Desert Oasis: How should Black Desert handle class balance?


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are so many hidden numbers when it comes to balancing BDO – just take out the clunkiest system and then start removing outdated mechanics.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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