DAO tactics

An earlier post noted I’d talk about Dragon Age: Online tactics. Before I get started, let me point out to the people NOT playing DAO that tactics has a different meaning from usual in this case. (Like libraries – the place where books are kept unless you’re a programmer, and then it’s where the common use codes and such are kept. Very annoying when you’re a librarian looking for work.)


As I said in the earlier post, the system allows the AI to be tweaked a bit. This allows mobs to have a variety of reactions to your team’s presence. It also – and relevant to this post – allows you to tweak how the characters on your team behave in combat. The problem is that it’s confusing to a lot of people. It doesn’t help that this being the first time this system was created means there are peculiarities and occasional failures. Even so, once it’s working right for you it’s POSSIBLE to go through easily 80 and as much as 95% of the battle only having to control YOUR character – everyone else is a team that does their job right. This beats the heck out of constant micromanagement AND screaming at the Stupid AI that does NOT let you use smart tactical thinking to … well, you know. So let’s get into the nitty gritty.

There are two parts to setting up the tactics. The first is the General Behavior. General behavior is just that – in the absence of any other instructions, what does this toon do? As it happens there’s a handy dandy table available from one of the developers – though you could recreate it if you carefully parse the descriptions, as well.

Default Passive Aggressive Ranged Cautious Defensive
Strike back when attacked Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Chase enemy when fleeing Yes No Yes Yes No No
Start fighting when enemy perceived No No Yes Yes No No
Prefer ranged weapons when possible No Yes No Yes No No
Prefer melee weapons when possible No No No No Yes No]
Evade nearby enemies if possible No Yes No Yes Yes No
Avoid melee enemies when possible No No No No No No
Try to flee Area of effects attacks Yes Yes No Yes Yes No

You want your toon to always attempt to evade nearby enemies? Cautious, Ranges and Passive are your options. You want to get out of AoE zones? Both Aggressive and Defensive are bad choices.

If you’ve got your tank on aggressive, don’t scream in frustration when he goes chasing that fleeing enemy through a series of traps and new mobs – it’s his behavior unless you do something about it.

For what it’s worth I don’t really like any of these. I wish, dearly, that I could choose yes/no for the behavior elements to make custom lists. I can’t, however, so we have to use what we have. However, we also don’t have to stop with just the behavior. We get some specific options as well.

We get to set what the rulebook calls tactics and what the toolset calls conditionals. We get at least 2 and up to 25 items that amount to:
“If this is true” “Do that.”

Now before we go on it’s very important to know how this works. It’s an “exit on success” script that is always started if not running. Unpacking a bit, it means there’s a bit of code that says “is the tactics checklist running? If not, start it.” And within the checklist there’s a hidden command that says, “If any of these is true, do the action and stop.” So it’s stop-start-stop-start. More apparently, it means when you’re setting up the tactics it’s deadly important that you pay attention to the order. If you set “any” as a condition, that’s pretty much it. Once the thing hits that, it’s done. So if your first command is “if there’s any enemy, attack” (enemy:any => Attack), then the command to heal anyone if they’re below 50% never happens.

“I want you to do this unless” should always be the last command. It’s that simple. After that, the order should be set up so the MOST likely event follows the LEAST likely event – with one exception. That one exception is “I don’t care how likely or unlikely, DO THIS IF TRUE.” The best example here is “If you’re below 50% health, heal yourself.” There are lots of variations here (the percentage, what you use, etc) but the principle is pretty important. See, your characters will sacrifice themselves for one more bit of damage on an opponent REGARDLESS of the situation. If you want them to stick around for the OTHER opponents around, they need to make healing pretty important. That said, if you’ve a healer it might be important to think of priorities. Consider this example.

You have three possibilities: you can be low, one player (the tank) can be low, more than one can be low. Respectively, that’s self health<50%, [character]<50%, at least 2 allies attack] followed by [enemy: elite or lower => attack] followed by [enemy: any => attack]. Once I have enough lines, of course.

To pull this all together, here’s my basic set for the tank, which needs ‘only’ six lines. You start with two, get one per level, and can get up to four more from ‘combat tactics’. So at worst this tank tactical chain is ready at level 4.

self: health Use lowest healing potion
ally: being attacked by melee attack => taunt
ally: being attacked by melee attack => attack
[remaining conditionals]
enemy: normal or lower => attack
enemy: elite or lower => attack
enemy: any => attack

Notice the remaining conditionals bracket. This is where, once there’s room, I put the target specific stuff – the things my tank uses to deal more devastation and damage if the situation is right. Yells and bashes and slams and all of that.

Notice I’ve got two “Ally: being attacked by melee” commands. See, Taunt is on a cooldown, but attack is always ready. By putting them in this order I taunt (which is an AoE, not just aimed at that target) to build more tanking threat, and THEN I attack the idiot on my team-mate — and I do this regardless of that mob’s rank. And because the two characters I’m not controlling are (unless they’ve a special mission like mage-killing) targeting what the tank targets, that mob WILL die whether it leaves its preference or not.

There are problems with the tactics. There are conditions I wish were present. Do not leave line of sight of your healer, you idiot, being one. And do NOT go chasing that bait down that trap-filled hallway – we pull, not them – being another. Still, it works fairly well most of the time, and if you take the time to THINK you can have quite a nice setup.

Of course, thinking can interfere with Kill the Next Mob Now, dammit. Which means either swearing at the frigging AI or interfering with killing by micromanaging. Whatever trips your trigger, I guess.


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