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Behind the Screens: Balance

Hey there!

Did you know that in addition to being taller than Sazan and Bugg stacked together, Earl also has more health than both of them combined? Did you know that Captain Mendoza’s sprint caps out at 9m/s, which would put him on pace to absolutely shatter every marathon world record with a 01:18:13 completion time? Did you know that Bugg’s crop dust affects Tosca longer than the other hunters because it gets stuck in her fur?

Okay, that last one isn’t a real thing. But for the rest—welcome to our world! We’re the gameplay balance team for Crucible, and every day we work to keep everything feeling juuuuust right. Let’s talk about what balance is, what we’re shooting for when we make balance adjustments, and what sort of tools we use to keep things feeling fair and fun.

What is good balance?

So what is good balance? What are we trying to do?

Ultimately, the goal of balance is to make sure that each hunter presents a compelling, viable option when you’re considering who to play as. When we say “viable,” we mean that they have about even odds at winning in a given fight and in the match as a whole—and equally importantly, that while they all have strengths and weaknesses, they all feel rewarding to play.

The likelihood of a player winning any given matchup is down to a lot more than just which hunter they pick, of course. There are players of all different skill levels, and people can choose terrain that gives them a proverbial or literal leg up, people have varying levels of familiarity with the game—the list goes on. But before those factors come into play, we want all players (and thus, characters) to feel like they have a fair chance to help their team win a game.

There’s a lot of push and pull in balance as we account for a variety of needs. The two big ones are: making the game fun for new players and expert veterans alike, and keeping all hunters and a wide variety of team compositions fun and exciting.

When talking about balance, it’s common to talk about a game’s “meta,” which is short for metagame, or the trends you see in the game. Popular characters, tactics, and strategies all make up the meta. The meta can change in response to new strategies from players or actual balance changes from us. Part of keeping a game fun is having a meta that evolves over time, so that players are continually challenged to think up new tactics and counters to those tactics. Like healthy balance, a healthy meta is one in which there are a number of viable options for how people approach any match.

From a top-down view, when we see that characters are being picked about equally and winning about half the time, we try to not introduce too many drastic changes that may throw that all out of, well, balance. Because of all the map and match changes going on (for example, the complete Scenarios and Objectives rework from August 4), we’re making smaller, incremental balance updates to the hunters themselves to allow players and the meta to adjust to those big changes.

Tools of the trade

So if the section above is all about how we think about balance, the next step in the process is examining the tools we have at our disposal for adjusting balance and keeping things interesting.

Strengths: While each hunter in Crucible can be adapted for a variety of playstyles, we strive for them all to both fill a unique archetype and feel distinct from other hunters with similar strengths.

Summer is the better farmer than Drakhal, but Drakhal is more self-sustaining and has stronger crowd control. Captain Mendoza provides great utility by blinding enemies and creating medkits for his team, but he doesn’t have Ajonah’s vertical mobility or escape. We try to keep these characters different from one another, so that they bring different pros and cons to a team.

Interplay:  None of these hunters exist in isolation, so we try to keep many possible matchups and scenarios in mind when we’re making changes. If we bring down the power of our shooter characters, does a “dive” strategy become too powerful? If Tosca is winning a disproportionate amount of the time and also really strong against tanks, we need to make sure that when we make tweaks to bring her in line, we don’t make tanks unstoppable.

More than just damage numbers: Each hunter is more than just their raw damage numbers: Essence upgrades, damage falloff (the range at which abilities start to do less damage), and cooldowns all play a part in the overall feel of combat on any given hunter.

Complexity and reward: One way we keep balance approachable for newcomers is by keeping core mechanics of the hunters relatively easy to understand while allowing players to opt in to additional complexity through specific Essence upgrades. Summer’s tier 1 upgrades are a good example: She has two upgrades that are relatively straightforward (Flame Projectors increases weapon range and Refinery Blast grants bonus Essence while attacking creatures). Her third tier 1 upgrade is more complex—Thruster Pounce adds additional utility to Firepulse Thrusters and makes that ability more complicated. By putting that utility on an Essence upgrade, we give players the chance to opt into a more complex experience.

Changes we’re looking at now

Like we said earlier, we’re watching all of the other meta-impacting changes going on right now (like upcoming map updates, the recent scenarios and objectives, etc.)  and looking at what needs to change among the hunters to adjust to that. Alongside that, we’ve watched all of the recent tournaments, we’ve played a lot of games in solo queue, and we’ve spent lots of time talking to players in Discord, at tournaments, and in-match to gather feedback. We’ll always keep doing that, but here’s where we’re at based on what we’re seeing and hearing now:

Right now, we want to try to make some changes to bring Rahi back into the competitive meta without making him too powerful in solo queue. We’re also looking at making gentle changes to Tosca, Ajonah, and Earl.

We’d love to hear from you! If you come across a balance dev in the wilds of Discord or team chat, don’t be a stranger! You can also fill out the survey linked from the main menu of the game to share your thoughts.  

We appreciate all of our players, because we literally could not make the game without your time, feedback, and experience. Thank you for being a part of our Crucible beta process, and helping us to make the best game possible.

-         the Crucible balance team