Anthem – Power Scaling

As a slight refresher, I really like numbers.  Enough to have been a very active theorycrafter.  Even have a page with some info on the concepts.

Anthem has many, many hiccups.  Hiccups that existed in other games prior, yet it would seem there are few lessons learned.  I think the combat mechanics (moment to moment stuff) is top notch, but the numbers that make the system run are simply broken.  And as I play more, I realize that they are not broken in a “this can be fixed rather simply” fashion, but there are some fundamentals that are going to take a long time to solve.

I’ve put my thoughts to digital paper on why inscriptions are broken, and what needs to be done to address it.  If the game was showering you with loot, then broken inscriptions would be somewhat more forgiving.  That’s not the case, and even on the hardest difficulty (GM3), the rate of legendary drops is close to 1 per 3 hours of gameplay.  When you realize that the majority of drops have no real value (more on that), you’re looking at a very long time between upgrades.  The stat weighting is so powerful, that god rolls make the rest of the items look like kids toys (e.g. a gun doing 400% more damage).

This is ignoring one particular item and that’s the Javelin power level – the number in the top right that I originally thought represented simply a summary of your overall gear components.  Which it does, but it also does much more.  Reference this Reddit post for some data from TemperHoof.

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Power Level is primarily used for calculating Ultimate damage.  That impacts pretty much everyone in the same manner, and since Ultimates are not exactly common (‘cept one particular Ranger build) it doesn’t have a large impact.  It also impacts melee damage – which is a massive boost to Interceptors (90% of their attacks are melee), and Colossus (the AE attacks get a baseline 50% boost), and some Ranger builds.

The game also has a generic multiplier on all damage abilities based on your Power Level (or rather, the average item level).  For full epic, that multiplier is around 1.5.  For full legendary that number is around 22.6. Math-wise, this is a 1500% increase. Why is this an issue?

First, the actual baseline stats on an item have less meaning. The power level difference between Epic (38), MW (61), and Legendary (75) are quite large.  The first jump is a 40% boost.  The second one is a 20% boost. While you may compare the stats on the face of an epic vs MW item, even if the epic has much better inscriptions, the MW weapon will be better in almost all cases.  Same with MW vs Legendary.

Second, all inscriptions except Javelin % damage are worthless compared to Power Level.  That means in 99% of cases, it’s better to equip a Legendary with garbage stats than a MW version with really great rolls.

Third, a bug in the game right now only calculated equipped slots.  The result of this bug is that if you have 1 Legendary, you will do more damage with just that item equipped than if you had that and 10 MW items in the other slots.  You’d be a glass cannon!  This should be fixed in 1.04.

Fourth, because there are no dependable methods to acquire legendary items, you are completely at the mercy of the RNG gods.  You are better off equipping pieces you don’t want (e.g. a skill/gun you don’t like) if it’s legendary, which makes for some really weird builds.  That reduces the overall fun factor.

Fifth, the loot drop changes in 1.03 made it so that legendary drops are much higher (comparatively) in GM3.  However, you need at least 3 legendary drops to even make a dent in anything in GM3.  This is the exact same problem D3 had at launch.

 

A Choice

I am of the opinion that this issue is fundamental, and therefore a very complicated matter to address.  Making any change to the basics of a model have long term consequences – managing that change takes time and smarts.  BioWare doesn’t have that much time (or doesn’t act like it does), and the fact that the issue exists in the first place shows that they are not overflowing in the smarts department.

The current foundation of the game makes Legendary items superior in 99% cases to everything else.  The same foundation says that Legendary acquisition is both entirely RNG, and further has such low odds of payout that you can go days/weeks without anything.

That really leaves 2 choices.  Either fix the foundational issues over months of effort, or increase the drop rate on legendaries.

The risk of the first one is prolonging a broken end game, and generally hamstringing money-making for months.  It wouldn’t be a relaunch, but a new end game loot/mechanic model would be about as close as you get.

The risk of the second one is that you’re setting expectations and cannot change it once set.  It effectively negates all other item values, and means that any additional items brought to the game start at legendary level.  People will simply consider legendary the default item level… and that makes GM1/GM2 ghost towns.  Even with crappy legendary rolls, GM3 is more than doable.

I am struggling to believe that BioWare didn’t see this coming a mile away.  I mean at the development level – the folks who play tested.  The last livestream had 2 people who clearly play the game, and it was obvious they knew the shortcomings.  There’s a bit of the “yeah we know, but…” that Wildstar had at launch.

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