Actual Imbalance

What happens when that silly post is true? Keen and Graev and their commenters tell me that the classes I was considering really are some of the weakest in the game. Unless your developers are philosopher kings who have overcome the Hayekian knowledge problem and defied the dark lords of the Matrix, someone will be on the bottom of the pile, and this problem will probably be worst at launch.

First impressions matter. What if playing a Squig Herder that weekend was my first experience with the game? I would post about how lousy everything was, with RvR being a bloodbath in which all the Dwarf classes are stronger than their Greenskin counterparts, horrible imbalance with only one decent Destruction class on that entire battlefront, just keep cutting classes until you get some decent ones Mythic, rant rant rant. Hey, I segue that into rant rant rant about the state of Conan four months into it and how nothing is ever fixed or done right ran rant rant. Good times.

But I’m a blogger, therefore a known emotional basketcase and someone who has access to many information sources. A commenter would helpfully tell me that Squig Herder weakness is a known issue, but I might enjoy this other class. (Known issue rant rant rant.) Imagine you are not one of us, those who are so hardcore that we read blogs about MMOs. You are a casual player who picked up the game because you like Warhammer or thought it looked neat. Then you get to RvR, the point of the game, and get steamrolled constantly. Do you even bother to complain on the forums before unsubscribing and going back to your miniatures?

What about those poor souls who are unnaturally devoted to one class, making a fansite before they are in the beta? If that class is lousy, you have kicked their puppy. If someone has been running for a while (not so much in this case), telling him to suck it up and make an alt is not exactly the right answer. People get deeply attached to characters in these games, which is one reason you can get $15/month from them.

Let’s pretend it is. We take the advice and switch to one of the strongest classes. Wow, this is night and day. We are still a bit bitter about the puppy, but now the play experience is enjoyable. The long-awaited re-balancing arrives, and our FotM gets nerfed (duh). At this point, does it matter that the original class got some love? Our first character came pre-nerfed, the second character was nerfed mid-stream, and why would I trust the company now?

I am supposed to have a solution here, but the main one is “get it right the first time.” Not terribly helpful, I know, but it really is a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation. The initial imbalance made some people unhappy, the fix will make other unhappy, and your worst case scenario is someone in both camps. And people hold long grudges, with launch issues haunting memories forever.

In a PvE game, imbalances are annoying but not fatal. You may not like being the weakest member of your group, but you can let the other group members be the workhorses. They are still on your side. In a PvP game, imbalances are critical. It is directly competitive, and you do not play chess against an opponent who uses rooks in the place of pawns.

Minor differences are fine, but if one class is clearly the worst at something, that is a problem. If no one wants to play the Greenskin DPS class, you have only two classes left. It is a bigger problem if no one wants to play the healer or tank class, even worse in the current case where two of three options are poor and the third is worse than its counterpart.

Pondering it, Warhammer is probably more vulnerable to balance issues than any other MMO. It is RvR-oriented, with two opposed teams, and three sub-teams on each side. Break just one character, let’s say the Dwarf healer for a change. What are the effects? There are fewer Dwarf healers, enough to make a marginal change; if you lose 5-10% of your healers, that does not sound catastrophic, but it slows down a larger chunk of the playerbase that needs healing: slower PvE, fewer RvR groups with healers. Some of those players just wanted to be dwarves, so they pick one of the other two classes; now we have even more Dwarf groups with no healers. Some of those players just wanted to be Order, so spread them over the other two battlefronts. Now Destruction is smashing one front and getting outnumbered on the others (or your comment may not make the unrealistic assumption that Order and Chaos had equal populations). Some of these players just wanted to be healers, so they will likely stick with that when heading elsewhere. If you’re not a dwarf, your problem is too many healers, not too few, so you don’t see what they are complaining about. Next step, the dwarves are consistently losing. Why make a dwarf? Downward spiral, perhaps difficult to stop with re-balancing once “everyone knows” dwarves are weak.

Having one worst class means having one worst team. Losing four of twenty-four classes did not sound like much, but then you remember that those twenty-four were divided over six sub-teams. Losing one more option from your team means being down to two. If the Black Orc is broken, there are no good orc classes. That is a small margin of error, especially when the competing games are about to launch their expansion packs.

: Zubon

9 thoughts on “Actual Imbalance”

  1. You know there is always a sweet spot with all classes. I remember in WoW while leveling my Mage that between 20 – 40 the class just sucked. You couldn’t do a lot of decent damage, and if you got multiple mobs on you, it was frost nova, run then die. But after 42ish range the mage got to be choice.

    I think this will be the case with WAR. They have basically said they aren’t going to do a lot of tweaking to characters because the intentionally made some classes weaker than others, but I don’t think that will take the fun out of playing a particular class or in WAR’s case, Career. It’s all in what you find fun basically. Not everyone wants to be the hard hitting tank that can last 10 minutes toe to toe, some people like playing glass cannons or squishy healers. I’m sure it there is a career that people just aren’t having any fun with or one that is way over powered, they will fix it no matter what their current company line is.

