One of the many things I enjoy discussing when it comes to massively multiplayer games is class balance. It's a topic of conversation that is ripe for discussion over a pint and a packet of crisps. Unfortunately and because we're on the internet, I'll have it here instead.
The recent bout of duels between #TeamFrost and #TeamPappy were fun to watch and while I felt neither duels were particularly fair or that either person excelled, there was quite an alarming amount of questions raised by fans of WildStar about the balance of the games classes. Notably, melee was announced the king of the game while ranged kicked to the curb as the ugly duckling.
What surprised me the most about this statement was that it is in direct contrast to much of the feedback coming out of the Beta. While no one is denying that melee classes have significant power (as do all archetypes in WildStar if played correctly) but their strength only lies in their ability to keep a player close, something that many skilled players simply don't allow.
If we're to analyse the video between Frost and Pappy, it's relatively evident that on no occasion did either player choose to fight fairly. First and foremost, they didn't use the in-built duel feature that WildStar has, which I find incredibly surprising. For anyone who doesn't know, WildStar's duel feature works very much like World of Warcraft's. You approach your opponent, ask for a duel and if they accept a flag descends onto the ground. A countdown from 3 will appear in your chat and the duel will then start, complete with a limited area which you can duel in (you'll be warned if leaving the duel area). Counting down, when Frost was purposefully hugging Pappy on every class he played was neither fair nor appropriate for a duel. In every encounter I've ever had in WildStar, there's an etiquette between players that revolves around providing a fair amount of space between each other. The flag descends and you back away, irrespective if you're melee or ranged.
The fact that Frost and Pappy (to some degree) did not provide ample space to one another put at least one of them at an immediate disadvantage. Considering the first match was also a Stalker versus Esper (with said stalker humping Pappy's leg) you're in for an immediate rude awakening the moment the duel starts. Lets not kid ourselves here, the Esper struggles for mobility and is caught instantly with a flurry of stuns and damage, without any opportunity to truly evade. Frost and Pappy then moved onto various other duels that encompassed the same issue of starting too closely or failing to load-out properly, in order to create distance. As a lover of the Medic (GO MEDIC!) I died a little inside when I watched the duel as it did nothing but make the class out to be a disaster, when it's actually incredibly strong in the right hands.
This brings me nicely onto the cooks of WildStar's balance and perception of balance. First and foremost, the number of variables in WildStar when considering class balance in duels is enormous:
- The AMP's both players have chosen.
- The Tiering of skills both players have chosen.
- Who is melee and who is ranged?
- What is each persons individual skill level?
- What skills have they chosen?
- Are those skills a good fit against the specific class they're fighting against?
- Do the AMP's and Skill Tier's they’ve chosen fit against the specific class they're fighting against?
- What is each classes “worth” from a dueling perspective? (Some classes will always duel better than others)
- The realization from a player that not all load-outs can always excel against anyone class due to the variables between points 1 and 8.
When reading through the player responses to the duels between Frost and Pappy, it didn't feel as though any of the above 9 points were considered. All that seemed to come to the fore was the fact that “melee was awesome and its range too long!” and “ranged was awful and too vulnerable to melee!”. I can honestly say having played the Spellslinger, Esper and Medic heavily throughout my time in Beta, not only do I feel significantly more powerful than any melee class I encounter, but when my loadout is designed to keep such melee players at bay, they're actually a little too easy to burn down. The caveat to this however, and coming back to point's 1 to 8, is that it does depend entirely on the person I'm fighting and their specific load-out.
Having fought Warriors and Stalkers that were built to keep you close, they proved to be a nightmare but one which wasn't impossible to overcome. A challenge – absolutely, but not once in all my time in WildStar have I ever felt inferior or at a disadvantage as a result of being X or Y archetype. In fact, I've never once felt aggrieved through any death in PvP as the deaths were always a result of my own failings.
That isn't to say there aren't inevitably going to be balance concerns in WildStar (the biggest issue at the moment for me are stuns, and stun immunity once you have been stunned once) but I feel these are only minor issues that can be easily tweaked. I guess what I'm trying to say is that not only is it too early to even begin to comment on WildStar's balance and “meta” but that the above 9 rules should be firmly engrained in your mind.
Not only do we all think we're the best PvPers on the planet, but we all hate losing. When we lose, rationality and the 9 rules go out the window in favour of searching for excuses as to why we lost and traditionally, blaming balance is often the easiest escape route for all of us. I know I'm certainly guilty of shouting “STUN IS BULLSHIT – FIX IT CARBINE!” before realizing I failed to press “F” quickly enough, followed by even quicker use of Urgency.
Sensible discussion about balance is incredibly important when it comes to a massively multiplayer game, especially one in its infancy such as WildStar, but a sense of perspective I feel is even more so.