Starting up part three of the Guild Wars 2 State of the Game streamchat round table with…
Jon Peters continued the discussion about class and skill balance by pointing out that buffing a given skill might make others interact in a more effective manner. His example was that buffing one skill on swords might make people suddenly want to use another weapon in their off-hand that they wouldn’t before, which might make certain utility skills more valuable.
Jon Sharp, on the other hand, pointed out that what the higher-level players might be able to make powerful will not necessarily be the same as what lower-skill or less-experienced players are able to. His example was that while elementalists might be too strong in top-tier play, thieves are the class that seems to be most dominant in lower tiers and amongst those new to Guild Wars 2.
Balance For Skill
Java asked what they are actually trying to balance towards, the upper tier of play or a mixture of the various levels of skill. Sharp stated that they are trying to balance for the high level of skill while leaving things simple enough or visible enough for players of any skill to be able to understand.
Peters went on to elaborate that the reason elementalist causes such problems at high-tier play but not lower end of Guild Wars 2’s PvP scale is that the builds that are truly effective with the class are very difficult builds to make use of. Not having a build that is at least reasonably effective with a lower level of skill makes the class one that only high-tier players can make effective use of, which is not what Arenanet wants.
Low skill-cap builds will never be as effective as high skill-cap builds, but there should be a smaller divide between the effectiveness of the builds so less-skilled players can still feel effective and higher-skill players can show their actual skill more.
When it comes right down to it, Arenanet wants the classes to have multiple viable builds, any of which is effective. They want to prevent any class from being pidgeon-holed into having a right build to play that is dominantly stronger than other builds of the same class.
A major problem with balance is the idea of education and newness. Players might find something that others consider extremely powerful, but that does not necessarily mean it is actually stronger than it should be. It might simply mean that players have not found the appropriate way to counter it. Figuring out what is simply waiting to be countered and what is genuinely, mathematically too strong is one of the biggest challanges of PvP balancing.
Another major issue with balance problems is bugfixing. Some abilities are significantly stronger in certain situations than they should be due to bugs, while others do not work at all. Fixing many of these bugs immediately make certain abilities more useful and certain builds less so as the bugs they exploit vanish.
Wanting to bring more builds into the competitively viable arena also means that there are dozens of possible builds that could unbalance Guild Wars 2. Making certain builds viable might suddenly make currently-strong builds easier to deal with, while balancing certain skills might create unexpected builds that are far too strong.
Addressing a specific class, the Warrior is one that they note is generally not considered viable at higher skill levels, or at least not strong. Part of the problem with that is that so many of the weapons for the class are considered as being useless due to the weak skills they provide. This has Warriors pidgeon-holed in what builds they can use, since only a few weapons are genuinely strong and those few weapons have very clear synergies that make the most of them.
Java theorized based on some games he’s seen that Warriors might not actually be weak, but might just be waiting for someone to find the right build to be strong for teamfights, stating them as being very strong 1v1 and 2v2. Lowell follows that he also doesn’t necessarily think that they are weak, but that they are simply weak to what is currently very strong. A class being unable to handle what is always going to be present due to its strength is going to seem very weak and see little play in Guild Wars 2.