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Imperfect Balance

Alexander Wilkie Posted:
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Guild Wars 2, like many games, uses a system of imperfect balance to maintain a constant fluctuation in meta and gameplay for all classes. The system prides itself on the ability for builds to counter one another, which in turn creates counters for the counter, following this pattern to give each build a feeling of strength that makes it enjoyable to play. One of the biggest problems facing this stance on balancing lately, however, has been the frequency that patches are being delivered to the community, with the meta shifts being too slow, too far between and too small for a great deal of the vocal community.

The main reason imperfect balance works in Guild Wars 2 is that it encourages class variety in any of the competitive game modes, and forces players to build around numerous factors. The knowledge that a thief might come along as backstab you keeps many classes that would otherwise be powerful fighters, such as staff Elementalist, completely out of the meta. Similarly, huge AoE damage and condition classes force all players to ensure they have defensive options available. When something comes up that is strong in the meta, new builds arise to combat it, which generally makes for a more enjoyable game. An example from PvP is having Necromancers to deal with and bunker classes, Thieves and Mesmers to deal with Necromancers, and bunkers to stop the Thieves and Mesmers from being able to quickly capture points. When it comes to PvE, this forces gameplay that is quite unrewarding for many classes however, as their strengths are not always in direct damage which can lead to them being shafted out of the meta for extremely long periods of time- if not forever. A circular system of imperfect balance, where no classes do each role perfectly, has ensured a solid metagame that is always fun to play in Guild Wars 2, but it can get stale with the slower release cycle. 

When aiming for a system of imperfect balance, it is important that skills are constantly changing, to ensure that the builds that are strong do not sit in their top position for extended periods of time. Classes that sit stagnant for long periods of time are prone to becoming boring, or receiving a barrage of complaints and stigma. Currently, balancing in Guild Wars 2 occurs every three or so months, creating a system where for a quarter of each year, there is stagnation in builds and playstyle for every class. Once upon a time, in ye ol’ golden days of gaming, this was hardly an issue, as it would take players months if not years to discover new builds for each class and to utilise existing stats, traits and skills to their fullest. Now, with information sharing at an all-time high in gaming, builds are being collaborated on, tested, finalised and pushed through to the community at large in a matter of days, creating a period of 3 months where those builds retain their top spot. What’s more, when something new comes to the forefront that breaks the mould of counter picks and variation, such as Spellbreaker in the last PvP season, the length balance cycle leaves the meta in limbo as a single class and build dominates the scene.

The game’s balance is, honestly, one of the better in any of the genre. Outlying broken builds rarely come up, and when they do they are quickly squashed by the developers. Despite the occasional slip up that comes with any game, Arenanet manages to stay on top of most areas of the game with thought out responses. The time it takes for the responses is excessive, but when they come they address the problem in creative ways that change the gameplay of the builds, not always flat percentage nerfs and buffs that keep the gameplay identical to the way it was before. The only area here that could be improved on has got to be how in touch developers are able to stay with the community at large- something any company with such a huge variety of customers would struggle with. Nerfs going to unplayed, unviable classes, or buffs to the top dog, have in the past caused huge outcries. To keep up with the times is something not just for the developers, but also for everyone playing the game, making sure they continue to post on the forums and Reddit. 

Imperfect balance will always be just that- imperfect. But it keeps the meta refreshing in any competitive environment, with many builds and counterbalances that influence how the game gets played. What is your take on balancing in Guild Wars 2- do you want to see faster balance cycles, or larger scale updates that make a large influence on the game? Let us know in the comments!


Alexander Wilkie