Content of the article: "Massive, Please: Whatever’s next, please keep the Shepherd system…but here’s how it could get a lot better"
For some context, I have been Shepherding since the system was first introduced. I think it's a wonderful, on-brand, on-point, engaging system. I love Shepherding – helping new players get a foothold in the game is literally my favorite thing (I founded and built a full clan almost solely based on this concept), but this is, by FAR, the grindiest, and often the most frustrating, commendation I've gotten after.
I fully recognize that we're either at, or quickly approaching, EOL for Division 2, and as such there may not be enough ROI to justify a sweeping overhaul of this system for TD2. If that's the case, then if there is a TD3, I hope they keep Shepherding, but put up some guardrails that ensure Shepherds are guaranteed to arrive as backup into actual activities, not someone standing in a safehouse AFK or sorting gear. Like:
- Every attempt should be made to avoid pointless or idle CFBs, so a player can only CFB in open world if downed. In this case, the CFB option on the death screen is a simple button hold just like it is now.
- Players have to plan the activity they want backup for. When you call for backup, a menu should pop up and you select your activity. Say it's CP farming – you have to designate a hostile CP you plan to take before you can actually issue the CFB. A timer just like the bounty timer starts, and if you're not within the effective range of the CP within that time, your call is canceled. No penalty for the person calling, except that they simply have to reissue the CFB if they still want a Shepherd to join them. From the Shepherd's perspective, they don't even see the call come in until the caller has reached the destination.
- Bounties, side missions, main missions, Expeditions, and Summit are all options for CFB. If you don't know what you're getting into, you can CFB for a specific activity in advance, or if you do, you can try until you're downed, and then CFB.
Here's where things seem like they're going to go heavy on the development side.
- "Endorsements" go away in favor of "Shepherd Distinctions" and, simply put, "Shepherd Levels". Each mission objective ("Secure the area") adds to your progress toward a Distinction, as do mission completions and CP captures. The same system that awards additional XP for combat accolades (Tactical Kill, Multikill, HS Kills, Survivor etc.) can determine if a Shepherd Distinction is awarded when combat is cleared and there are no more threats. Once a player earns 10 Distinctions, they earn a Shepherd Level.
- The number of Distinctions a Shepherd has earned stays, no matter the Shepherd session in which they're earned. If, for example, a caller only called because they needed a revive, and they want to play the rest of that activity alone and kick me out of the group, I still keep any Shepherd Distinction(s) I've gained.
- To address another problem I've seen (some hotshot Shepherd showing up, flattening/killing everything without letting the original caller hardly get a single shot in), create Shepherd Specialists.
For this next part, assume that any Shepherd with any build or personal preference can answer any call, but their progress toward their next Shepherd Level will accrue faster if they meet the role needed by the caller. This incentivizes role-playing and differentiation without barring someone with a skill build from answering a call meant for a Healer, which feels unnecessarily prohibitive. Some roles will have overlapping conditions for obtaining a Distinction as appropriate to their role. This creates a challenge you simply don't get if you're an endgame player helping a Level 5 newbie. There's no challenge whatsoever if I show up with my minmaxed Negotiator's Dilemma build to do Grand Washington – Story with a new player, but completing specific conditions during my Shepherd session with that same player at least gives me some challenges to get after.
Healer: The default category for downed players, but any caller can request a Healer. Healer Distinctions are based on achievements such as amount of healing delivered, revives completed, Status Effects applied, and Weakpoints Broken.
Technician: Provides skill support, aggro management, and crowd control. Technician Distinctions are based on achievements such as total skill damage/skill kills, number of status effects applied, Tactical Kills, and Weakpoints Broken.
Survivor: This is for tank and regen builds. Call in an unkillable slab to sponge up the extra bullets and aggro. Survivor Distinctions are based on achievements such as total damage taken and armor regenerated (NOT healed), and (I admit this is very wishful here) number of enemies for whom the Survivor took aggro.
Captain: THIS is the call for the aforementioned "Hotshot Shepherd". Call a Captain, and the expectation is that they're going to DPS everything down ASAP. If a caller wants someone to come in and mop up, they can select this. Captain Distinctions are based on achievements such as kills and total weapon damage output.
