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mirror, mirror… on the wall (of text)

March 20, 2009

All right, chumps, it’s that time. I’ve already covered the second place topic from the poll as well as half of the first place. Today it’s time to finish the job. That means I’ll be talking a great deal about the balance between mirror classes. For those that read my article yesterday I probably don’t need to explain, but for the rest of you this will cover a lot more than simply whining about classes. I’ll be talking a large deal about the idea of mirrors in general and their implementation over a generic class system like most MMO games contain. I will, as promised be covering four pairs of classes as well and looking at some positives and negatives of the mirror system. I’ve gone with user suggestions for my original three mirrors: Engineer / Magus, White Lion / Marauder and BlackOrc / Swordmaster . The fourth ‘bonus’ mirror was chosen at random from the remaining classes and is Bright Wizard / Sorceress. I won’t be calling them Sorcerer, or ‘sw-ork’… why the hard “c” guys? Why the hard “c”…

Now I’d like to give some special shout-outs for great moments in wall-of-text history. This is partially in connection to the WCPI initiative, but also because I always feel a special connection to other people who seem to have a sick fetish for typing. Tomorrow I’ll be granting some special animations to the winners and posting them, but for now you can all bow before their text-based might:

First Place: Corwynn-Maelstrom with Anatomy of a Launch.

Second Place: Garaawarr’s Definitive Guide to Armor Sets.

Honorable mention: Our friend Martin! They may not be blog posts, but his Layman’s Guides are definitely worth noting: Factions, Characters and Gods!

And now, on with the show! I’m again going to be dividing this into a table of contents. Partly to try and preserve my own sanity and partly because some people may just want to skip to a pairing comparison. For those of you who aren’t heretical text-skimmers, I’m sorry for the interruptions between topics. I’m sure you/ll live. Sorry for this going up a day late, but I’ve hate a lot going on personally. Enjoy the read.

Content

aa. Balance between Mirrors

_ab. General Balance

_ac. Role-Based Balance

_ad. Mirror Comparisons

__ad1. White Lion and Marauder

__ad2. Swordmaster and Black Orc

__ad3. Bright Wizard and Sorceress

__ad4. Engineer and Magus

_ae. Closing Thoughts

aa. Balance between Mirrors

The concept of mirrors is the core of the class system of Warhammer Online. This system is designed to allow respective sides of the ongoing war to field different units while maintaining a coherent balancing strategy. This concept draws heavily from the gameplay present in the tabletop game, but also from many tactical games. In these games different armies are often given very different units, but balance is maintained by tweaking resource costs, build times, army sizes and other technicalities. In a game where a player controls an individual character, rather than a tactical unit, these balance concerns must instead center on character roles. This allows the designers to balance the two armies by tweaking the roles to be equal, while allowing each army to have unique class types. The biggest step in implementing this is to avoid creating a situation where classes are viewed as nothing more than clones with differently named abilities and different artwork. Not fulfilling this goal undermines the purpose of using a mirror system and returns you to a generic-class game, like World of Warcraft.

While generic-class systems have advantages, particularly in simplifying balance by cutting the issues in half, they also don’t allow for a very broad experience. While the classes can be renamed, or abilities renamed to create a type of ‘palette swap’ for the characters, this will often let down players coming into a game based on existing intellectual properties, like the Warhammer world. This type of mirror-class system creates its own problems however, which must be dealt with on a regular basis. The largest of these issues is class balance. In a game like WoW you will find a relatively slim list of nine original classes, with the tenth being added recently. This means that Blizzard is faced with balancing ten classes. In WAR however there are twelve mirrors available in game, giving Mythic the task of not only assuring balance between those mirrors, but overall balance between all twenty-four classes. Due to the meta-game played within WAR finding the best way to maximize each classes potential, the balance concerns are always shifting and often strange problems can occur. For instance it is possible for a class to be much better than its mirror, while being much worse than the other classes available.

