Desert Oasis: How should Black Desert handle class balance?

    
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Last week, I wrote about how the recent tamer changes in Black Desert resulted in a write-in campaign. Ever since then, I’ve had game balance on my mind. Class balance has always been an interest of mine, and Black Desert’s been a fascinating case study on the challenges of graceful game balance.

See, this MMO has always had an issue with class balance. And with Pearl Abyss’ promise of giving balance the good-ol’ college try, we got our first taste of these new changes from the recent patch. At best the changes were a good rough draft. The tamer nerf doesn’t make a lick of sense to me, though. But hey, maybe Pearl Abyss has an ace up its sleeve that I’m missing.

I’m an inherently optimistic person. So even though the nerfs to tamer were a total bummer, I’m not super salty about it. I’m pretty sure things will eventually work themselves out.

But I’m more of an outlier. There are far less forgiving players out there, and they vote with their wallets. Maybe I’m being hyperbolic here, but PA is going to start losing players if it can’t get this figured out soon.

So how should class balance be addressed in Black Desert? Let’s see if we can figure something out.

A step in the right direction… kinda

The biggest change in this patch was the attempt to standardize the damage every class deals to other classes. Black Desert had an interesting idea in that classes are strong against some but weak against others. On paper, it sounds pretty neat. Is your guild at war with one full of warriors? Recruit a few sorceress to counter them because they deal 130% damage to warriors. Sounds like an epic fantasy, right? Yeah. It does. Sadly, that’s not how it works in practice.

What actually happened was that any adjustments made had ripple effects with the other classes. So a buff meant to help a warrior combat a sorceress suddenly starts one-shotting a ranger.

This patch kinda got it right. These damage values were put as close to 100% as possible, but I don’t understand why PA didn’t just do that. A sorceress now deals 102% damage to a warrior (down from 130%) but still does 110% to a Tamer (down from 127%). Just change it to 100%! At least that way this entire mechanic is completely removed. It would be one less thing for the dev team to worry about. There are so many hidden numbers when it comes to balancing BDO – just take out the clunkiest system and then start removing outdated mechanics.

Add elegance to the crowd control mechanics

This one might not be a popular suggestion because I’m well aware of the importance of having three different stun states and how it plays into creating a combo. The game’s crowd control design is a very deep system, and it rewards those who really take the time to create a killer stunlocking combo.

For the uninitiated, Black Desert has the standard crowd control effects most MMO players are familiar with, but they also have variations that make them quite complicated. There are like three stuns: You’ve got the vanilla stun, which ensures the player is helpless while standing and can be applied up to two times before proccing a 5-second cooldown. Then there’s stiffen, a shorter stun, but players can reapply this as much as they want. We can’t forget bound, either; it’s a knockdown, but it forces the receiving player to have a longer recovery time. Oh, and then there’s freeze, which is a stun that ends in bound. See my point?

Here are the patch notes from April 18, 2018. /sarcasm just look how easy it is to understand.

It’s a very rewarding system, but it’s by no means elegant. It rewards the players who know their class, but imagine how much of a nightmare this is to balance. This reminds me of how the original Guild Wars took out evade because it was way too closely related to block. Some players grumbled about the change, but at the end of the day it made balancing skills easier. Pearl Abyss should take a page from that book. Instead of having all of these rules and mechanics, why not just reduce it to one or two stuns with diminishing returns every time it’s reapplied?

Don’t just keep adjusting numbers – add nuance

As much as I enjoy reading long patch notes on balance, I tend to skim past numerical adjustments. Unfortunately for me, that always seems to be the case when it comes to balance changes in this game.

While a majority of this patch were just adjustment numbers, I was impressed to see what PA did to two of maehwa’s skills. They removed the knockdown on the maehwa skill petal bloom and replaced it with super armor. Super armor is basically anti-crowd control. The skill has a windup time, and it gets stronger the longer it charges, but the payoff being a knockdown wasn’t enough for the risk involved. Having a super armor to let the skill resolve was an excellent move on the devs part. But did the class lose a knockdown? Nope. In another excellent move, PA put it on the skill moonlight dash, an underused maehwa skill, to encourage players to use it. That’s nuance. 

Instead of having a single skill act as an all-in, the tweak gave the maehwa two reliable options in her toolkit. Petal bloom is now a much safer, more reliable attack, and moonlight dash is an easily executable knockdown. I want to see more of that!

Develop balance based on class function

I’m taking a page out of fighting game design here. In 2-D fighting games like Street Fighter, the characters have, as Peter “Combofiend” Rosas famously said, a certain function. Ryu and Ken are considered shoto fighters, meaning their moves include an upper-cut that counters air attacks, a projectile, and some kind of spinning kick. When Capcom does a round of balancing, it makes sure each character will still do well in what it’s meant to be good at.

This is good advice. Pearl Abyss needs to take a hard look at its classes and ask itself, “What situation will they be at their best?” The term “skirmisher” has been thrown around when people talk about tamer, but what does that actually mean? Should tamers be initiating teamfights, or are they better off as a class that excels at being a +1 during said teamfight? Answer the question and build around that.

There’s a million ways to balance a game, and I’m still pretty convinced that a less-is-more approach should be the studio’s next steps. But what about you? What’s your opinion on balancing? Even if you’re not into BDO, or PvP, what do you consider to be smart balance design?

The Great Valencian Black Desert is a dangerous place, but thankfully there’s always a chance for respite. Join Massively OP’s Carlo Lacsina every other week for just that in Desert Oasis, our Black Desert column! And don’t worry; he promises he won’t PK you. Got questions or comments? Please don’t hesitate to send a message!

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Dankey Kang

I actually think some classes are deliberately kept bad so that they can sell more cash shop items to the re-rollers.

