Developer Update – September 2009 PvE and PvP Skill Balances
This is our last skill balance update before moving officially to a bimonthly schedule. The new schedule is intended to allow for more extensive testing and to allow the team to focus on content/feature updates and skill balance updates individually, rather than trying to work on both at the same time.
This update is modest in scope. Our goals were to address the most pressing of the outstanding PvP balance issues and to correct problems with our last set of changes. We are aiming for a more ambitious skill balance pass in an upcoming build.
A couple of skills buffed in the last update ended up being a little overpowered, one PvP-oriented change harmed a unique PvE build, and one revised skill had an inaccurate description. Selfless Spirit and Armor of Sanctity are being brought back into line. Finale of Restoration is being split into separate PvP and PvE versions. The description for Illusion of Pain is being corrected to match the functionality more precisely.
Since the rework of Vampiric Spirit some months ago, we've seen a steady increase in the prominence of Blood Spike teams in GvG. (These are teams that focus on spiking down opponents one at a time using life-stealing skills from the Necromancer's Blood Magic line.) In theory, a team must sacrifice defense, sustained offensive output, flexibility, and diversity to be able to spike effectively, thus making their play style something of a gimmick. It has long been our belief that gimmick builds like this have a place in the game. They can serve as an easy way for players to have some success while learning how to coordinate and play the game together. Our goal is to make sure that the effectiveness of builds like this falls off significantly in mid-level and high-end play. Unfortunately, this has not been the case with the current most popular form of Blood Spike. To address this, we've adjusted several key skills in the build in order to weaken the build and make it more vulnerable to skillful play without entirely destroying it.
The last set of changes to Assassin skills, which included giving a few skills fast activation times, has introduced an overpowered Ranger/Assassin build that we're seeing in most PvP formats. We're making targeted changes to keep this character type in line.
Finally, we looked to make adjustments to a number of skills that had been identified by players as overpowered. Most of the changes are minor, although a couple of skills are receiving significant reductions in power.
- Selfless Spirit: increased recharge to 45 seconds.
- Armor of Sanctity: increased duration to 15 seconds; increased recharge to 15 seconds.
- Finale of Restoration (PvE)[sic]: reverted this skill to its original behavior.
- Illusion of Pain: changed the description to more accurately reflect its functionality.
We recognize that we went overboard with the changes to Selfless Spirit, making two dramatic changes to the skill at the same time. We believe that removing the condition that caused it to end early was a good change but that it was a mistake to reduce the recharge so much that we eliminated the need to think about how and when to use the skill. We're raising the recharge once again in order to make the skill more balanced and interesting to use.
In terms of functionality, we are happy with our changes to Armor of Sanctity: in addition to providing damage reduction against foes suffering from a condition, it applies the Weakness condition when cast. As a self-contained combination, this skill has proven to be useful. Unfortunately, the short recharge and low cost also meant it was very difficult to counter and did not require a character using it to be especially tactical about when to use it. We've increased both its duration and its recharge so that it is not fundamentally weakened, but it is more vulnerable to condition removal, enchantment removal, and poor timing by the user.
Finale of Restoration took a very heavy hit last month in order to address its use in PvP. Although not a popular skill in PvE, it did have a role in a particular Paragon solo-farming build. We decided it would be worthwhile to split the skill into separate PvE and PvP versions in order to restore the old version to PvE players.
We've corrected the text description for Illusion of Pain to be consistent with that of other skills that have an effect when they end. It now uses the phrase "when it ends" rather than "after 10 seconds." This more accurately reflects the behavior of the skill when effects that alter a hex's duration take place. The reason this skill's text was wrong is that we'd originally contemplated having this skill work in a different way in order to enable some interesting skill combinations, but upon further reflection we thought it was more important to keep the behavior consistent.
- Vampiric Spirit: increased casting time to 2 seconds.
- Signet of Agony (PvP): increased recharge to 20 seconds.
- Signet of Agony (PvE)[sic]: decreased recharge to 8 seconds.
- Unholy Feast (PvP): increased recharge to 20 seconds.
- Unholy Feast (PvE)[sic]: decreased recharge to 8 seconds.
As mentioned above, our goal with Blood Spike is to maintain it as a functional gimmick build but to make sure it is vulnerable to skillful play. We targeted two aspects of the most prominent Blood Spike build: First, we changed the casting time on the elite skill Vampiric Spirit from 1 second to 2 seconds in order to make it more vulnerable to interruption; this should still allow Blood Spike teams to use it to start a spike, while giving their opponents a chance to disrupt the spike. Second, we significantly increased the recharge on the area-of-effect skills Signet of Agony and Unholy Feast. By decreasing the frequency with which these skills can be used to spike, we accomplish two things: first, giving the opponents greater opportunity to prevent these spikes with kills of their own, and second, significantly impacting the rate at which a Blood Spike team is able to kill the enemy Guild Lord. We did not see the casting time change for Vampiric Spirit as a strong enough reason to split the skill for PvE, but we did take the opportunity to separate Signet of Agony and Unholy Feast, which have typically been seen as underpowered in a PvE setting.
