Class Balance: Why it's not working
This is something that has really bugged me since day one of the release of World of Warcraft, “Why do the classes have to be balanced so closely?” To me, by making all of the classes the same and capable of surviving on their own in both PvE and PvP we actually lose a bit of the fun and creativity that would otherwise be possible in the game. When you play sports, is it unfair of the other team has better players? What would the advantages be for ignoring balance just a bit in a game and could it lead to a better game?
World of Warcraft Class Balance and why it's not working
The whole balance thing has always been a bit odd to me and has annoyed me for years. The issue is that balance the way it is handled in WoW just doesn’t feel right. I am not arguing for the removal of the ability of a class to kill another class, I am arguing for the feel to be right.
Consider these two examples:
A Warrior is first to spot a Mage far away in the distance and begins his approach. The Mage counters his charge by casting Slow and follows up with a barrage of high damage ranged spells. The Warrior takes hit after hit and absorbs the damage while avoiding any fatal wounds. The Mage keeps the Warrior at a distance, successfully kiting him and dealing damage while he tries to close the distance. Eventually, the Mage runs out of room and the Warrior corners him, hitting him with a stun following it up with a daze to keep him from gaining any range, leaving him no time to recover before being slain.
Alternatively the Mage is the one that spots the warrior from a distance and has a chance to prepare and start the opening salvo of spells. By the time the Warrior is hit by the first long cast time spell, the second is already on the way, followed by a slow and then another big hitting spell that kills the Warrior.
As you can see both classes could win the fight, however they do so in different ways and quickly once they get their way. If you watch or play any of the PVP aspects of WoW you see pretty quickly how silly the balance is. You’ll find Warriors that beat on cloth wearing enemies for minutes before they die. Mages casting spells against attackers that do not have magic yet not being able to kill them. Maybe even worse, every class seemingly able to heal themselves at will.
As I have said this always bugged me, but I never quite saw how to fix it. Then I saw something that I really liked (at least initially when I played it for the 2-3 months after release) in how the game Rift looked at balance. Their statement was that it was not needed and should never be a concern. This was a ton of fun and made the game very interesting, even if you had to take some time to adjust to it, especially in PVP.
For example, healers were easy to kill, especially in PVP. The same with caster DPS, or even rogue DPS compared to plate DPS. Sure casters and rogues had lots of escapes, but if they ever got caught flat footed, they died, fast. Where a plate wearer would last for a long time when being focused down, a caster or rogue would die in seconds. This meant that battlegrounds were truly entertaining as teams had to be formed to both attack, and to protect the healers and ranged DPS, if you didn’t do this your team lost.
The same applied in PVE. A plate wearer could be a little less cautious about AOE effects in a fight or accidentally pulling agro. Sure they did less DPS to compensate for being able to suffer more damage, but if they got hit they survived. Healers, casters, and rogues had to watch for AOE or agro or die almost instantly. Their reward was much higher DPS and huge healing potential.
This setup feels much better and has a more natural flow to it once you got used to it. It made me realize that having no balance is truly the way to go. It provides variety, fun, and excitement and doesn’t turn games into wars of attrition.
The current balance system just seems like a lazy option as it is easier to make things the same than different. Since every class currently does about the same damage no matter if they are ranged, caster, or melee, or if they wear cloth, leather, mail, or plate it just means everyone is the same. High amounts of hit points and tons of Resilience doesn’t help the problem either.
To me this stifles both the creativity of the designers and the players. It limits the creativity of the designers by limiting options so that things are the same in both character abilities and in fight mechanics so that everything can be done with each class. Unique gimmicks become alternate methods of doing the same thing which makes all of the classes turn into a homogeneous gel. Player wise is stifles creativity since there will always be pretty much one way to solve a problem or defeat a boss since the designers are limited by making everything killable by everyone.
Arguments against getting rid of class balance in World of Warcraft
There are two main arguments I hear every time I discuss balance as a non-issue in WoW and they are as follows.
- Do you really want to be kicked from a fight because your class isn’t the best in that fight, or your tank is not the best at that fight?
- If every class can not win in a 1 on 1 straight up fight then people will only play the classes that can.
To answer the first question, I say that it happens anyway, think about it, since almost everyone is the same, that 1-2% difference matters a whole lot.
You see this in many groups, raids, and guilds. Those classes that can do just a little more damage are preferred in the raid. This changes each and every patch and so does the preferred raid makeup. It’s happening over small percentages now anyway.
Also, the players that argue this are talking about it happening in raids. Hmmm, which raider do you know that only has 1 .. ok, argument settled.
The second argument is also invalid because not every class wins in a straight 1 on 1 fight now, some are better or worse. What I argue is that every class would be able to win but in a different way. If a Rogue gets a drop on you, you die. If a Mage has range on you, you die.
If each class had cool abilities that were powerful and fun they could win some fights all the time, while they would lose others all the time due to not matching up well. This would mean they had to work together with other classes that covered their weaknesses and work as a team or group. Imagine that, requiring people to work together and cover each other off in an MMO? Yet for some reason that is labelled crazy talk in WoW.
Final words on World of Warcraft Class Balance
As you can see I am not in fact arguing for a complete lack of balance but a better and different balance where more factors in. Taking damage, range, survivability, mobility, and more all into consideration and balancing it that way instead of just making everyone a clone of each other and saying “okay, now it is fair!” For example:
- Plate wearers doing a normal level of damage but having great survivability.
- Physical ranged doing normal damage, but with less survivability due to being able to do so from range.
- Rogues doing bigger damage (double normal?) with more control to counter being killed quickly if hit.
- Casters doing even bigger damage (triple normal) or healing, but being killed even easier if caught.
Currently the game seems balanced around only the damage potential of a class and survivability is hardly affected at all. This is just plain wrong. Cloth wears should die when looked at funny, leather wearers if hit more than one, etc.
So while I am saying get rid of balance, I am really saying get rid of damage focused balance. I am not saying remove balance all together, as no one wants one class that kills everything. What I want is everything to be considered and put towards a whole cost of the class.
So if each class was balanced around a total of 100 ability points it might look something like this:
- Warrior: 25 melee damage, 25 mobility, 50 survivability
- Rogue: 40 melee damage, 30 mobility (to include stealth), 30 survivability
- Mage: 50 casting damage, 35 mobility (to include slows on others and blink), 15 survivability
One of the key things that would help this is to stop focusing on PVP balance so much and allow the game to return to mainly being about PVE balance. If there are huge issues with that, then separate the balance. Have spells and abilities that work one way in PVE and a different way in PVP. The games are essentially different anyway with different concerns and balance points, let them be completely different and you remove the balance of one item screwing up the balance of the other. This actually may be a whole other article at some point in time, as it is a big consideration and something that could be worth considering in far more depth.
In conclusion, I believe that we should move away from the “give everyone tons of hit points and Resilience and make everyone even!” and more towards a system that is dynamic, unique, and fun that may give certain classes advantages over the others in certain situations. That way each match isn’t a war of attrition but instead of a fight to the death that requires skill and cunning in order to persevere. It’d also let the game become more fun as each class regains its identity and PvE doesn’t have to suffer as we normalize everyone for PvP.
What are your thoughts? Should everyone be normalized or should we let each class go its own way and throw PvP balance out of the window? Leave your comments below!