World of Apex

Monday, February 13, 2006

Balance

I normally don't go off on a tirade about gameplay balance very often. I'm one of those guys that tells you to find a different tactic if you can't win. Hate the player, not the game. Occasionally however, there are times when balance is so lopsided I absolutely must make it known.

Planetside is a unique game that started a genre. Three years ago, Planetside launched as the first MMOFPS, a distinct shift from Sony's previous MMO ventures with Everquest and Star Wars Galaxies. For once, a player's skill would be rewarded rather than how many hours you've logged and how many macros you've set up to farm. It's a good combination of streaming MMO-style worlds and hardcore shooter gameplay surprisingly enough. However, a lurking problem exists deep within the underbelly of the game itself.

To understand the underlying balance problem in Planetside, you must first know the basis of each faction's advantages and disadvantages. The Terran Republic has fast firing weapons all around, including chainguns mounted on damn near everything. The New Conglomerate has the hardest hitting weapons, meaning most of their guns do more damage per shot than either faction. The Vanu Sovereignty has versitility, including hover tanks and alien laser technology.

For geeks like me, the Vanu are the coolest faction ever. They've got kickass laser weapons, a killer hovertank, cool looking purple armor, and nice looking weapons. Unfortunately, the Vanu are the most blatantly underpowered faction in the game. Their weapons are practically useless most of the time, whether it's pathetically low damage on both their pistol and standard assault rifle, or sluggish blob projectiles on the heavier weapons that can easily be dodged by enemies. Though most of the weapons can switch firing modes to use armor piercing rounds, the difference in damage is negligable at best. The Magrider hover tank, though it has excellent mobility, can be shredded by heavy machine gun fire, not even mentioning what enemy tanks do to it. Basically, the way to think of the Vanu is "If you can hit them, you can kill them."

On another side of the triangle, you have the Terrans. The Terrans are neither massively over- or underpowered, but have some issues none the less. Terran players have a serious fetish with the Striker chaingun, and you'll find yourself facing dozens of chaingun-weilding assclowns every time you attack a Terran base. I wouldn't mind chaingun spamming if the chaingun weren't shot-for-shot as powerful, if not more powerful, than the NC's assault rifle (which is one of the best all around weapons in the game). How can something that fires 20 rounds per second kill you in three to five hits? Apart from the chaingun imbalance and whoring, the Terrans are fairly balanced all around, but that one nasty sore sticks out.

The third side of the triangle, and the lowest population on the Emerald server, is the New Conglomerate. The NC are the most blatantly dev-favored faction I've ever seen in my life. They have seven instakill weapons in their arsenal, and the rest of their weapons are definitely on the powerful side. Now, don't take that to mean they're OVERpowered, because they aren't. I think the NC's guns should be templates for all of the weapons. As strong as the NC are comparitively, they are the most fun to play as. Not necessarily because they've got the best weapons, but because the weapons look and feel like a lethal weapon rather than something that would leave a welt at worst.

Here's a comparison between my Vanu main character and my NC alternate:

| BR* | Kills | Deaths(approx) | Facility Hacks | Hours/Days
VS | 4 | 35 | 350 | 6 | ~20/7
NC | 8 | 70 | 125 | 12 | <10/3

*Battle rank, essentially the same as levelling in RPG's

Though the estimates for time aren't perfectly accurate, I can tell you I've roughly spent three times longer playing VS than NC, and I'm half as far in everything with nearly three times the deaths. The most important comparison here is of course, how much fun have I had playing each? That can be answered just by the numbers. The NC is extremely fun to play as because you don't die every few seconds, nor do you have to empty two clips of rifle ammo into an unarmored enemy to kill him.

There are a ton of other problems that aren't faction based as well, but I won't keep rambling. Just suffice to say that despite the large amount of imbalances in Planetside, the game itself is still fun and should certainly be checked out when it's made free to all in the near future.

On a lighter note, new version .730 of Mount and Blade is out. The long awaited seige combat, full city areas, some spiffy visual enhancements and a host of other changes await!