Tuesday, January 23, 2007

What Controls the Nerf Bat?

A few thread discussions have sprung up on the World of Warcraft forums talking about what the most nerfed class is in the game. Every poster has their own reasons why they think a specific class is the most nerfed and surprisingly enough its not always because they play that class. A few point to the warriors which have been the most consistently nerfed since the beginning of the game. Still others point to classes that have received fewer nerfs but ones they argue were more devastating to damage output and survivability.

All the arguing and trolling made me stop and think about what probably directs the nerf bat to hit a class in a MMO. Despite what most players think its not that the developers have their favorite classes or that they listen to whoever whines the most on the interweb. Instead its most likely a combination of statistics, abilities, and flexibility which determines where the feared foam covered instrument strikes. Thinking about the current class checks and balances I came up with six categories where I see developers introducing nerfs and on rare occasions, buffs.

The Balance Categories

Burst Damage: How much damage can the class deal quickly in a short amount of time?

Damage Mitigation: How much melee and spell damage can the class receive and still survive?

Crowd Control: How effective are crowd control against the class and how effective are their own?

Casting Times: How many instant cast abilities and spells does the class have?

Range Damage: How damaging are the range attacks of a class?

Hybrid Viability: Can the class assume more then one role in the trinity of Tank/Healer/DPS?

Making a decision to nerf a class ability often revolves around balancing the power of these six categories so that if one is high another is low. The developers want classes which play very different from one another but still have the same power.

Burst Damage is very effective in PvP since its hard for a players to react to suddenly losing most of their life. Also its effective on boss mobs since they have a habit of using enrage or other special abilities near death.

Damage Mitigation is important since the longer the class can stay alive the more effect they have on the battle. The type of armor a player is allowed to wear plays an important part in damage mitigation along with base hit points. Also healers are treated as having slightly more mitigation then non-healers.

Crowd Control is important since it allows increases the likelihood of getting spells and abilities off on a target. Also the ability to escape crowd control abilities plays an important role when fighting certain classes since its almost as good as having damage mitigation.

Casting Times determine how often a spell or ability can be interrupted or stopped. The longer the casting time the higher the chance for the spell or ability to be interrupted. Instant spells or abilities are often of lower power or require a sacrifice in one of the other categories.

Range Damage effectively lowers the amount of movement a player is forced to worry about to keep his target within damage range. It also can be combine with surprise attack or crowd control abilities to create a huge advantage.

Hybrid Viability is the category that causes all of the problems when balancing classes. Certain classes can choose talents or gear that changes their role in the holy trinity and allows them to have greater flexibility in combat. This greater flexibility often causes hybrid classes to be gently tap by the nerf bat every patch as developers try to balance their power with their flexibility.

Some Class examples of the Balance Act

Burst Damage: Bad
Damage Mitigation: Good
Crowd Control: Medium
Casting Times: Good
Range Damage: Bad
Hybrid Viability: Good

Burst Damage: Good
Damage Mitigation: Medium
Crowd Control: Good
Casting Times: Good
Range Damage: Bad
Hybrid Viability: Bad

The exact effectiveness of each class in the six categories can change depending on how their talent points are spent but developers make sure there are trade-offs. For example a paladin can chose talents all the way into the retribution tree and gain crusader strike but will lose either the quicker casting of the holy tree or the added mitigation of the protection tree. The categories can even be broken down into sub-categories. Priests trade the damage mitigation of being able to heal themselves for mitigation against melee attacks in shadow form.

Since this is just a quick run through of what directs the nerf bat I am sure I missed a category or two. Feel free to make any suggestions in the comments.


David said...

Burst Damage: Medium
Damage Mitigation: Good (pet + drains)
Crowd Control: Medium-to-Good (pet + fear)
Casting Times: Good
Range Damage: Good
Hybrid Viability: Bad

From the perspective of someone with a 45 affliction-Warlock, that is.

It keeps surprising my how resilient a 'lock is in PvE. Around level 38 when I was doing Scarlet Monastery I wound up drain-tanking Mograine for the second half of the fight on most runs.

Tachyon said...

Burst Damage: Good
Damage Mitigation: Bad [1]
Crowd Control: Good [2]
Casting Times: Medium [3]
Range Damage: Good
Hybrid Viability: Bad

[1] or rather: worst. Smallest amount of HP, no heals. little shielding to bring our HP on par with other low-HP classes.
[2] Forms of CC: Mezz (sheep, worst form since it heals the target quickly), Root (frost nova), Snare (frost spells)
[3] Instant spells: good, sustained spells (Frostbolt, Fireball): bad (interrupts when hit).

Brohuld said...

I think balance seen from Blizzard also includes buff abilities (group synergy) and debuff abilities (lessening the opponents' power).

Probably very much taken into account when establishing Shaman (totems) and Paladins (auras) balance.


Fat Albert said...

Burst Damage : Bad
Damage Mitigation : Bad (Medium, with PWS and armor buff)
Crowd Control : Bad (Fear, but no control really)
Casting Time : Medium-to-Good (few instant, then smite 2s)
Range Damage : Medium (at best)
Hybrid Viability : Bad

Im talking here about holy priests ofc, dont have much experience with shadow.

Anonymous said...

Fear, seduce, frost trap, sheep, sap and all that are considered crowd control abilities.

Noone can control their feared subjects but it still is a wonderfull ability when used correctly.

I disagree on how sheep is not good. Its simply the best, lasts longer and it is one ability I have almost never seen break before its time (30 secs +++). Big deal that it heals the target... in a raid or 5mans u simply dont care if it heals him... in pvp, it is enough time to give him a nice pyroblast and kill him.

Not only that but seduce for example is totally random (unless if u have the improved succubus talents), it may be easily resisted it lasts less (15 secs vs mobs and less than 10 vs players), the succubus may be attacked and end up losing it etch.

Anyway... my take on the Warlock:

Burst Damage: Medium to bad
Damage Mitigation: Good
Crowd Control: Good
Casting Times: Medium
Range Damage: Good
Hybrid Viability: Bad

Burst Damage is not something warlocks excell in... even a destro lock needs time to cast his spells... soulfire has a 6 second cast and even at its best shadowbolt (which does decent damage with good gear) needs 2.5 seconds.

Death Coil and Shadow something (that other instant) are just too mana inneficient (though ok, death coil rules)

Overall DoTs= Bad burst

Damage Mitigation: Well as a demonology lock I can say I almost no longer die in pve and can fight mobs much higher than me in level or in numbers. In PVP I am no longer killed in 1 or 2 blows from a rogue and for me that IS a step up.

Crowd Control: Seduce or Felguard tanking is indeed good weapons in our arsenal, along with fear well we are good at this.

Casting times: Almost no serious instants (and no spammable ones) and apart from the dots u need casting times that are easily broken. In PVP I rarely if ever manage to cast shadowbolt (standing still for 2.5 seconds is a good way to die)

Range Damage: Well we dont have any melee damage...

Hybrid: no healing powers etch... a lock can be good at pvp or pve or nice at both but he is a dps class and thats it. (Would be cool if we had a healer pet but it would make us slightly broken)