Is Balanced Worth Boring?

WoW PvP

A reminder to all that WoW's colour palette should probably be avoided by those with epilepsy

Although it’s early days with SW:TOR and I’m still somewhat off to the level cap, I’m an avid PvPer and queue for Warzones almost constantly when I play it (they’re a lot of fun). Taking a breather and switching back to WoW Battlegrounds for a few days though highlighted something I always suspected: it’s ridiculously unbalanced compared to The Old Republic.

It’s no surprise really. SW:TOR is a new game and designed from the ground up to cater to both PvE and PvP and, whilst I’m sure there will be balance issues of some sort (it’s unavoidable really), the PvP is a lot less frustrating than, say, WoW and none of the classes seem to stand out as being ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than any of the others. At least not yet. Of course, it’s not perfect and you still have to deal with the issues of level divides and gear progression but, unless you play PvP specific MMO like League of Legends, I’m not sure it’s ever going to be possible to solve those problems.

Also, whilst balance is certainly a consideration in PvE, I’m focusing on the PvP front here because I think that’s when unbalanced class and gameplay mechanics truly become noticeable (at least for me). Maybe it’s just my preferred playstyle but I find performing X% less on a DPS chart in a group or raid far less frustrating than getting my face rolled by an opposing class over and over again. PvE is also easier for the developers to sort out because you’re fighting against a controlled enemy in a, more or less, controlled environment. Not to mention that some abilities are naturally perfectly suitable for PvE, especially when combined with long cooldowns, but suddenly become hugely overpowered in a PvP setting.

BioWare took all of this into consideration when designing SW:TOR and made all of the classes, and both of the factions, as equal as possible. Republic and Empire sport the exact same classes, mirrors of each other, and all seem to get a pretty similar set of crowd control abilities and an early action to break them. Likewise, there are no hugely powerful killer abilities on long cooldowns, there aren’t a lot of mobility options, you can’t use mounts and there are gameplay effects in place to limit CC potential. And whilst this makes PvP in SW:TOR a lot more balanced than in WoW, I also think it makes the game a tad boring as a result.

Warhammer Online and Everquest 2 are another couple of good examples of this in where the former had a lot better balanced PvP mechanics than the latter but ultimately, I felt, was kinda boring due to it. WAR lacked the really iconic and crazy class abilities that a game like Everquest 2 had and tried so hard to make player combat as frustration free as possible but squeezed the life out of the game in the process. Of course, I never was on the receiving end of a Shadowknight’s Harmtouch or a Brigand’s stun lock in EQ2 but, hell, at least it made open world PvP a diverse blast. All classes were unique, many feared, and the iconic divide between good and evil, represented by classes like the Paladin and Shadowknight, just wouldn’t have been the same had they been mirrors of each other.

I suppose if we accept the fact that it may be impossible to balance PvP in a PvE game without sacrificing some creativity, then we just have to decide whether or not it’s actually important. Is it better to have a game that’s well balanced and potentially be more boring as a result? Or should we stop trying to obtain the unachievable balanced perfection and just focus on classes and game mechanics that are unique, diverse and fun instead? Personally, I’d go for the latter option. What about you?

-Gordon

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19 Comments

  1. pitrelli says:

    The last time I ‘enjoyed’ WoW PvP was in vanilla with the old open world PvP battles at hillsbrad. The birth of e-sport PvP like battlegrounds and area soon killed it all off though and brought with it the need for more balance. In wow you have more a rock, scissors, paper style of balancing with regards to certain classes rather than all being on equal ground.

    • Gordon says:

      I don’t mind rock, paper, scissors balancing if it’s actually implemented properly. Right now in WoW PvP, they are trying to make every class balanced and it’s not really working so I kinda wish they’d just give up and let everyone go crazy :P

  2. Xintia says:

    Balance in PvP is an admirable goal, but as you mention, it is ultimately unachievable, and frankly, most players actually don’t WANT PvP to be balanced in an MMO. People complain a class is broken when it can beat THEM. People complain an ability is overpowered when someone uses it against THEM. People complain that gear is too easy to get AFTER they have obtained it in order to prevent others from doing so. It isn’t about the overall balance of the system, it is about their ability to take advantage of the flaws in the system and prevent others from doing so.

    Are there PvP’ers outside this “mold?” Absolutely, and I am sure I will hear it from them for my generalizations in this comment. But unfortunately the vast majority of players who PvP in an MMO just want to “pwn,” and they don’t care how so long as the system works for THEM.

    • Gordon says:

      I’ve never been a fan of gear strength in PvP but then it’s very hard to avoid. I remember basically having to flee from certain guilds in EQ2 because you literally had no hope of winning against them as they were equipped with the most elite raid gear that we couldn’t obtain.