- Death Blossom (PvP): increased recharge to 6 seconds.
- Escape (PvP): functionality changed to: "Elite Stance. For 1..8 seconds, you move 33% faster and have a 75% chance to block attacks. Ends if you make a melee attack."
There's an overpowered Ranger/Assassin character that has become commonplace in PvP. This character came to regular use after changes to Jagged Strike (fast activation time) and Fox Fangs (shorter recharge and increased damage bonus). Examining and using the build ourselves, it was not clear that removing the changes would actually bring the character into balance. A change to the activation time of Jagged Strike would have some effect but not a dramatic one, and increasing the recharge on Fox Fangs would simply encourage players to use Wild Strike in its place. We believe this may be a situation in which the overpowered character was viable all along but had simply not been discovered yet. Without the short recharge on Fox Fangs, players could simply use Wild Strike.
Instead, we believe the core issues are with two other skills: Death Blossom, which has a much, much shorter recharge than any other non-elite Dual Attack and which is the source of much of the actual damage in the build, and Escape, an elite stance which provides faster movement and a 75% block chance with very little down time. For Death Blossom, it seemed clear that increasing the recharge was the correct answer. For Escape, we had a more difficult decision to make. We knew we needed to temper the skill for melee Rangers. At the same time, we hoped to maintain its viability for bow-wielding Rangers, who typically choose bow attacks as their elite skills but sometimes find success using Escape. After considering many softer approaches, we chose to make a very direct change, making Escape end on a melee attack. We recognize that this will also affect Ranger/Dervishes using scythes. Ultimately, we decided that the sustained offense output allowed by Expertise is not reasonable to pair with faster move speed and a 75% block chance two-thirds of the time. There needed to be a greater trade-off between offense and defense for these characters. Because this is largely an issue in PvP, we split the skill so as not to affect PvE.
- Ether Prism: increased recharge to 25 seconds; decreased damage reduction to 75%.
- Distortion: increased recharge to 8 seconds.
- Mantra of Resolve: decreased duration to 5 seconds.
- Patient Spirit: increased recharge to 4 seconds.
- Rip Enchantment: increased recharge to 15 seconds.
- Immolate: increased recharge to 5 seconds.
Defensive skills for spellcasters always pose an interesting playbalance challenge. Some amount of viable defense is important for allowing these characters to have a place, but ultimately we want casters to have some fear of going toe-to-toe with other characters. To start, we're slightly increasing Distortion's recharge so that it is not easily maintained. This should allow physical characters to get in a couple key hits on a character using this skill before they get back that 75% block chance. Additionally, we are changing Ether Prism so that the damage reduction it provides is not absolute. The 75% damage reduction is still a powerful effect but leaves some opportunity for opponents to get a kill. While examining this skill, we found that its energy return was a little higher than other similar, viable energy-gain elites. We've bumped the recharge from 20 to 25 in order to address that. Once we're happy with this skill, we'll look into whether or not weaker energy-gain elites can be brought into line with it.
Mantra of Resolve is the sort of skill that can cause problems in how the game plays. We've made dramatic numerical changes to this skill, essentially changing its function from giving long-term protection against interrupts to allowing a player to only protect key skills from interruption. By reducing its duration to 5, we hope to accomplish three things: First, having much shorter duration compared to recharge will require thoughtful usage of the skill. It can still be used to protect key spell-casts but will not provide blanket protection. Second, by requiring the caster to use the skill right before casting a spell, we give enemies a chance to see that Mantra of Resolve is in effect. We didn't feel that it was reasonable for someone's interruption attempt to be countered by an invisible stance that was activated a full minute or more earlier. Third, we wanted to make the energy cost of the skill matter. Even though the skill only takes 5 energy [sic], needing to use it right before casting a spell should be a meaningful change.
Patient Spirit has been a staple of Monk PvP builds for a while and has garnered some criticism from players for being overpowered. We think it is an interesting skill and did not want to make changes that would make it unusable. Instead we've simply raised the recharge on it to encourage players to use it strategically.
The balance between enchantments and enchantment removal is something we've tinkered with a lot over time. We're mostly happy with the current state of things, but we're adjusting Rip Enchantment, which was the only skill of its sort with such a short recharge. We're increasing this to 15 seconds to match corresponding skills.
We've continued to take a close look at the Fire Magic Elementalists that have been prominent in Guild Battles recently. We do not believe this character is very far out of scope but, after further testing, decided to slightly reduce his sustained damage output. The highly efficient damage skill Immolate seemed like the best candidate for a change. As we have often done when a skill plays well but feels a little too good, we did not alter any of its costs or effects, but increased its recharge by a couple of seconds. We do not believe this change will eliminate the use of this skill or the characters who bring it.