    But as someone that has gone thru years of playing MMO’s, getting hit with the nerf bat is part of playing the game. You just wait for the foam to settle to see how hard they really hit you. I have a friend that has been playing a rogue in WoW. He keeps getting nerfed every time a new patch comes out…but he still plays the rogue and he still has fun.

    It’s a game created for the enjoyment of the player. If you get nerfed or find yourself playing a weaker character than originally thought, then you just accept it or move on to another toon, as long as your still enjoying the game over all.

  2. I have no doubt that WAR will be slogged with the ever popular nerfbat of skill balance every week for the first 3 months of going live, and every other week there after. There are way too many skill combinations to have accurately tested during beta. Unfortunately skill balance is an ongoing process and it sux when your class is on the receiving end of the nerfbat, but that’s just virtual life. I doubt there will ever be true balance in an MMORPG, I’m more concerned with how rapid Mythic can respond to imbalance issues with game updates.

  3. Well written and a lot of good points, but a few things to consider.

    The casuals don’t read patch notes, min/max, or even know which class is FotM. Unless what they play is amazingly broken (pet classes during the PW for example), they won’t notice they are 5-10% less effective than others. They won’t quit or re-roll because in the last patch one of their heals got 10% weaker, because most likely they won’t really notice it’s weaker.

    Also, about the PvE/PvP breakdown, in a PvE game you have limited group sizes (raid or instance), and you don’t want to bring along a ‘weak link’ to a tough encounter, so you exclude the gimped dwarf healer. Now that casual has a very direct, in their face ‘you suck’ brought to them. In RvR, the more the better, even if it is a sub-par dwarf healer. Better to get weak heals than no heals at all, right? Only in scenarios is the number of players limited, and everyone can queue for those, even gimped dwarves :)

  4. The best thing to do is first off dont take advice from those posters, and secondly PLAY WHAT YOU LIKE. That is probably the worst blog to listen to people on seeing as how most of them are power gaming min/maxers. Even Chaos Cast is already full of whiners crying for power up buffs to their classes.

    Ask over on the guild forums, I bet you get some better answers. Sometimes the best advice is literally: “take it easy and ENJOY the game”.

    That comes from 4 years of playing World of GreedCraft

  5. As a long time WAR beta player, concerns are unjustified. Don’t get me wrong, in every MMO balance will be an issue, and changes will come that makes it better/worse constantly. Regardless of the skills and attributes of any class in game, the one wildcard is the person behind that toon. Some can do more with less, and others do less with more – you cannot metric that out into any equation.

    Perfect example: Last time I played I was doing work, so would wait for a scenario to pop, jump in, play, win/lose and get back to work. We had a string of 3 solid wins in a row with a class mix. Started up a couple groups to keep the “team” going, as heck, we had it figured out and were on a roll.

    The next three matches we got destroyed, with the same team that was busy doing the destroying in the previous matches. The first three matches- were we that good, or the other team that bad? The second three matches, did we play terrible or just meet better opponents? Who knows. Felt balanced though =)

    Side note, the three matches we lost, there happened to be an abundance of Squig Herders (4-6) compared to the three we won, where there were only 1-3 each time. Surely this proves that Squid Herders are way overpowered and need to be nerfed, right now.

  6. I’ll agree that a lot of the perceived balance problems with classes really depend on the person behind the wheel. However, there are certain situations in MMOs where the reasoning behind balance changes doesn’t really make sense to anyone.

    The problem is that balance changes like nerfs are applied to the most popular classes while the ones played the least often receive buffs. This just tends to encourage flavor of the month gaming as players change classes after each monthly patch. I think it would be better if developers adjusted class balanced based on real power rather then popularity.

    As it is now most MMOs end up with classes which are overpowered because of constant buffing, but are never really popular because of things external to the gameplay. The one example that comes to mind is the warlock in World of Warcrat, which a lot of people don’t play because of the whole demon summoning thing. Yet if you ever run into one during PvP you can’t help but think they’ve been buffed a little too much.

  7. I substantially agree with all six commenters so far, even where they disagree with me. :)

    On casuals and access to hardcore information: as noted, you notice when the imbalance really hits, like being tossed from a group or getting rolled by Warlock. Our City of Heroes group was a mix with varying degrees of hardcore, so folks knew who to ask about things. Pete had three level 50 tanks, so ask him about that. Adam always know the most powerful things for every class, so ask him for a recommendation before rolling an alt; even if you have your heart set on Radiation, he can tell you which secondary will complement that for your playstyle. Zubon memorizes numbers effortlessly, so ask him about how the math works out. (Seriously, before Issue 5 changed them all, I literally knew every defense/resistance number in the game. I could have been using those neurons for something valuable!)

  8. fascinating :) I have a feeling things will work out ok in WAR, if not downright great tho. WoW didn’t do a bang up job statistically balancing their classes and they were still ok until the end game where there were too many hunters and warlocks. WAR doesn’t even have that problem, if there’s too many bright wizards and chosen then its still ok.

  9. They’ve made a lot of changes to the Squig Herder class and promise to make even more. Definitely play one if you want to play one. Classes will see a lot of balancing changes as beta comes to a close and even in the early weeks of release. Also, classes change a lot as they go up in levels (although I hate this) so checking out some high lvl impressions is pretty imperative.

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