Now…can you see where this choice-driven, role-based system is leading? Right now, people often turn to CFB instead of regular matchmaking to fill groups, but Massive has to confront the reason why this works: because it's inherently dishonest and deceptive if I CFB outside a mission, just for the Shepherd to show up without knowing my intent is to do Roosevelt Legendary. So assuming my system is fully in place, if I know I want to do a mission, the process would look like this:
- Open CFB menu, choose my activity
- Choose the Shepherd Specialist I need to round out my ideal team (again, anyone can answer, regardless, but their progress on Distinctions will be much faster if they play to the Specialist type requested by the caller)
- The timer starts, and I have, say, 5 minutes to get to the objective; if I want to wait until the Shepherd answers, I can, or if I want to start the mission to work my way in until they get there, I can do that too, just like regular matchmaking.
This means that I can utilize this same system to create matchmaking that allows me to have a better chance of "recruiting" roles I need for any content, all the way up through Legendary.
SHD Tab in Megamap – The Shepherd Console
The SHD tab should provide some more detailed info to the Shepherd so they can evaluate what kind of calls they're seeing, and can have some agency in choosing which calls they answer.
A downed player should show up as such: "Downed Player".
The current SHD tab differentiates between Story callers and callers that are at my level already. If someone is calling from Story, their call will be a blue exclamation point with wings; if they're at my level, their call currently appears as an orange exclamation point in the center of an asterisk-y thing. I like that I can pick and choose which types of calls I can answer. I recommend we take that a step further and change nomenclature a little bit, to Story and Endgame. The Shepherd Console should have a sidebar menu on the left and right sides of the map. The left menu should list all available Story calls, what type of Specialist they're requesting, and each should be selectable, with each selection moving the central map focus to the area of the map from which the call originates, exactly like how the Project menu on the megamap moves the camera focus to different areas of the map based on where the Project requirements take place. The right menu should list all available calls from endgame players, again with Specialist type and focus on the area.
Levels and Loot
Shepherd levels should be infinite, like the SHD watch, and grant a 5-item cache at Legendary quality every 10 levels, with a cosmetic award and Exotic Cache at Level 100. Assuming the cache contents are RNG, and assuming it takes 10 Distinctions to earn a level, a guarantee of five pieces of Legendary-quality loot seems very fair for time spent (if maybe a little light).
Story Call Loot
If Targeted Loot is held as a separate system of loot drops on top of regular drops, as devs have confirmed on multiple occasions, let's assume we can create a different layer of loot specific to Shepherds. A regular loot drop in a Shepherd mission should always drop at the level of the caller, so the Shepherd can share loot that actually stands to be useful to the caller. Shepherd Loot would replace Targeted Loot, being the additional loot drop on top of the regular loot drops, and on average, the attributes should roll within the Challenging loot tier. The loot for the caller doesn't change, but they can benefit from generous Shepherds that drop their regular loot for the caller. The Shepherd should be able to share up to five pieces of Shepherd Loot to earn another Distinction (or perhaps just a chunk of XP, similar to donating resources to a CP).
In the current system, neither the Shepherd nor the caller really get loot drops that are consistently rewarding unless the caller and Shepherd are at the same level. But the real usefulness of the current Shepherd system is that it introduces new players to experienced players. If that system could also be a means for both parties in a CFB to progress no matter what, I think it would be a masterful, engaging, and rewarding way to increase player retention.
Endgame Call Loot
Endgame Calls' loot doesn't need to be any different than playing a regular mission.
Of course, creating Shepherd projects to give players additional incentives to help their fellow agents out would be smart. Requirements like "Revive 10 Downed Players", "Share 20 Pieces of Shepherd Loot", and combat-based requirements like "Reach 5 million HP of Healing Delivered" would potentially drive more people into the Shepherd system.
I feel strongly that Shepherding is one of the most hearty and promising game modes I've ever seen in a game. Based on the levers I've seen at play already in the game, there's at least "proof of concept" for at least half of my recommendations here, if not more. In a future release, either for this game or for an upcoming sequel, a fully realized Shepherd system creates a built-in mode for new players to gain a foothold with the help of veteran players and expand their social circles for the game, and for players with similar amounts of experience to have access to more sophisticated matchmaking that allows them to build versatile teams for different content.
- Game operation in groups
- Power Level and Damage Reduction: How Overleveling Affects Enemy Damage
- Agent Dad here – and I personally love TU10. Well done and thanks, Massive!
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