Today, we continue a new series of articles where we ask a number of different developers from a number of different companies to answer a question about MMORPG design. Today, we ask Fallen Earth's Systems Team Lead Greg Roth about balancing casting and ranged classes against melee classes.
MMO combat suffers from balancing casting vs. melee classes. What methods do you use to balance these two class types?
Using the term "classes" when discussing the player builds of Fallen Earth is misleading, as the AP allocation and knowledge-based system of the game means that each character is constructed to the player's tastes. There are suggested builds, created either by online character profilers or word-of-mouth, but ultimately each player chooses how they wish to mold their alter ego in Fallen Earth.
As a result, we do not have the same set of concerns that another game might have in relation to balancing our mutations and standard combat roles. Each is designed to work in harmony with the other, inasmuch as a player can build themselves to perform them. That is not to say that the balancing act is any less precarious; ensuring that all the moving parts of a classless system work well together has been likened to juggling four running chainsaws.
The three types of standard combat in Fallen Earth—rifle, pistol and melee combat—each have their balance points. Rifle combat has the not-insignificant advantage of great range, but the penalty that they receive to their melee defensive values means that they should either keep opponents at a distance or be ready to swap weapons on the fly to deal with a maddened enemy wielding a parking meter. A character specialized in melee combat can shred their opponents to ribbons with a skilled, unrelenting assault, but has the challenge of crossing distances to catch up with victims armed with ranged weapons. Pistol-oriented characters sit somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, able to expose targets to a withering hail of bullets and even close-quarters maneuvers. However, their range is not as great as that of a rifleman, and since ammunition is a relatively scarce resource, such behavior quickly becomes expensive.
There are mutations in Fallen Earth as well, which are intended to be supplementary combat and support effects, not as a sole play style. The myriad range of buffs, debuffs and direct damage applied through mutations are a large help in any combat scenario, though many of our players have also demonstrated a masterful ability to triumph without utilizing them to any significant degree. For those that do utilize mutations, combining additional combat abilities naturally creates a more offense-based character, whereas one who opts for support and restorative mutations will have greater staying power in a protracted engagement.
Additionally, because of the shooter aspect of our combat, the power and balance of a particular type of combat is extremely dependent on individual player skill. Weapon type and combat style plays a significant role of course, but for every reported instance of a particular style being inferior, another demonstrates incredibly lethal fluidity.
The process is endless, as any game designer knows. We listen intently to constructive player feedback and are constantly reviewing combat balance every time something changes, no matter how small. Every concern is noted and considered and players can be assured that any time a potential issue crops up in the balance of the game, chances are we also have spotted it and are taking steps to rectify said issue.