Another large issue is the idea of ‘functional mirrors.’ This is something that designers must always make a decision to either embrace, or reject. A functional mirror is a pair of classes which are not intended to mirror one another, but their roles within the game are balanced as if they are meant to be. This disparity can be very fun for the player-base if it’s fully embraced as it allows for characters that not only have different tools, but different core mechanics from their mirrored class. It does have drawbacks though, not the least of which is complicating balance further by forcing the additional balance of mechanics effect on a roles gameplay. Mythic has recently shown an effort to remove functional mirrors from the game, taking out the most evident pairing of Black Orc and Ironbreaker by tweaking Black Orc and Swordmaster to function more similarly. This shows good intent to continue the process with the widowed pairing of Blackguard and Ironbreaker, which have nothing in common with one another except their core mechanic.

Mythic’s answer to the question of functional mirrors has thus far been to assure that all mechanical, or official mirrors are also the functional mirror of a class. This is a good step in reducing the balance complications within the game, which has for some time been too convoluted. The mirrors in game for some time were often seen as fuzzy facsimiles rather than equivalent classes, which allowed for many straw men to be built up and burned in effigy. The best testers of a game are its players and not allowing a clear vision to those players skewed many of the debates concerning classes. Who can claim there is a balance issue when others claim the classes are not meant to even have the same role? As the tertiary issue of the game it makes little sense to muddle boundaries further than necessary.

ab. General Balance

As mentioned above, balance is the third most important issue in the game. The first two issues? Client stability and server stability. Those two issues however are detached from the game itself as they deal with nothing more than making the player able to actually participate in the game. Balance on the other hand is an issue which impacts every part of a players actual time playing. The idea of balance first must start from a mission. In fighting games each individual character must be balanced against each other character in the game as well as possible. However, in strategy games an individual character can be extremely weak, or extremely strong compared to others as long as the overall group balance is considered strong. In WAR the magical number is twelve, the number of classes within the game. The reasoning is that a group containing one of each class from one army must be able to stand up to a group containing each class of the opposing army. This is also the balancing premise around the character limit in most scenarios, which are designed to be fair to both sides and present a good pool in which to test class effectiveness.

Beyond the scale at which characters are balanced, it’s also important to understand the truth behind balance. The goal is never to amalgamate the classes so that each of the classes are exactly the same to all the other classes. That would remove the different roles in the game and make having different classes at all seem trivial. Instead the goal is to ensure that classes are able to fulfill their roles efficiently, while making an effort to allow classes to arrive at the same goal through a different means. Simple examples of this are extremely easy to find, such as ranged DPS versus melee DPS. The goal of these roles is to do damage, but the manner in which they deal that damage is very different. This allows balance to be looked at in layers. The first is to look at the classes as a grouped unit. The second is to look at the balance of the effect each different role has within the game. The third is the balance present within that role between the different classes which can perform that role. The final layer in the system which WAR uses is to look at the balance between the mirror classes.

The third layer is the most relevant to this article as it is this layer where the debate usually begins to ignite disagreements. While this article is focused more heavily on mirrors themselves, it’s important to discuss these roles and their relevance to the debate over mirrors. The roles available in WAR are: healing, tanking, ranged DPS, melee DPS and support. Support is meant to contain two roles, as the DPS role does; however, because of game design decisions the ranged version can not be properly analyzed as it is currently too weak to be adequately performed by any class.

ac. Role-Based Balance

When you begin looking at balance within WAR it is important to acknowledge the repercussions that the roles of individual classes have on prioritizing needs. This seems simple enough, but the needs of different roles are often misunderstood, or misrepresented. For this reason it is important to be clear these roles before making any attempt at analyze classes in a more specific manner. Otherwise it’s common for classes to receive adjustments to their skillset which offer little value to that classes roles in WAR. A good example of this was the state of Witch Hunters prior to the recent patch, which removed their reliance on ballistic skill, a statistic that governs ranged damage. While this may have been an interesting route to take it required heavy itemization concerns, as well as giving Witch Hunters an inordinate amount of ballistic skill when leveling. While the class does have ranged attacks, they are so limited in nature that they could never function in a ranged DPS role, which ultimately caused a schism between the classes role and the design decisions of the developers.

