Fresh off of fixing the Sundy Crash exploit (and hopefully dishing out a few bans in the process), Higby posted a sneak peak of the planned LU02 patch, scheduled for release on January 30th. While it's hardly a comprehensive set of notes, it's still more than enough to set us salivating, so let's take a look.
Death to Skylords
A definite theme running through the notes are a series of adjustments meant to tackle the balancing of air and anti-air alike. The most direct manifestation are the "AA improvements", promising flak changes for turrets and Skyguards. It's not pitched as a DPS buff, but rather as an increased ability to aim... which is frankly all that's needed. Both platforms already tear air apart, but only if they're already really close. Missiles are also getting fixed, which will hopefully put an end to the frustrating duds. There's nothing in the teaser about it, but we hope to see tweaks to how they target and track as well, especially against fast-moving targets.
The experience system is receiving some enhancements as well. Particularly relevant to the skylords discussion is this: "Partial damage XP for dealing damage to vehicles that you don't end up killing." If that means what I hope it means, it translates to "You get XP if you shoot at and hit a fighter and cause him to run away like the cowardly dog he is", or put more neutrally, "G2A is meant as a deterrent, and now you're actually rewarded for successfully deterring." That should naturally lead to more people opting to use AA platforms of all kinds, which ought to do a lot to address the utility of massed air support.
I'm throwing in the changes to base layouts under this category, though they seem like an answer to defensibility in general as much as they do to vehicle and air spam. Spawn buildings are getting more exits, with protected balconies and more roof access, which is supposed to help make them less campable; that should include camping from the air. And more significantly, amp and tech facilities are picking up tunnels for access from spawn points to the interior of the base as well as the walls without having to go above ground. It's not an end-all solution to spawn camping and I don't think it's meant to be. What it WILL mean is that a such bases can't be captured by bottling up the defenders in the spawn with thirty liberators while five guys flip the base. Yes I'm exaggerating a little. Deal with it.
It's not all sunshine and flowers for the air-haters, though. The long-awaited (and much dreaded) rendering fix is upon us, and MAXes will be visible more reliably at long distances for players in vehicles. "MAXes" may be code for "all infantry", since the issue is hardly unique to them, but no additional details are available yet.
Guns, Guns and more Guns
SMGs are coming! That's literally all the teaser says, so we're deprived of any other details for now. Looming questions are who they'll be available to, and what their niche would be. As compact and easily silenced weapons, they'd seem to be a perfect fit for Infiltrators... but then again, they lost the use of shotguns for a reason. The other consideration is how they'll really be balanced. It makes sense for them to fall somewhere between shotguns and the shorter range carbines for effective range, which begs the question of what a longer range SMG offers over a short range carbine (or a short range SMG over a shotgun). We'll no doubt find out in a few short weeks.
Air vehicle weapons are also getting "tweaked", which goes here instead of the previous section thanks to lack of detail. Could be anything. It goes almost without saying that more than a few players hope "tweak" means "firing a Dalton or Zephyr will now steal your credit card number and delete your account", but that's unlikely. Less drastic adjustments to the same, tweaks to some of the more underused primary ESF weapons (such as the NC's "Air Hammer") or further adjustments to G2A rockets are likely candidates.
Finally, "certain" HE ground vehicle weapons are having the reload speed increased. The language here is not entirely clear and could go either way, meaning either "longer reload" rather than "faster reload". Consensus among players is that it's the former and thus a nerf, and given how powerful HE weapons already are I'm inclined to agree, but (at least as of writing time) Higby has not clarified.
UI, Quality of Life and All The Rest
First off, "General performance increases, particularly for lower end GPUs." Hopefully this benefits more than just low end systems. While older graphics cards are one bottleneck, a higher end GPU shifts the bottleneck to the CPU, mostly because of insufficient use of multiple cores.
In addition to the previously mentioned spawn room changes and base tunnels, freshly spawned or revived players will also receive a brief period of invulnerability. The length isn't specified - we'll have to wait for patch notes for that - but even a couple of seconds means being able to react when spawning on a camped Sunderer (instead of dying instantly) or move out of the line of fire after revival. The invulnerability wears off after actions such as firing a weapon or entering a vehicle.
Expanding on the XP changes mentioned in the air section. XP is now dynamic and depends on how many players that player has killed, a fairly obvious attempt to further disincentive camping. That's little different from the existing system, where a player on a kill streak yields an XP bonus, but now it extends the other direction - a freshly spawned player is worth "a fraction" of the current reward. SOE needs to be careful with this one. The idea, combined with XP for support tasks seem to be getting a buff, seems to be to discourage (or at least give less reward for) simply farming players and encourage/reward completing objectives. But, without careful balance, it could wind up a net nerf to XP gain overall, which is always a touchy subject. Bonus XP from things like defensive bonuses and population bonuses are now being better displayed. Additionally, population and resource bonuses are being shifted to continent population rather than global, so next time you're part of 20% population on a continent, you'll actually get something out of it instead of being screwed by otherwise even population server-wide.
Colors for minimap and overhead indicators for all players, friendly and hostile alike, are now dynamic and player configurable. This is a rather tremendous change... I don't think I have to talk about how difficult it can be to distinguish Vanu and NC terminals, or worse yet, tell squads two and three (or three and four or what have you) apart. Simply tweaking the colors alone would have been enough, so letting us change them is definitely going above and beyond. Bonus points to SOE if we can set colors by faction as well.
Wrapping it up: Tokens redeemable for server transfers will be available in for purchase in the Depot. In no particular order, the Hot Spot system is getting a revamp, outfit management now has sortable columns and adds a "last online" column, and the UI will emphasize score per minute as the primary metric of player comparison. And last but not least, "lots of bug fixes."
As mentioned, this is just a teaser for the patch and we'll get full notes in time. Higby also promises a lot more discussion and community interaction going forward: "One of the biggest goals of our team has been and continues to be listening to our community and following YOUR direction for what this game needs to become. We're going to be talking a lot more about this philosophy in the coming weeks and how community involvement is going to directly impact our development schedule & priorities as we reveal "our" plan for the next 6 months."
I know quite a few beta players and PS1 vets are waiting anxiously for features promised since beta (such as an actual mission-based tutorial for new players) or PS1 features that haven't made it over yet, such as a more robust continent lock system. In light of the promise of more information and discourse coming soon, they'll certainly get their chance to voice their concerns, and I look forward to seeing what SOE has to say.