Oct 142015

The endless force behind balancing the classes

When I as a kid growing up, there was a joke that went sort of like this:

How do you drive an idiot crazy? Put ’em in a round room and tell ’em to pee in the corner

I didn’t say it was a good joke.

Nonetheless, the concept of a seemingly accomplish-able task (peeing in the corner) made impossible by its context (the round room) serves as an interesting illustration of an issue that has seemed to vex our Turbinite developers since the very beginning of the game. Here, I’ll paraphrase:

How do you drive a Turbine developer crazy? Give them a bunch of character classes that are each designed to be distinctly different and order the developer to make all of them equally effective at killing the same monsters. While retaining the uniqueness of each class.

Yeah, that’ll happen.

And yet they are at it again. With a many-pages thread explaining how they are going to nerf/enhance/modify/buff a bunch of character attributes. Again. In the name of balance.

So we get a constantly swinging pendulum where today a specific class dominates, but tomorrow that awesome build must be shelved as a new dominant class emerges.

I am over-simplifying, DDO does not feature dominant classes so much as it does dominant builds, and builds tend to incorporate two or three classes. Plus specific enhancements and a selection of epic destiny abilities.

The whole thing is an endless chase where today we bump up one set of abilities, and maybe pull back on another set. As time passes and players figure out the most useful combinations, another class or build or set of abilities will rise to the top and the process is repeated. Over and over and over.

Why? Why do we do this?

There is a quick answer – if one build/ability/feature clearly dominates then that detracts from the fun of everything else. Yet I am skeptical.

Take for example the spell Cloudkill. When it was first introduced, it would remove enemy Constitution without doing any hit points of damage. The monsters were not coded to notice that they were losing stat points, and would sit there in the cloud and melt away without ever reacting. To make it even more effective, back then having a zero Constitution meant you died. So a caster could, with practice, learn how to sneak near enough to cast Cloudkill but remain far enough away to avoid drawing agro. The entire group of monsters would die, without ever having a chance to fight back. Slowly, sllloooooowwllly, one tick of Constitution loss at a time.

It was agonizing if you were not the Cloudkill caster. All you did was walk around the quest and wait. If you were in a group that was using that style, you would get yelled at for trying to do anything active. But that last sentence contains the solution to the problem: “if you were in a group that was using that style”.

That was the solution. Do not join groups that were going to Cloudkill everything. It was easy to do, even back when Cloudkill was at its very peak. Just don’t do it. Just avoid those who insist on it.

Boom. Problem solved.

And that was as big of a balance problem as DDO has ever faced. Except, no it wasn’t, not really, not for people who actually wanted a solution. I remain convinced that there is a faction of the populace that does not really want a solution; they want it to be their turn to be the Cloudkiller, and make everyone else wait while they win the day. And of course in every public forum there is a faction that really just wants the drama and doesn’t truly care about the problem at all, not so much as they do their ability to raise a fuss.

So, if even the most obviously out-of-balance and completely overpowered ability does not actually ruin the game, why do we continue to put so much effort into balance? Do you think that there will ever be a stable balance between the classes? Is this an attainable goal? Does anyone truly believe that this is possible?

I do not. I think it is a fools errand, and I think that the developers must know this too.

Which leaves what? Churn? Is that it? Is it good for the game if people have to modify their characters every so often to keep up? Is that an intentional design pattern? Make it so that no one can simply build a character and then use it like that forever?

We already have a gear churn, and always will, new gear will always be coming out and we are always going to want at least some of it. Always. The gear churn is in play forever.

Do we need a character build churn too? Are we being set on this treadmill on purpose? Is character build churn a design intent?

Could they even tell us if it was? Or does it have to be a secret by its very nature?

What do you think?

  12 Responses to “The Impossible, Yet Never-Ending, Quest To Balance The Classes”

Comments (12)
  1. Accept the fact each class is different and move on. There will never be true “balance” and there shouldn’t be. Classic example is a high and low level caster versus a high and low level fighter. They balance each other out, which is the whole point of having a party. If everyone could do the same things and just as effective it wouldn’t be DD.

  2. I hope that these class “passes” will end or at least become much less frequent once a firm Level 30 cap is in place. If there is a permanent upper limit on character levels at 30 and all of the Epic Destinies and class/race Enhancement trees are finished, then power creep will also end to a large extent.

  3. There will never be a perfect balance between all classes but I’m glad they are toning down lots of things

    People are never gonna be happy, doesn’t matter if nerfs/buffs or nothing, always will be different people complaining about how they think the game should be and its not easy for the devs to please everyone

    Already showed in last year how when more OP stuff came out, EE easier to complete, all this may please casuals but at same time the hardcores are unhappy

    Imo better for it to change every now and then with buffs and nerfs than to leave the Op stuff there for so long thst if you play something lesser your called gimp, same with having weak classes that will never be used for people who want to maximise themselves and play toughest content

  4. D&D classes each have their strengths and weaknesses. So should DDO classes. A favored soul can heal but a cleric has more access to spells. I hated when I TR’d my cleric into the flavored soul of the month. It took years of casual playing to get that cow back to being a cleric. Note, play what you like but do not expect it to do the other classes job more effectively. It is called a party for a reason.

  5. What if you … made sure that each class had a situation where that particular class could shine and then made sure there was a balance of quests where each class got to shine? A sort of balance of imbalance?

    Naw, that’s just pissing in the corner of a round room.

    • I agree. Sections, or maybe even whole quests (or arcs) centered around a certain class or classes. But the paladins are already pretty effective against supernatural evil.

