The Balancing Act

The first few weeks of a mmo release can be scary.  This is usually when the devs nerf or “fix” classes that seem overpowered.  But it often feels like it’s more than simply being overpowered, doesn’t it?  It feels like whenever a class has smoother gameplay or feels just right the devs always “fix”, aka nerf, the class making it far less appealing and in many cases worse off than many other classes in the game.

In Age of Conan the devs have recently fixed two classes that I have been playing.  The Tempest of Set and the Priest of Mitra both received fixes/nerfs in a recent patch.  The PoM’s nerf was fairly justified because of their ability to pull 15 mobs, drop them all, and go do it again in 5 seconds.  In their haste Funcom took the spell being used and turned it into a DOT instead of dd.  What they failed to realize was that it wasn’t the spell being used that made this possible, it was a secondary talent that allowed the spell to be recast.  This has resulted in a once useful skill and decent burst dps ability being nearly useless.  This change completely alters the play style for PoM’s who spec’d for that spell.  The ToS’ nerf was also needed since they could summon numerous totems of set and solo in a similar fashion like the PoM.

I support balancing classes, I really do.  I think it’s important that classes are not left as broken and overpowered capable of performing gameplay breaking feats.  But it confuses me when, right after a long beta with plenty of feedback, a company decides to change how a class plays drastically right after release.  I’m reminded of Vanguard and my Bard.  I beta tested VG for months and the Bard class at release was balanced and nothing was wrong with it.  The class was fun and and had real flavor that set it apart from the norm.  Days after release the class was nerfed and it felt like another sheep in the flock.  Why must classes that are fun to play, that offer a unique experience, and really raise the bar be nerfed?

This popular class syndrome is often referred to as “Flavor of the month”.  When a class is overpowered, or in many cases really enjoyable, it attracts many people and quickly gains notoriety for needing a nerf.  I am a freaking magnet for FotM’s!  I always pick a class that sounds fun, plays fun, then gets changed.  Then when I decide to change classes to seek out something that matches my play style again I always pick the next class that gets targeted for the nerf.

Developers need to start looking at these FotM’s and find out what makes them so appealing.  Then, instead of nerfing them, make the rest of the classes appeal in similar ways!

When you remove all the flavors of the month all you’re left with is vanilla.  I hate vanilla.

  • “I’m reminded of Vanguard and my Bard. I beta tested VG for months and the Bard class at release was balanced and nothing was wrong with it.”

    Stopped reading right there, yes there needs to be fixes/balancing , and you were making a valid point.

    But bards balanced ? That is one crazy statement to make 😉

  • Can you tell me what was unbalanced about them at VG’s release? Everyone I ask can never answer that question.

  • Well said Keen.. I’m sick of vanilla too.. I want Arameretto to become an Americanized staple.. along with Bacio Bianco and Straciatelli, but gelato aside, I think you have a good poitn with them needing to analyze behavior of why people like certain things and capitalize on it instead of just remove it for the harmful effects it has on the other less appealing “flavors”. Turn vanilla into cold stone(tm) French vanilla or some vanilla bean with caramel swirled in. And raspberry ice cream too…

  • I don’t know. This game has pvp, so it’s balancing is even more important than if it was a straight up or mostly pve game.

    All classes in all MMOs are constantly being adjusted and balanced, and I think this is really a constant and necessary process. In these beginning stages especially, developers are still trying to get a feel on how players utilize a class, so there are bound to be a lot of adjustments early on.

    And if you were to buff all the classes to be on a similar level as the class that is overpowered, that creates problems in the rest of the game, like with dungeons. It’s just not feasible. Developers have a level that they want players to be playing the class at because they designed the game to played at a particular difficulty, or with a certain number of other players.

    However, there are instances where classes are underpowered. For some reason, it takes developers a much longer time to deal with the underpowered classes, which I never really understood.

    But just because a class isn’t overpowered, doesn’t mean its vanilla. I mean, I always view class changes as a fun, new challenge on how to best play the class (if any dramatic changes were made). 🙂

  • @Rosie: You have to be careful that you don’t get too caught up in a class being more stronger or overpowered. It’s more about how the class behaves and nerfs affecting how a class plays. Overpowered classes that are truly way too powerful for the game itself do need to be toned down, and of course classes should not be brought up to that overpowered level.

