Tobold's Blog
Monday, November 28, 2011
SWTOR class balance

So I've been playing SWTOR all weekend, 3 characters up to level 11 and another 2 up to level 5. And while the primary purpose of that was to find out what classes I would like to play at release, I was also thinking about class balance, because that tends to be a thorny issue with this sort of game. First of all it has to be said that the class balance between the two factions is perfect, for the same reason as the balance between white and black in chess is perfect: The classes on each side are mirror images. While let's say the Sith Inquisitor is hurling lightning, and the Jedi Consular is hurling rocks, that difference is purely cosmetic. The Force Shock and Force Lightning spells of the Inquisitor work EXACTLY like the telekinesis variant of the Consular, having the same cost, damage, and effect.

That leaves us with only 4 main classes, each of which has 2 advanced classes. As you only play the main class up to level 10, and up to that point they are all solo dps classes, we need to look at the 8 advanced classes. Group size in SWTOR is 4, so presumably we need 1 tank, 1 healer, and 2 dps. Of the 8 classes there are 3 tanks, 3 healers, and 2 pure dps, so at first look it seems that there shouldn't be a tank/healer shortage. But on second look all 8 classes are damage dealing classes, at least it says so in their description, and the 3 tank classes and 3 healer classes are hybrids. Of the 3 talent trees every class gets, it appears that only 1 tree per hybrid is for healing or tanking, while the other 2 are for damage.

So in the unlikely case that every class and talent tree is equally popular, we end up with 3 tanks, 3 healers, and 18 damage dealers. And it is likely that there will be even more players going for the damage dealing talents instead for healing and tanking, based on the experience with other games of this kind. Fortunately every class has a self-heal out of combat, but shortages of tanks and healers in combat are foreseeable. Who makes a Sith Sorcerer to then spec him as healer? The problem is aggravated by the apparent lack of a dual-spec feature in the release version, although it is said that this feature will be added later. I think it will be very needed.
I think there's a slight exception to the mirrored classes: the non-jedi classes seem to be a little more mix and match in the weapons/armor. I haven't compared abilities/dps to be sure, but the Trooper and Imperial Agent have the larger weapons and the Smuggler and Bounty Hunter are the ones specializing in blasters. At the same time, it's Smuggler/Agent in medium armor and Bounty Hunter/Trooper in heavy.

As for role balance, I've already seen complaints about a lack of healers in general chat. It's sad that we're revisiting the same flaws with the trinity that have plagued MMOs for almost as long as they've been around.
I think the idea behind the ACs and talent trees is that all tanks and healers are hybrids. Over the beta I put every point into healing with a Smuggler, and I found that in both Flashpoints and PvP there isn't a lot of burst damage so there's plenty of time to throw bombs between the heals.

That's the low level experience, anyway. Will that help class balance? I'm not sure, but I think that's Bioware's plan.
Only 2 dps'ers per dungeon? That should make the DPS queues even worse.

And it's a mentality issue. People don't like to play healers or tanks for various reasons. Even if there were 18 healer/tank combos and 6 dps I still think most would pick DPS.
If I am not mistaken, the third spec that is shared between both advanced classes of any basic class is actually a PvP spec, so while it is sorta like a DPS spec, it has the same silliness as trying to DPS in PvP specs in any game.

So more realistically, you are looking at 3 tank specs, 3 healer specs, and 10 DPS specs
Having played up to 16, one thing I've noticed is that the 'Holy Trinity' of Tank+Healer+DPS doesn't seem to be necessary for any content short of major world-boss type of stuff, at least at these levels.

A tank is more survivable if your group focus-fires mobs, but the focus-fired mob is /not/ going to stay on the tank. A group of 4 DPS works just as well for 4-man Heroic Area content as one of a more traditional build.

I suspect that people are going to have to recognize that the tank-healer-DPS standard isn't the only way to do things in this particular MMO - just one way among many.
It kind of amazes me that group sizes keep shrinking instead of growing. How many of these problems would be solved if we had 8 person groups like DAOC--tank, healer, and 6 DPS?

In any case, I think most of the multiplayer aspects of SWTOR were afterthoughts.
The main difference is that talents are nearly all passive. An inquisitor at 50 who went DPS will have 2-3 skills that differ from one that went healing. It turns into a % performance boost at the end of the day. It essentially means that you can spec healer to level with minimal impact to gameplay, yet the reverse isn't true past the mid 30s (DPS can't heal). I've had the chance to do it twice now and the system works.

Class balance becomes an issue at 50, where dungeon groups are created manually. Beta is the worst place to find class balance simply due to the mentality of a generic beta tester. Once the floodgates open, then we'll find the problems will pop up.
And this is why they are adding dual-speccing. It's needed these days in MMO's. Therefore, most of those DPS will be able to pick a secondary role, such as Tank or Healer.
The dual spec option they have talked about, at least last I looked, will not let you pull a wow pally and switch between tank and heal. It is going to be limited to dual spec within an AC, so you can can have one heal spec and 1 dps, or 1 dps and 1 tank, or 2 dps. They have also not made any commitment to when dual spec will be in. Hopefully they can add it in relatively soon. Being able to pick between tank/heal and dps should be enough of an option for those of us who end up running mostly guild runs and not pugs.
Silvanis, it's one of those things. It's easy to say you should get rid of the trinity, but how could you do it? Keep in mind that technical limitations prevent MMO's from being like Call of Duty or God of War or something. Avatars on flat planes with tab targeting are it as far as MMOs go.

Let's say we get rid of tanks and healers. This would mean one of two things. 1) The challenges in the game are so low power than they aren't really challenging. 2) Every fight would be the challenge murdering people, and it was just a race to see who can win the DPS race, the boss or the people. This is how its done in normal video games, but a game where a lot of the dps is just standing there pressing the shadowbolg hotkey every 2.5 seconds? Wouldn't work.

The trinity exists because it has to exist given the state of MMO technology. Healers and tanks will be in short supply because most people don't find those rolls fun. The technology isn't there to get away from the trinity, and that's why it keeps popping up, and it's why triple A MMO's can't seem to shake it.
The issue at the moment is with the lack of any kind of dualspec facility at the early levels (20+). If such an option were present then I think a much larger number of people would be able to tackle mission/dungeon content.
I agree Numtini, how odd when Every other mmorpg...including the so spec-friendly-it's-silly Rift...has issues at tank, that you would choose to shrink the dungeon dps-tank ratio?

I see why TOR wants to lock you into archetypes...the game's entire mmorpg business model seems centered around creating a long term subscriber base of those who suffer from alt-itis...but a certain degree of role flexibility is now a part of the fundamentals of the genre.

I love the complexities of the game so far, and obviously TOR was developed by much smarter people than I, but I remain concerned about the games commitment to creating social gaming experiences.

I will continue to give Bioware the benefit of the doubt that there are underlying mechanics that I'm just not seeing but for now I remain skeptical that there will be much motivation to leave my insulated single player experience.
@Numtini, @jimr9999us, one of the reasons a lot of people claim they prefer DPSing over tanking or healing PuGs is the reason there is only one tank, one healer but many DPSers in common dungeon groups and they were not comfortable with the responsibility (for various reasons). Increasing the number of DPS in a typical group would increase the differences in the responsibility and decrease the number of tanks/healers.

Of course, this might be unimportant for most people so it's quite possible that the final result will be a net positive (the number of tanks will decrease less than the number of tank spots).
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