Balance is Hard

There’s enough bad news on Blizz that I figure I can at least try to explain some of the more complex factors that are working against them from a design perspective. This one will be on the concept of class balance. I’m picking on Blizz (WoW) here because they are an edge case compared to other MMOs

For each character/class, you have a base toolkit. Let’s just call that the baseline, where everyone starts on the same page. Your level 1 rogue is identical to any other level 1 rogue. As you progress, you make choices, and your power level changes. Of those, the following categories of choices directly impact your power level.

  • Class/spec boost
  • Gear
  • Enchants / Gems
  • Legendary
  • Talents
  • Potions
  • Drums
  • Food
  • Covenants
  • Conduits
  • Shards of Domination
  • RNG of Torghast (some classes have horrible RNG here)

Each of these has a particular scale of power increase as well. Some are big boosts, some are smaller. Some are additive, some are multiplicative. Some stack, some don’t. When a person says “my class is underpowered”, they are effectively pointing to a magical list of attributes that are a nightmare to balance out.

  • Is it because you’re not using the rotation properly?
  • Are you using the “best” temporary stat boosts?
  • Did you pick the “right” covenant/conduit?
  • Did you get RNG lucky on the borrowed power system?

If you were to take 2 Rogues, in the exact same gear, same talents, same covenant, and same conduits, you would still see massive power swings due to the other temp boost options (potions, drums, shards… heck, even the timing of bloodlust), not to mention their rotations. Raids have a particular baseline to balance against, where the devs go in with the assumption of a given power level, and try to allow variance to be related to player performance.

You can compare to FF14 here, where there really aren’t that many potential boost to look at. There are no borrowed power systems, and food buffs are relatively small. 2 jobs at the same gear level are going to be pretty much the same, excepting the execution of the rotation.

Blizzard has a major challenge in finding the right balance in difficulty on a sliding scale that swings wildly – if not an impossible task. I’m not feeling sorry for them though, this is entirely of their own making. They continually insist on building more and more complex systems on top of this balance tower. And the only way to “balance” this effort, is to make one section dramatically stronger than all the others (think Infinite Stars in BFA) – essentially breaking everything. And this has nothing to do with the concept of class identity, which is its own balancing act.

So yeah, I feel bad for the devs who have to balance all of this because the game directors created and maintained this model. And conversely, I’m really happy for the devs who had leadership make decisions that benefit both the overall game health and their ability to balance it all out.

2 thoughts on “Balance is Hard

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