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Introducing World Tiers

15/09/2016 05:00 PM

Hello Agents,

One of the major aspects of The Division we want to take a closer look at in Update 1.4 is the difficulty scaling of the various activities in the game. It has been one of the most talked about topics in our community and one of the most pressing balancing issues we need to face. In order to get it right, we’ve had to take a step back and do a major overhaul of the current system, instead of just tweaking it here and there. It’s been a huge undertaking, but one we believe to be the correct one and the best for the game, improving several other parts of The Division in the process. After a lot of work on our side, and after long discussions with the Elite Taskforce, we’re ready to share more details about how the new system will work.

The Current Problems

1. Time To Kill

As it stands right now, with player power in The Division, the difference between an average character and a well optimized one can increase off the charts. In our internal testing, we found that at level 30 damage fluctuation in certain situations can be as high as +/- 264% between players and damage mitigation can reach +/- 250%, a difference of five times in power. This is only talking about level 30 and 163 Gear Score items, without skill power, talents or stat optimization taken into account - this difference gets much, much bigger in the live game. The gap between the “best” and the “worst” is simply too big, and with the current exponential nature of progression, that gap becomes bigger and bigger with every increase in power level.

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Comparing level 30 characters with level 12 characters, for example, show that at level 30 gear mods can increase damage output by 40%, while at level 12 it’s only 6%. In other words, mods at level 30 is 6,5 times more powerful compared to how they were at level 12! Same goes for damage mitigation, which can be up to 7 times more powerful at level 30 compared to how effective it was at level 12. Other sources also contribute to this huge exponential gap, such as skills and attributes.

If we look at enemy levels, at endgame killing a level 35 enemy tends to take two times longer than killing a level 17 would do at level 12, and that’s only considering a “normal” enemy, we’re not even talking about veterans and elites. This turns enemies into “bullet sponges”, where they simply take too long to kill and you waste magazine after magazine of bullets just to take down a few of them. The time to be killed is also incredibly short and if you’re not geared well you risk being one-shotted by these over tuned enemies – level 35 enemies kill you 1,5 - 5 times faster than a level 17 enemy would take to kill a level 12 player. Comparing the two levels is important, as many would agree that the 1-30 game is one of the most – if not the most – satisfying part of The Division right now. That’s the feeling we want to return to even at endgame.

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Since the endgame is primarily balanced towards the higher echelons of gear, this creates a situation where much of the content is too difficult for many players to complete. Enemies with a greater level than the players are simply too powerful, take too long to kill and deal way too much damage. At the same time, mods and skills can be overpowered as well, creating an arms race between the player and the NPCs – leaving more casual players in the dust and creating a place where large parts of the game don’t feel fun and rewarding.

2. Difficulty Scaling

The Division simply doesn’t have a granular difficulty right now. There are big jumps between hard, challenging and heroic difficulty and every jump makes the game much, much harder than you might be used to, instead of smoothing you into the higher difficulty levels. It can be incredibly hard for a group and even worse for solo players. There’s also no real coherence to the difficulty levels – challenging Underground, for example, is much harder than a challenge mode mission.

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On top of that, some activities scale to the amount of players present while others don’t, something the game is bad at communicating to the player.

3. Rewards

Currently, the gear you need to complete a harder activity drops from the activity itself, which makes it very hard for players to gear up and feel like they are actually progressing. The difficulty versus reward isn’t really where it should be either and often the pure quantity of rewards given to you after a difficult activity is simply underwhelming. With rewards often given after the activity is finished, failure can be extremely frustrating and punishing. At the same time, activities that are not very punishing or difficult tend to give out unsatisfying rewards with low Gear Score.

All in all, this leads to a situation where activities that are not really fun to experience, most of the time provide underwhelming rewards.

In summary, we have identified the following three major issues:

  • Enemies with a greater level than the player are too powerful after level 30
  • The gap between the “worst” and “best” players grows too large at level 30
  • Lack of granularity in difficulty, preventing players from acquiring appropriate rewards

There are of course other issues that impact the core experience, but most of them are consequences of those mentioned above and should be addressed by fixing these three.

So what are we doing about these problems?

The Solution

1. Gear Score

In order to add more granularity to the difficulty scaling, we need to find a way to measure the player’s power better than we can right now. In order to do that, we’ve decided to tweak the way Gear Score is calculated in order to be able to use it as a basis. We’re introducing clear Gear Score milestones –reaching a point where you’re fully decked out in 163, 182, 204 or 229 gear. 229 will be the highest available Gear Score a player can reach. Gear Sets will now match High-End Gear Score, in other words Gear Sets will now have 163, 182, 204 and 229 Gear Score.

