Class changes and balance in Game Update 1.3
Hello everyone. My name is Austin Peckenpaugh, and I’m a Senior Designer on Star Wars™: The Old Republic™. My job here is to create, maintain, and balance class gameplay in The Old Republic. As such, I’m here to shed some light on the upcoming changes to classes in Game Update 1.3 to give you all a sense of what’s to come and why it’s coming.
Like with any major patch, Game Update 1.3 will bring with it an array of class updates. Before I go into detail on any specific changes, I wanted to use this opportunity to share our philosophy as to why classes need to change at all.
I think it’s important to first communicate that not all class changes are meant to address balance. In fact, I try and treat usability, quality of life, and balance all as equal parts of good class design. To that end, when class changes come to a server near you, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your class was “too good” or “too bad” prior to the patch. In fact, it’s just as likely that these changes are meant to address kinks or even pains in your day-to-day play, ability functionality, and rotations.
However, many changes are made with the express purpose of changing balance. This is an ongoing process, but that doesn’t mean that we’re locked in a never-ending tug-of-war between the classes. In actuality, many components of classes are balanced against “hard targets.”
For example, some components of class balance have a “give and take” quality that is directly related to what other classes can do. If we lowered the cooldown of a Guardian’s Force Leap, the kiting and anti-kiting dynamic with ranged classes will have shifted. If, however, we increase the damage Vigilance and Focus Guardians deal, that moves them closer to or further away from our targets – the same targets shared by all DPS specs.
These targets are rigid in that all specs must hit them, but these same targets are also flexible that once a spec is within range of them, there’s some flexibility as to where that spec ultimately ends up. Is being 2% above target acceptable given how immobile you are? Is being 2% below target acceptable considering your off-healing and control capabilities? This is where our balance gets subjective and why, in spite of any mathematical accuracy, we’re constantly reevaluating class balance. It’s through this iterative process that we test our assumptions, using our own experiences and those of our players to identify the issues and, more importantly, identify non-invasive fixes.
Changes for Tank Characters
Each major patch is an opportunity to reassess the current status of key combat systems to make sure they’re still working how we expect them to. In Game Update 1.3, one of the major goals was to better normalize single-target and AOE tank threat.
- Threat generation for all tanking stances has been increased to 100% (up from 50%).
This is a big one. We’ve received a lot of feedback from tanks regarding how easy or difficult it is to hold threat on various encounters. Between taunts and de-taunts and the fact that most encounters give tanks more uptime than DPS, single-target threat should be easy for a tank to maintain. While this change will make it even easier, ultimately single-target tanking gameplay won’t be affected much by this change. AOE threat generation, on the other hand, should improve significantly.
In addition to the blanket threat increase, we’ve made several targeted changes to AOE threat generation across the tanking roles with the intention of both normalizing AOE threat building and giving each tank one or more go-to abilities for on-demand AOE threat.
- Cyclone Slash/Sweeping Slash now apply an accuracy debuff with the Dust Storm/Quake skills.
- Guardian Slash/Crushing Blow have been slightly redesigned to deal AOE damage when striking a target with 5 sunder stacks (and now spread those stacks). This AOE damage is “smart” and will not hit enemies affected by control that breaks on damage.
- Single Saber Mastery now offers effects based on your current Form. In Soresu Form, Cyclone Slash/Sweeping Slash and Force Sweep/Smash deal increased threat.
- Force Breach (Combat Technique)/Discharge (Dark Charge) now generate increased threat.
- The AOE damage dealt by Slow Time/Wither is now “smart” and will not hit enemies affected by control that breaks on damage.
- Supercharged Ion Cell/Gas now cause High Impact Bolt/Rail Shot to trigger your Ion Cell/Cylinder on the target and on up to 4 additional nearby targets. This AOE damage generates a high amount of threat and is “smart,” meaning it will not hit enemies affected by control that breaks on damage.
We are also striving to make all tanks hit the same survivability targets for Game Update 1.3. Testing shows that the self-healing generated by Shadow/Assassin tanks is too powerful after the armor adjustment they receive via Combat Technique/Dark Charge. This armor adjustment should have brought Shadow/Assassin tanks to lower passive survivability levels than the heavy armor tanks, with the self-healing they provide making up for the difference. However, this armor adjustment was making them passively just as good as the heavy armor tanks, with the self-healing taking them a bit beyond our survivability targets. Rather than hit armor or self-healing too hard, we’ve opted to adjust both by a much smaller amount.
- The healing generated by Combat Technique/Dark Charge has been reduced by approximately 50%.
- The healing generated by Harnessed Shadows/Harnessed Darkness has been reduced to 8% in total (down from 12% in total).
- The armor provided by Combat Technique/Dark Charge has been reduced to +115% (down from 150%).
Changes for DPS Characters
We’re always trying to make sure that the “capstone ability” at the end of each skill tree is attractive and appropriate for the investment required to unlock it. In Game Update 1.3, the Sharpshooter/Marksmanship trees have changed for the Gunslinger/Sniper to provide a more attractive and better-performing capstone ability.
- Rapid Fire is no longer the capstone ability for Sharpshooter/Marksmanship. Rapid Fire is now a 3-pt passive skill that reduces the cooldown of Aimed Shot/Ambush and Speed Shot/Series of Shots.
- Blaster Volley/Sniper Volley is the new capstone ability for Sharpshooter/Marksmanship. This is now an active ability that finishes the cooldown on Speed Shot/Series of Shots and greatly increases alacrity and energy regeneration for about 10 seconds.
With this change, Gunslingers and Snipers will benefit from better on-demand damage and energy management, something we believe complements their existing arsenal without drastically altering their gameplay.
Additionally in Game Update 1.3, we’ve made changes to improve the gameplay and quality of life of Commando/Mercenary damage-dealing specs. We’ve spent a lot of time playtesting and investigating the concerns of the community, and while Commando/Mercenary damage is largely on target, prior to Game Update 1.3, resource management made performance streaky and a little too unreliable.
We’ve made the following changes to the Commando/Mercenary for Game Update 1.3 to improve resource management and simplify stack upkeep for Gunnery/Arsenal specs:
- Cell Charger/Terminal Velocity has been redesigned to passively restore 1 energy cell/vent 8 heat every 6 seconds.
- Gravity Surge/Light ‘Em Up now additionally grants an extra stack of Charged Barrel/Tracer Lock and Charged Barrier/Power Barrier, if applicable, with each Grav Round/Tracer Missile fired.
- Target Lock/Advanced Targeting has been redesigned. Now gives Full Auto/Unload and High Impact Bolt/Rail Shot 10% armor penetration per point.
Now Gravity Surge/Light ‘Em Up simultaneously increases the number of stacks built by each buff tied to Grav Round/Tracer Missile. This small change gets Commandos/Mercenaries into their core gameplay faster and more seamlessly. Additionally, we’ve improved the resource management game and have given Commandos/Mercenaries some armor penetration for better parity with Vanguard/Powertech Assault Specialist/Pyrotech skill trees.
Future Game Updates
As previously stated, classes in Star Wars: The Old Republic will continue to undergo constant evaluation. Many future changes will be similar in scope and purpose to what I’ve described in this blog – to address usability issues, improve quality of life, and make the most non-invasive changes we can to correct emerging balance issues.
As far as any specifics go, nothing for future Game Updates is locked down well enough yet to comment on. However, I hope the information I could share with you today has helped shed some light on our processes and our motivations. Thanks for reading and playing.