Strap in folks. This post is about to be longer than an insane survival Summit at 15 frames per second.
Over my time playing DDA, I've collected notes on things that just don't quite feel right, and that I think could be improved. All of these suggestions are in the realm of quality of life changes, I'm not really touching balance or core game mechanics here. Everything is organised by category, and when I make suggestions I try to explain what problem I think they are solving. Now, I'm no game designer, but I have watched several Extra Credits videos, and I think that counts, right? But joking aside, I hope that my analysis of the user experience from a player's perspective is useful in some ways.
In a few places, the game uses the same name to describe entirely separate game mechanics, or uses confusing names that aren't descriptive enough. Some offenders are more problematic than others, but overall this muddies discussion of the game and can make things a little more difficult to understand at first glance. Here are the repeated terms I've noticed, and some suggestions to improve them:
Upgrade. The term "upgrade" is used in three separate ways: towers can be "upgraded" with mana, items can be "upgraded" with gold, and, confusingly, items themselves can be "upgrades" when compared to other items. My suggestion would be to keep tower upgrades the same, and also to keep items-that-are-better-than-other-items as upgrades. Those two systems never interact, so it shouldn't cause any problems. You could give item upgrades a more distinct, and potentially flavourful, term: empower, enchant, improve, enhance, gild (because you're spending gold).
Power. Power describes the defense damage stat, the item level of an item, and the strength of effects granted by certain pets. I've heard plenty of times that people mixed up upgrading their propeller cat's "power" rather than its "pet power", making it useless. Item power could easily become item level. Pet power could become amplification, effect strength, enhancement, or something suited to each individual pet like hero damage multiplier or attack speed bonus.
Skill and boost. The problem with these names is that they don't always neatly define the active abilities of heroes. They limit design space, too - what if you wanted to add a hero that doesn't have a distinct skill and a distinct boost? For example, the DD1 Summoner has a skill and minion movement speed, and the Monk has... hey, wait a minute! One simple way to improve this would just be to take what works from DD1 - the stat is just named the same as the skill. Alternatively, you could name them skills 1 and 2, major skill and minor skill, or instant skill and ongoing skill.
Speaking of Monk! Tower Boost and Hero Boost. So, which boost does the "boost" stat boost, exactly? In DD1 the justification for giving these the same name is that they had the same functionality. Since that's not true anymore, they can be given more distinctive names to show that they work differently to each other. Examples: Tower Aura (though it doesn't quite work consistently with other auras), Tower Boost Sphere, or something totally separate like Qi Overflow for hero boost to demonstrate its area of effect.
Tornado Highlands and Tornado Valley. Say, where did you get that wizard pet, friend? "Oh, I got it from... one of the Tornado maps." Players seem to associate maps with the first word in their name more often than the last. ANCIENT Mines versus LAVA Mines for example, are distinct enough. These two maps' names just aren't distinct enough. Some suggestions: Dusty Valley, Ruined Valley, Lost Valley, or, emphasising its lore description, Market Valley.
Defense Mana & Ability Mana. Perhaps the least easy to mix up out of all these terms, but still notable on occasion. The genie pet, for example, restores "mana" on hit. So it's a bit disappointing to find out it doesn't restore mana, it just restores that lil blue bar up top. You could rename ability mana to something like stamina, or energy, or just be more careful and clear in tooltips.
What's the difference between my DPS apprentice and my builder apprentice? Well, for me, it's whether I see a rock or a cat floating beside him. I constantly find myself making sure - which apprentice am I on right now? And I occasionally end up starting the wave on the wrong character. Skins will rectify this a little when they're added, but even on release, a player starting the game won't have easy access to them. Here are some suggestions to make the identity of individual characters more distinct:
Hero Colours. I love this in DD1. Changing the colour of your hero's clothes was such a fun way to personalise. I would really like to see its return, once character models are finished, to give each character I create and care about their own visual identity. But I have no idea how willing you'd be to implement this when it might be complicated. If not, then you could also consider a little compromise: allow us to change the background colour on hero cards and the profile picture in the top left of the gameplay HUD.
Show name on UI. My builder monk is named Bubbles, and that's hilarious. How will I remind myself of my comedic genius if I have to go into a menu to see it? We already have a little character portrait in the top left, I think adding the hero's name up there would be a perfect finishing touch.
Accessory customisation. To top off character customisation with a little extra flavour, how about fleshing out the accessory system? For example, let us show and hide specific accessory slots. But to really make it extra special, add an accessory outfit system like Terraria's social slots or World of Warcraft's transmogrification! Let us override the visual of our stat accessory with the look of a worse accessory that suits our character design.
