DPS Balance

The Lord of the Rings Online™ Volume Two, Book Seven patch is on test. There is much to discuss, and my heart goes out to Captains, but right now I want to talk about Hunters. Because my main character is a Hunter, and everything is about me me me.

Ranged DPS classes are hard to balance. Turbine has it easier because there is no ranged AE class, but consider the problem. High DPS and long range are both things that get your defenses cut, so the plan is to burn something down before it gets to you. Once it gets to you, your primary defense is a robe, and nothing slows your casting times like being smacked in the face. The ranged DPS class fares relatively poorly against ambushes and unexpected respawns. Your primary defense is to kill it before it can kill you, ideally before it can hit you.

Based on that threshold value, “kill it before it gets to you,” a ranged DPS class is a god or a weakling. A little too much DPS relative to enemy hit points, and you are overpowered, taking no damage, farming endlessly without risk. A little too many enemy hit points relative to DPS, and you are worthless, getting smacked around by every enemy, with heavy downtime between fights and a death if there are any surprises. The attempt to hybrid a little melee into the Hunter does not change this equation.

Leveling a Hunter is a beautiful thing. It blows through solo content faster than anything except perhaps a Champion. Ranged DPS is the safest way to pull one enemy from an ugly spot. It has the intuitive benefit of not standing there and trading blows with a fanged beast, and it fits our modern notion of combat as shooting things. Hunters also get the teleport powers, making them the most mobile class, and I have said often that The Lord of the Rings Online™ Volume One: Shadows of Angmar™ is too fond of lengthy travel.

As level 50 dragged on, Hunters became less useful. At the level cap, they were in the bottom half of the class rankings: nothing to offer a group except DPS and taxi service, and Champions provided AE DPS plus tanking. The only unique Hunter niches were Cure Poison (instant, long-range, no cooldown: needed for one raid and convenient in a few instances) and Rain of Thorns (instant, long-range, AE root: frequently useful).

The problem was that Hunters had (and have) great burst DPS and survivability against low hit point targets, but only good sustained DPS and no survivability against high hit point targets. The leveling game, especially solo, is dominated by single, low hit point targets. Hunters are really great against those, killing them quickly and taking little damage. Against bosses, why would you seek out the class that has nothing to offer except damage? Don’t get me wrong, every group needs damage, but there are no bosses that are DPS checks who go berserk after x minutes. Better to have a Champion who can off-tank or a Burglar who can trigger fellowship maneuvers.

Enter Moria. Damage and hit points scaled up quickly. For Hunters, damage scaled up more quickly, with several changes synergizing: higher stats, higher weapon damage, new trait set bonuses to Strength Stance, a third arrow on Improved Swift Bow, devastating criticals, legendary items that increase critical chances and damage, Burn Hot plus Burn Cool, and traits to increase critical chances or the big crits of a few attacks. If your goal in life is to do more damage faster harder now now, take everything and stack it. Being a one-trick pony does not hurt if that trick is “kill it now.”

The apotheosis of this was the 10k crit. Stack every possible damage increaser you have, then get in a fellowship with buffers and debuffers. Find a target that is weak to your damage type, with no special defenses. Have your allies put every possible damage increaser on you and your target; those +5%s add up. Use Heartseeker, and hope for that devastating critical at maximum damage. You need it to work just once to get that screenshot showing your 10,000 damage attack.

Once that is even possible, you can see the nerf coming, so get your screenshot now.

The Book Seven patch notes take the Cryptic approach: hit the problem from every angle. The primary component is a global (player) DPS and (enemy) hit point reduction; even if this is time-to-kill neutral, it reduces the relative importance of DPS and increases the value of skills other than “shoot it in the face.” Going through that earlier list, Hunters are taking hits on the Strength Stance trait set bonuses, that third arrow on Improved Swift Bow, and the big hit traits. Quick Shot and Bow of the Righteous were also weakened, just in case. So not quite every angle, but enough for it to add up.

I do not use the test server, so I cannot comment on how that works in-game (see the Hunter board), but I respect the willingness to nerf the most popular class in the game. I mean, this is a class that is not popular because it is somewhat overpowered at the moment; it was still popular at its worst state. There are times when you must tell your playerbase that a change is necessary to the health of the game, no matter how many people it makes unhappy in the short run. I cannot say if this is the right change, but I respect the willingness to step up to the plate.

