A Balancing Act
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?
Stubborn (not yet his optimal build)