Specializations and Balance in sPvP

I’d like to welcome back Poliator for another sPvP-based post, this time dealing with specializations.


In this article, I’m going to talk about specializations and balance. Specializations will bring fresh, new build testing, but before this can happen ANet has to be aware of the potential balance problems this might create in sPvP.

Specializations: Variety is on the way

For those who don’t know what specializations are yet, here’s a quick rundown.

A specialization will be something like a “subclass.” Imagine being a Warrior, with some Thief mechanics, for example. Every profession will have its own specialization coming in Heart of Thorns. Each specialization makes available a new weapon the class couldn’t use before, but only when they are specialized.

Specializations will also include a new set of utilities, elites and heal skills and new traits.

Quick speculation: there will be one whole new trait line replacing the profession-mechanic trait line; think about the Trickery trait line from Thief being replaced for one that, instead of focusing on increasing Steal power, focused on the generation of more initiative: you dodge a skill? There you have one initiative, or you get hit while stealthed? One more initiative for you.

The sPvP Potential of Specializations

Let’s explore first the good things specializations can bring to sPvP.

More build experimentation and variety

New utilities, new elites, new traits, et cetera, bring a whole new meaning to how we can build professions. Previously unviable builds may now be viable.

For example, let’s say the Axe/Dagger – Dagger/Warhorn weapon sets were not viable for Powermancer. The new profession mechanic and traits can bring those power weapon sets to competitive play. Remember that specializations allow you to use a new weapon, but it does not require you to use it.

This opens up build testing once again, possibly adding more build variety than there is now.

Conquest and Stronghold will be affected differently

If specializations weren’t added by the expansion, these two game modes would still have different builds because of the map mechanics. But specializations will open up even more viable builds, and more importantly, might bring to an end the stalemate builds we have in Conquest right now (especially with the new condition and boon coming with the expansion, too).

However, this brings out the main problem with specializations: Balancing.

A Quick Aside: Build Templates.

Before going deeper on what problems specializations have to overcome, I want to highlight one thing ArenaNet should add to the game to make player’s life easier: Build Templates.*

*This is even more needed if they are really trying to merge queues. Putting Conquest and Stronghold, such different game modes, in the same queue without a quick system to swap builds is an error in my opinion.

Wait… what did I say? Templates? Oh right, build templates, we need them!

Specializations are adding more things to choose from to form your build. Doing it by hand before every match starts can be hard. You have only 2 minutes before the match starts to choose to change your build or not.

For example, you are a Guardian, but you can choose between DPS Guardian if your team needs damage or Bunker Guardian if your team is squishy or can’t hold points efficiently. The builds are very different and it takes time to change between them manually.

Moreover, with the specialization coming, everyone will want to test builds and weapon sets, so it would be so much easier to do if we had a build template to save the builds that worked better for future games or tweaking.

So Build Templates give us, basically, a quick swap between builds when we are talking to our team, figuring out the initial split and, in some way, everyone’s role*.

*If you don’t do it already, start making a plan with your team before the match starts. This is crucial for the game, even moreso if you are queueing Solo! It gives your team a strategy to work on, agreed by everyone. Not every match will be helped, but it’s better to do it than not!

But unfortunately, they are not coming with the expansion. But Colin already said that when Build Templates come it will be a huge and complete feature.

The Balancing Twist

Coming back to the specializations topic, there are two things that ANet has to be careful to plan for or avoid.

Balancing Overall

We know that Guild Wars 2 doesn’t get class balancing patches very often (every 6 months usually?), so adding specializations will bring a whole new ground to balance the game.

Moreover, they have to balance for two game modes where different builds will have more power than others. They can balance the stronger builds of every game mode, but they’ll eventually kill the build variety of the other mode due to overlap.

This is unfair to both modes because they have different mechanics to play them. “Side-nerfing” X build is not necessarily the correct thing to do.

Stronghold and Conquest will be different game modes with different builds; it will be hard to balance one mode without affecting the other one.

