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A Balancing Act

February 17, 2014

Dear Reader,

One thing that struck me recently was how much I like to try out different builds in games.  Whether it’s Borderlands or WoW, I’ve likely tried every major build that’s out there for each character I’m really playing (meaning not on every alt).  Games that allow that kind of respeccing encourage a little experimentation, though of course the ever-present theory-crafting beast tells us which of those specs is the most efficient.  In that way, games have to seek a kind of balance, not just in power levels, which is the context in which we usually hear about balance, but also a balance between stagnation and efficiency.  Once you’ve found the perfect build, how long are you willing to do that same thing, over and over and over?

It struck me most recently when I rebooted my Guild Wars 2 account in an expectation I’d be playing with my wife (which never came to pass).  The first thing I did was look up thief builds; I’d not done any research on thieves in the past, so I really had no idea what a “good” or “bad” build was; I just knew I wanted to experiment with something new.  I found a variety of options, bookmarked a few for later experimentation, and built the other.

It was a stark contrast to my experience with my GW2 warrior, where I found very early on that the great sword build was miles and miles more powerful than anything else I’d found.  Knowing that made me feel very uncomfortable, though; my buddy was struggling on his elementalist, and when I wasn’t massacring mobs with the great sword, we’d struggle a bit, so I felt compelled to stick with efficiency and avoid experimentation.

I think that might be the secret problem in games like GW2 and The Secret World where you can realize your “ideal” build very early.  Those of us who want to experiment, which I believe to be many of us, are left with an uncomfortable strain between what’s working very well and getting bored and wanting to try something else.

I suspect that’s part of why many other video games have a much more leisurely power curve; you don’t get all your core powers in WoW at level 45, for example; you learn to use the basics, then get more and more advanced techniques as you continue to level.  In TSW, though, I had my “optimal” build by mid-Egypt (about halfway through the content), meaning that I was dying to experiment with something new before I got to Transylvania (the last third of the game).  I tried out a tank build and was unimpressed, a healer/dps hybrid and was unimpressed, and so forth.  My desire to experiment was facing problems at every turn because the efficiency of the other build was so great.

Perhaps that’s a feature, though, and not a bug.  Perhaps they’ve designed the game with that in mind so that players have to make that “interesting choice.”  I don’t know; I loved TSW and was only lukewarm to GW2.  It doesn’t seem like there was a correlation between my overall experience and that discomfort I felt by being optimal too early.  Then again, I didn’t finish GW2, either; I got bored of using the same abilities over and over.

So perhaps that’s a concern developers should consider.  How early is too early to find your optimal build?

What do ya’ll think?

Sincerely,

Stubborn (not yet his optimal build)

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 17, 2014 11:06 am

    I call this the great “illusion of choice”. When games offers a whole metric ton of options for you to customize your character, but there’s only one or two efficient builds available, what’s the purpose of using anything but optimal? And in some games, the overall hardcore community reaction is if you’re not using the most efficient builds, then why are you even playing and wasting everyone’s time? I love experimenting. I hate looking up others builds, and prefer to find the optimal on my own. To me, that’s half the fun. But I also understand that random groups don’t appreciate that, so I avoid random groups.

    In TSW, yeah, you hit QL10 somewhere in Egypt. From there, I, too, have used about the same build since. (Transylvania, you have to switch it up a bit with adding weaken/avoiding affliction, etc. but overall, it hasn’t changed much) I’ve found the changes I’ve made have switched from the actives to the passives. Since any passive unlocked can be used with any weapons, suddenly I’m using Fist and AR passives with my pistols and elemental magic, as I unlock more and more of the wheel… but then, as I said, I didn’t look up the most optimal builds, so I didn’t automatically know what to unlock.

  2. Sylow permalink
    February 18, 2014 4:36 am

    It might be just me, but i am playing TSW actively since launch. I am mostly in 10.4 gear by now (all gear i use for solo activities is 10.4, only my tanking gear for dungeons is not completed yet), i have the wheel at 100% since a year or so. And despite all of this, my setups still change. Indeed i have the mentioned “no affliction”, “no weaken” and “less glances” setups for specific areas and fights saved since a long time, but even my everyday setup was updated again in January. The influx and requirements of Scenarios forced me make new setups and when finetuning them i had to see that my solo setup, which i considered “optimal” for the task for a long time, indeed still could’ve been improved. I expect Tokyo and the Aegis system to shake up my builds again and probably new improvements will then again enter my solo setup, or quite likely i’ll end up with several solo setups as the little information we have about the Aegis system yet indicates that different enemies will indeed require different ways to tackle them.

    Anyway, even disregarding the upcoming changes of the Aegis system, my experience is that my setup, despite being able to do all content and performing perfectly well, still was able to be improved. And i guess even now there could be ways to improve upon it which i just didn’t consider yet.

    Thus i dare to ask: was your build really “optimal”? Or was it “good enough” to do everything, and thus appeared optimal to you? I think a player should always have the chance to find a “good enough” setup to do the job. Due to higher flexibility and the absence of tiered abilities, this setup of course can be reached a bit earlier in TSW or GW2. At least in TSW there’s a lot of potential hidden in the “rest” of the wheel, which can improve your setup a lot in the long run, turning your seemingly “optimal” setup into a “good enough”.

    This might be true for GW2, too, but while i have bought the preorder and have played at the beta weekends, this was enough for me and i don’ have any desire to return to it. I indeed have played the first Guild Wars again since GW2 was released, but despite having the second installed could not get myself to actually start it even once.

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