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Vunak

BDO has a severe lack of identity in what a classes purpose is based on design. For example you would expect a Valkyrie to be a brilliant frontline fighter when in fact it is mediocre at best on the frontline.

BDO would do well to come up with defined roles for the classes, not neccesarily tank, dps, support. But frontline, backline, initiator, duelist etc. and balance around that position they fulfill.

They also have way to many complications on their side of things with numbers and percentages like you said in this article that have severe rippling effects. They need to trim it up. Complicated =/= intelligent design if its complicated at the expense of functional. BDO is complicated for no real reason. This happens with the hidden AP values, Evasion values and skills that increase evasion drastically etc.

BDO just has to many issues to really make it thrilling to play. Server issues and massive desync being two of the main reasons I stopped playing. RNG CC and evasion that makes no sense in an action combat game.

Its unfortunate because BDO could be and really should be an amazing game I enjoy playing, but I just cant enjoy my time playing it anymore.

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Arktouros

BDO has never been and likely never will be balanced.

Balanced for what as there’s 1v1 vs node/conquest. Things like your “class function” are meaningless because so many classes basically end up serving the same role (tamer, maewha, musa, ninja, kuno, lahn all serve same role basically kinda thing) so at least one of those is going to be considered “the best.” Then there’s the whole gear system and it’s influence on TTK such as offense being near uncapped while DR has hard limits. So on and so forth.

However the primary issue is the way KR players play the game and the way NA/EU players play the game is pretty different. For example KR doesn’t do much lifeskills where as they are huge in NA/EU. Also the way groups do PvP and what classes are considered meta and good/bad are different in each region. Again the brutal truth about Pearl Abyss and Black Desert is unless you’re playing the KR version and on the KR feedback loop they don’t give a single fuck about you or your opinion or complaints about the game. NA/EU like every other region is just a cash grab.

The sooner you accept this and understand the game comes “as is” and you can expect no changes what so ever based on any feedback you might have the more happier you will be with BDO. If you can’t handle that idea or dislike the notion then your only real alternative is to quit. That’s just how things are with BDO. I wish they weren’t, they just are. That isn’t just limited to Kakao either as other regions (MENA, RU after transition, etc) all report the same thing. If you’re not KR, then all they care about is if you keep paying.

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They can just make a PvE server where you don’t have to get ganked at high levels and just chill. That’s the solution.

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Arktouros

None of that really addresses the problem as it’s still there regardless.

Also people forget what things were like back in the day, but when EverQuest launched it was basically non-stop luring mob trains to ruin other groups and “stealing” other peoples camps they were already at. There needs to be some sort of game mechanic that allows sharing or moves people on from public resources. Without that you end up with endless support tickets arguing over “griefers” who are “stealing spots” and otherwise like you again also saw with EverQuest.

In most modern PvE MMOs this is solved by heavily instancing/layering areas so it’s manageable while offering limited need to farm (IE: You’re there for X kills then you move on). Another common solution is loot/XP sharing for kills so even if you have 20 people tagging/attacking things anyone who hits gets loot and XP.

These present problems for BDO. Most cases you are grinding same spot for hours on end so moving people on doesn’t really work. Also many times you want to grind things that are instantly dying in 1-2 moves so sharing XP/loot/etc doesn’t work either.

This is the big reason why PvE servers just don’t exist outside of Olvia. For long term play they just don’t work with BDO.

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Seth Arnold

That ruins the point of even playing the game with mind-numbingly dumb mob AI.

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Seth Arnold

It’s the same way for the mobile version and I’m sure any other game they release, they are simply not interested in understanding or listening to their customers outside of Korea. If they were a bigger company with more titles I’m positive more light would be shone on this terrible practice. Sadly, they slide under the radar and nothing can be done about it.

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Jeremy Barnes

The problem with balance in games is that everyone seems to get confused. Balance isn’t strictly a ‘science’ where making the numbers all roughly the same means “balance”. It’s more of an artform.

Everything in a game should be in service to players enjoying themselves (fun). That includes “balance”. You can make every class perform within a percent or two of each other, but killing the fun for a significant swath of your playerbase. Is it worth it to stop that one class from doing 5 or 10% more DPS than everyone else if in doing so, you wrecked the fun of the game overall?

The point made in this article that classes should be balanced towards a ‘goal’ of what they should do well can’t be understated. How many people care if they’re doing the bleeding edge of DPS if they’re having fun?

My major complaint with WoW right now is they “balanced” the fun right out of the game. I went back to SWTOR and the Jedi Knight/Sith Juggernaut are good examples of is it really important that I’m top DPS? They have a force leap, force choke, etc. Jumping around, pulling enemies to you, force choking people (which if you’re aiming for top DPS then you can probably never use that ability) is fun to do.

Balance should only be done in service to fun. A lot less attention should be paid to the spreadsheet in balancing and a lot more to “balancing” the feel and fun factor. Sure, maybe I do 5% less damage, but if I can summon a giant Yeti then ride around on its shoulders and knock mobs back all over the place…I’m not super concerned about it because that would be awesome fun.

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Kickstarter Donor
Java Jawa

I don’t think any game really gets this, it’s always flavor of the patch. The closest I’ve seen this in any game is separating PvP skill formulas from PvE , but who wants to do work 2x? No one.

It becomes much more work with more classes added. FF14 does this well, GW2 and ESO do this okay.

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losludvig

FF14 had better have nailed their balance, considering how bland and devoid of customization those classes are.
ESO is a fun one though – you read PTS feedback in the lead-up to a chapter launch and people are losing their minds shouting that the sky is falling, it’s the end of everything with the nerfs, and then on patch day, If I happened to play a build that was majorly nerfed I couldn’t even tell. Considering how many options you have in that game, it’s impressive how close together the options are