Thursday, October 21, 2010

Blizzard Overstrained

Is Blizzard overstrained ? I say: Yes.

And I quote Ghostcrawler:
We are going to spend some effort adjusting numbers for 1-80. It's not as big a priority as 85 because frankly, more players care about balance at 85 than they do lower level balance. As some folks have pointed out, inexperienced players almost by definition, don't place a premium on balance, and experienced players tend to not worry about balance much until they're at max level since things are changing so quickly.
Rather than adjusting everything independently, we tend to focus on max level and then work backwards from there. It doesn't help to nerf say rogue damage by 5% from level 1-60 if we then find we also need to nerf it at level 85 and then buff the 1-60 numbers to compensate.
There is some goofy stuff going on at lower level, but we'll get it all straightened out. After spending so much effort revamping the old zones and quests, we don't want the leveling experience to be an odd one.

There are a lot of eloquent complains about the 'numbers' on the forums. That is about the average dps, hps and health of all mobs and players while leveling. Apparently, Blizzard considers the 'balance' while leveling just important enough to not want it to be 'odd'.

Now, if Mystic or Funcom had officially stated that they just want low-level content to not feel odd, I would have left those games even faster than I did. Until now Blizzard was an outstanding player in the industry due to their devotion to quality. With Cataclysm this does not seem to hold.

Please note, when I say 'balance' here I am not talking about some tricky stuff, like warriors not having a way to counter frost mage-kiting after the 2nd charge on cooldown.

I am talking about oneshots and mobs that die so fast that you cannot actually play your char. When Patch 4.01 was made available I made a new feral druid to test it out. I was especially interested in the leveling, because that is what I am going to do with Cataclysm, and actually have done 50% of WotLK already. The way Blizzard designs endgame is not for me anymore - even though until mid-TBC endgame was all that I cared about.

But this post is not about complains about the World of Warcraft endgame. This blog post is about Blizzard going to destroy the leveling experience, too. I find myself commenting on forums and my blog right now, because I cannot get myself to play my new feral druid. It is just too boring. And here is why:

At level 10 I got "Mangle". Mangle instantly hits the mob I attack and creates one combo point. The combo point can later be used to launch a finishing attack. Now, when I attack a mob of same level  or slightly higher (yellow, orange) it goes like this:

1) Mangle
2) Mangle
3) Mangle
4) Mob dead.

Mangle has no cooldown on its own and since the global cooldown for rogues and ferals is 1.0 seconds, I need 3 seconds to kill the mob. Before I reach the next mob, my energy is restored and I will be able to do exactly the same again. Making bad things worse, if the first or second mangle actually crits, the mob is dead after 2 seconds. And I am not talking about some twinked char. Since I disdain heirlooms this char just wears greens/whites!

Attacking red mobs is no solution, either, by the way. The main reason fighting red mobs (mobs of significantly higher level) is 'hard' in WoW, is that your abilities miss all the time. That is no fun, of course. They do not even offer a higher reward and usually quests for red mobs are not available.

It is important to note that I do not complain about there being no challenge. That's not the point. The point is that this kind of gameplay is not fun. I cannot care about combo points, because there is no way that any mob lives long enough to build up some combo points and make a meaningful "finisher".

To actually play the char, I entered Ragefire, a low-level dungeon as damage dealer. The randomly created dungeon-finder group was not very well equipped. None of them used heirlooms, to my surprise. So I was looking forward to have some fun. Unfortunately I wasn't able to build any reasonable amount of combo points here, either. Everything died too fast; including the bosses!

Now, that cannot be the designers' intent. Can it? It seems like Blizzard considers it a minor problem and it took them several days to even make the first constructive comment on the topic. It is the comment quoted above. Was there so much need to coordinate internally before a statement could be made? Did none of the developers feel offended that his careful low-level balance was criticized?

Can it be that Blizzard decided to make a whole expansion about low-level content to attract new players and at the same time planned to not care much about the numbers at low-level? Is Blizzard a victim of the illusion that you can make things ever more trivial and it will actually feel ever more fun? Can it be that rated-BGs are the main PvP focus of World of Warcraft (something I approve a lot), but level 1-84 BGs will be about one-shoting and who first got to chain his one to three abilities of 'ultimate death' ?

Strange Mathematics

And there is even more reason to worry. Let us have a look at this sentence from the above quote:
It doesn't help to nerf say rogue damage by 5% from level 1-60 if we then find we also need to nerf it at level 85 and then buff the 1-60 numbers to compensate.

Does anybody understand the way Blizzard determines the numbers?
In WoW, the damage of a low level ability (or any ability for that matter) usually consists of some fixed damage and some scaling damage.

Mangle, for example, works like this:
Mangle the target for 230% normal damage plus X and causes the target to take 30% additional damage from bleed effects for 60 seconds. Awards 1 combo point.

The "normal damage" is the auto attack damage that is determined by a level-dependend fixed value and some scaling with attack power. Attack power then is two times agility plus a fixed value.

Now, that is certainly no rocket science. If I worked at Blizzard I'd solve the problem like this.

1) Define a bracket of how long combat against one mob should take. For example 10-20 seconds.
2) Determine the abilities a player of each specc is going to use when he attacks a mob and in which sequence. Do this for every level. You can use a trainee to do this.
3) Use Excel, Mathematica, or similar software to automatically calculate the level-dependent fixed damage (i.e. X) of each ability to fulfill your requirement (1). Calculate a top-geared char and a low-end char. Make sure the scaling is appropiate to still fulfill requirement (1).
4) Iterate.

