I would like this to be open for discussion. Here is my take as Game Designer/Class Designer and my philosophy on class balance. My apologies for it being long winded.
Let’s define what is NOT Class Balance.
- Mass utility distribution to every class of the same types of utility. *Utility = stuns, snares, roots, interrupts, silences, fear, self-heals, buffs, debuffs and nullifies (lose control of character, hard CC)
- Same damage/healing outputs and mitigation input.
Let’s define what IS Class Balance. (The scale of balance should represent the strength and weaknesses, not the distribution)
- Class abilities have specific strengths that are balanced with their specific weaknesses.
- The tool kit for every class/role are different, no mass utility distribution of the same utility. Includes, ability type, ability power, frequency of ability used, resource cost of ability etc.
- Roles of classes have clear strengths and weaknesses opposed to classes that share the same role and have different roles. DPS should have clear strengths and weaknesses, Tanks and Healers or any other core role in the game should share that philosophy.
Let’s define what a Class is. – A class is an avatar of a role with a unique thematic tool kit that best represents that classes identity and role.
Core Gameplay Caveat
I believe Class Balance can be best achieved when its focused on one core gameplay stream. (PVE or PVP). When both core gameplay streams are blended in the game, it creates a harder experience for classes to be balanced around them. I do believe, the method described below can help create a healthy balance between both streams of gameplay at its very essence. A lot of variables have to be taken into consideration. The below method is a general way to class balance.
A Good Class Balance Method
Class balance promotes a robust class identity, competition with classes who share their respective roles and creates more diversity, rather than limiting or homogenizing all those elements. To achieve this is through a Layered Approach coupled with a Weight of Power Method.
The Weight of Power Method
The Weight of Power method assigns a value to every type of ability a class has access to in the game. That value determines the power that ability has in many scenarios. Power is described at tackling the content/encounters easier than what it may be attended for.
What helps build class identity is the different types of abilities a class may have access to. There are parent abilities like damage, and its children, direct, damage over time, piercing, area of effect, channeled etc. (Same for healing).
Then there are different parents and children of utility abilities. For instance, Parents = Soft CC & Hard CC.
Soft CC Children = Snares, Roots and Hard CC Children = Stuns and Nullifies. Sure, these are some examples of ability types, but the way the ability functions creates the identity for that class in some cases. Each of these parents and children has a Weight of Power value assigned to them.
Weight of Power helps balance the distribution of types of abilities as well as the penalty associated with that ability assigned to a Class/Role.
Classes should have a threshold of how many Parent and Children of ability should be assigned to them. These numbers are all predetermined as well as the threshold cap. The threshold cap is dependent on the total number of abilities the classes have access too. Since every ability has a value assigned to them, to get the Weight of Power is to simply get the mean of all the values. *Not going to be doing this right now because this is solely dependent on additional variables. The intent here is to show on the surface of the system.
We are going to dive into two hard CC abilities in WoW. We are just going to look at these abilities’ functionality wise only.
For example sake, the Weight of Power range is between 1 and 5. With 5 Being the strongest.
Typically, in a general sense most Hard CC Weight of Power Value is 5 out of 5. Why? Stuns and Nullifies completely lose control of the player or NPC and they cannot attack nor move. But there are many forms of Hard CC.
Polymorph Vs. Cyclone PVP.
Similarities = Both abilities can be casted with no cooldown, both are castable and can be interrupted, both have diminishing returns, and both provide a Hard CC.
Differences = Polymorph is a 8 second initial duration, Cyclone is a 6 second initial duration, Polymorph heals target over time to full HP, Cyclone does not heal but provides a damage immune. Damage breaks poly and damage does not break Cyclone.
I would assign Polymorph a 3 out of 5 Weight of Power Value and Cyclone a 5 out 5 Weight of Power Value.
Cyclone is inherently more powerful than Polymorph because of Cyclone’s immune. Does Polymorphs two additional second duration impact the balance significantly? Some would argue yes and others no. I would argue that it would not justify the balance. Polymorph’s Weight of Power Value is lower because it simply heals the target. In PVP that is huge, and a clear disadvantage as opposed to Cyclone. How would you balance Polymorph to make it a 5 out of 5 Weight of Power in PVP?
There are multiple ways around this. Diminishing returns will stay as is. One way is to omit the healing function of Polymorph, however, that slightly diminishes identity. Another way is to keep the healing aspect of Polymorph but use it as an instant cast spell so it cannot be interrupted. Another is to increase CC duration with the healing aspect of the ability to an additional 3 seconds. I think these are all valid ways to improve Polymorph in PVP against Cyclone.
The Layered Class Balance Approach
Layer 1 of Class Balance = This is where you define what roles are needed in the game to create the identity of the entire class structure. You balance the roles at their very core, which is damage/healing output with damage mitigation, HP/Mana ratios, etc. Fundamental stuff. This is where you balance and Assign Weight of Power to all ability types, parents and children.
Layer 2 of Class Balance = This layer is where you determine if there are Pure and Hybrid classes and balance the damage/healing output, damage mitigation, HP/Mana ratios etc against Pure classes and Hybrid classes. Typically, this can be a hard layer to balance if there are a lot of Hybrid classes. Hybrids are a class that can perform two roles and in itself creates an imbalance. Hybrids can be either overly powerful or underwhelming under powered.
Layer 3 of Class Balance = This is where you would assign what classes have access to what Type of abilities in their tool kit. This is where the mean of the Weight of Power comes into play to help balance the classes.
Layer 4 of Class Balance = Layer 4 is where you balance the number values for each ability’s output and penalty. If Fireball is a Weight of Power of 5 for Direct Damage, what is its penalty to counterweight that 5? A long cast time? Increased fizzle chance? Triple amount of mana or resource used to cast? Long cooldown? All those variables and questions come into play in this layer.
Layer 5 of Class Balance = This is the layer that I believe most players and designers focus too much of their attention on and ignoring the previous Layers. The focus is on the output of power the ability can do and adjust that output number in accordance with Layer 4.