So what are the concerns of the roles? There are some basics that apply to all roles such as durability, mobility and control; However, even these are weighted differently based on the role in question. The weight that should be given to the durability is much heavier when governing the tanking role. When dealing with the needs of ranged and melee DPS defensively, you find that a shift in focus between durability and mobility greatly changes the roles gameplay. Melee classes usually function better with increased durability as long as their mobility is not entirely sacrificed. This allows melee to stay on target longer. The opposite is true of ranged who prefer mobility to keep their opponents away from them while still being able to attack. The balance of control within the game is usually weighed more greatly when a role favors either defense, or offense heavily. These classes are then given forms of crowd-control to manage their inadequacies and hone their strengths. This is the primary argument for keeping tanks damage output below that of other DPS classes, due to these classes inherently needing greater crowd-control abilities to function in PVP, RVR and PVE.

The tanking role was given a very bad name in PVP in World of Warcraft. Mythic’s solution to this was to flesh out the role of the tank and give them three purposes in PVP. The first is the standard role that all tanks have, which is to absorb, or otherwise negate incoming damage to protect their team-mates. When skill comes into play being large and carrying a shield is not enough to dissuade your opponents from killing your friend in the dress. So, tanks have become disrupting and controlling in WAR to allow them to function. This comes in the form of AOE damage, knock-downs, knock-backs, and other abilities to cripple their opponents. In large scale battles this is enough to make an impact, but tanks are still forced to rely on class-based abilities to protect their group when opponents ignore them. All tanks are also given some shared abilities, such as Hold the Line, Guard and Taunt, which help to increase their worth across the board.

The healing role is a role that is often confused, overcompensated and hit heavily by the whining of the masses. There is a great deal of thought which must go into balancing the damage in a game against the healing in a game so that the time it takes to kill an opponent is appropriate for the pace of the game. Balance between healers is easy to work out however, especially in WAR where healers have been homogenized. Healers for the most part don’t have unique abilities. All healers are given the following: a core long-duration heal over time, a quick casting heal with a short-duration heal over time and a large group heal. Additionally all ranged healers receive a large single target heal with a medium-length casting time. WAR is not like other games where different classes heal in different ways, with the sole exception of Warrior Priest and Disciple of Khaine, who have a quick group heal, but lack a direct heal. Because of this generic healing design it’s easy to keep all the healers relative worth close together. However, it misses one large factor in that healers must also be either highly mobile, somewhat durable, or have a great deal of crowd control for personal protection. Only the medium-armor AOE healers have any sense of durability, while all the healers have some minor form of crowd control. Healer survivability is definitely a major issue, particularly for Shaman and Archmage, the games premier healers.

The melee and ranged roles as mentioned previously are primarily concerned with their output and the manner in which they are able to maintain their output. For melee this leads to greater desire for a durable class which can survive long enough to move in from range, stay close to their target long enough to kill it, then return to their group. There is some acceptability for highly mobile melee, but due to the prevalence of crowd-control within WAR classes favoring high mobility are too easy to stop. There is also a failing in the stealth system that is normally associated with high-mobility melee. Ranged on the other hand are more dangerous when playing keep away. This makes ranged classes with better mobility function better in skirmishes and better able to defend themselves against melee. There is also an issue with creating ranged classes which are more durable as they become too dominant over other ranged, which struggle to kill them, but at the same time they are easily crushed by melee who rightfully have better options once in range.

The support roles are an interesting addition by Mythic to the game. These classes heal by doing damage, allowing them to assist the DPS roles in dealing damage, while also providing group support through damage returns. This role has seen a lot of controversy in claiming that because it can heal and deal damage at the same time they are a hybrid role. This is a myth as this type of support is limiting by nature: you are only able to support an ally if an enemy is available for attack. There are further complications, but it’s simply outside the scope of this article. These classes have similar needs to their associated DPS type, but are often able to sacrifice their defensive survivability in favor of increasing their ability to support, letting them keep themselves alive self-sufficiently. The most similar role to this in a past game was the Warlock during The Burning Crusade in WoW and the needs of the role are very similar to that class, although their ability to support others is greatly increased and their focus on crowd-control has been removed. Sadly, with the only relevant prototype being a ranged class the ranged support role in WAR has yet to be fully realized. This essentially relegates the ranged healers to a pure healing role with no other effective options.

