much effort wouldn't be affordable for Game Labs.
I tried to achieve a system that is balanced between fair customer treatment and the business aspect of game development. In my opinion the willingness to pay for little things like paints or flags in order to support the developers comes with satisfaction with the game itself and the fun it provides.
I don't know if there's still hope for Legends to ever happen. I don't know if it would be a success either.
I don't expect anyone to actually read this but if you did, I'd be impressed. Let me know what you think while you're at it.