Items and Inventory
I am aware that there's an inventory QoL update coming as soon as next week. That's great, and I'm sure you have some of the problems outlined here solved already. But hearing about that is actually part of why I wanted to write this post up sooner rather than later though, as I'm sure you'd rather have this sort of feedback before you finish putting work into the inventory system. Here are my suggestions for this category, which is by far the biggest one!
DD1 improvements. This one is just a no-brainer. If one of the goals of DDA is to feel like DD1 gameplay with better quality of life, then why let these solved problems that made DD1 more convenient fall to the wayside? Add folders, hotkeys to lock and unlock, and lock/unlock all buttons.
Filter improvements. The filter system is such a fantastic addition to the game. Letting you only look at a sub-section of useful items is great, but perhaps it's even more useful as a tool to make better use of the sell all button, especially with auto loot filling us up quick. Here are a selection of improvements to the filter system that I think would help it fulfill these goals:
Filter by item power. Legendary items span a threshold of item power from a little over 500 to well over 1000 after upgrades. Suffice to say, not all legendaries are created equal, and I want an easy way to look at which ones can be culled without a second thought. You could add a filter setting that only shows items above or below a specific item power number.
Filter by usable. From playing through the campaign on hard, a huge huge number of items I picked up while levelling were unusable by me. This is still a problem in the end-game too, when you want to search for weapons and you have to sift through every class. A simple checkmark to filter out unusable items would be perfect.
Ignore quality as a checkmark. Accessories and pets ignoring quality is very helpful for auto loot, but not as helpful for inventory management. Furthermore, what if I want to take a look at every weapon that drops in case it's useful when upgraded? Especially since quality Huntress weapons of the specific type you want can be hard to find. Instead of adding "ignores quality" to specific categories only, why not give every type of item its own "Ignores quality?" checkmark.
Search! Lastly, I think a search bar is an excellent addition to any inventory. If I want to look at my collection of rocks, I don't also want to look at my collection of giraffes!
What is "sort by hero" for? As above, I think "filter by usable" would be a more useful variant on this. How often are you looking through weapons on your squire to compare them to monk weapons, anyway? Additionally, what happens when Series EV is introduced, and "sort by hero" now just means "sort by what the four original heroes were that is now just kind of arbitrary"? It doesn't even place the current hero's items the highest on the list, nor does it allow sorting by more useful metrics afterwards like item power.
Sell all does not sell "all". When you click the sell all button, a scary dialogue box tells you that you're about to lose ALL UNLOCKED ITEMS IN YOUR INVENTORY! Well, you don't, of course, you lose all unlocked items that appear under the current filter settings. This warning should be re-worded to reflect that, rather than making users take a big risk to find out whether it works the way they think it ought to.
So, Dragon Cannons only deal fire damage? Certain weapon types deal elemental damage instead of physical damage, and this is a significant inconsistency from the norm that warrants clarification in the item's tooltip. Either change the name of "ranged damage" to specify that it's fiery ranged damage, or add some text to the item like you would a pet.
"Inventory is full" notification. When you go to pick up an item and your inventory is full, it lets you know. Sweet! If you go to equip an item and your inventory is full, it... doesn't let you know. If you start a wave and you leave auto loot on assuming it's going to pick up items and your inventory is full, it doesn't let you know! This is a pretty big problem. At some point, the game should let you know that either your inventory is full, or you're running low on space and might not be able to auto loot everything anymore.
Switch character in inventory. When I'm gearing up four builders after a profitable survival game, it'd be nice to have an easy way to switch between them all to compare their gear. I might've been giving the best gear to my squire, for example, but now want to switch to apprentice for this next map - but my monk has the rock my apprentice needs, too. The F1-4 keys could let you switch hero in the inventory, or add clickable arrow buttons or a hero menu.
Item Power - base vs upgraded. Upgrading an item increases its item power. However, this gives the deceptive impression that the upgraded 800 piece is better than the unupgraded 700 piece. You might not realise you'd rather have the 700 piece so you can max its power to 900, so it has better potential even though it's not an upgrade yet. My suggestion: simply add an option to the gameplay settings that changes whether you view item power as the actual power of the item, or the base power of the item before it was upgraded.