  3. Nils says:

    In my opinion, developers should try and make PvP more strategic; meaning that it is balanced at a higher level. This creates room for the immediate PvP to a be a bit unbalanced – and this is very useful to make the game more interesting and engaging as you point out.

  4. Azuriel says:

    By most accounts, the Sith Inquisitor (and presumably Jedi Consular) are overpowered. And I absolutely recall the Bright Wizard in Warhammer being ridiculously OP, at least during the first month of play.

    That aside, I would suggest that “boring” has less to do with balance than it has to do with only having four classes; the skill-cap in SWTOR is automatically lower as a result. In WoW PvP for example, a person who takes the time to understand how other classes work (cooldowns, weaknesses, etc) would have an advantage over someone who only knows their own class works. The risk is that more classes means more chances to be OP, and it definitely sucks encountering, say, a Frost mage and having zero chance of success 1v1.

    That being said, faction-specific classes never seems to work out (paladins vs shaman pre-TBC) balance-wise, so perhaps SWTOR took the logical route. I just hope they plan on expanding the number of classes later on. Or… maybe they can’t, given the voice-over required?

    • Tremayne says:

      Except that TOR doesn’t actually have four classes, it has eight (with four class stories, but that’s not really relevant to PvP). The advanced classes play very differently from each other in most cases – my Sith Assassin plays like an enhancement shaman with stealth, while the Sorcerer (the other Sith Inqwuisitor advanced class) is the standard cloth-wearing caster. Likewise an Imperial Agent can go Sniper (Hunter without the pet) or Operative (stealth, close combat and healing) – again, same base class but two very different advanced classes.

      So TOR has as many classes available per side as WoW did at launch. There definitely is less variability in PvP though – and I think that’s because the classes were built with PvP against each other in mind. Everyone has at least one or two CC tricks, everyone has a CC breaker, the melee fighters all have some sort of range closer and ranged options, so the end result is a lot less rock/scissors/paper than vanilla WoW was.

    • Gordon says:

      I doubt we’ll see new classes in SW:TOR for a long, long time to come.

  5. bhagpuss says:

    I loathe balance. Pointless waste of time and effort. Can you imagine the development time that’s been wasted over the years trying to saw the legs off that table?

    Ridiculous extremes have to be corrected, of course. When Healers in DAOC could lock down entire raids with such ruthless efficiency that each individual could be selected and picked off while dozens of others could do nothing but watch in frustration, that had to be addressed. Stuff like that is rare, though.

    Provided most classes are there-and-thereabouts it’s totally unnecessary to balance beyond “roughly okay”. If that means a few classes become popular and a few others unpopular, so what? There is nothing wrong with people picking favorites and nothing wrong with finding out your choices come with downsides.

    I would take unbalanced but interesting over balanced but boring any time, even if it turned out that due to my own lack of foresight I ended up playing a disadvantaged class.

    • Azuriel says:

      [...] even if it turned out that due to my own lack of foresight I ended up playing a disadvantaged class.

      Oh? So you’re not too concerned about grouping or PvP in MMOs?

      I still remember the TBC days of groups “LF1M DPS MgT” but turning away warriors and Ret paladins because they had no useful CC. I still remember raids taking 5-6 shaman for rolling Heroism/Bloodlust. I still remember wanting only 1 mage for biscuits and a debuff, and otherwise stacking warlocks who had way better DPS. I remember running dungeons as a paladin tank before they were 5m gods, knowing all the while that everyone wished I had been a “real tank” (aka warrior).

      Any game where you can lose on the character select screen is not worth playing.

      • Sylow says:

        -”Any game where you can lose on the character select screen is not worth playing.”

        The most true statement of all this thread and discussion.

        • Fumbles says:

          This is why MMO’s are stuck going in the direction Gordon writes about. If you know what role you want to play you should take the time to pick the class that compliments your play style.

          Don’t roll a Cleric and expect to be high DPS, don’t roll a rogue and expect to heal, don’t roll a caster and expect to go toe to toe in melee range.

          In EQ early days if you planned to play solo a lot, there were limited classes to look at, new games nowadays all classes can solo to level cap. I feel this is a step backwards and reduces the social glue of MMO’s which in turn lessens the life of games. No MMO in the past few years has held long term appeal for me beyond a couple months.

          • Sylow says:

            In return, i could ask why to have more than 3 classes (1 tank, one healer, one DD) in any game any more, if there is to be one perfect class for each role and everything else is to be considered secondary?

            Examples:
            Anarchy Online. 12 classes. 2 of them “real” tanks, two more “optional tanks”, which were used for tanking when the “real” ones were not available. The medic als “full” healer, but several other alternatives available. And several classes dedicated for damage. Luckily for the game, the tank classes were exchangeable as were the healers up to some degree.

