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Improving Character Balance

21/09/2016 05:00 PM

Agents,

As mentioned in the last development blog and the State of the Game livestream where we introduced World Tiers, one issue facing The Division today is that the power difference between optimized and non-optimized builds is too great. We still want people to optimize their gear and min-max to their heart’s content, but in order to balance the game, we need to reduce the gap between the two extremes. As part of Update 1.4 we also want to bring back the shooter feeling, add more decision making and hard choices when building your character and add more variety to the viable builds. In this development update, we’ll take a look at the main changes we’re making to ensure those things.

Keep in mind that Update 1.4 is still in development and details included in this article are not final and are subject to change. The Public Test Server will be available next week and if you’re playing The Division on PC you will be able to try out the changes and give us feedback before they go live.

These are not all the changes made to the game in Update 1.4. A more exhaustive list will be released with the patch notes before the update is released in October.

Gear Changes

1. Stats

Every level you gained between level 1-30 increased your three main stats – Firearms, Stamina and Electronics – organically, so in order to make your journey through the new endgame World Tiers work we need to simulate the same leveling up experience at endgame. One of the main changes to the current gear is that after Update 1.4 every piece of equipment dropped in World Tier 2 and higher will have all three stats on them. While one stat will always be much higher than the other two, and you can recalibrate as before, the inclusion of all three on every item creates a balanced baseline which means that your survivability will generally be higher and you no longer risk accidentally making the game much more difficult than it has to be. These base stats will increase with each increase in gear score.

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Other stats, like crit chance or headshot damage for example, will need to be scaled down, as they currently can become way too high. Do remember though that enemy health and damage will also be rebalanced, creating a more even playing field.

In Update 1.4, all gear will lose their skill bonuses, while backpacks, holsters and knee pads gain new performance mod slots. This means that you’ll have more choices which mods you want to use and no longer have to be annoyed that the god roll gear piece you got came with a modifier you didn’t want in the first place. This limits the current RNG and makes it easier for you to customize your gear to fit your build. These new slots won’t replace any of the current ones. Current performance mods will lose their major bonus, and their skill bonus will be rebalanced and rerolled.

Keep in mind that it is a good idea to hang on to your current performance mods and don’t deconstruct them or sell them, as it will increase your chances to get the performance mod you want once they are rerolled.

2. Gear Score

The gear scores of Gear Sets have all been adjusted to match High end gear score within the same World Tiers.

  • 191 gear will all be made into Gear Score 163
  • 214 to 182
  • 240 to 204
  • 268 to 229

This change does not mean that Gear Sets are becoming less powerful. In The Division right now, the 268 Gear Score that Gear Sets have isn’t actually indicative of their relative power. With the new Gear Scores, this will be made much clearer and easier to understand.

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One important reason for these changes is that we don’t want to see you get kicked from groups only because you haven’t inflated your Gear Score with 268 GS Gear Set pieces. Since we want to make High End gear more viable, and allow for more builds not relying on Gear Sets, we want to make sure you’re not automatically punished just because your Gear Score doesn’t look high enough. Gear Sets are not meant to be a measure of actual power or be must haves to be competitive at endgame, instead they will represent fun and specialized gameplay styles. We’ll talk more about Gear Sets later in this article.

Stat overlaps between Gear Scores have been removed. The item might not fit your current build, but we can now guarantee that the stats will roll higher on higher Gear Score items. This includes, for example, weapon damage, armor, core attributes etc.

3. High End Gear and Talents

We’ve looked through all high end gear talents and tried to balance the numbers on them to make more of them viable for endgame. This includes either lowering or increasing some of their bonuses. This is one aspect we’d love to get your feedback on from the PTS in order to find out which ones feel viable and which feel left behind.

4. Scavenging

Scavenging has been an issue for a long time and we’ve always meant to fix it. Unfortunately, all the solutions that we’ve tested were unsatisfying and we’ve finally decided to remove it from the game. If you have Scavenging on your current gear, that stat will be replaced and rerolled. We also don’t want players to swap gear for a specific result while they are playing; if Scavenging was made too good, for example, we’d end up in a situation where players would switch to their Scavenging gear before killing a boss.

Recap of gear changes:

  • All gear in World Tier 2 and higher will have all three base stats – Firearms, Stamina, Electronics – on them, one of these stats will be higher than the others.
  • Other bonuses, like crit chance and headshot damage, will be scaled down to fit the new game balance.
  • Gear will lose their skill bonuses, but backpacks, holsters and knee pads will gain new performance mod slots, making them easier to customize to fit your build.
  • Gear Sets will have their Gear Score adjusted to the same levels as High End gear.
  • Stat overlaps between Gear Scores have been removed.
  • High End gear talents have been rebalanced.
  • Scavenging has been removed from the game.