Please try to keep these priorities in mind when further discussing the specific mirrors which this article will be going over next. Many things provided to classes in their mastery trees do not help them perform their role in combat and are often times distracting from primary issues these classes face. As some archetypes are hybrids, please also take note of the impact which role they are performing does to alter the efficiency at each. Often an option will be very good for one role and very poor for another. This is expected and helps to divide and specialize these classes. For classes with only one role however the opposite is true. Abilities which diverge from their roles needs are often mediocre in concept and poorly thought out.

ad. Mirror Comparisons

This article is now going to shift into the discussion of three mirrors, which were selected via poll. These pairings are White Lion and Marauder, Swordmaster and Black Orc and Engineer and Magus. There is also a fourth mirror discussion which was selected at random, which is the Bright Wizard and Sorceress pairing. They will be listed starting with the two melee DPS, followed by the tanks, then the ‘wizard’ ranged DPS and finally the ‘turret-based’ ranged DPS classes. This has been done for several reasons, but the primary one is that this lists the well balanced mirrors first, followed by those who need a lot of work. Please remember that none of these discussions involve the mirrors as they would operate when dueling one another, but instead their overall role and efficiency within WAR. Read on for more details.

ad1 White Lion and Marauder

This pairing is very interesting. When looking at the classes they seem very different. One is a melee pet class, while the other is a stance based class with access to different abilities based on their current mutated arm. In fulfilling their roles, however, these classes both perform very well. They may take very different routes to achieve their goal, but both have success in doing so. These classes each have an area-of-effect path, a single target burst path and a flavor path.

The paths of The Hunter and Monstrosity are probably the most well known of the two classes trees, which are their AOE trees. Marauder has a quicker start in receiving abilities, but by the mid-thirties White Lion has caught up again. This does have some implications, particularly when discussing the time the classes receive their core cone-AOE attacks, which allows a Monstrosity Marauder to level faster at the beginning of the game. It is also notable that the Marauder’s stance is superior the benefits that White Lion’s receive, although this situation reverses through tactic use, which greatly benefits White Lion single target DPS. White Lion also has a better array of available options outside of AOE within their tree, much of which comes from the aforementioned tactic advantage. Marauder balances this out with better group support though an AOE knock-down which can be used offensively, or defensively. White Lion is also a better flanking attacker due to their increased single-target damage and the ability to use Pounce to quickly close distance and escape from harm. Marauder has a clearer defined role, however, making this the Marauder’s most popular mastery tree, while White Lion’s often use Hunter as a secondary tree.

The next trees to discuss are The Axeman and Brutality. These trees are the burst direct-damage trees and both benefit greatly from attacking from a targets sides, or rear. The classes stances are mixed between a DPS gain for Marauder, or increasing the utility of the White Lion’s pet. White Lion has a lot more utility in this tree, as Marauder had in the previous one. The biggest factor is the addition of an anti-healer ability to limit their output while focusing on high burst damage. There is a slight advantage here towards White Lion due to the lack of utility that this line grants to Marauder. While the advantage is real, Brutality is still a very good tree which provides very high burst damage.

The final trees are The Guardian and Savagery, which are meant to give the classes flair. Marauder in this case gains quite a bit of offensive utility, which is lacking to a great deal in other trees. This allows Marauders to reduce a large amount of armor from opponents, as well as reducing healing on their current target. White Lion also gains a great deal of support and higher defenses. The Marauder stance is of questionable worth as Marauder has many options to reduce opposing armor, or ignore it partially, which greatly diminishes the worth of Weapon Skill. White Lion on the other hand has more issues regarding this trees over-reliance on its pet. The advantage here goes to Marauder, but only because the focus of The Guardian makes it dominantly a tree designed around PVE concerns.

When it comes to tactics the balance is again an interesting mix. Notably Marauders receive substantial synergy with the Brutality tree in their core tactic set. They also receive a very good tactic which as mentioned in the overview of Savagery allows them to ignore half of their opponents armor with their attacks. White Lion has a good mix of tactics as well, but many are too focused on the utilization of their pet. They do however have two important tactics, one of which allows heals directed at them to benefit their pet as well and the other increases their damage when not using their pet. These are both important in and flesh out much of the gameplay roles White Lion plays in the game.