    Example: Priests of Mitra could AOE 15 even con mobs. Funcom nerfed the spell so that it is now a single target DOT. That changes the playstyle of the class completely. It accomplished the goal of nerfing the class but it also changed it and to me killed the spirit of what made the class most appealing. (I loved the holy AOE spells and that feeling of smiting all things around me) And the crazy part here is that it wasn’t the spell, it was a feat that let you cast that spell over and over that made it overpowered.

    It’s more about finding what makes these flavors of the month appealing. Is it really that some of them are overpowered? Sure for some. But in many cases it’s that the class just has an ‘easier time’ for reasons beyond simply being overpowered. There are a number of factors that can make certain classes appealing; whether it’s AOE’s, snares, or any other mechanic.

    When all classes are nerfed down to what I consider base form, they are in a sense all bland and vanilla to me. The ones that stand out are the ones that get nerfed, and that’s really unfortunate. Every class should stand out.

  • The ToS one was certainly an unintended bug… glad I didn’t get a taste of it before it was gone though all the same.

    I’d have been ticked.

  • [Edited because of content. Some people were not taught properly by their parents.]

  • Interesting Post #9. If you want people to take your seriously, ever, please use the English language correctly. @Keen, great post, I haven’t bought AoC yet, but from what I’ve read I probably won’t.

  • Hello everybody.
    I buy aoc yesterday and im an assassin lvl 6 hehe. Is a very fun game for me, i did some quests, (not diferent than is wow, is the same or a little bit better), but with the diference i dont have thottbot..
    I was very lost in the begining, with the interface, the skills, (to do a combo u must click first in what combo do u want, and then excecute it, yes, 3 buttons more than wow).
    Tortage is not so bad, i see lot of people there very confuse too, hehe.

    Ok i know lvl 6 is nothing, but i can make me an idea of the rest of the game.. i think..

    Mmm i was thinking that maybe is a good strategy release the game before be absolutely fine, because if there is more people testing they can do all the ajudstments in a short period of time or at least in a less time.. well this is what i think..

    Is not a bad game, is very realistic, combats are very fun (and fatalities ^^), and the game is excellent!!

    Well this is my opinion to just only lvl 6, but i did it very, very slowly to can see everything in my step.

  • I forgot Iam fully agree with developers in any nerf or complete change of anything in the game, class, race, whatever, to balance the game.

    Obviously this last will be good or bad if developers are competent or not.

  • Funcom has shown a pattern of poor decisions for a long time already /shrug

  • Well, when u r starving vanilla is g8. AoC seems to be good game(so far), refreshing atleast.

    ppl say:” It’s better to have pigeon in hand then Eagle on tree”. Eagle is WAR atm, and lets be honest we know about WAR only what Managers say, and i dont want to trust managers(I’m one of them :)), because they exist to sell product. I’m not kind of man that chase after carrot because they say it tastes good, I’ll chase it only if i know its good. So for WAR lets w8 for open beta…

    Warhammer should be very dark game, but what I saw from videos and screens disappoints me … That’s NOT Warhammer I read about, played and adventured in for 12 years. It’s more like some parody of Warhammer. WARhammer is world of constant WAR and blood not Mickey Mouse and “What’s up doc…” . Warhammer should look same as AoC looks, dark and bloody made for 18+ not merry and funny made for 8+ ( WoW is made for that). But I will not judge snake until I see its feet.

    Nerfed classes make me play them even more, i dont like classes that r like “walk in the park”. If they nerf class, show them your teeth, dont whine (I played fury warr in WoW so i know a thing or two about being nerfed).

    /rants about bloody blizzard…

    @ Keen and Graev
    BTW g8 blog guys

  • I think it is a very tough balancing act nerfing a class and yes sometimes they can get it wrong but if the realize they have got it a bit wrong and make it a bit better again but still not being overpowered then that is a sign of a good company.

  • I support balancing of classes, to a degree. Basically, when the game is released and then when major changes are made.

    But I dislike balancing as a meta-game, where it’s handed to players continuously to disguise how thin the new content is. It sucks a lot of folks in, sure, re-learning their classes each patch keeps ’em busy. But that uneasy feeling they get when they’re tired of the hamster wheel and they can’t quite put their finger on it? This is the culprit IMHO.

