What killed Fire Emblem: Fates multiplayer?
A brand new chapter of Fire Emblem: Fates DLC is coming out and… not a whole lot of people care. Sure, it continues the story, but the array of skills and bonuses it gives you will probably just be tossed on the shelf and left to carry dust. Why? Because after you complete these DLC chapters, the game has no more content to offer, other than online multiplayer. Unfortunately, online multiplayer is completely dead, so there’s no place to use these new skills or abilities.
But why is it dead? What caused one of the most anticipated features in Fire Emblem: Fates to become a ghost town? Let’s take a look.
Anyone who purchased the Fire Emblem: Fates Collector’s Edition gained access to the third “true” chapter of the game nearly a month ahead of everyone else. This chapter gave you access to every weapon in the game, as well as nearly every character from Revelations and Conquest. Those who were lucky enough to snag one (along with the game journalists who were simply given one) were able to train much more powerful armies for online play well before anyone else. By the time everyone else had access to every chapter, the gap between the early adopters and the rest of the public was just too wide to bridge.
A Broken Reward System
One of the big features advertised for Fire Emblem: Fates was its asynchronous multiplayer system, where you would train an army and set them to defend a castle that you build defenses for. Participating in battle would give both players two “battle points” and gaining enough battle points unlocked rewards. If you won the battle as an attacker or defender, you would get one extra battle point, and you can get yet another battle point if you gave feedback after attacking someone else’s castle. You can also learn an opponent’s skill or recruit one of their party members if you won as the attacker.
Here’s the problem. Everyone wants to look for the easiest castle to siege. Quickly taking another castle earns you three battle points in the span of a few seconds, rather than earning only one or two in the span of several minutes. Thus, many people stopped actually trying to defend their castle. Instead, they lowered all their defenses and just let opponents win. They even went the extra mile to include parties with really interesting skill setups so the attacking reward was as lucrative as possible.
Why did this happen? Because winning as the defender only gives you one extra point and, as I said before, these battles would be long, drawn out affairs. But letting someone win attracts more people to your castle, allowing you to make up the lack of battle points by sheer volume. You could also always go online and sack some easy to take castles yourself to make up the difference. This symbiotic relationship flooded the online meta with battle points and undefended castles, making it hard to find a real challenge, and unrewarding even if you did.
Not all stats in Fire Emblem: Fates are created equal. Speed, for example, is considered one of the god stats. It affects your dodge rate and your chance to attack the opponent twice in one turn. Its counterpart, Skill, affected your chance to hit and your chance to use equipped skills. There is a clear imbalance here. Notably, high speed characters can only be hit by characters with high skill, but high skill characters can be hit by EVERYONE!
As a result, most online battles were reduced to dumping every speed enhancing item, weapon, skill, or bonus onto your main character and running them into the center of battle. The rest of your party existed only to take out any high skill characters on the field. If one player did this, they would easily win as the opponent couldn’t ever touch them. If both used this strategy, the battle ended with two super-fast characters standing next to each other and whiffing until one of them spiked a one in one hundred chance of actually landing a blow.
As unbalanced as stats were, abilities were even more unbalanced. Some final end-game abilities had small effects, like letting you pass through enemy units. Others, like Death Blow, increased your critical rate by 20%! That’s insane. Then there were one-hit death skills, null damage skills, even the Replicate skill, which let you split your units into two units, breaking the online battle unit cap! Unless you had absolute knowledge of every skill when you immediately began your game, you would be locked out of receiving many of these skills without serious power-leveling or winning them online. This just gave further impetus to turn your online castle into an easy win skill-shop, and make real-time online battles practices for “who found the best skill shop first.”
Paying for Power
Then there’s the matter of the DLC. Basically, each DLC chapter brought with it a special item that unlocked special DLC classes and skills. Now, if these skills could be obtained online like every other skill, maybe that would be OK. But Nintendo wanted to be absolutely sure you were giving them your money, so DLC skills and characters with DLC classes are unobtainable online. As a result, there is this huge portion of the game with these powerful skills and classes that free-to-play players have no access to. Heck, free-to-play isn’t even the correct terminology. These players paid $40 for their copy of the game. They simply didn’t pay another $80 for all the DLC maps and extra chapters. Yet they stand no chance against people who are decked out in powerful DLC skills like Galeforce, which grants you extra turns!
Finally, we have the main reason why the Fire Emblem meta died so quickly: hackers. All the stuff I mentioned before, all the skills and stats and weapons, DLC or otherwise? All of them could be obtained by hacking the game. It’s not even that hard to hack Fire Emblem: Fates if you have the physical cartridge.
In just a few days, online play was packed with characters that had perfect or near perfect stats, something that should be almost impossible in a legitimate game. Character stats would be somewhere in the 50’s or 60’s, where even runs on the most difficult settings max character stats in the 30’s.
Nintendo implemented no anti-cheating measures, so hackers just ran rampant with the game. After a few run-ins with hackers, legitimate players left to play the offline modes forever.
Is there any hope for Fire Emblem online? Are you still playing? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.