Originally, WoW was designed around players having about as much health as mobs. This way, PvP combat would automatically take approximately as long as PvE combat vs. leveling mobs. The PvE mobs just did slightly lower dmg than players and did not have any sophisticated abilities. Therefore PvP combat took longer.

Some remains of that system still exist. Unless you twink your char, you will have about as much health as the mobs you fight. Over the years, and especially with Patch 4.01, however, your damage has been raised dramatically.

Let me finish with this:
There are some players (and it seems, developers) that consider the game to be better the faster it is. Like: "It was so much fun to rush through the mobs after I twinked my char. Let us make everyone rush through the mobs while leveling."

This is the fun fallacy. Fun is not an inherent property of an isolated activity.

If ever faster leveling was indeed fun, we should make us level up with each mob we kill. The reason it was fun to rush through the mobs with a twinked char was not due to an inherent fun factor. It was due to the contrast to 'normal' leveling and the illusion of power that resulted from one's own effort. If you remove 'normal leveling' for new players, they will not have this comparison and just look at the negative aspects: The fact that they have several bars of abilities, but only ever use a handful of them. That is not fun. In fact, it is a sign of lacking quality.


  1. The situation you describe sounds worrying to be honest.

    I really think it's a good change to let players get access to more "fun" and class/spec specific stuff at a lower level, such as the water element for mages. Or letting hunters get pets right away, not letting them turn into melee hunters. So I really support the "more and more fun abilities available" idea. Let people learn to play their classes as they level, not when they reach end game!

    However, this doesn't mean that you should make the characters OP, trivilizing the content to the extent that you don't have any reason to use those features, as in your example with the combo point. That's just depressing.

    I really hope that what we're seeing is a premature version and that balance will be restored once again. But as you say, maybe we're seeing a shift in philosophy and I don't know if it's a good one.

  2. I heard that they intend to increase low-level mob health across the board, hopefully that will help some.

    I did some low level PvP for the G.N.E.R.D. rage achievement the other night and it was truly shocking. I got into a WSG where 15 out of 20 players were rogues, and they each could pretty much one-shot another player of the same level with an ambush. So we spent the whole game with someone from either side trying to pick up the flag and then getting one-shot instantly, while the two healers cried in a corner because they couldn't help anyone. It was truly ridiculous.

  3. @ Shintar:

    That is the kind of "solution" I fear, because it will not help with low-level BGs one bit.

    Will they really allow one-shoting and dramatic imbalances in low-level BGs while introducing an expansion that focuses on low-level content and rated BGs ?

  4. I don't think right now is the best time to draw conclusions for the future numbers. the game is utterly out of balance since the patch. I was actually laughing my ass off last night, because I got oneshot by a retridin in WSG on my lvl 76 shaman. after 5 years of PVPing this is the first time I got oneshot by another player, that is how bad things are at the moment...

    I have high hopes that they will fix this though - or rather, I cannot see them not fixing it. DPS is overpowered all across the board at the moment. they've also announced they want mobs to become harder again in Cata and raids to feel more 'epic' again, so I hope they hold to that..
    they also have arenas and rated BGs to consider for Cata, so from that PoV they will have to look into doing a better job on re-balancing the classes.

    As for the lowlevels and leveling up: I agree it should never become a rush through. you miss so much of the game if the max level is all that matters. but they have continually made leveling up faster and simpler since TBC, so I can see them continue that trend. it's sad because in a way they are undermining their own game, all the lowbie zones and quests they designed and put so much work in in original wow. but if they can't care for their own work, well then I won't care either. I'm just glad I played this game from the very beginning.

  5. There was a revealing interview some time ago. here.

    We also adjust our leveling curve on a pretty regular basis and say, "OK. What is the right amount of time it takes you to go from beginning to end?" We have said that one of our philosophies is the amount of time that it took for you to get from 1 to 60, that is how much time we want it to take. And it doesn't matter whether it is 60 levels or 85 levels. We want it to be the same amount of time. So we have actually made it easier for you to level as time goes on and made the leveling experience faster.

    I think this is really where I disagree with Blizzard. Fundamentally. In my opinin there is a perfect leveling speed - not a perfect time until max level.

    Perfect leveling speed means that enchantments make sense, for example. It means that the majority of content is being consumed by the player and that he knows enough about the lore of the place.

    This relentless focus on the endgame comes probably from the fact that most influential people at Blizzard are endgame raiders or have been endgame raiders during EQ.

    For some reason they think that endgame raiding was the cause for WoW's success. Somehow they ignore the fact that WoW grew fastest while only an insignificant minority raided endgame content.

  6. Most importantly, of course, the act of leveling itself must be fun indepently from the endgame, because new players do not join WoW to raid. How could they? They have not the slightest idea what raiding is.

  7. I totally agree, more time and consideration should be given to the leveling portion of the game and we should not be seeing the OP damage that we currently are. Fights should last longer, for sure. I am leveling a Feral Druid right now too (30 atm) and there's no time for my finisher. Not that it would matter, the finisher is a DoT, and I'm killing everything in 2-3 seconds as you say.

    If Blizzard is intent on making leveling faster each expansion, then perhaps one solution could be to increase the difficulty & length of a single fight but grant more experience. I want longer and tougher fights, to use all my abilities and learn my class. Greater XP per mob and quest, etc would help keep the game flowing and give us a challenge we want. Just a thought.

  8. Gronthe,

    that is exactly what I am thinking. Faster leveling wouldn't even be that bad, if they didn't make the individual fights boring to achieve it.