Overall, this is still a very interesting pairing. The way each class approaches armor in a different way, either with mixed magical damage, or with attacks that ignore armor, or by reducing armor on opponent directly. There is also the matter of dealing with leveling, where classes with pets generally have an advantage. The workaround of giving Marauder’s better access to their playset allows the classes to level at similar speeds. Marauder does however have a large assortment of options outside of AOE due to the questionable balancing of the third trees. One also has to question the limiting factors that pet reliance can cause, forcing you to be balanced alongside your pet, which you have very little control over. However, Pounce allows for White Lion to be the most mobile melee class in the game, while not limiting their durability. This combined with the ability to access their playset without switching stances allows White Lion to keep up with their counterpart. This pairing is a good example when looking for a pair of balanced character to compare. The classes go about their roles in such a different manner that many mistakenly believe that they are not actually functional mirrors of one another. This is a perfect example of how mirror classes should be implemented and while the balance is not completely even, both classes are effective and relevant in game.

ad2 Swordmaster and Black Orc

Swordmaster and Black Orc are another pair which has been controversial and misunderstood, but due to recent work on the pairing has come into its own. Much of the controversy between these two classes again centers on them not being functional mirrors of one another in role. This is no longer the case and the passing similarities the classes may have with Ironbreaker and Blackguard are a byproduct of those classes failure to properly mirror one another. The similarities and differences these classes may remind player of abilities which other tanks have access to, but it’s important to view the classes in how they play, not how individual abilities stack up. In their roles the Swordmaster and Black Orc , like White Lion and Marauder, take different routes to achieve the same goal. This may not be as striking due to very similar core mechanics between the classes, but in the balancing of ability options it becomes very clear that these classes accomplishing the same tasks in very different manners.

The first trees of these classes are Khaine and Da’ Brawler. These also one of the best examples of the different routes the classes take in achieving their goals. In many ways this is a direct comparison of using magical attacks to bypass the advantage given by reducing opponents armor. Beyond that however lie questions of the AOE pressure that Swordmasters gain and comparing that to the knock-down of Black Orc , shifting balance between pressure and lock-down. There are some questions about tanking abilities being in DPS trees, which does give a Swordmaster a defensive edge in their offensive tree, but as a hybrid class this is to be expected. The Swordmaster also receives a very nice AOE knock-down morale. Overall these trees are actually very balanced, both having different mixed of utility abilities and different forms of damage production while neither class pulls much ahead.

Vaul and Da’ Toughest are the tanking trees of Swordmaster and Black Orc. Here there is an issue regarding the values which Mythic granted tanks to perform well in PVP. Swordmaster are given substantially better tools than Black Orcs within these tanking trees. Black Orc has a slight advantage in the use of their stance, but there is a noticeable lack of any PVP utility within the mastery. Vaul on the other hand is given a well balanced and organized set of tools useful in many situations. Da’ Toughest has gotten better in recent patches, but it only shines in PVE which is not a primary goal for most player. Swordmaster meanwhile has one of the best PVP tanking trees within the game. Da’ Toughest needs to be brought in line with Vaul to some extent as Swordmaster does have a clear advantage.

The finally trees are, as with most classes, designed to add accent to individual classes. In this case it’s the Hoeth and Da’ Boss mastery paths, which are like the classes themselves very different at first glance. These two trees are designed in such a way that they even out the classes differences amid their other trees. For a long time there was a disparity in the worth of their stances, but these have been brought to par recently. The trees become very similar when looking at the overall mastery design of the classes and even grant many of the same benefits in group support and self sufficiency. Da’ Boss may not be the most popular tree for a Black Orc, but to say that Hoeth is a better tree is highly inaccurate. These trees are actually very well done.

The tactics provided to this pairing are also a very interesting setup. Here the classes are given a tactics which are meant to accent the differences between the mirrors. While this mainly serves to further separate the feel of the classes, it also serves as an example to designers of where to look for balance. Some standout tactics for Swordmaster provide them with a single target knock-down, various damage over time additions to their attacks and reduced AP costs for Improved Balance. Black Orc has some very different standouts, providing them with increased wounds, higher critical hit damage a block rate increase and an attack which causes stances to deal damage upon triggering.