What is an "upgrade"? Builder vs offense. The game is bad at figuring out which items are better than other items. And honestly, it always will be. However, I think one major problem with it can be solved - add a per-character setting to view items as "builder" upgrades, "offense" upgrades or "overall" upgrades. Overall works off item power, the same way we're used to. Builder upgrades weight tower stats more heavily than hero stats in their calculation, and vice versa for offense upgrades. There are still some edge cases that won't be covered by this, like my wall squire who ONLY WANTS FORTIFY AND NOTHING ELSE, but it would still make the upgrade system more reliable for a huge amount of the playerbase.
Loot filter mode - auto vs highlight. Auto loot was a super useful addition, until I got to legendary gear. Now I'm auto looting all the legendaries, but half of them are useless to me, and as we've established, they're hard to get rid of. Rather than change the auto loot filters in my settings, I'd rather have the option to switch to - or just use in addition - "highlight loot" settings. This takes the auto loot filter's functionality of highlighting relevant items on the tactical map. It could also take some inspiration from item drops in DD1, where upgrades are highlighted in the world via a targeting reticule viewable from any distance.
Gameplay and misc
These suggestions mainly pertain to the user experience of actually playing the game, and its various UI elements outside those already discussed.
*dramatic horn* AN OGRE HAS ARRIVED. This was such a useful alert in DD1 to know where you need to focus your hero's attention... until nightmare. Nowadays, DD1 players are spammed with useless alerts that don't help them at all, so it's no wonder the alert is completely absent in DDA so far. But I think with a few tweaks we can get the best of both worlds: add a setting which toggles the alert on or off depending on the difficulty, and/or add a setting which toggles the alert for specific monster types.
Better tower health indicators. This was the most frustrating thing for me to adapt to from DD1, and I'm still struggling with it at times. I've got to wonder if anyone at Chromatic has even tried repairing an aura... There are a few problems with these, so lets break them down:
Consistency. Consistency, consistency, consistency. Some towers show their health bars at half health, some at any damage at all, and some I've yet to figure out. And is it based on whether you're in build phase or combat phase too? It's like the game is obfuscating information behind a puzzle with no clues. Either show all health bars under the same conditions, or let us configure that per tower type. Additionally, why are some heroes' towers' health bars differently shaped to others? Why is the apprentice the same as the squire in that regard, but the huntress has a different, less visible colour for how upgraded her towers are?
When to show. Of course, you don't want to overload the player with information. Except, I would really like to be overloaded with information here. There should be a reliable way to find out which towers need repairing. The tactical map doesn't help with that from what I've seen, although perhaps it should. But a particularly useful suggestion would be to automatically show all defense health bars when the player has the repair or upgrade tool active. This is the player communicating to the game their exact intent, which is a great excuse to provide them with relevant information.
Remaining health colours. This is just a minor thing DD1 did to show how badly a tower was damaged. It can be hard on certain maps to see the "empty" section of a health bar, especially for towers at high health, and especially if you aren't used to what length the health bars are. In the name of quality of life, consider using colour to tell us which towers are near death and which are barely scratched.
Build phase enemy lists on the tactical map. Another DD1 quality of life feature that's missing at the moment from DDA. Particularly on larger maps, it's helpful and interesting to see which doors are serving what enemies, but it's not always easy to get up close right away.
Better access to the "change hero" menu. Oftentimes at this stage of the game, I find myself wanting to use more than four heroes to build a map with. But the process to do this involves a lot of clicks and mouse movement: press H, right click the hero to replace, click "change", locate the hero I want to change to, click "confirm", then if I'm not already playing on that slot I click again to switch to them. A hotkey could be added to immediately get to the full hero list to replace the current hero. My vote would go to holding H, which is already the hero menu button.
More visible build timer. The build timer, when it's active, is always relevant information. So why is it hidden all small in that little corner? If it were bigger and at the forefront of the HUD, I'd spend less of that valuable time looking up and squinting to check it.
Check inventory mid-wave. Sometimes in a wave, you just don't really have anything to do. Since inventory management and organisation is a way to kill time, why not allow us to check our inventory mid-wave without letting us modify our equipped gear or stats? It'd be a nice chance to look in detail at that sweet drop we just picked up, too.
Better map completion badges. In DD1, the rosettes for completing a map were awarded per difficulty per mode. I'm assuming the map selection UI is far from done, but this is one thing I hope the finished version has. Rather than just seeing the same checkmark for every map I completed once on campaign mode, I'd like to see which badges are included or missing from my collection.
So, yeah, that's everything! And now I'm mentally drained from spending like an hour writing this, so I have nothing more valuable to say! Obviously this is addressed specifically to Chromatic but I'd love to hear what everyone thinks!