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A rant on Dota, Valorant, and the problem with class-based games

Gamingtodaynews1g - A rant on Dota, Valorant, and the problem with class-based games
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Hello all. I recently got into the beta for Valorant and have been enjoying it, as this is my first exposure to tactical shooters. It is great to strategize with your team, and the small tactics needed to win combined with the skill/game sense make it very fun. However, I have realized I am having issue with this game and other class-based games in general, in a few different aspects. I am about to rant as a casual gamer and competitive enthusiast, but I would love all of your thoughts on the matter.

TL:DR – DotA has pretty good balance mainly due to its economy. All of the derivative moba-style class-based games lack a deep economy or other balancing factor, and balance suffers because of it.

I am a long time DotA player and absolutely love so many different aspects of its design. I feel like the emergent, organic growth of its mechanics from its early days as a community WC3 mod gave it a huge advantage in terms of balance and overall game direction. When DotA came out, it was experimented with endlessly by its community. As new heroes were added, everything was balanced around the 2 constant constraints: 1 rarely changing map and an overall economy. I am a big believer in certain constraints can lead to great innovation, and its clear to me that DotA benefited from this. I think the most underrated aspect of DotA that no other game has really gotten down is the balance of heroes (unchangeable during game) with items bought in the economy (changeable during game).

Every hero has a primary attribute out of 3 (strength, agility and intelligence), but every character is able to benefit from any attribute, regardless of their primary. So an item with strength is still beneficial to an intelligence hero (by providing health and health regen) and an intelligence item can be beneficial to a strength hero (by providing mana and mana regen). But further than this, every kind of status effect that some hero can do, like silence (stops casting of spells) or disarm (stops hero from attacking) can be countered by an item that can be bought in game. On top of that, every status effect is available from only ONE item. So for example, if you have a rampaging Storm Spirit on the enemy team (a heavy spellcasting hero), you can build an Orchid Malevolance (item with silence) to stop him. Likewise, if you have an Phantom Assassin (a hero with multiple passive abilities) you need to shut down, you can buy a Silver Edge (giving Break, a mechanic that temporarily stops passive abilities). There are also limits on certain team-based items, so they can only be bought and used a limited amount of time throughout the game. DotA also has very loose enforcing of a meta which greatly benefits the diversity and flexibility of its heroes and their roles.

The interplay of the heroes and items and the overall economy allows for a lot of levers for the devs to balance around. Heroes can be designed with these constraints and counterplay can be added via items. Now that's not to say DotA is always balanced, but I think it is significantly more balanced than a lot of other games that its inspired. I think League Of Legends has largely failed in balance due to some fundamental reasons, specifically their near total enforcement of a meta (characters being made fungible in that they are made for specific roles/lanes) and the resulting power creep. There is also very little counterplay offered by the economy at all. Instead, the way to beat the enemy is always to scale harder than the opponent. New characters are introduced with more and more overloaded kits that outshine other characters in similar roles. I have played the game on and off since beta and have only seen the power creep get worse as certain heroes become meta and half of the entire roster is completely unviable. I'm not trying to bash LoL as I realize it is made to be easier to get into for noobs, but I think there are fundamental issues hindering its balance. And that is also not to say that there aren't well designed characters in the game. I just think the overall fundamental game design is inherently flawed.

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Anyway, this was all to get to my perspective on class-based games, specifically shooters. Mobas are inherently class-based, as each character has a different set of abilities. However, as different games have tried integrating the Moba style classes, there have always been significant issues regarding balance and power creep. An example can be found in Overwatch, where its been wrought with balance issues since the start. As new characters have been added, each one comes with more and more overloaded kits. Without an economy to balance, the only counterplay comes from either killing them or from specific heroes. The problem also with Overwatch IMO is the focus on ultimate abilities. The meta essentially become centered around ultimates, where each team waits for ultimates to charge and then blows them all at once to get maximum push and damage. Overwatch is very fun casually, but competitive balance IMO is just out the window with the amount of power creep in the game.

Now we get to Valorant. I am not a huge shooter player, and I have very limited experience in tactical shooters like CS:GO, but I highly respect the game. It is centered around an economy and team play and an extremely high skill ceiling. The game is balanced around the maps and gunplay. Valorant is pretty much a CS:GO clone in terms of gunplay, but has classes and abilities added in. I think some of the abilities are very good, and some of them add new dimensions to the tactical shooter genre. But the problem that I see in Valorant is that there is an economy, but the economy is only to do with the guns, and has minimal interaction with the abilities. Some abilities have to be bought, but each character has a signature ability that is free but on cooldown. This is weird to me, as the player essentially doesn't have to work for this bit at all and some of these abilities give pretty good effects.

Another issue I have is certain characters are going be completely required in competitive matches. For example, the character Sova has a projectile that gives map-hack vision in the area that it lands. The projectile will stick in the wall, but can be destroyed by shooting it. However, there are spots on the maps that give vision via the dart but are unable to be shot at, which is completely broken. Another character, Sage, gives healing, a ressurection and a creatable wall. These two characters I believe will be S-tier and required in every competitive match, as their abilities are just too good not to have and outshine others. As new characters are added, I believe there will be power creep similar to Overwatch.

My fundamental issue with all of this is not actually with the abilities themselves though, it is with them being essentially free and tied to classes that are picked in the beginning of the game and unchangeable throughout. I feel like a tactical shooter could have been created with these effects, like a projectile map-hack, or a healing effect, or a creatable wall to block vision, without the need for classes, and instead making use of the economy to buy those utility items. It seems every competitive game has just gone down the proven route of adding classes to their game, and I think to the detriment of balance. Characters/classes are created with significant overlap in roles, and clear metas develop for those roles. On the part of game companies, there is a general unwillingness to innovate outside of this. I understand these are businesses, but I think at this point its a little ridiculous.

I wish to see more innovation in competitive games. Its an extremely tough problem though, with huge network effects dominating the adoption rate of multiplayer games, and if someone strays too far they risk completely alienating their potential customers. But some ideas I would like to see:

  • Skill-based games rather than class-based
  • Deeper economy
  • More use of consumables, rather than cooldowns
  • More focus on objective based gameplay, rather than on making the most badass characters possible

I hope I brought up something worth discussing. Thanks for reading.

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