When all is said and done, this pairing is very well done. Swordmaster has a single tree in Vaul which is clearly superior to its mirror in supplying much more utility. Swordmaster also has better defenses with a greatweapon. This makes it hard to say that the pairing is done needing work, but the work that Black Orc needs should in no way impact the Swordmaster class, which should instead be the model of where to bring the Black Orc into line. Black Orc still performs very well and the differentiation between dealing magical damage and reducing opponents armor is a nice twist on a melee class. This mirror shines for a very unique reason: Both classes share identical mechanics, but still are able to fulfill their roles in very different manners.

ad3 Bright Wizard and Sorceress

The previous classes have been pairs that are interesting due to their very good attempts at dividing the role classes play from their mechanics and allowing players a substantial change in gameplay between mirrors. While those mirrors ultimately do come very close to balancing one another, they are notable for their ability to make players believe that they are not the same class. The opposite is true of the Bright Wizard and Sorceress, which like many other mirrors within the game make no effort to hide that these are nothing more than generic classes with unique artwork and ability names. Instead Mythic attempted to balance these clones by giving them very similar abilities to deal with very different problems. This design decision certainly provides some interesting skills, but is fundamentally flawed and complicates balance.

A good starting place in understanding this poor vision is the direct damage trees these classes were given: Incineration and Agony. Here players will find that Bright Wizard is given more stable options, relying less on long casting abilities which limit their movement, while also giving them much better abilities overall. Besides the reduced reliance on abilities which put them at risk, Bright Wizards are also rewarded with perks such as healing and area effect abilities attached to their direct damage. On the other hand Sorceress is given none of these perks and the abilities meant to make up for this inequality are too situational to flesh out a role as a long ranged attacker. This tree is actually the second least balanced tree of any pair of trees which serve the same function.

The least balanced tree of the aforementioned type happens to be the second mastery path provided to Sorceress and Bright Wizard: Immolation and Calamity. These are the damage over time trees. The problem is that the usual advantage of damage over time abilities are their ease of use and flexibility is not present in the Sorceress tree, which is actually given fewer damage over time options. These are instead moved to abilities which have some other effect on an enemy player, followed by a small direct damage burst at the end of the duration. At the same time Bright Wizard is given an anti-healing ability which not only reduce incoming heals, but damages any healers who decides to heal them. They’re also granted a ranged knock-down ability and a wide range of abilities that require no cast time. This all works out to a situation where Bright Wizards have more utility, better survivability and at the same time deal more damage. The final insult is Cleansing Power, a Warrior Priest tactic which causes their heals to remove curses. While this would normally simply remove a few tools from an opponents arsenal, in the case of Calamity almost every ability given produces a curse. This is by far the most unbalanced set of mastery paths in the game. Immolation is considered one of the best mastery paths within WAR, while Calamity is unquestionably one of the worst.

What makes these inequities even more heinous is that the pairs final trees, the AOE trees, Conflagration and Destruction are almost exact clones. There are some minor differences, but all the issues between the two classes are trivial compared to the arguments leveled against these classes. Those arguments regard the implementation of AOE in the game, such as line of sight problems. The main difference between the gameplay of the two classes deals not with anything within the tree, but rather a core tactic which increases Rain of Fire’s radius. These trees are not only balanced with each other, they’re completely homogenized. A Conflagration Bright Wizard is nothing more than a Destruction Sorceress who looks slightly worse in a dress.

The core tactics of the mirrors are actually decently balanced. The only large standout is as mentioned before the tactic which increase Rain of Fire and Detonate’s radii. The great disparity stems from the mastery tactics, which refocus and trim Bright Wizard to more thoroughly dominate the pairing. This is something that needs to be done in small steps, but there will definitely be more than a few steps before the two classes can be considered in line with one another.

This is quite unlike the previous pairs in many ways. Sorceress is limited to a single tree to efficiently complete its role in the game, while Bright Wizard is able to customize their characters skillset. On top of this, Sorceress has a tree which is simplified so deeply that it’s able to be locked down by a single tactic of another class combined with no effort besides that classes’ normal healing role. While the effects of Cleansing Power are well known, its effect on the Sorceress class is quite profound. Combined with the limiting of movement when comparing Agony to Incineration, this forces Sorceress into the Destruction tree. While this would likely be their decision anyway during RVR, it’s quite limiting during PVP. At least this role is roughly equal to Bright Wizard, although even here there is a slight advantage to Bright Wizard. It must be said however that the Bright Wizard is not being cited as overpowered, but instead pointed out as a class that is well put together and thought out and unfortunately mirrored with a class which is not. The prototype for a good caster in WAR is there in Bright Wizard and Sorceress should be brought in line with their well thought out mirror class.

