After a few years of an on and off relationship with wow, and moving to other games and game genres (fighting games), here are my thoughts on game balance.
First off my goal from this article is to get a discussion going about improving balance in a general sense, something more than "Nerf X buff Y and leave Z alone", and closer to a discussion of how reworking the meta game of pvp can create a more balanced iteration of the game by balancing on the level of general team compositions rather than on the individual class level. I.E we have melee, caster and healer and a classes is considered balanced if it can achieve successes in any (melee, caster, healer) combo.
The whole thing with balance issues will never change unless you play a pure mirror match game. The simple fact that classes fall into different archetypes causes an inherent difficulty in balancing these classes; however, this is not the core issue of balance, I believe the basic issue of balance lies in the margin of over poweredness.
For example you have a game with 10 classes that all depend on one single stat called power 9/10 have 100 of that stat, but class number 10 has 101 power; therefore, the tenth class is technically overpowered, all be it by a small margin. Now that margin over 1 power won't send the community into a frenzy, because such a small margin can be overcome with skill or the way the game is designed allows a greater margin of error in the actual human interface aspect.
On the other hand should the tenth class have 201 power, the community will go ape shit because that wins by virtue of of the character create screen.
Now when we come to wow I believe the core issue of balance comes from a faulty ideal held by the Blizzard dev team and class synergy. They want all classes to make teams with each other and all specs to work with each other, which is a nice fantasy but an extremely lofty one at that. This is where I believe the problem stems from.
Looking at basic game mechanics in wow, I find that there are five general mechanics (damage, healing, crowd control, CC breakers, and positioning). A class becomes over powered when they have a tool that falls into one or more of these five categories that is just to difficult to deal with I.E extended lock down, insta gib damage... etc. Now add to this the fact that pvp is generally not a solo effort and you begin to understand how other classes become a magnifying glass for the broken state of any given class.
We see "cleave" teams because, we have classes that fall into the same general archetype (melee, caster) and since all melee have to worry about the same thing "uptime on target" you will find that class X has an ability to give them uptime on target which class Y also benefits from. Lets take warrior+DK. So in this example lets say Dks can deal quit a decent amount of damage and are able to grip/slow/stun/interrupt the target, all of which are great tools on their own; however, now the warrior has extra uptime, and lets say weaker gap closers but superior damage to the DK. Now the picture is getting a little clearer should the target use a positioning tool to try and escape depending on its effectiveness, the warrior can use his remaining gap closers to score the kill.
On the other hand you find that caster cleaves thrive on the fact that they complement each other in a different way. They tend to bring extremely high damage output with strong CC and high survivability.
The point is we see this happening because Blizzard feels that all classes should work with each other in an arena setting regardless of team composition, which is fine but this ideal is still incomplete (which I will get to in a short while). What happens after that is, they give all classes and specs tools that try to make them attractive to any team combo, this leads the player base into forming teams based on how well they complement each other which has inherently become melee+melee / caster+caster (there are exceptions throughout the history of wow mainly RPM and WLD/ WPalM), the point is that with wild damage and classes benefiting to greatly from each other mechanics we can see a lot of situations where the victim has the ability to do very little more than sit there, take it, and pray.
Getting back to the core problem, Blizzard’s ideal balance, I believe a better way to provide a balanced game while still leaving room for player innovation is by designating a general Meta game. Ideally 3v3 arena teams are made up of Melee + Caster + Healer, not by making it mandatory but by providing incentives through buffs and debuffs, and toning down the aspects of the game which favor mindless play (extremely high damage, potent healing, CC chains that can’t be dealt with).
In the end I believe that if Blizzard’s approach to balance was to balance the game in light of a fixed team combo type (Melee + Caster + Healer), the game would be more balanced. This approach would generally look at how classes function together rather than individually.
Therefore, Balance becomes an issue of how this combo fairs against the rest of the possible combos (which numerically speaking is an infinitely smaller task than balancing each individual class with every possible outcome in mind). With this I believe we would see balance notes more along the lines of “XYZ combo has to little damage output as a whole, and since class X works with these combos and class Y works with those, we feel that adding a % of damage to skill A and skill B would not tip the scale of balance for the rest of the combos.”.
That’s basically it for my views on Balance, Thanks for taking the time and having the patients to read this great wall of text , also I duly apologies for any incoherency or incompetent use of English grammar. What I was trying to explain in terms of balance have been some abstract concepts floating in my mind that I have had great difficulty in trying to articulate in a coherent fashion (also English is a second language).
What follows are just some rough ideas and thoughts in general about the game, and the objectivity of people and how they discuss game balance, also how hubris and denial are just mental blocks to improvement.
First off, I want to talk about healing and damage. 2 DPS should not be able to kill a target with a healer doing his job with pure damage and zerg tactics with minimal CC if any; however, healers should not be able to keep their targeted team mate at full health without their team trying to actively mitigate the damage (be it CC, or defensive cooldowns) or spending a healing cooldown.
Next I believe, Casters should cast and have reasonable ways to escape. The problem right now with casters is too much insta casts; this creates a huge issue where casters have relatively high damage to the rest of the cast of the game without any compromise. It used to be casters had to stand still to get off damage which in of itself a means of balance, that standing still allowed melee to gain ground and get an opportunity for some uptime, this forced casters to use their cooldowns in such a way that they either save it for an escape or create space to do damage. Casters are now closer to playing FPS games rather than a high fantasy MMORPG, which has created an arms race in the game, where WOW is getting more bloated with skills trying to counter each other, increasing melee damage to compensate for lesser uptime causing more issues such as, X melee class getting more damage for having less uptime, and destroying other melee because they are not designed to escape like casters. Whenever something is broken it should be simplified rather than made more complex meaning the problem with be more difficult to fix in future.
(Edit, forgot to give credit for the influencing ideas of the next part, these ideas were inspired by an article I read on this topic. regrettably the source bibliography escapes me at the moment.)
Now I would like to end this post with my thoughts on player objectivity. When someone says X class is stupid and OP all the people that represent X class will usually and unobjectivly deny it claiming that, that person should L2P. This stems from that person’s self-esteem which after such an investment of time would be tied to that class I.E if they are successful with that class their success is not due to their ability but because the class is broken which diminishes their achievement, if they are unsuccessful while the class is considered brokenly strong that means they are bad, which their EGO cannot accept so hence the “Fuck you man, my class ain’t op. Learn to play!”.
As for why people believe they have already, learned to play and don’t need to review their play style, stems from a bloated EGO. They feel they have reached the maximum potential of the class and need not look further into how they can improve and by virtue of this sentiment, they blind themselves to what cuases their loss within their own performance as a player.
Again thank you, I hope this post grows to be a helpful one.
rastafuMember Since 24 May 2010
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