More teasers for the April Feature Pack (so soon; how much do they have if they’re explaining one thing a day and they still have three weeks to go?!) – this time with two posts entitled ‘Runes, Sigils, and Balance Updates‘ and ‘Critical Damage Changes‘. There are some recurring themes between this and the previous post which highlight ArenaNet’s main goals and priorities for this round of balance – and it looks like serious rebalancing will definitely happen when the Feature Pack actually hits. A lot of the game is going to change, often in relatively small but highly important ways.
For runes, we are getting more incentive toward using a matched set of six runes on your armour rather than mixing and matching – no problem for me, I already do this. There’s a repetition of a sentiment from the first post, that ArenaNet want this to be “as clear and approachable as possible for new players,” which I understand – but again, I think they’re not giving the average player enough credit. As it is, mousing over armour with runes will show you the set bonuses with the ones that apply in blue text rather than grey; I think the majority of players can get from there to “if I want all of those, I need the same runes on everything.”
Additionally, the post talks about how a 5% chance for something granted by runes is “hard to rely on in PvP and WvW.” Again, true, but is that really the intention? I have always taken those bonuses as a small random chance, a handy extra – not something I relied on to operate. That’s what skills and traits are for. At any rate, rune sets are to be revamped to work towards one thing more neatly and clearly, while the bonus for having a set of six matched runes are to become more substantial. Fine, except that I just kitted my characters out with appropriate runes recently – but that’ll happen.
There is also a twofold note about runes in PvP. On the one hand, they will eliminate the split between PvP/PvE versions of runes; fine, good. Achieving that with rebalancing makes perfect sense. On the other hand, runes will now be equipped in PvP with one slot which applies the rune to all armour as a set. I’m less sure about this. It’ll be a time saver, for sure, but it feels a little too much like telling people how they should be playing/building – taking away the option of having mix-and-match runes even if a player really wants to. Guild Wars 2 has often chosen to restrict player choices a little as a form of guidance for players (that’s the reason for the heal/utility/elite skills slots after all), but the balance between pointing players in the right direction and preventing them from trying something unconventional when they know what they’re doing is slim and dangerous.
For sigils, a few changes that mostly make sense. Different sigil abilities will have their own recharges so that they can work alongside each other; two sigils of the same kind, however, will not stack with each other and will go into cooldown together, so there’s less incentive to double up. In addition, two-handed weapons will have two sigil slots, evening out one difference between weapon options and further promoting synergy between sigils that players use. Specific sigils, much like runes, have been updated and in some cases had functionality changed for balance reasons. I’m fine with this (this update sounds like it’s going to overturn an awful lot of established metagame doctrine anyway) – but between this and the traits info, it’s becoming clear that we’re going to have to go over everything on our characters after this April update and potentially remake or replace aspects of build and gear. Some people will complain… but then, some people always will.
Moving on to the second post, and again I was reminded of a theme from the first teaser: returning to ideas which were part of GW2’s development pre-launch, but which were scrapped (begging the question, why return to it now?). In this case, it’s the addition of ‘ferocity’ as a stat representing critical damage – to make it “easier to understand,” because apparently ‘crit damage’ was more ambiguous…
According to the post,
Ferocity will function very similarly to precision; both influence another stat. Just like your critical hit chance will go up as your precision increases, your bonus critical damage go up as you put more points into ferocity. As a result, critical damage will be displayed in manner that is consistent with the main stats on gear and skills, rather than just as a flat percentage.
While I understand the desire for consistency, I thought critical damage was pretty clear: as a percentage, I understood that a crit added that percentage of my regular attack value onto the hit. Ferocity seems to be fogging and obscuring the nature of the stat more than clarifying it, but maybe I’ll have to see it in action. It relates to earlier development because of the various attributes that once had their own names – for example ‘malice’ being damage from conditions, which was renamed to ‘condition damage’ because it was clearer. As cool as ‘malice’ sounded, I understood this decision, as it made things more self-explanatory. Introducing ‘ferocity’ just seems to reverse this sensible decision, and not even across the board.
The maximum possible improvement to crit damage is also being lowered, an interesting choice. ArenaNet’s post says that “put simply, if critical damage-stacked builds are more effective than other approaches, the build diversity decreases” – something I saw happen in TERA, where people resented that stacking crit damage was the optimal solution for most characters, yet they did it because anything else would have put them at a disadvantage. Guild Wars 2 has always tried to facilitate a wide range of viable builds, so I’m glad to see their balance efforts still work towards this ideal.
Overall, I still find myself sceptical about some of the changes that have been announced. Part of it is the challenge of appealing to relatively hardcore (level 80, build-conscious, often PvP) players while also accommodating newcomers. GW2 has so far resisted the temptation to pitch all updates toward players already at the level cap, something I’ve seen other games succumb to in their struggle to keep people interested. Still, there is the risk that changes aimed at new people will over-simplify things where veterans enjoyed nuance, and/or endgame-level updates will alienate players in the low-to-mid levels (as I mentioned regarding the reshuffling of traits). Ultimately, of course, time will tell how it all works out – ArenaNet have shown themselves capable of big picture, long term thinking before (remember when ascended gear was going to ruin the game?), so I will not judge this release until I’ve played it.