: Zubon

11 thoughts on “DPS Balance”

  1. Thats a lovely analysis Zubon. Although I haven’t played a hunter I do recognise the things you speak of. I can remember my champion grouping with hunters doing level up quests and getting utterly frustrated. The hunters killed the mobs at range before my champion could land a single blow. At end game instances however with tougher mobs and with large groups of mobs the champion’s sustained aoe damage output seems to be more popular especially when combined with a champs tanking ability. It sounds as if the ranged dps versus mob health trade-off is impossible to balance correctly but maybe a hunters utility functions could be made more useful inside instances. Tracking seems to me to be under used – there aren’t enough hard to find things in the game. How about giving hunters a crowd control ability that only works on dumb animals? That would be very credible and would complement a burglars ability to crowd control intelligent creatures.

  2. Actually, Hunters have that: a beast-only fear shout. It just does not come into play all that much (it’s nice in 1.14.15). And as a Champion, you never would have noticed it. If you will forgive the generalization, I notice that Champions seem to hate and fear crowd control, or perhaps not notice that it exists, because they instantly break any mez, root, etc. We learn to mez or root as far away from the Champion as possible.

  3. As a Captain, I feel that the 20 seconds of invulnerability and 15 seconds of fellowship invulnerability was a bit much, and it did suck when Turbine had to account for it in the challenges.

    I am not a fan of 10+ minute cooldown skills. I’d rather have less powered, but more useful skills than uber-powered once a boss fight skills.

    But, the forums seem to think that Turbine has slapped every Captain squarely in the face because our defining skill (combo) is Last Stand (In Harm’s Way).

  4. I started a Captain a week ago to play as part of a duo with my wife (Champion). I’m glad I will not have much experience before this patch so I won’t feel the sting. Not knowing is half the battle.

  5. Excellent commentary and analysis, especially on the inherent problems with balancing a ranged DPS class. I haven’t been to the end game of Lotro yet, and so can’t really speak on specific abilities there. From a general point of view, I do think giving a class crowd control utility is a great way to get them included in the raid without slamming their DPS or escape abilities.

    You have to be careful though, with encounter balancing at that point, lest the players optimize crowd control completely out of your game, similar to what’s happening in Wrath right now.

    Thanks for the read!

    Dlangar
    http://ofcourseillplayit.com

  6. Lol Zubon, I feel I must jump to Champions defense. Yes Champion is an aoe damage class and yes aoe can easily break crowd control but I can assure you it only takes a few strict telling offs from your friendly LM to learn you about breaking mezz. Plus a Champ who knows his stuff can control where his damage goes pretty well (Some of our aoe is directional for example).

    That said – smart crowd control mezzes ranged mobs first and anything else before its gets into whacking range. Mezzing a mob right in the middle of the melee is just asking for trouble.

  7. Terrific post. I appreciate the background and extra info on Hunters. I play a Minstrel as my main and there were similar balance issues with the launch of MoM that plagued that class (although in reverse as a Healer/Buffer). You struck a great note reporting the problems Turbine has with trying to improve an already great design for Ranged DPS. Thanks.

  8. Excuse my post-expansion newbness, I don’t even know how to interpret some of the class changes in the upcoming patch notes– but I’ve kind of assumed that Champions would get a nerf to their tanking capabilities. It makes sense to me, since there’s the Warden now and having an all-in-one DPS / AoE monster that also tanks seems to hedge out other DPS classes.

    I’ve just got my Lore-Master at 36 and have fiddled with a Champion up to 21.

  9. Yes, Cryptic does have a tendency to do the universal change rather than the specific nerf. I consider it probably better for a game, long run. You?

    Course, I’m playing a Bright Wizard over at WAR. Been feeling amazingly ineffective recently… but the new patch may have changed things a bit.

  10. I saw the “nerf” coming the day I and another hunter- pretty much spec’d out with most of the radiance gear, dropped a mob in the foundations of stone with two heartseekers, mine at 8k and his at 11k. (and we still get defeated (die) down there regularly). The problem is not ratcheting back the high DPS- the problem is that nearly every MMO that does it, overshoots the goal and the class ends up, for sometime following, much less fun. When its your only high level class, it can be a major fun killer; this is my experiance with LoTRO. I wish they would take smaller steps when they pull back the throttles, not rushing to the “fix” so fast. Most of the kins on my server have put Moria on farm status- so its not like we are going to burn through the content- we already did. Lothlorien doesn’t add so much more as to avoid this either. So, in my view, the long term preference should be to keep the fun in it. When the fun goes… so does your player base.

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