Damage soaking is the ability of a player character to absorb large amounts of enemy damage over time. The image is that of a sponge, holding water. When the “sponge” gets full, the player dies. We have two components of this.
1. Active Soaking, in which player initiated abilites absorb damage. In FFXI a job ability for paladins is Sentinel. When activated, it absorbs a set percent of damage which reduces over time until the ability wears off. You can use it again once the cooldown is up.
This is a very elastic term. Any active means for a player to reduce or absorb incoming damage counts in my view. You could subdivide this into direct soaking where damage is applied to the player and either avoided or reduced, or indirect soaking where damage potential is reduced, by crowd control, or attack-preventing debuffs.
2.Passive Soaking. The difference between it and active is that players do not need to initiate it. Attributes like stamina or defense, or traits that are innate to a character to provide a direct damage reduction are examples. Also is armor. To use FFXI again, Paladins have a shield skill which enables straight damage reduction when a shield is equipped based on percentages. When the random number generator indicates a block, you do, and reduce an incoming hit. Player buffs also count towards this.
Champions Online has both examples of these, but they are a case in how one form can completely dominate the other. Active soaks in CO involve blocking, both usual and superpowered. There are also holds, which incapacitate a character for a few moments before they jam on the keys and free themselves, and roots, which keep players stationary. Some others are using stun or interrupt moves to prevent incoming heavy charge attacks. My might character has an uppercut move which sends critters flying. It can both interrupt them, and upon landing they are stunned and unable to attack for a limited time.
All of these can be countered. Blocks can be broken entirely for ten seconds by upgrading one of your powers to do so. holds can be broken out of, and equipment exists to reduce severity. Stats also come into play. You can even just move out of range for some counters.
Passives though are the problem. Passives in Champions Online are slotted abilities which provide straight damage reduction or health regeneration, and they dominate. There are several reasons why:
-all mobs can attack at range and close, and from a greater range usually than the player. This means positioning is not effective against normal, non-charging attacks. It also means that roots are useless except to keep mobs from running away. You can’t root them to attack one at a time, you must use holds instead.
-mobs come in groups and pure crowd control is limited to a few abilities. The base unit is 3 or 4 mobs, with some tougher. In later levels pets also come into play, as does adds. While area of effect damage dealing abilities counter this, it means all encounters have a set threshold of incoming damage that has to be mitigated.
-The big one: while blocking or active self-healing, you cannot attack. It’s a common problem in single player RPGs called the debuff problem: what it means is that apart from gimmick debuffs designed to weaken specific bosses, most debuffs will be worthless as raw damage will end the fight sooner.
What this means in an MMO and in CO is that pure blocking is useless on its own. Your health continues to go down, and you don’t attack. It is only useful when paired with something. This is where passives become overpowered. A passive lets you either reduce damage and still attack, or it adds force multipliers to blocking by letting regen restore your health while you do so. So everyone uses a passive defensive ability, as the foundation to make active ones work.
My solution for this is simple in theory: keep passives, but remove the normal damage mobs and players do. This focuses the game on perceiving and dodging charging moves, or using the correct move as part of a strategy. Passives in CO work best when mitigating lots of small amounts of damge over time. With my supernatural character and her regen I can tank 10 mobs by blocking and slowly get back to full life.
The theory is simple, but to do so in the game would be impossible due to massive redesigning and rebalancing. I think to make it work in an existing game would involve strengthening active soaks while weakening passives. A good way would be to make active soaks heal over time with a cooldown: currently some do but they seem weak or too limited. One that should be used very much which I don’t see is increasing invulnerability to damage types: meelee should take less from meelee and flame to flame. It’s passive, but lets players choose a more limited form instead of straight damage reduction.
Its a complex issue. Thinking about these things makes me realize how difficult a developer’s job must be. It’s easy for me to theorize currently, but they have to craft the code that makes it work, as well as deal with social and community backlash. It makes you humble as a player and enforces the need to treat devs with respect and patience.