On Class Balance

Thanks to a few interesting experiences, I’m incredibly gun-shy about choosing classes in games now. Class balance is one of those things that will never make everyone happy, but still needs to be handled with utmost care to keep people from feeling useless. I’ve had a surprising amount of “feeling useless” in recent games, and I’m concerned that it’ll happen again when I pick classes in new games.

Use the force

My personal experience with this began in Star Wars: The Old Republic. I figured I’d play a Vanguard Trooper since I liked tanking, but I ended up being drawn to the Commando’s giant gun. I actually ended up as a healer in this game, because I enjoyed it, and it seemed rather effective in content up to the level cap. Unfortunately, the raid content demonstrated how wrong I was. The command lacked a good method of healing more than one target at a time, and this was its doom for “hard” content. There were several experiences where The healing team was Commando + Scoundrel or (heaven forbid) Commando + Commando where the run was going to become way more difficult just because we didn’t have a Sage. Sages had a ground-targeted dome of mass healing that trivialized certain encounters. Then, the first major balance patch came out and made commandos even worse in raiding, because they were “too good” in PVP. This heralded my exit from the game.

It was fun while it lasted.
It was fun while it lasted.

It’s a secret to everyone

A few months later, The Secret World caught my attention with its “unique” (read: ripped from Guild Wars) ability system. The Ability Wheel encouraged heavy investment into 2-3 weapon types, and I went with Fists (mostly claw and knuckle-type weapons) and Chaos (Green short-range magic), working my way into the Executioner deck. Again, this worked great up to the level cap, and even through elite instances, putting out more damage than any other options available to me. However, the Gatekeeper and Nightmare instances made it completely clear that the endgame was either go ranged or go home. While it’s technically possible to have all abilities at once, My character’s entire development up to that point was spent in things that turned out to not be viable in high-level content. Our group’s healer made similarly incorrect choices unknowingly, and that killed the game for us.

Hundreds of possibilities, 4 right answers.
Hundreds of possibilities, 4 right answers.

Written in the stars

I’m really hoping that my future endeavors turn out better than my past ones. I’m looking into WildStar, hoping that the class I pick doesn’t end up useless at whatever I decide to do with it. Finding this out at the level cap is absolutely crushing, and doubly so if it turns out nothing is being done about it. Final Fantasy 14 was almost like this, but they took steps to correct perceived and actual imbalances in their first major patch. WoW gets a lot of criticism for homogenizing classes, but they haven’t had any situations where a class or spec is completely non-viable (in PVE) since Burning Crusade. I’m really getting tired of making the wrong choice unknowingly, so I’d appreciate it if they would just mark them on the character creation screen next time.

3 thoughts on “On Class Balance”

  1. I feel like if a character is quirky in any way or has any form of nuance… those tend to be the classes that have the issues. Granted I was bit by some of the same problems you had in TSW, but I tend to play classes that are “subtle as a sledgehammer”. I have these same fears going into Wildstar however since Engineer looks like it is going to be the “gimmick” tank, and as a result the most likely to have balance issues. Here is hoping as a company made up mostly of ex-Blizzard employees… that they understand the importance of balance. Even more than that I hope they understand the importance of each class feeling “fun” to play.

    I still have a bunch of reservations going into this game… but like I said on twitter, I also had massive reservations going into FFXIV, and wound up enjoying the hell out of myself. Here is hoping this is the case for Wildstar as well.

  2. I like to speak on TSW when these things come up, because it’s my favorite game and it places a lot of responsibility on players to figure out how to approach the game.

    One of the biggest barriers is people approaching the skill/ability system like any other game. You aren’t supposed to “choose” a weapon aside from what you enjoy while leveling, and the intent is to get you to 100% wheel (which takes time, but isn’t bad) in fact, the vast majority of skills in the Pistol/Shotgun Nightmare build are rather easy to acquire and many of the “necessary” skills are even in the inside wheel.

    But that’s not the be-all-end-all. Nightmare dungeons require one approach while scenarios require another and other content requires yet different approaches. Funcom never intended to have people who were always using the same weapons for everything, and anyone who started the game with the belief that they could just choose what they like best and it would work have all stopped playing.

    My first big break from TSW was in the City of the Sun God. I had to grind some AP and SP in order to build a deck that would get me through that last encounter. I went from my preference of Pistol/Blood to my far more practical Sword/Blood and the rest was a lot easier. When I got to Nightmares I had made the swap to AR/Shotty and soon grabbed Pistols.

    The game got screwed by the layoffs at Funcom, and the content that was supposed to come monthly ended up being quarterly, at best. Nightmare dungeons got the spotlight because it was the only endgame at the time, but now that we have multiple issues, scenarios/augments and even the newer commitment to event raids/instances the game isn’t nearly so narrow in scope. Scenario builds tend to require soloing power (self heals in a kinda dps/tank/healer hybrid-y) and are almost always done with melee weapons (Sword/Chaos being popular and effective).

    There’s absolutely a “highest dps” build. In fact, that build at the moment is Hammer/Shotgun. The issue is that playing up close in nightmares just isn’t an option. Hell, many people will end up using multiple decks and weapons for different bosses in the same dungeon. You get something like Pistol/Shotty because it’s good, higher-end dps married to the simplicity of not dying (because without a combat rez, even a single member of the party dying is often a wipe).

    And lastly, TSW’s system is nothing like GW2! :p

    1. Heh. I said it was ripped from Guild Wars 1. The skill system in that game is the best thing about it, and other games (ESO, TSW, WildStar) have been taking bits and pieces of it, mostly for the better. For who knows what reason, Guild Wars 2 went for something completely different (and in my opinion worse, but that’s a different discussion).

      My big problem was that I like Melee DPS. I had several builds for it, depending on encounter, Mostly Fists/Chaos but also some Fists/Swords and an oddball Fists/AR build that worked reasonably well for a while. I DPSed in all of the elite instances with these builds. Spare AP went into tanking abilities, and I managed to be the backup tank (or sometimes, the second tank for some encounters). And then Nightmares rolled around, and the message came across that the thing I liked to do was Wrong and Bad and I should devote all of my AP to weapons I didn’t like much.

      I will say that frustrations with the above aside, I like TSW. I’ve come back to play a few of the issues. It will just never be a long-term game for me again, because it renders 4/9 of the ability wheel useless, and those were the parts I liked most.

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