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Layer 3: Skill/Ability/Spell Balance & HP/Mana Balance
This is the top layer of class balance and always the most tricky. There are tons of variables because each class has a unique set of abilities to perform. Layer 3 is more than likely the layer most will spend time balancing their classes. A good design would keep in mind the following two layers and design abilities that won't go against those rule sets already established.
Also in Layer 3 you would determine when a class gets an ability when progressing. For an example, if a Warrior had Deadly Strike at level 1 that did 10 damage and a mob at level one had an ability that did 10 damage where both of you had 100 HP. Whoever struck first would win. So then you would adjust damage/HP/Mana levels accordingly and add in more abilities to make it fun and balanced in gameplay.
As you can see Layer 3 has a lot of variables to consider. Usually, this is one of the places where class balance can become imbalance.
Penalty. This is another way to balance very over powering abilities a class may have. Try and have the player to strategically use more powerful abilities instead of using them at their leisure.
Also in Layer 3 you would compliment whatever combat mechanics you have to balance your classes with that.
Layer 3 should also consist of player testing and tweaking to everything mentioned above.
What does Class Balance Mean? Can it be achieved?
Yes Class Balance can be achieved. Before I go on let me tell you what class balance is not. Class Balance does not constitute that all classes are the same with the same abilities or roles.
Class Balance is when your role are balanced and the classes that share the same role are balanced with each other. All classes within that role should have an equal opportunity to be as effective. That if more than 1 class within an archetype should have different functions to perform their desired role to have a good diversity of classes.
If a Hybrid class is more effective then a Pure class then that is not class balance but an imbalance.
Layer 3 with different abilities may sway classes to be tweaked more than others, but if the design stays true to Layer 1 and Layer 2, it should make Layer 3 a bit easier to tweak./rant over I am tired
"Class balance means all of the classes are the same which would make gameplay boring."
"There is no such thing as class balance or if there is class balance it can never be achieved."
Rarely, I'll see this comment...
"Class balance means when each class has an opportunity to compete."
The above comment is very close to what Class Balance really is but it's not complete. However, it should read like this...
"Class balance means when each class has an opportunity to compete within their archetype role."
How to achieve Class Balance?
Class Balance is more or less a bottom up approach that is balanced within layers. Each layer of balance should complement the previous layer for consistency. Essentially, there are three layers of when you balance classes. Below I'll explain them a little further.
Layer 1: Define the Roles (The foundation of class balance)
This layer is the foundation for all of your classes. You determine what are the primary roles of classes you want to fit into gameplay. I'll keep it easy and say that Tanking, DPS, and Healing are primary roles. I won't go into secondary roles because this thread will turn into a novel. I want to try and keep this as simple as possible.
Once the archetype (roles) are defined then you establish the rule set for those roles. On as basic level we'll do damage to mitigation ratio.
Tank: Moderate Damage output and Moderate Mitigation
Caster DPS: High Damage output and Low Mitigation
Melee DPS: High Damage output (sliver below Caster DPS) and Medium Low Mitigation (Sliver above Caster DPS)
Healers: Low Damage output and High Mitigation via Heals.
are other things that go into defining the role and other rule sets
that would compliment whatever design is being used. So once Layer 1 is
defined and balanced you move onto Layer 2.
**This is where WoW's classes will always be in perpetual imbalance. Simply because Layer 1 is broken. Blizzard doesn't take in account the rule set of each role and their basic damage/mitigation output should be. Hybrid and Tank classes can out perform in damage over most pure DPS classes which were simply designed to produce massive damage with low mitigation input. When you choose a role that a class can provide you're in agreement that you're class excels in one role over another. This does not constitute a Rock/Papers/Scissors Class Balance approach.
Layer 2A: Balance All Classes that share the same Role.
This layer is only used if you have more than 1 class within the defined roles from Layer 1.
there are 3 classes that share the same role,(tank, Caster DPS, Melee DPS,
Healers), you then balance those classes within their respective
archetype. Meaning that each tank has an equal opportunity to tank
efficiently. This does not constitute all tanks will be the same. There
should be different path ways to tank for each class in a unique and
fun way. Whatever those paths are should be up the creative mind of the
**For WoW, this is where the same utility abilities are simply distributed to nearly every class. I have never seen it this bad in a long time. Nearly, every class has a gap closer, able to spell lock/silence which completely locks down a player, and able to cc/stun without a heal. I feel sorry for Mages in PVP right now because they literally have zero advantage to most classes because of the former.
Layer 2B: Pure Classes vs. Hybrid Classes
Also in Layer 2 you would determine what classes would be Pure and what classes would be Hybrid. Let me define those.
Pure Class: A class in which can only perform 1 role
Hybrid Class: A class in which can perform more than 1 role. (usually 2 roles).
Most of the time you'll see more hybrid classes than pure classes to give the player more of a creative choice to choose from.
In this layer you could already break the class design before you even get to Layer 3 because of Hybrid Classes. Hybrid Classes are very tricky because they can't be as powerful as a Pure Class and yet they must still be valuable to a group.
Usually Hybrid classes are the soloable classes if the gameplay is focused on group based content.
I think a good direction to balance hybrid classes with pure classes is to allow Hybrid classes to act as a support class in a way. What I mean is, if a Hybrid Class can perform 2 roles, DPS and Healing, then reduce those roles by 30%. Meaning that if a Pure DPS and a pure Healer class can DPS and Heal 100%, then a Hybrid class can DPS and Heal at 70%. This way a Hybrid class is still effective and valuable in a group. They act as support DPS and Healing.
A Hybrid class should NEVER EVER be on par with a Pure Class because of their multiple roles. If a Hybrid class is on par with a Pure class then more than likely those pure classes will become obsolete. They won't be as valuable.
Ask you self this question. If a Mage is a pure DPS class that can do on par damage as a Sorcerer that can also heal, which class do you think would have a better chance at being more effective? As you can see this is an imbalance.
*In this portion of the balance is what literally breaks WoW's Class Design. Within their spec system, Hybrids are more powerful and have more utility. Hybrids/Melees rule wow's PVP currently.