  6. The same thing that makes DDO unique is what makes a challenge for class balance: multiclassing. Been saying this for years. They can buff classes, nerf them, create new ones, change stuff, change monsters, change quests or whatever. Clever builders will find ways to exploit strengths and minimize weakness. Like Magic: The Gathering, players will find ways to do things that developers and testers did not. So when we talk about “class” balance what they’re really trying to achieve is “build” balance, which I don’t believe will ever happen. The whole point of multiclassing is so that the build is NOT balanced. That is the whole point of it, no?

  7. I agree with you Geoff. Class balancing is pointless. The reason I play a particular class is because I like its unique qualities, not because it can whomp things the fastest. They should put the roleplay back in MMORPG and let the classes be unequal.

  8. I have always found the class balance “dilemma” discussions to be more of an exercise in academics as opposed to reality. I agree, I don’t see any real way to make sure everything is really balanced. The whole point of having classes is in their ability to do different attacks and varying degrees of damage. Some builds like to max out total damage, others like to use battle tactics, others favor to do stat damage, while others like to snipe their way to victory. Some are just going to be more effective than others.

    In the grand scheme things, I just want to have fun killing bad guys :).

  9. Okay, I’m copying a fair chunk because i’d rather talk to y’all than the (roughly half) trolls on the forums.

    Seriously, I’ve been playing a cleric since day one. It’s kind of my thing. Briid is a first life, 28 straight cleric, built to heal. And, until recently (like the last month) when my spouse and i figured out how to two-man Reaver’s, she had never done a raid. (*** not counting the time we figured out how to two-man Chrono before our hiatus. point still stands.)

    Read that again.

    Never done a raid.


    Now I’ll grant you, people on Khyber are generally jerks (insert rant re: no information being available for choosing a server and no, i’m not going to pay them a premium to move to Sarlona, as much as I’d like to), and let’s not even go into the fact that due to (i’m guessing) some sort of server issue, we got screwed out of the second half of the champion weekend, so no opportunity for full vendor lists…

    But seriously. I already can’t maintain my original purpose, since everybody can self-heal now. I can’t solo; clerics aren’t meant for that, and dammit Jim, i’m a healer, not a tank!

    The only people who want me along are like level 15 people trying to run EE content WAAAAY under level. Never raids.

    Ugh. Sorry. Got a bit off topic there.

    The point I meant to make was, how many editions of D&D have there been now? According to Wiki, they count 9 (not including Pathfinder and other variants). And most people who are fans play a version, specifically that version, and not the others except on occasion. I’m a 3.5 fan, myself.

    D&D, or more specifically WOTC, has been trying to solve the balance ‘issue’ (or at least D&D has, WOTC just wants to rape our wallets) for 40+ years now. They keep coming out with new editions to address it. And most of us have gone ‘@^$%# you, we’re playing this one’ because we’re just okay with it. So what if clerics don’t kill dragons? They keep the morons alive (I’m looking at you, fighters and barbarians…). So what if bards are kind of dorks? They make everyone better, and can be pretty cool themselves eventually (unless you count the dude who sat at my PnP table strumming his lute so loud we couldn’t hear each other. that sucked). Wizards and Sorcerors? Dude, if you’re not comfortable with being a glass cannon, you need to rethink your approach.

    Point being, they need to leave well enough alone. They want to make things reasonable? Balance the game? Take the EE ‘scaling’ (which isn’t really scaling, it’s just a case of the DM going ‘!@# you, I’ll show you’ and throwing gobs of nonsense around) and relabel it. Call it Insanity. Or God-mode. Something stupid, who care. Make it bragging rights only – the rest of us want to play the game, earn our gear and our rewards, enjoy the stuff that can be found, but not kill ourselves on @%#$ that, honestly, is idiotically difficult. Those precious Elite players will play it. They will love it. The rest of us will return to enjoying a game that we enjoyed all along.

    I only play EEs because there are some quests that don’t come any other way (I’m looking at most of the PDK stuff), and i want the freaking favor. I have a 5000 favor goal. On a first-life cleric. Without doing most raids.

    I’m not crazy.

  10. They need to focus on giving classes unique abilities to distinguish them from one another. We are becoming obsessed with the idea that DPS-normalisation is what balance is about. If I wanted to play a game where class choice made no difference and everyone had the same experience regardless then I would go play Destiny or one of a dozen other games 🙂

    We need these unique abilities to be effective which means buffing some abilities rather than using the DPS nerf hammer as the only tool in the box. The proposed changes do nothing for DC casters or summoners. The changes to PRR and MRR won’t see people rolling up healers. There’s nothing to help melee monks miitigate damage spikes.

    If you improve other classes then the players will have a variety of choices and most are capable of deciding for themselves what they want to play.

    At the end of the day I’ll continue to build my own characters and play the way that I want, so I’m finding it difficult to get myself worked up about the changes. But I’m a bit miffed by all of the oxygen in the room that these changes are using up when we have bigger things to be concentrating on.

  11. Late to the point here: I don’t mind this as I see what they mean to do. Games invite diversity but to some that also goes to taking advantage of feats and skills that don’t limit your use despite your character barely qualifies for it. Monkchers leverage Ten Thousand Stars as part of their build. Fine. Two or twenty Monk levels, you’re still a Monk. But TTS worked more superior on these builds than full Monks. Weird? Yes. TTS now reflects how much of a Monk you are in its benefits. Should make my Zen Archer happy. But between this and Manyshot’s change, the monkcher will need to reconsider. Furthermore they won’t be one-man armies, which aren’t fun to party with.

What do you think?

%d bloggers like this: