Hyperspace Beacon: SWTOR’s 5.5 adds cringeworthy changes in the name of balance

Today, when I talk about the balance of a class, I hope you’ll understand that I come from the perspective of a PvEer and raider. I also have a tendency to favor classes that are a little bit more difficult to play. So when I say that I take issue with some of the changes that Star Wars: The Old Republic has made with Update 5.5, understand that I already believe that my favored class is starting from a disadvantage.

Update 5.5 was supposed to bring the classes into a kind of balance. To understand what balance is about in SWTOR, we will have to go back to a post that Eric Musco made back in June of this year. In it, he details the target markers for each of the different types of DPS without giving specific numbers as to what those targets are. Musco quotes the BioWare combat team: “The deeper reason for a ‘buff’ or a ‘nerf’ lies in a Discipline’s ability to perform at their target DPS.” I will be referring back to this post as I talk about the class that I favor the most: Marauder.

So let’s dive into the deep end.

My favored class

When a new patch with class changes comes out, I always jump onto my best-geared Marauder to see just how badly my favorite class has been nerfed. I have very strong feelings about the Marauder class because I believe it to be one of the most interesting to play. It’s visually interesting, unique in its concept, and challenging in its rotation. But some of the things that I find the most interesting about the class are also some of the reasons that it infuriates me.

I believe it’s been said by many people, possibly even the developers, that Annihilation Marauders (Watchman Sentinels, if you’re nasty) have the potential to put out the most sustained DPS of any class in the game. Of course, over the years, that’s fluctuated, but as a general rule, it’s true. The problem lies in the word “potential.” As you might have guessed by my earlier statement, the difficulty rotation of the Marauder will vary the actual DPS greatly. This is why you will see most Marauders take the Carnage discipline because it’s a lot easier to sustain, and when you fall out of sync with your rotation, it’s a lot easier to get back into the groove.

In this latest patch, we see a change in Annihilation Marauder that creates a significant dent in its DPS. Personally, I saw approximately a 500 DPS dip from 5.4 to 5.5, which is about a 6% drop for me. As many theorists will tell you, one or two or ten tests against a dummy are not enough to make any kind of significant speculation about where the class sits in its overall performance. However, from a morale perspective, it’s really tough to see a class that is already difficult to play get hit so hard.

Art by Airagitt

The numbers

Three core abilities were hit pretty hard. Approximately, 50% of all damage that an Annihilation Marauder outputs is through bleeds (damage-over-time). That means the initial hit is likely not that hard, but give it a few seconds and you’ll notice some significant damage.

At the top of that list with up to 30% of the overall damage dealt is Deadly Saber. This ability is tied to other abilities: When Deadly Saber is applied, the next three hits will apply a stacking bleed. Needless to say, Anni Maras will want to hit Deadly Saber everytime it’s off cooldown, and since it’s unaffected by the global cooldown, there is no reason not to hit it.

The second largest DPS dealer for an Annihilation Marauder is Annihilate. This is a straight-up damage attack, and when compared to the other Marauder abilities, it contributes to about 20% of overall damage output. That means about 50% of the total damage that a Marauder deals is between Deadly Saber and Annihilate. So when if those two abilities where nerfed, that would mean that Annihilation Marauders were over-performing in a significant way. Let’s look at the patch notes:

Marauder 

Annihilation

  • Reduced Deadly Saber’s damage by 6%
  • Juyo Mastery now gives bleed effects an additional 1% critical hit chance per stack of Juyo Form, down from 2%,
  • The temporary bleed damage bonus applied by Annihilate due to the Devious Wounds passive has been reduced from 5% to 3%

Based on these notes, it’s clear why I see a 6% or more dip in my overall performance. But what does that mean from a design perspective, and where the developers believe this class sits when compared to other classes?

Here’s the cringeworthy part

If we look at the post from June, we can see that the developers set a target DPS for all damage classes, and then created allowances based on the way that the class works. Of course, I am sure this is simplified, but an Annihilation Marauder should be able to sustain a DPS about 5% above the target DPS. This makes sense given that a Marauder has to be in melee ranged and also has to maintain constant DPS on the target given that there is no real burst DPS.

This is where I would like your help. Help me see where I am missing something, bearing in mind that statistically my math is going to be off a bit: Let’s say that my 6% dip is indicative of the class as a whole. That would mean that Annihilation Marauders were sitting about 11% over the target DPS. And from a practical standpoint — from a position of actually playing the class regularly — I just don’t see how that is even close to true. I don’t think the Annihilation Marauders were doing badly, but I also don’t believe that they were outperforming the other classes.

I honestly believe that what we are seeing here is a disparity between the raw numbers and the actual output of the class. A friend and fellow SWTOR content creator Vulkk agreed with this assessment when he did his preview video for the class changes. He has yet to put out a video about it now that Update 5.5 is live, but I don’t think his opinion will have changed.

I’ll turn it to you now. Let me know in the comments if I’m right. Am I wrong? What are your thoughts and what am I missing?

Every other week, Larry Everett jumps into his T-16 back home, rides through the hypergates of BioWare‘s Star Wars: The Old Republic, and posts his adventures in the Hyperspace Beacon. Drop him a holocom on Twitter @Shaddoe or send him a transmission at larry@massivelyop.com. Now strap yourself in, kid — we gotta make the jump to hyperspace!
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25 Comments on "Hyperspace Beacon: SWTOR’s 5.5 adds cringeworthy changes in the name of balance"

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Richard Hufnagel

I am also at a total loss to what the devs are seeing when they say things like overperforming etc. I am currently maining my carnage mara as my favorite class, my lightning sorcerer was already not even close to mara or shadow, but was also nerfed down in 5.5. I would truly love to have a developer show us in a video of exactly how they make a determination that a class is “overperforming”, how they see each class next to each other and how they gather this data.

Like you said about a mara which is melee ranged, sorc although ranged has cast times, cant move to cast several skills and could not push through content anywhere near what my shadow or mara can yet it was nerfed also.

If there going by a perfect world and perfect execution of rotation that would be utterly ridiculous as game mechanics, movement, interruption, cast times etc all have a real significant impact on how much actual dps you can do.

They really need to do a developer diary video of exactly how they make these determinations. Would explain a lot to the community. I like shadow and mara a lot but not like my sorc who just feels weak next to them.

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rafael12104

I’ve been away from SWTOR for a few months, but as a founder who called the game my MMO home for 5 plus years, I don’t think the ebb and flow of balance has changed much.

Larry, IMO, the numbers discussed from the beginning of the games life have made very little sense in reality. There have been huge over reactions by devs in terms of nerfs and buffs largely based on what they see on the forums.

Let’s go back a few years. Sents and Maras were tops of the dps charts. They were performing as expected for melee dps class given their target ranges and their vulnerabilities as a medium armor class. Yes, high output, but also high risk in terms of taking damage. But there was outrage in the forums. Sents and Maras were thought of as spam monkeys on the PvP boards because of their ability to spam a few skills and do great damage. It stuck with the devs and the nerf hammer came down hard and Sents/Maras. They were nerfed so badly that the only real aoe the class had at the time became worthless in Ops.

And these dev over reactions are deadly for the less popular dps classes. Case in point, shadow/assassin dps. They were nerfed harshly early on because they were OP and became a less popular as a dps class. And they never recovered. Why? devs did not bring them back up to par even though they insisted otherwise because nobody cared.

But I wouldn’t worry much. Another popular dev trick over the years has been the stealth adjustment. Lol. Many buffs and nerfs have occurred on the sly over time.

Oh, and one more thing. SWTOR has never been kind to melee dps classes. Look at mechanics for Ops and you see a clear advantage for ranged dps.

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Chris

This nerf is beyond the normal “ebb and flow” that we have seen in previous years. If I am correct I do believe a few other classes were hit much harder with nerfs than Sentinels/Marauders. Vigilance Guardians and Vengeance Juggernauts got a nice little buff out of all this.

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Hunam85

I feel like this is just a long post about being upset that your favored class got nerfed. But a lot of classes got nerfed and no one ever likes it when it happens to them. Everyone has complained about the balance, but complains about them addressing the balance. I can understand it seeing posts like this on the forums, but to dedicate a column to moaning about your class being less powerful is a little much.

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Dr. Latency

Larry, you forgot to report about the new augments that will bring your dps back up 2% in the next patch (that is cringe worthy). If you can’t adapt with a 4% dps loss in one spec, I worry. I like the balance patches. Bunch a sad sacks when your class gets nerfed. My server is packed with lots of people playing. I’m having fun. Not too many other MMO’s to go to where the max PvE/PvP gear is at least obtainable.

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Peregrine Falcon

The SWTOR devs have proven, since shortly after launch, that they don’t actually understand class balance. When SWTOR launched it was one of the most balanced PvP MMOs I (and more importantly other well-known PvPers) had ever seen. Since then the “balance patches” have only made things worse, and worse, and worse.

At one point the devs took mez protection away from the Guardian and Juggernaut tank specs. Not only did they think that was ok but they left it that way for almost 2 years.

I’m still amazed that people with that level of incompetence still have jobs in the game industry.

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Armsman

Look, they obviously are trying to get the game down to ONE server. Easier to support that way. ;)

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Hirku

You were supposed to bring balance to the classes…yada yada yada.

youwerethechosenonekeith.jpg
oldandgrumpy
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oldandgrumpy

Yet another pointless class balance change from a crazy studio. Guess there will be a few less players again after this plays out.

Wonder how many class balance changes you have to do before there is no one left playing your game ?

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Jeremiah Wagner

Hands down the WORST part about MMORPGs is the insane amounts of time , energy, and money spent constantly trying to balance and then rebalance classes , skills , pvp , and pve. Its a complete nightmare that constantly takes away from every other aspect of the game. I don’t even play mmo’s anymore, hugely impart to this very thing. The focus should ALWAYS be on keeping fresh content coming and making sure the community it active and communicating with each other. Pushing players to socialize and join up together to complete more challenging quests and dungeons. Trying to keep the adventure going. This is what made early MMORPG’s so damn good. Not constantly trying to balance every aspect of the game to keep a handful of whinny children from crying on the forums. Not trying to make a freaking Massive Multiplayer Game a single player experience as well for all the people that don’t like to be challenged or have to work together. THIS crap is what destroyed MMORPG’s , this is why most people get bored with them quickly and have to switch between 3 different MMORPG’s instead of just playing the one they enjoy the most. RIP MMORPG’s You were truly great once.

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Mallus

I agree with your post 100%, people get used to their characters and nerfing them just feels bad. Usually PvP is the reason classes get “balanced” but my question is why does every class have to be the same as all the others in relation to damage?

On a side note melee classes like the Jugg, Mara are still topping the DPS charts in pvp, by a wide margarine in some cases (sometimes doing double what other classes are doing)

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Daniel Reasor

You know what absolutely slays me? “The stats on the current tier of gear have made Class XYZ outperform its peers, so let’s handicap the class for everyone whether they have the gear or not.” I won’t miss the clothes if they’re nerfed. I’ll miss the character after it becomes unplayable. How hard is that for developers to understand?

Loyheta
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Loyheta

That really sucks. The thing that bothers me about class balancing is that classes range wildly with different builds and different stat allowances.

Many of the top dps builds only get that way because of very specific stats, stats that synergize with their procs. On top of that some games set certain stats on each gear. Take FFXIV, many of their gear sets have set stats with no variation. Some are not the stats you want so you may end up taking slightly “weaker” gear just because the stats make you stronger as a whole. On the other hand if you take a game like WoW with a fire mage that is heavily reliant on crit, a piece of raid gear may be complete garbage without it while a simple heroic drop with it will be amazing.

Or take WoW and how an arms warrior will go from mid tier dps at a certain gear score but be god tier just a handful gear score higher. This may not be true now since I haven’t played in a couple months but these are just examples.

My point is class balancing is very difficult and developers should make classes unique and fun and stop caring so much about balancing. As long as you get in the ballpark it should be good. Of course this is not including PvP… the thing that ruins pve balance xD

Who cares if there is a flavor of the month. Let all the progression raiders and min-maxers worry about that while everyone else has fun.

Theryl
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Theryl

SWTOR is a game I really want to like, but it’s been so badly mishandled that I find it unplayable. If it weren’t for the Star Wars IP, I’m pretty sure it would have shut down by now. I can’t call it a commercial failure since it apparently makes enough money to for EA to keep the lights on but it’s certainly a failure to capitalize on one of the most popular IPs in existence.

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Robert Mann

Balancing is always cringe-worthy. The min/max crowd will generally have FOTM alts ready to go, where the rest of the gaming community will just get upset.

The better solution still remains that PvP abilities are separated, even if with the same type of effect and graphics, and adjustable difficulty is added. PvP must always seek tuning, because anything less is a problem, but PvE? Make the challenges less about gear and classes, and more about other things please!

My guess, PvP had an issue with this overperforming…

Loyheta
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Loyheta

I’ve always been a huge proponent of separating pvp and pve damage. I don’t like it when they try to balance it because there are always glaring issues… like how do you balance a burst dps character? In PvP where fights can be seconds long, the burst dps is incredibly OP while in pve, fights can be minutes or tens of minutes long so a burst dps falls in line with other dps because of the waves of high dps balancing out.

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connor_jones

Sighs. It breaks my heart to see what was once my favorite mmo keep falling like it has. It’s like they delivered in spades with the original class stories, but have been totally clueless as to how to proceed from there.

“Since when has being Sith ever been about being fair?” – Darth Zash

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Knox Harrington

Here’s what you’re missing Larry: Bioware is incompetent. For the entirety of this game’s lifespan, they have fumbled and blundered their way through managing both the game and the community. They set out to make a WoW killer from a financial perspective but failed to actualize and internalize exactly what that would entail.

This latest nerf to arguably the hardest spec in the game is yet another brick in the wall that they’ve built between themselves and intelligent MMORPG development. They seem completely obtuse and inept at analyzing more than one variable in a genre that involves a multitude of variables at any given time.

They’ve set some arbitrary target number based on an incomplete analysis and have proceeded to balance around that using anecdotal evidence with no wherewithal for how it actually pans out in the live game. It’s yet another lazy shortcut Bioware has continued to take over the years regarding this game’s development, so it should come as no surprise. This is the same group of people who promised a complete operation within one year’s time (which is absurd enough) and then failed to deliver all but three bosses in that operation. Their incompetence knows no bounds.

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Sally Bowls

As a practical matter, IMO if almost every class is being nerfed – which is what I think I am reading – , then customers would react better to raising the target DPS, perhaps with raising the boss health/resistance.

I question the premise behind ” I also don’t believe that they were outperforming the other classes.” If Annihilation were performing worse than every other class in the game, but above the DPS target, then Bioware would still want to nerf Annihilation. I.e., the goal is explicitly stated to be a DPS goal not equality. Although if everyone is at the DPS target, they should be about equal.

———————————-

The meta question is whether the target – what the designers are designing towards – is what a class could do or what the population actually does with it? WoW certainly releases more raids and IMO takes this more seriously. A large complication to this is that the population is not fixed. WoW devs point out that if Annihilation was completely unchanged, then buffing Carnage would cause the average DPS of Annihilation to drop. Even though there was zero change to Annihilation, the players who follow the meta are probably above average players and so the average of the remaining Annihilation would decline in the real world while obviously not changing the theoretical.

Also as soon as you are targeting DPS, it is under scenarios. Movement heavy fights or Patchwork stand in one place fights? Single target or AOE? IMO, if you take raiding Seriously, then you are probably not playing SWTOR. I am not sure that the benefit of equality is worth the player ire in a game and subset (SWTOR Raiding) that does not have an excess of goodwill atm.

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Deuter

RIP Operative – both my Medic (main) and Concealment specs were struggling before in pvp, and are now going to be obliterated. I can’t wrap my head around the Medicine changes – and to think that they really believe that they are making changes to solve its burst healing is beyond me. The worst part of this is knowing that if they even get to a realization that they went too far with certain nerfs/buffs, it’s going to be another 9+ months before we see any changes adjustments. I don’t miss many things about playing WoW, but I do have a profound appreciation for the frequency with which they make balance changes.

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Mallus

Healers are still OP in pvp as far as I can tell, no one ever dies on objective maps, unless you decide to wander off solo…

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Chris

Healers saw some of the biggest nerfs, I am right there with you, I don’t understand it. Probably won’t be using my Operative much now.

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Chris

This whole patch has been cringeworthy. Between the nerfs and the cxp changes that were not clarified until after the fact. You get excited and hyped because you think things will change for the better just to find out it is more of the same old bull.

Oh and don’t worry about the dps numbers when the United Farces comes out you will be able to get some super cool augments to allow for higher dps numbers. Ass backwards as ever at Biofail.

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Greaterdivinity

You get excited and hyped because you think things will change for the better just to find out it is more of the same old bull.

That’s pretty much the story of SWTOR. And I’m very much one of those that repeatedly gets excited/hyped because I want to be optimistic and excited about the game…only to be repeatedly disappointed : /

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Sally Bowls

That’s pretty much the story of life.

FT4U

:-)

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