ad4 Engineer and Magus

Here again we’re dealing with a pair that in many ways are clones of one another. Here however Mythic has done little to provide the classes with different tools and instead settled on a fairly bland mix of skills with similar functions. Here, like with Bright Wizard and Sorceress, we are dealing with a pair of classes who should be very easy to balance with one another. This is not a pairing which has substantial mechanical differences such as those present with White Lion and Marauder. Nor do the classes branch off to complete tasks in different manners. Instead we have two classes which fill the same roles in the same ways who have succumb to the developers fears that they will be considered too similar for players to accept that they are not the same class.

The first tree that these classes are provided with are The Rifleman and Havoc paths. These are the long-ranged direct damage trees. Both classes are given some utility within these trees, but are mostly different scoops from the carton. The defining factors in the difference between these trees occur at the top of them, where Engineer’s are given a better tactic and a better morale. There’s a decent balance here, with only a very slight edge towards Engineer which is no more than that present in prior mirrors which were balanced.

The key difference between these classes and the previous ones occurs in the Grenadier and Changing trees. The abilities in these trees are again very similar and function in much the same way. When looking purely at these abilities the classes look much like the AOE trees of Bright Wizard and Sorceress. This is quickly destroyed however by the disparity between the tactics which are provided to these classes. The Magus tactics are not only questionable in worth, but are often not properly focused on the role of the tree. Engineer on the other hand is given some of the best tactics in the game, increasing range and radius of attack, while also reducing the AP spent by those attacks. This allows Engineer to minimize the problems with their low mobility and poor range, while maximizing the good qualities of their offensive. This results in one of the easiest to balance trees within the game becoming what is well known for being one of the worst balances within the game due to poor tactic design.

The final trees are The Tinkerer and Daemonology, which more correctly can be referred to as the Electromagnet and Chaotic Rift trees. This is because both trees commit the first crime against class balance: They center on abilities which do not enhance the role of their class. There are abilities for a ranged class which scale from Strength. There are melee abilities. There are heals. Both classes do add some utility, but both are completely reliant on the ranged AOE pull abilities. To top it off the slight advantage that Magus receives by having all their abilities scale with Intelligence is sullied by having its tree topped off by the least useful Morale-4 ability in the game: Firewyrm Of Tzeentch.

Tactics are again a difficult discussion. Both classes are given poor core tactics, but Engineers get generally better tactic choices within mastery paths. In particular the previously mentioned Grenadier tactics give them a massive edge when utilizing what is the most common tree for these two classes to use in addition to the ‘Electromagnet’ and ‘Chaotic Rift’ paths. While many Magus struggle to pick more than a couple tactics they may want to use, many Engineers are struggling to fit the six they desire within the four allotted tactic slots. *Note: Due to recent bug fixes which fixed existing Engineer tactics, they now also have very good core tactics, widening the spread in tactics between these classes.

Overall the Magus and Engineer pairing should have been a very easy pair to execute properly and maintain balance between. This has been ruined by the muddling design scheme of tactics and giving the classes entire trees that focus on abilities which do not aid their role in combat. Both classes are used for their ranged AOE pulling abilities, rather than their competence in the game at what they were designed to do. The only exception is that due to the increased power that the Engineer class possesses allows them to actually complete their role within the game as the longest range AOE attacker. Both of these classes have problems and both of them are forced into cookie cutters. Both classes have large issues with low mobility, which Engineer is forced to deal with by increasing their range, while Magus has no solution. The Engineer and Magus, as with the Bright Wizard and Sorceress, probably produce too much AOE damage and produce too much pressure in large scale RVR. To top this off, since these classes utilize damage over time abilities their impact is also greatly increased in PVP, possibly to the level of needing to be adjusted down in power. This poses a large problem however when one is aware that both classes actually need buffs and a great deal of work before they can be accepted into the game.

ae Closing Thoughts

The idea of using mirrors to balance roles within the game is very good. It allows for classes which serve the same functions in an army, while not only performing that role differently, but often not even allowing players to realize that they’re playing the same role. There are problems, but the groundwork is in play with many fully realized concepts running smoothly in the game. Some of the problems actually occur when these mirrors are too close to one another, which leads designers in the wrong direction when trying to work out how these classes should go about their role. Sometimes this leads to classes which are nearly clones, but are unable to fulfill the same roles. Sometimes it leads to classes which are nothing more than carbon copies.

