Welcome to Jester's Trek.
I'm your host, Jester. I've been an EVE Online player for about six years. One of my four mains is Ripard Teg, pictured at left. Sadly, I've succumbed to "bittervet" disease, but I'm wandering the New Eden landscape (and from time to time, the MMO landscape) in search of a cure.
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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Practice targets

In Global Agenda, once you complete the introductory PvE campaign (assuming you do), you'll find yourself at level 16.  To climb high enough on the skill tree and get some of the mid-level items so that you're a truly credible threat in PvP, it's a good idea to be at least level 20, and better still, 24.  That means you're going to be spending at least some time in GA trying out the PvE.

And this turns out to be no great hardship, because the AI opponent is really well done!  It's probably the best I've seen in a long line of shooters.

There are a lot of cardinal mistakes AIs can make, particularly in shooters.  We've all seen AIs charge straight in at you, guns blazing, ignoring available cover and getting themselves into nice tidy grenade-friendly clumps.  This sort of thing was a staple in the Halo games, for instance.  GA's AI makes virtually none of those mistakes, or if it does make those mistakes, it makes them for what appear to be sound reasons -- for instance, the lowest level AI enemies do sometimes act stupidly, but smarter ones in the same situation do not.

Even more than that, though, GA's AIs do indeed use available cover, crouch when it seems advantageous, jink randomly back and forth if they can as they attack you, and run away if seriously hurt.  It's actually quite frustrating to see some of the stronger GA enemies running from you, heads down.  As they do, they'll zig-zag back and forth to avoid fire, run behind cover, or even run deliberately behind weaker units to use them as meat shields!  Bravo.  They don't bunch up unless the terrain forces them to do so, and if they can spread out and catch you in a cross-fire, they'll do that too.  If they have special attacks or defenses, they'll use them, and use them at appropriate times instead of right away.

Hell, they'll even routinely set up ambushes!  If hard-pressed, some units will hide behind hard cover and wait... and wait... and wait.  As you pass them, if you don't notice them, they'll keep waiting.  Only when they have a clear shot at your back will they open up.  If an individual unit can turn your flank, they'll do that, too.  I can't tell you how often I've been with a team pushing to an objective, only to miss two or three units behind us that wait until we pass to open up.  So yes, individual AI units are surprisingly good opponents.

But where they really get impressive is in their group tactics.

One of the AI's favorite tactics, particularly in large PvE raids, is to group weaker enemies behind three or four much stronger enemies to act as blockers.  There's one particularly good AI blocking unit variously called an "ant" or a "ballista".  It's a wide, blocky, multi-legged mech with four or five grenade launchers.  The model is so wide that it can easily shield four or five weaker units behind its large bulk, and it takes fairly significant fire to bring one down.  And you have to apply that fire with he and its two or three brothers all spewing grenades at you, which is rather distracting.  ;-)  If it gets where it wants to be, though, then it takes two or three steps to the right or left, exposing the four or five gunners it's been blocking for.

And then you're dead, dead, dead.

An even stronger defensive unit generally called a "spider" (its actual name is hunter, widow, or recluse) can guard even more units and take even more punishment.  The widow has a tractor beam that it can use to pull unwary players right into the AI formation.  No points for guessing what happens to that unfortunate then.  ;-)

It only gets worse in raids, where such a formation will also have a strong air unit called a guardian running interference for it, plus a sniper or two well back.  The tactic is so common and so devastating, that it's a GA meme to refer to such a formation as a "football team".

There are six or seven smarter units (including the guardian I mentioned) and four of them are directly based on the four GA classes, so you're dealing with AI enemy versions of assaults, recons, medics, and robotics.  Fortunately, each of these AI classes is missing a key feature from the player-run versions of the same classes:
  • the AI robotics don't get deployable turrets;
  • the AI recons don't get sniper rifles;
  • the AI assaults don't get specialized immunity shields; and,
  • the AI medics don't get a dedicated healing beam.
I say this is fortunate because the AI class enemies are quite tough enough to kill as it is, thank you.  ;-)

Finally, if the AI senses a weak spot in your formation or defense, it will try to exploit that weakness.  If you leave a flank open, you can rest assured that the game will eventually detect that and will shift its assets to come at you from that flank.

All of this comes together in the large PvE raids.  I've seen the following scenario twice, once as a medic, once as a robotics.  I'll describe it from the latter perspective since I was more immediately involved.

This happened during a 10-person raid I was playing the other night.  The raid took place in and around a "T"-shaped building we were defending, with AI attacks happening on both ends of the top of the "T".  Most of our force, plus two of our robotics, had strongly reinforced one side of the top of the "T" with turrets and gunners.  One recon was keeping an eye on the bottom of the "T".  I was on the opposite end of the "T" with another recon, and I had deployed my own turret there.  A strong attack was taking place on the far end of the "T", and I and the recon were holding off a small skirmishing force on our end.  Then I noticed a larger formation coming in, and reported it on comms: "I've got a football team coming from the north to the west entrance."  The recon went outside to keep an eye on them and soon reported they had a guardian ready to attack my position from above.

The guardian managed some lucky shots that took out my turret and drove off the recon.  Meanwhile, the large attack on the east end continued, supported by a pair of spiders.  While the AI had most of the raid team distracted on the east side of the "T" with these defensive units, most of the additional troops moving to reinforce that side instead swung around the top of the "T" to attack my side.  I put a pair of increasingly desperate calls on comms, but the assaults on the opposite side didn't want to leave those spiders.  By the time they got to me, a Zerg-like rush of units was pouring into the gap behind a trio of grenade-throwing ants that wiped out the assaults and one of their supporting medics.  Those of us that remained could do nothing with our weak weapons but fall back and watch the AI advance.  By the time the assaults respawned, the objective we were defending had all but fallen.

It was pretty cool, in a horrifying way.  ;-)

So, all in all, major props to HiRez, the developers of Global Agenda.  You've gotten your AI right.  Bravo!

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