Specializations cannot be outright better

Specializations must not be way superior to the current professions’ mechanics. At minimum, this is to preserve current builds and empower build variety.

If the new profession mechanics, skills or traits are more powerful than current professions it won’t offer any good to sPvP, it’ll only kill build variety.

This is a must because not everyone will have access to specializations, only expansion buyers. Therefore, if a specialization is so powerful that it kills the original profession, it will be unfair for those players without the expansion.

Instead, there should at least be one build of the original profession that is viable and a new one that the specialization brings. This way, you have a good build to play the original profession – if you don’t have the expansion – or you can elect between original and specialization – if you do.

The importance of separating balance

The solution to both potential problems would be to separate balance. Right now, it feels like the balancing team is constricted by the “order” that they must balance for PvE and PvP at the same time. They can’t change something that would be really helpful for one game type, but would be disastrous for the other.

Separating balance will make balancing easier and allow a faster “response time” to Over Powered things in the meta. I repeat, 6 months between balance patches is not a good time response, even 4 months is too long.

Right now, PvE and PvP balancing are in the same boat. There are only a few differences from PvE to PvP (like one second more on the Revealed Debuff, some coefficient changes with Confusion) and it limits the potential of changes.

For example, in the balance patch on the 27th of January, we had the might change that affected both modes. While the might nerf was needed for PvP (Celestial Meta… you all know what I’m talking about), it did hurt the PvE side, something that should have not happened. Nerfing might in PvE doesn’t stop the zerker/stacking meta, it just makes everything to take a little longer. All it does is steal time from players.

Separating balance would come with some pros and cons:

Pros

More freedom in balancing

You don’t have to worry about how it’d affect the other game type, because it would be balanced within its own requirements.

We have some “sparks” of these different balances, for example buffing Confusion damage by 33% in PvE only. In my opinion, this would be the way to go for the entire game.

It would allow balancing out overpowered things

The article Tacktix made about sPvP balance would become easy to do if this separation occurred! ArenaNet can focus on the current meta scene and make the short, mid and long-term change according to only the PvP needs in order for it to not become stale (Celestial Meta for over a year anyone?).

Cons

Requires more than one balancing mentality

Right now, the Balancing Team has to think how they can balance the game in a way that the changes don’t affect excessively one game type or the other.

However, if balance is separated, the balance team would need to specialize in each game type. That is, the PvE balancing team should have to be experts in that game type, knowing the meta they have to balance, hearing specific feedback of that meta, why it is bad, good, et cetera.

The same goes for the PvP balancing team, they should be experts on the mechanics of every game mode, watch competitive tournaments, analyse the meta compositions, what is good, what is bad, et cetera.

But with this change they can move from the one balancing mentality and start thinking differently for every different game type; exchanging more human resources for a more precise balancing of each game type, something that I would find wonderful for the long-term balance.

Separated balance could confuse players

We also need to think about the players. If separated balance were a thing, there would be many things that would be different between game types, therefore causing some “Confusion” for new players that would have to re-learn some of the skills and traits about their own class and others.

In the end, I can only think that separating balance between PvE and PvP will be a good change to the game in the mid-long term, as developers get used to the freedom it would create.

It’d be difficult for new players coming to sPvP, totally understandable, but having greater balancing flexibility and faster reaction time is so much worth the change. At the least, it would increase the health of the sPvP part of the game.

Conclusion

Specializations will bring a breath of fresh air to build testing and variety in sPvP. However, this must come along with some balance changes: meticulous balance when specializations go live and switching to more frequent and reactive balance would be an easier thing to do if PvP balance was separated from PvE balance.

Lastly, build Templates would be a really good thing to have shortly after specializations are released, because it would make life much easier for testing and crafting builds. This is even more needed if queues of Conquest and Stronghold are merged; different game modes require a quick system to swap builds.

P.S.: I did read the little feedback on my last article; I’ll try to answer this time to any comments.

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