    I also strongly feel that if you balance too much, the classes get watered down into one big boring lump.

  • “Keen Says:
    May 23rd, 2008 at 3:46 pm
    Can you tell me what was unbalanced about them at VG’s release? Everyone I ask can never answer that question.”

    Maybe the people you have asked never played in the beta and found out how to play a bard.

    Sure they were balanced for people who went into the game without any prior knowledge, but there is a very good reason why bards could hit cap in 2 days /played without exploits.

    Most people in beta knew bards and clerics were overpowered, heck .. there were 50 + page threads about those classes pretty much every month on the subject.

    Happens with every launch of an mmo, testers tell their circle of friends which classes are OP , they all roll them at launch, within a few weeks they get “fixed” , everyone cries “nerf”.

    Could go into specific reasons why the bard was OP at the time, but there were so many be here all day, lets just say, when you make a utility class , much like a hybrid class they must have versatility, but not be able to out perform core classes in their area, and thats exactly what they were capable of doing.

  • I guess I’ll never have this problem. All I see on the OOC channel is “OMG HoX I die all the time” and “HoX is so weak, get used to dying”. Um, no. I don’t have these issues. Sure, when I get in over my head, I die, just like every other class (except PoM, apparently). But I know how to hit that AoE root and run. I guess everybody else is too stupid to figure that out and would rather whine (and jump on anyone who offers strategy, which makes me leave OOC chat and never want to help again).

    Bottom line: most of these AoC players are sheeple and should just go back to WoW where they can watch TV and play at the same time.

    Well, in regards to Keen’s article, I will say that I am pleasantly surprised that there are so FEW nerfs right after release. Though I admit that I haven’t played any of the PvP minigames since the PvP weekend. PoM was insanely overpowered, I’m sorry. Any class with insta AoE knockback and huge damage is, duh. I saw a level 12 PoM solo a 20 boss mob with adds. She didn’t even take any damage.

  • Btw, from Lv1-80 should take 240 hours, according to FC.
    It’s been 7 days or 168 hours in total.

    From what I learned (from FragHaus site), he was a Closed Beta tester and he knew about this exploit.So he used this to gain an advantage and grind quicker and informed his guild mates so they can do the same.

    Looks like you and him were in the Closed Beta for different reasons)).

    Keen, what do you think? What should FC do about his character ?

  • Why are the AoC forums closed only to subscribers anyway? Is this common in MMORPGs, or am I just used to the WoW forums?

  • @KT

    Nearly every MMO that has their own forums allows non-subscribers to at least view. Why Funcom isn’t allowing the public to do so, well I’d say it’s either they’re cheap and want to conserve bandwidth, or they are doing this temporarily to guarantee a Quality of Service (no downtime due to excessive use) after release.

    It’s bothered me too not being a subscriber, cause I’m curious what is happening on the forums, and i’m sure there’s a wealth of media (pics/movies) that i’d like to view.

  • @Nasser: Exploiters like that should be banned from the game and their characters deleted. That’s my stance. Zero tolerance.

    @KT: It’s not common practice at all. It’s actually quite rare for a forum to be locked like that. For those of you without access, you’re not missing much. The AoC boards are very similar to the WoW boards.

  • Ok, good to know this isn’t common practice. I paid for the 10 day early start (preordered with Best Buy, not planning to go buy the game currently), so I have had access to the forums with my login. I’ve seen a lot of complaints, issues, etc. mixed in with the fanboys. My personal opinion is they are locking non-subscribers out because they fear the general public would have a negative impression of the game based on the people who are deciding early on the game is not for them. On the other side of the coin, quite a lot of people state they do enjoy the game as it is.

    I have yet to see any good reviews or notes from people who played endgame in closed beta. That was one of the things I was looking forward to finding out once the NDA dropped. Wait, it HAS dropped hasn’t it? Or is this another oddity with this game?

    All in all, it does not appear in my opinion that Funcom had 100% faith in their product. It seemed to me like they wanted to keep a lot of information locked up until they had gotten people to give them $$$. Overall, not impressed with their company or tactics so far. Time may change things and opinions (such as mine) though.

  • I get frustrated by heavy nerfs to classes in MMOs. There is a fine line between a subtle, necessary nerf and a blunt, painful nerf.

    I really enjoyed TR recently, but the numerous bugs and heavy nerfs drove me away.