Balancing Act

By Lewis Burnell -
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Sometimes there’s a need to be pissed at the community you are part of and this week, WildStar is bearing the brunt of my aggression in my first Persistent Worlds column. Admittedly the issue I want to discuss isn’t limited to WildStar and to be fair to the game and its community, it’s a problem that has plagued the entire genre for many years. The topic in question is “balance” and (seemingly) how every player within massively multiplayer games complains about it. What frustrates me so much about this issue is that the obvious is never taken into consideration and the players reacting so fiercely to their class being ‘underpowered’ or others being ‘overpowered’ never look at the variables involved.

First things first: perfect balance in a game where there are a multitude of skills, items and individual player talent is near impossible. WildStar is in its infancy by gaming standards and I must admit has good balance for a game that has just recently launched. I’m sure many players (typically those that love to complain about balance) will balk at that suggestion but there has only really been a few things to complain about since its release. Certain shields that provide too much protection or certain weapon attachments that snare too much are obvious choices while a handful of skills and rotations are perhaps a little too powerful. Yet despite that, the community is still up in arms about a variety of issues.

The main issue at the moment in the WildStar community (or one of them) is arena matches and the fact that the Spellslinger and Warrior combinations are overpowered. What royally pisses me off about this statement is that it’s so inherently flawed. As an individual who plays a Spellslinger (and no I’m not protecting my own interests) I am fully aware of the flaws and potential of the class. Spellslingers hit hard but can be tunneled so easily that if focused, we can be wiped out in seconds. 

Fortunately for my partner and I it places us at a significant advantage and as a result, we’ve had great success against the pairing. Our tactic is for my partner (the Esper) to charge in early and absorb the attention of the Spellslinger and Warrior we’re facing. At that point I’ll sit at the back and unload my skills until attention is drawn back onto me. If attention does come my way I’ll retreat and allow my partner to beat on the opposing Spellslinger. By fight standards it’s actually a really simple tactic as we work on the basis on forcing the Spellslinger we’re fighting into the Void so that when he or she comes out, we can nuke the individual down.

The fact that this tactic works isn’t indicative of the pairing of Spellslinger and Warrior being balanced but is indicative of the fact it’s easily beaten. That’s where a discussion balance tends to collapse as it could simply be a case that we’re better, at an individual skill level, than our opponents. Unfortunately the nature of massively multiplayer games dictates that we’ll never know the answer. If we were to lose against such a pairing, are they overpowered? I really don’t know.

A slipup from me against such opponents will likely spell our doom and if at any point our opposition were to tunnel me we’d be in serious trouble. This merry-go-round of theorycrafting rotations, builds and opposition habits will go on forever and while developers (certainly in Carbines case) will endeavour to ensure there’s a level playing field, skill will always be the cat amongst the pigeons.

Only yesterday did my arena partner and I go against a Stalker and Spellslinger combo that demolished us. Despite that, you’d be amazed to read that the Stalker, according to the community, is underpowered and a terrible class. Is that why in the right hands it was one-shotting my Esper friend and in two hits more than capable of deleting me from the map?That alone, I believe, debunks the myth that the Stalker is awful and instead turns the argument on its head. Perhaps it’s simply the case that as a popular class the vast majority are simply poor at understanding its utility and viability.

If one player (or a couple as was the case in my recent arena encounters) is more than able to reach the classes potential it highlights the strength available. If everyone else is incapable it highlights a difficult skill cap but enforces the fact that the heights of a class aren’t always easily achieved.

 

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About The Author

Lewis "PersistentWorld" Burnell
The only game to have distracted Lewis away from MMOG's over the last 15 years was Pokemon Red. Despite that blip, Lewis has worked his way through countless games in the genre in search of something that comes close to his much loved (and long time dead) Neocron. Having written for several gaming networks before Ten Ton Hammer, Lewis likes to think he knows a thing or two about what makes an MMOG and its player-base tick.

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