            Warhammer Online. Each side has 3 tanks, 3 melee DDs, 3 ranged DDs, 3 healers. Picking the most obvious negative example here, physical ranged DDs were the only kind of DD not able to pass/penetrate armour. While having absolutely great style, the affected classes were rarely played, so perhaps the effort to implement them at all would’ve been invested better in another place?

            My point of view, still sticking to this example, is that no matter if you want to deliver your ranged damage by throwing spells at the enemy, shooting arrows or hurling grenades and firing your blunderbuss, each ranged class should be viable. Playing styles (quick fire vs. slower abilities with higher punch) may vary, but each class needs to be useful, else it’d be better not to implement it at all.

      • Gordon says:

        “Any game where you can lose on the character select screen is not worth playing.”

        I think it really depends on the people you play with and the difficulty of the challenges in the game. I don’t think any class should be terrible but getting passed over because another class does a few more percent of DPS than yours is really a problem with the player base more than anything else.

    • Gordon says:

      Completely agree. And all that happens if that classes ping pong between being the most overpowered – as soon as one gets nerfed, another rises to take it’s best as the ‘best’.

  6. Simon Jones who is blogless says:

    Yes, imbalance is fun. Destroying foes who barely stand a chance against you is always fun. Being the biggest badass on the block is awesome. Getting morally superior and pretending you chose this character because you liked the playstyle because that’s why everyone picks the OP class of the month? That’s great fun as well.

    It’s when you’re on the other end of the scale that it becomes like eating a big warm bowl of poop. And someone always has to be on the other end of that scale. You’re going to be left out because any time someone needs a group to do something? They’re going to pick the guys who are good at that thing.

  7. Overflow says:

    Class diversity is the antithesis of balance, and therefore is in direct conflict with endgame focus in the majority of current MMOs. A game focused on raiding needs balanced classes so that a Warlock isn’t a more viable DPSer than a Mage, or so that a Warrior isn’t always the best tanking option, etc. In a worst case scenario, a raid-focused game without balance could have a hybrid class that was the best tank, dps and healer. Even if that game had 30 classes, the diversity – in population, not choice – would be severely limited because raiders want the most efficient method of progression and running six (boring as it may be) of the same class would be the norm if it was the most efficient path to victory. Worth noting, I think that game would die fast.

    A PvP focused endgame is similar to a raiding one in that it requires balanced classes for the end result to be more diverse. The coolest class ever IMO may be the Sushi Chef, dual wielding a butchers clever and a live salmon, but if I get destroyed by every class in the game (due to class weakness, not my poor PvP skills), I won’t be able to stick with it for long.

    Then there’s the question of 1v1 balance vs group balance. Perhaps my Sushi Chef is aweful at 1v1 but is the best DPS available with group help, is that balanced? I’d say yes. Others may say no, but at least the class has a role, some roll. Throw all balance out the window and if the Sushi Chef sucks at 1v1 and is worst group damage, they’ll be played by very, very few people.

    All of the above is assuming a competitive system of progression with dps meters, gear treadmills, rated pvp or other systems of measure. Any game with any focus on rewarding endgame performance with items or skills to enhance endgame performance will suffer without balance.

    Now, the opposite to what I’ve detailed above is a game that doesn’t reward anything related to the actual performance of the endgame activity – meaning no gear treadmill, no pvp rating, etc. I’m not saying it couldn’t have gear, it just wouldn’t be on a performance treadmill and instead would be crafted or random world drop or economy based. How do you make a game, which lacks a measurable competitive activity, fun? I know people did enjoy open PvP in WoW before any “pvp system” was implemented, but for how long would that keep their attention? How long would they continue playing compared to those that played for years while raiding and doing arena?

    This is all considered apart from simply enjoying the leveling game. Perhaps a game could focus on the leveling game (and not worry about balance across classes as long as each class can level somewhat efficiently) by allowing something like the SWTOR legacy system from the onset. It could have something like an exponential experience boost based on the amount of alts somebody has within a certain level range. Something like 1.5x exp for leveling two chars within 5 levels of each other, 2.0x exp for leveling three chars within 5 levels of each other, etc. That would really push focus to the leveling and alt game, but then what happens at end game? What happens without balance? Do people just quit after leveling all those alts?

    I honestly don’t see an alternative to games with limited but balanced classes. Then again, DAoC had a ton of classes and had plenty of players bitching about their weak or useless class, but most people seem to hold the game (myself included) in high esteem – even if it is through rose colored glasses, so maybe I’m just way off base and the fun in class diversity is enough to trump the need for the most efficient method of competing (raiding or pvp).

    • Gordon says:

      Personally I think there’s two types of balanced – there’s making sure no class is massively weaker than another and then there’s trying to make every one completely equal. The first is relatively easy to do but the latter is incredibly hard.

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