ESO & Sweeping Patch Updates

The Elder Scrolls Online is, in my opinion, one of the best MMORPGs on the market currently. It’s no surprise that I say this, since a massive amount of my content creation is focused around the game so obviously I like it, but the game really does have so many positive aspects to it. Build creations have a really wide array of possibilities, combat is very fun and fast paced (when bugs don’t occur, but that’s not what I’m here talking about today), PvP has a lot of potential for a player to show off their individual skill, trials are challenging and have interesting mechanics, the in-game world is absolutely gorgeous, there’s a ton to do outside of combat, the list goes on.

At the core of every online game though, there are two things that I think play a massive part to the game’s success: balance and stability. As I stated earlier, this post isn’t about the stability aspect (bugs, performance, etc) but instead about the balance aspect. No, this isn’t a rant about the latest patch notes and how the sky is falling and blah blah blah.  This is just an observation from my time as an ESO player and why I think we continue to see these huge balance changes every quarter.  The class rep program is, in my opinion, an amazing step towards achieving better combat balance with having players who have a high level of knowledge be able to present player concerns to the developers.  With that being said, there’s still one major flaw in the current balancing process that I think continues to, as I said, cause these massive balance shifts.

Quarterly Balance Changes Aren’t Healthy

We see the high number changes every quarter because changes only come every quarter.  If there is a huge imbalance in the game, it’s only natural that ZoS would like to see that imbalance fixed.  They make a whole slew of changes to try to fix that problem, since they wont be implementing more changes for another 3-4 months, only to create a new one because they made a crazy amount of changes surrounding one (or more) topic.  Then the next patch comes, and they make a whole bunch of other changes, and then new problems come up.

The cycle just goes around and around and around, and the reason is because of the number of changes made in a patch cycle pertaining to an individual change. If you try to reach a “satisfied” or “balanced” state and only make huge sweeping changes, the mathematical chance of you reaching said state is microscopic, especially when we are talking about a game like ESO that has a lot of factors that contribute to balance.  This can easily be seen in control theory, and any of you who are familiar with it will see where I am going with this.  I’ll try to make it simple with an example though, rather than the math behind it.

Let’s say you’re sitting at your desk playing ESO, and you feel like the temperature in your gaming room or wherever you’re playing is too hot, so you decide to turn the air conditioning on to bring the temperature down from say 75 degrees to 72 degrees.  Your air conditioner responds by going on full blast and starts dumping 45 degree air into your room because you want it colder.  It WAY overshoots and now your room is 66 degrees, so now your room is too cold.  The unit in your house/apartment responds by going the other way, because now it’s too cold, and starts heating your room by dumping 100 degree air into the room.  It WAY overshoots and now your room is 73 degrees. Rinse and repeat.

That’s just a simple example of control theory and how it would apply in an HVAC based problem, but hopefully you can see the point.  Making huge changes will cause the room’s temperature to constantly swing around the goal temperature, but if we instead made smaller and more gradual changes over time, we’d eventually reach the desired temperature.  The first situation is exactly what is happening with ESO. We are seeing these huge changes in balance to cause the overall game balance to swing around the desired state or goal.  How can this be solved? By ZoS using their weekly incremental patches to test smaller changes instead of waiting to do them every quarter.

Murkmire Specific Balance Issues

Looking specifically at the Murkmire patch, it’s clear that ZoS had two goals: balance shields and speed. The sheer amount of changes surrounding these two topics is staggering and it’s going to be very interesting to see how things play out next patch.  But, these topics could have been handled in a much more efficient way if they made some initial strides in the Murkmire patch and then continued to tune in the following weeks of patch release. Now, I know this is going to rustle people’s jimmies, but on the first “pass” through trying to reach a goal/balance, the changes need to be larger rather than smaller. Not to the level that ZoS is doing it, but a good amount of changes do need to be made.  Looking at the topic of shields first, it would have been cool to see them start with simply making shields be able to receive critical strikes, and reducing their overall effectiveness slightly (how would be up to them, I can think of a multitude of ways, but this is more to just make a point).  They can then monitor the performance of shields for a couple of weeks to see how the new changes effected the balance of the game. Did they nerf shields too much? Increase their effectiveness slightly in an incremental patch.  Did they not nerf shields enough? Continue to tune them with incremental patches.

The same logic applies to speed; there were so many changes to player speed for this upcoming patch: speed pot nerfs, ability based major expedition nerfs (for individual players), forward momentum nerfs, and swift nerfs.  And if you notice the trend of these nerfs, they nerf the speed of the individual.  Group based major expedition – rapids – remained unchanged. Individual player speed will be much slower, while group speed will remain the same.  What they could have done is simply started with Forward Momentum and Swift, which I personally think were the two biggest offenders as to why it felt like everyone was driving a racecar in Wolfhunter (again, this is more to make a point than anything). They could have just nerfed Forward Momentum and Swift first to see how it effected the climate of the game (particularly PvP with these two topics) and monitored it over time. Were the nerfs too much? Slightly rebuff one or both in an incremental.  Were the nerfs not enough? Nerf other forms of speed to help continue to slow things down within incremental patches.

This method of balancing would be significantly more efficient and healthier for the game, and I’m not sure what’s holding them back from doing something like this. Even if it results in more down time on the incremental patch days so that mathematical changes could be made to the game, I think it’s worth losing a couple more hours of game time to have the game feel and play better.

So Much Potential

With all that being said, I do love the Elder Scrolls Online and think the game has so much potential to be even better than it currently is.  The game is extremely enjoyable and has so much depth to it, but constant paradigm shifting balance changes, performance issues and some bugs I think hold the game back from it’s maximum potential.  I do think the future is bright though, and ZoS has shown amazing initiative to work with its players through creating the class rep program and the stream team, and I hope they continue to make great strides in other areas and making their game all it can be.

This is just all my opinion though, and wasn’t meant to come across like an angry post, but rather a suggestion to make a great game even better. I hope everyone enjoyed the read, and I’ll see you all in Tamriel!

-Dottz

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