Jun 27 Views (511)

Why Nerfing is Good in The Division

"Nerf! Nerf!" is the eternal cry on dev boards whenever something is perceived as being weakened by the game’s designers. Let us suspend disbelief for a moment and assume that for once the implementors of patches are not making a horrible mistake based on skewed misinformation about the way the game works, and that this "nerf" is being used correctly: as a balancing technique. Something in the game has been identified as being too powerful, and a nerf is required to bring it in line.



Used in this way, the nerf is an excellent and vital method of maintaining a sense of balance. If you choose to not nerf the offending object, a universal (and much misbegotten) policy in Asheron’s Call, there are only two other options open to you:

  • Buff everything else until it seems like everything is in line
  • Leave it broken

Neither of these "solutions" works. The first option, the common solution for power problems in Asheron’s Call, leads to unstoppable and never-ending inflation of player power. It also tends to lead to more problems than you initially had. If element 4 of a weapon set including 1 through 9 is considered overpowered and you subsequently buff weapons 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 to compensate, you run a tremendous risk that one of these weapons is now overpowered, which leads to another cycle of buffing, etc. etc. Compare this to the nerfing cycle: element 4 is nerfed back down to a balanced level, and if you nerf too far, you can always nudge it back up slowly until it works. This, coincidentally, was the "pendulum" method of fixes during Asheron’s Call beta, and it worked considerably better than the "no nerfs" nonsense they use now. (See the section above, "Too Little is Better than Too Much," for elucidation.)

The second method, leaving the game broken, is even worse, but it happens on a semiregular basis. In games that are not persistent, like Age of Kings (early), the trebuchet was horribly unrealistic and therefore could be used to devastating effect. Why bother building a mixed force if a trebuchet is as easy to maintain as a peasant levy, and far more devastating and hard to destroy? (To their credit, the publisher did eventually patch this.) In Heavy Gear, the bazooka was implemented as a guided weapon (which is incorrect from the standpoint of the original Heavy Gear tabletop system), and if you could get one, there was little reason to get anything else. This was never changed. Typically, such a game’s publisher looks at a product like this as a product with built-in obsolescence, and so he leaves it broken rather than devoting company resources to fixing it, when that manpower could be steered into producing their next income-generating broken game. The buying public is gullible and stupid as a rule, and although I might never again buy a product made by that team as a result of their shortsightedness, many others will. It’s easy to see where the profit lies. (NOTE: The only game to ever be successfully and persistently fixed for balance after publication is Starcraft. End result: Starcraft is one of the most popular computer games of its time, and the absolute best RTS game on the market even today.)

In a persistent subscriber-based game like an MMORPG, there is considerably more pressure on the development team to fix mistakes and address balance issues, but it doesn’t always happen. In Ultima Online, lord of all buggy cesspools, bugs that allowed cheaters to loot houses and instakill other players were not fixed for a very long time, explained away as "creative uses of magic," until subscribers began cancelling in droves, at which point this sort of bug abuse suddenly became their biggest concern. In Everquest, there are character classes that have never been on par with other classes, and they have never been fixed despite subscribers leaving. In Asheron’s Call, foolish mistakes like tuskers being worth an inordinate amount of XP for the risk involved in killing them should be considered game-destroying snafus, but it has been publically stated that they will not be reworking these creatures, most likely due to this "no nerfs" bullshit.

Let me digress a little more about Asheron’s Call and the value of nerfing for a moment, as I have some experience with this game system and its absurd policy of not nerfing. One of the largest problems with Asheron’s Call is the predominance of the 3-school archer/melee, particularly the melee. The initial buffing of these classes was due to a perceived dominance of mages in killing effectiveness. This was a correct observation, but the answer (buffing other character types) was absolutely the wrong one, and led to a nigh-infinite series of additional class problems that have only gotten worse through the game’s history. The correct solution was to look at why the mage was so powerful. The answer was that the mage had an extremely powerful attack (war), but it was also nearly impervious to damage due to the overwhelming power of Life and Item protections. The correct response would have been to nerf these protections and their associated vulnerabilities, most especially Imperil. Had this been done right away, we would not be seeing the sorts of absurd class problems that fuel the fires of particularly vitriolic ranters.