In searching out successful mirrors, those that are homogeneous can be a good place to start. Disciple of Khaine and Warrior Priest, with a few differences excluded, are the same class. The core playset of their two functioning roles are actually identical except for Cleansing Power and Devour Essence. While that can cause some problems in its own right, there is definitely a good balance in place. There are other places to look however, such as the White Lion and Marauder pairing, which is often mistaken for a non-functional mirroring. The truth is that these mirrors show the most potential for the system that WAR uses for class balance.

There are of course a few gross failures within the mirror system as well. The Bright Wizard and Sorceress is one of the most apparent, though Engineer and Magus is more humiliating due to coming so close to balance before throwing it aside. While it may not be as visible, the silliest of all mirror problems is between Blackguard and Ironbreaker . These classes are so far separated that they essentially have no functional mirror. While another single tree of another class may be a loose fit for a single tree of these classes, they have no overall mirror of acceptable worth. This often results not only in debate between the worth of these character, but confusion when players adamantly defend their lack of mirrors as a design decision. If this is a design decision, it should not in any way be defended and should take a note from the recent adjustments to Swordmaster and Black Orc. These classes are mirrors and should be compared on the same grounds that all other classes in the game can be compared. It is not acceptable to have wild cards within a competitive game’s balancing process.

There are members of the player base and the community as a whole which believe that balance is not an important issue. These people will claim that it’s nothing more than whining, or that classes are merely out for what they want. Some even claim that balance isn’t something they’re concerned with as it doesn’t impact their gameplay. It is a persons choice to reject balance and except inequality, but it isn’t reasonable to dismiss all debate as whining and categorize those debating as selfishly wanting to hoard power. The balance between mirrors is central to the success of WAR and should be treated with as much reverence. There are multiple ways to increase the balance between mirrors and whether or not reducing the strength of one class is necessary is outside the scope of mirror balance. Instead that is an issue of overall game balance. Instead the function of those classes should be looked at to see where the deficiency is so that those who do have problems. Then we can have them adjusted to match performance of the existing successful solutions to them. Balance is a delicate and important issue with many layers and mirror balance is no different and no less complex. How can we expect the discussions of these issues to be any less complex.

pancakez

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. March 21, 2009 12:09 am

    I’d like to point out one thing I felt you’ve missed in an anotherwise great post: when talking about core tactics for Magus and Engineer, you say that they are both given poor choices.

    I’d give the left half of my disc for a tactic that is remotely as good as what the Engi gets with Concentrated Fire 😀

  2. March 21, 2009 12:09 am

    Oh, and thanks for the honorary mention! 😀

  3. pancakez permalink*
    March 21, 2009 1:14 am

    If Coordinated Strike is finally fixed in 1.2 that’s actually a really big oversight on my part. I’d written it off under ‘tactics that currently do nothing.’ Then again I could probably write a post nearly this long on nothing but the Engineer class in attempt to actually cremate the our poor dead horse.

  4. March 21, 2009 4:23 am

    Coordinated Fire was, to the best of my knowledge, fixed in 1.2.

    However Sorcs have had a working and better version in their selection since launch, so while Magi have no access to it, Destruction as a side have. It’s one reason WElfs pre 1.2 were so unbelievably brutal. A Welf with a Sorc and a DoK in group was just sick and wrong.

    Now of course most of them have rerolled Choppa to AoE-spam. 😀

  5. ghaz permalink
    March 21, 2009 7:20 pm

    great post pancake, enjoyed it immensly =D and i agree with most of what you said apart from the stuff on borc/sm but i was never gonna agree with that since i was a tanking Borc lol but there we go i’ll have to wait and see whats instore in 1.3 (bah junes so far away =/ hehe)

  6. shadowwar permalink
    March 23, 2009 2:29 pm

    Holy wall of text Batman. I really think my retinas just fried from this. Careful what we ask for I guess. Oh, and good post, I’ll make sure to finish reading it once I see my optometrist.

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