Warhammer: Vermintide

[Long] Reactive Balancing vs. Proactive Design

2603122 2013 06 07 00001 1024x576 - [Long] Reactive Balancing vs. Proactive Design
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Sometimes a developer can become too focused on pleasing players by making changes the players want rather than what the developers intended. I call this reactive balancing – the philosophy of "we'll make things and wait to see how people are using those things, then adjust those things based on popular opinion."

While reactive balancing is required sometimes, I think Vermintide 2 would be better if the developer actually had a vision for how they wanted their game to play. They could then proactively design each weapon to fulfill a particular role for each class.

Weapons intended to eliminate single, large targets should be built around using vertical, downward animations to break certain crucial hit point thresholds with the classes that are intended to use them best, while weapons intended to eliminate hordes should be designed around using sweeping, horizontal animations to meet certain unarmored damage thresholds common among horde enemies.

For instance, the shade is designed as a high-threat single-target eliminator, so weapons intended to be used by the shade should be designed around being able, with modifiers, to break armored and unarmored damage thresholds of 40, 90, or 120 for stormvermin, maulers, and chaos warriors respectively. If the dual daggers are intended to be a backstabbing weapon, they should be designed to meet these thresholds from infiltrate with rear hits. If the exe sword is intended to be a headshotting weapon, it should be intended to meet these thresholds with the proper talents or modifiers. Meanwhile, weapons intended to handle hordes, such as two-handed swords, should have high cleave and horizontal swing angles on one or more of their attacks and be designed to meet damage thresholds of 7.5, 15, 18, and 39 – slave rats, clanrats, fanatics, and raiders respectively – with modifiers against unarmored targets to efficiently deal with waves of weaker enemies in one or two hits.

This way multiple weapons could be viable for each class, instead of our current situation where most weapons are suboptimal or simply useless due to a lack of vision for what role each weapon was supposed to fill.

1.0.8 is an obvious example of reactionary balance. For a game boasting its "visceral and ground breaking melee action," some of the changes in this patch are exasperating. The two melee weapons which were specialized at eliminating single, large, armored targets – glaive and exe sword – have been nerfed to the point where they can no longer efficiently fulfill that role. Meanwhile, two ranged weapons – kruber and bardin handguns – have been buffed to the point where they can more quickly and efficiently eliminate these targets than any other weapon in the game, even being able to one-shot shield vermin through their shields, while maintaining the increased safety that ranged combat naturally enjoys.

Similarly, the shade, a high risk high reward melee assassin designed to eliminate single targets, can no longer eliminate single targets with her ability designed to eliminate single targets while using the only weapon remaining in her arsenal that is designed to eliminate single targets. Meanwhile, standing next to her is Huntsman Kruber, a ranged single target eliminator, who can ult once and destroy an entire chaos patrol of 6 chaos warriors + maulers in under 10 seconds – and do so from the safety of range. This defies explanation.

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These changes ooze of reactive balancing that lacks vision for how these weapons were intended to be used. The community thinks the glaive is too strong, so it is reduced in power and the exe sword suffers incidentally as well. The community believes handguns are too weak, so they are made far stronger to the point where they now perform a role so effectively that they are able to replace melee weapons which formerly dominated that role.

It seems this reactive weapon balance process is in part conducted by watching a small, select group of "elite" players to see which weapons they gravitate toward, then eliminating the advantages of those weapons. When players then gravitate toward other weapons, those are then targeted. The only weapon that seems to be immune from this process is the halberd, which has remained basically unchanged despite having reigned as arguably the best melee weapon in the game for two months, while all its competitors have fallen around it. One of the inherant flaws with balancing a game based on the experience of a small group is that the specific preferences of that group are generalized to thousanda of players who may not share those preferences. I have a feeling the halberd's apparent balance immunity at least partially results from play-testers who prefer it in its current state.

Personally, I felt the glaive prior to 1.0.8 was the perfect weapon and the model by which all other weapons would be designed. Every one of its attacks was useful, making it versatile in many situations and adding a high skill cap in learning how to use each attack and when each was appropriate to the current situation. Instead of empowering other weapons to be as interesting as the glaive, the focus is on knocking down the glaive's advantages and making it just another melee weapon that is inferior to ranged weapons that perform the same role. The way in which the glaive was nerfed was also backwards. The headshot damage was not the problem, it was excessive damage resulting from the cap removal that caused it to deal 600 damage on infiltrate. By reducing headshot damage they have accidentally made the exe sword an unnecessary victim as both weapons shared the same multiplier. If the actual problem were fixed – the damage cap allowing some weapons to hit much too hard – they could have also fixed Kruber's excessive bow damage on ultimate and killed two birds with one stone.

Vermintide 2 seems to be scattered and aimless in its design at the moment, and continued patches are making no progress in bringing clarity to intentions for the game's design. Enemies have been assigned hp values seemingly at random, with weapon damage values set at similarly aimless values and lacking any intent to set these values to line up so that one weapon excels against a particular set of targets. It would be a better game with some vision behind weapon design.

In closing, I'd just like to finish on an unrelated note by pointing out that we are now 8 weapon balance patches into this game and we still have not addressed The Great Green Dust Problem. Each balance patch brings with it the need to roll stats on weapons as preferences shift, and green dust is required to do this. Having 999 blue and orange and 0 green is a design flaw that needs to be addressed urgently.

Sorry for the manifesto, I intended this to be much shorter.

tl;dr weapon balance as excessively focused on attacking things players prove to be effective rather than the better option, which is to purposely design each weapon to be effective at fulfilling a particular role.


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