2. Introducing World Tiers

In Update 1.4, you will gain the ability to choose between World Tiers based on your Gear Score:

  • Tier 1 = 0 to 163
  • Tier 2 = 164-182
  • Tier 3 = 183-204
  • Tier 4 = 205-229

This selection scales the level of all the enemies in your world – 163 corresponds to level 30, 182 to level 31 and so on. We’ve also rescaled the power of the enemies completely in terms of health and damage to bring a more linear power progression between levels, and removed level 34 and 35 enemies – the highest you will face after this change is level 33 at World Tier 4.

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All activities scale with the World Tier you have selected: you will be able to mix missions, Open World, HVTs, Underground, Incursions and Dark Zone in order to receive rewards that improves your Gear Score. On your way to the various activities, you will run into suitably challenging enemies in the Open World that will also provide meaningful rewards. Enemies and named bosses in the Open World will now respawn on a regular basis, making roaming around Manhattan viable again! A pack of enemies won’t just be a distraction standing in your way to a HVT – it will actually be a source of possible useful loot.

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Just as before, you are able to select the difficulty of your activity from normal to challenging (Heroic difficulty is saved for Incursions). This does not change the actual World Tier, which still defines the enemy level. Difficulty will only impact the roles of the enemies in the activity.

  • Normal = Mostly normal enemies
  • Hard = Normal enemies become Veteran, Veterans become Elite
  • Challenging = All enemies are Elite, and changes of fire teams and enemy archetypes

Challenging difficulty will now also scale according to group size and will therefore become beatable by solo players and smaller groups. Incursions will be the only content always scaled for 4 players groups.

3. Rewards and Progression

With Update 1.4 we are implementing a very important change to the way you acquire equipment: On top of your usual boss drops and activity rewards, every NPC will now have chances to drop loots as well! This means that you can obtain great items from random NPCs that you encounter in the Open World or during a mission. The only exception is Incursions, where only bosses will drop loot.

The rewards in your chosen tier matches the highest Gear Score of that tier, every reward you get brings you a little closer to reaching the highest possible power level of this tier until you unlock the next one and can try yourself against tougher enemies.

  • Tier 1 = Gear Score 163 rewards
  • Tier 2 = Gear Score 182 rewards
  • Tier 3 = Gear Score 204 rewards
  • Tier 4 = Gear Score 229 rewards

As you get more and better gear, you will slowly become overpowered for your current tier, enticing you to move upwards and onwards. As a result, the gear drops you get will prepare you for the harder content waiting for you at higher tiers.

Higher difficulties in a World Tier don’t mean that better loot will start dropping; instead it will have a direct effect on how much loot will drop. This means you will always get relevant rewards, but will always be able to push yourself to get even more of them and gear up faster.

We’re also removing gear drop weighting, the only activity that will drop guaranteed rewards (as well as more random ones) is Incursions. This will allow you to choose whatever activity you prefer and not force you to take part in content that you don’t like.

You’re never forced to pick a higher World Tier than you currently feel comfortable playing in, instead you pick your own pace and can move forward when you feel like it – or the lure of better quality rewards simply become too much. Feel like killing Cleaners with reckless abandon? Select a lower World Tier and feel overpowered for a while. The World Tier is always set to the group leader, so if you want to group up and bring your friends with you to help them get better loot, you can absolutely do so.

4. What About Power Gap Between Players?

We’ve mentioned earlier that the power scaling between optimized and non-optimized characters also contributes to balancing issues in the game. In order to address this, we will need to reduce this gap by normalizing power outliers (both underpowered and overpowered). How we will do this will be explained in another DevBlog.

As a result, no matter what activity you do, the difficulty setting and group size, you will always be rewarded with a potential gear upgrade.

Conclusion

The introduction of World Tiers, coupled with a more linear NPC scaling, will bring back a very important level of fun and enjoyment that has been missing in the end-game of The Division. It creates more options for the solo players, since you can play any content, get better gear rewards from any activities – including roaming around Manhattan killing enemies in the Open World – and enjoy the game at your own pace and choice of difficulty. It allows us to scale enemies to your current power level instead of trying to keep up with the best geared players, which will bring down the time to kill and the time to be killed to similar levels to the 1-30 game.

It also means that the game will be much clearer. It will still include difficult content for the players looking for a challenge, but for others it will be a much more granular experience that is easier to approach and understand.

At the highest Gear Score tier, the hunt will turn towards the best and the most optimized gear. Hardcore, group-focused players will be able to tackle the hardest content in the game, like Heroic Incursions, and be rewarded accordingly. Solo players will still be able to get the best gear in the game at their own rhythm, while groups taking on higher difficulty will see much more of it drop and will be able to gear up faster.

We’ve said that improving the core experience of The Division was the goal of Update 1.4, and we believe that adding a more granular difficulty scaling and a smoother progression system with a more enjoyable time to kill will be a good foundation for a much improved and much more fun overall experience.

We’re extremely excited to bring this new approach to you and can’t wait to hear what you think about it! If you’re a PC player make sure to join us on the upcoming PTS, give it a proper shake down and give us feedback.

- The Division Dev Team