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 Cryptic Studios' Bill Roper 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?
In City of Heroes we had to take great strides to make a melee class feel like they are not over-shadowed by ranged blasters. Being able to strike from range is an advantage that is difficult to put a numerical statistic to, but we increased the damage that a pure-melee character does over a ranged one. This is an area where we decided to err on the side of the player, as that damage increase is probably too strong, but in the end having it as strong as it is gives a real incentive for a player to try out a melee archetype.
Ranged characters also have the worst defenses in the game as well. This is a common MMO design tactic to encourage the playing of melee based classes. Our players use the term "Squishy" to describe any of the ranged classes that will go down in just a couple hits. Even our melee-DPS classes like Scrappers and Stalkers have respectable levels of damage mitigation, over the ranged-DPS classes like Blasters and Corruptors.
We also allow players to queue up their attacks and have them execute as soon as they are within range. This way you can activate a melee-range power and the character will "hold it" until their target gets within melee range, then immediately strike. This greatly helps out melee characters as they can automatically execute attacks if their foes are doing "drive-bys", or they are doing drive-bys themselves.
Of course, in City of Heroes we have the ability for every character to fly and fight at the same time. This led to some exploitation of enemies who didn't have ranged attacks simply getting farmed with no way to fight back. Nowadays all enemies are given some sort of ranged attack, and if it's a weak one it will carry with it a -FLY attribute which will remove the ability to fly and ground the offending character. Another thing we've done is avoiding the use of flying enemies. Flying enemies are pretty much something only a ranged character can combat, so a pure-melee character can only sit there and get hit. Where we do use flying enemies, we give them a strong "melee-centric" AI, which will have them swooping into melee range quickly, after taking only a couple pot-shots at range.
Now PvP can be really tricky. With nothing to counter a ranged character, especially one that can fly and stay forever out of melee range, then you end up with a one sided battle that is no fun for the melee guy. Due to this we incorporated two things. First, we've added the same -FLY that some enemies use to a lot of the player character melee powers, which will remove the flying attribute from the enemy it hits. This really can ruin a flying ranged character's day when they suddenly find themselves on the ground next to a guy with two laser-swords! Second, we have the concept of "movement suppression" where our super-fast travel powers lose their effectiveness for a few seconds after you make an attack. While this won't ground a flying character, a smart melee character can make them maneuver towards them to get the shot, and hit them with a -FLY attack before they can speed back out of range, and then go to town.