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Breaking Down Guild Wars 2's Recent Balance Stream: The Quick And Dirty

Anthony Lowry Posted:
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As of this writing, the Guild Wars 2 team had just finished their Balance Philosophy Livestream. This stream was pretty well anticipated for a number of reasons, but the main purpose of this stream was to talk a lot more about how ArenaNet views balance, what they are aiming to do in the near and far future, and how they will go about it.

This alone was a good faith attempt to win back the confidence of the players since, as early this year, the previous balance team has been met with quite a bit of controversy. My previous piece, ranting about the perceived balance of Guild Wars 2, was something that I wanted to bring discussion to, because the balance philosophy wasn’t quite clear to me at the time.

The most important thing to gather, if anything, is that none of what was talked about is set in stone. Everything, and they meant everything, can and will be subject to change. The entire point of this stream was to map out what they want to do in regards to balance, and how they want to approach things. This did not contain any future content or patch notes, nor was it ever intended to contain any.

Also, for the sake of this article, I will only approach what was said in this stream from a PvE perspective. I do not have the experience, nor the knowledge of competitive game modes (WvW and PvP) to form any sort of opinion on said modes.

The big takeaways from the stream: The goal of having a fast paced, diverse set of builds and strategies that enable multiple compositions, while also rewarding mastery of said builds and allowing the player to grow into their class and role. Additionally, combat depth should toe a neat line between accessibility (easily approachable, easily learned), and rewarding (putting the time in to master, and having tangible results of such). This is important to take in, as having easy to play builds are totally okay, and those builds being strong are also okay. It’s also okay for people to have builds that take more time to sink into, but when you become a master at your class or build, the difference will be very obvious and clear. The next point is the addressing of problematic builds at any level, not just every level.

“When bringing down a build that only overperforms at a particular level, we'll try to target changes to minimize the impact on other levels or attempt to otherwise compensate in a way that is less problematic at the targeted level.” 

The next point they brought up was pretty surprising to me, as to my knowledge, this is the first time they actually brought up defined roles for PvE; Damage Dealer, Boon Support, and Healer. This is very pivotal, as they have acknowledged that defined roles are present, and mandatory in high end PvE content. Guild Wars 2, especially earlier on, was extremely role-agnostic, almost to a fault. It wasn’t until Heart of Thorns, when raids were released, that roles started becoming more and more defined and the direction headed more and more in that direction. I think this was a healthy thing, especially since many classes can not only play a defined role, but can muddle and compress roles as well. Healers can also provide important boons, Damage dealers can also provide some healing or barrier. Boon supports can also provide non-damage utility, like Superspeed or portals. As long as classes can do things like this, and roles can be muddled across the board, Guild Wars 2 will flourish.

The Skill and Trait Design Guidelines section contained their approach towards balancing said. Purity of Purpose was quite simple: A skill or trait should have an identity, and not do too much.

*cough* Mechanist Signets…

Holes in Roles is the same philosophy as Purity of Purpose, but for builds/professions. Every build should have clear strengths and weaknesses. No class should be able to bring everything to a party. The days of old Boon Chronomancer are behind us, and it should never come back. If you decide to play a build, it should be very obvious what the build can and cannot do.

Power Budget refers to the fundamental strength of a skill, and how one characteristic of a skill takes up a theoretical “budget”. For example, a skill being instant cast probably shouldn’t also do a lot of damage, but a skill that has a long cast time, or requires you to stay still, should have a worthwhile payoff.

Perhaps the most controversial part of the stream was the “minimizing bad choices” section, and the understanding that there’s a difference between “bad” choices, and “wrong” choices. Basically, they want to make sure skills and traits, even if niche, do something. If you wind up not making the optimal choice, at least the choice you make won’t be useless. However, it will still be possible to make wrong choices. The example they gave was a condition based Warrior using an Axe. This may ruffle some feathers of players who want to just slap on what they like and live their RP fantasy, and while that’s fine, the lack of structure has no place in more difficult content.

Classes and builds should have goals that contribute to your group’s collective aim of clearing instanced content, and making wrong choices will be a detriment to that. The metagame and way of play was all created and maintained by the players, and the acknowledgement of said metagames from the balance team is very paramount. The balance patch notes will be in two weeks, and I’m excited to see where they take things, and how things will shake up!


Anthony Lowry

Anthony is an avid MMO gamer since childhood, with experience in all different kinds of games. From FFXIV as a Red Mage specialist, to Lost Ark as a Gunlancer, you can always find them (probably) getting way too greedy with mechanics and wondering how they wiped the group