Weapons

As stated above, with Update 1.4 we want to return The Division to having more of a shooter feeling, similar to the level 1-30 experience. In order to do so, we’ve had to take a close look at how weapons and weapon mods work in the game. This part will see some big changes, but in the end should make the weapons and combat feel much more satisfying and varied compared to the way things stand right now.

One thing you’ll notice straight away is that the DPS numbers on your weapons will have changed. This isn’t necessarily indicative of a nerf or a buff to your gun; it’s simply a new formula for explaining how much damage it does. It’s still a work in progress, but right now the displayed DPS on the PTS is based on damage, rounds per minute and crit. While it gives a really transparent view of the damage output of the weapon, removing magazine size, reload speed and accuracy from the equation makes it difficult to compare weapons of different types between each other. We are currently working on a new formula to achieve a better overview of the power of a given weapon; you should be able to see it on a future PTS update.

We’ve also changed the damage the various weapons do and their current roles. In the live game, SMGs for example do higher damage than Assault Rifles, which is not intended. Instead their future power will come from the fact that they are stable and have high critical damage, which means your goal is to get as many bullets as possible on the target. Many Light Machine Guns will see a buff and get closer to the damage numbers of Assault Rifles, which will make them more powerful and viable to use. Some specific outliers that are currently way too powerful, like the MP7 and M1A, will see their raw damage numbers lowered to make up for the fact that they have big bonuses to handling. Weapons that are unpopular in the current meta, like the SRS Sniper Rifle and the M2-49, have had their damage output increased to bring them up to par.

We’re planning to do something more with the Named Weapons in the future, but you won’t see any significant changes with Update 1.4. That said, their talents and damage have been updated together with all regular weapons.

1. Weapon Mods and Talents

Previously, a weapon mod would have one guaranteed bonus it always came with, and one equally high bonus rolled randomly from the pool. That second bonus will be removed from the mods and replaced with an amount of minor bonuses, depending on the quality of the item. At the same time, we’ve gotten rid of stats that simply weren’t interesting, like head shot XP bonus, and certain bonuses have been reworked and combined into one – the different varieties of stability (horizontal stability, initial bullet stability and stability) and accuracy (accuracy, hip fire accuracy) are now, for example, single stats (stability and accuracy respectively).

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This means, once again, that you’ll have to make actual choices when modding your weapon instead of being able to max out everything. Want to build for the highest possible damage? That’s perfectly fine, but you’ll end up with a gun that might have a big recoil or a small magazine. Or if you prefer, you can build a weapon that is incredibly stable and precise, but you’ll have to sacrifice raw damage. It means that there will be more skill involved in using the weapons, just like in a regular shooter and during the level 1-30 experience, and our hope is that it will lead to much more variety and less cookie cutter weapon setups. These changes allow us to keep up the challenge of the game, while reducing the time to kill of the NPCs.

In order to prevent overpowered “legacy” weapon mods, we’ve had to make these changes affect your current weapon mods too, which effectively means that all your weapon mods will be rerolled.

Similar to performance mods, it is a good idea to hang on to your current weapon mods and don’t deconstruct or sell them, as it will increase your chances to get the weapon mod you want once they are rerolled.

Damage bonuses like headshot damage, crit damage, armor damage etc, are becoming additive instead of multiplicative, which means that damage won’t spike as much as it does today. Those spikes make it really hard to balance enemy health and aren’t very fun in PvP. In the future, these will be much more manageable for both us and you. Damage will be more consistent going forward. These changes also mean that investing in Firearms will be a much more significant source of damage output, leading to more decision making when building your character, as building for DPS will mean sacrificing other stats.

Weapon talents have seen a rebalance too, with unpopular ones receiving a buff to bring them back to the meta while the current overpowered ones have seen their numbers slightly lowered. Some talents that previously were seen as niche and hardly ever used have seen a change in functionality. Other weapon talents that were beyond saving have been removed from the game completely. With the changes to weapons and weapon mods, the talents will allow you specialize further and complement your current build.

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Apart from the changes noted above – performance mods, scavenging, etc. - most of the time we’ve tried to refrain from replacing bonuses you have on your existing gear, so its identity remains the same. Nevertheless, the scale of the stats and bonuses might change, either up or down, in order to fit the new balance.

Recap of weapon changes:

  • We want to return The Division to feel more like a shooter, similar to the experience during the 1-30 game.
  • New DPS formula on weapons has been introduced, but is a work in progress and will change over the course of the PTS.
  • The damage and roles of certain weapons have been changed. Some weapons have seen a damage increase; others have had their damage lowered.
  • Named weapons will not be changed in this update.
  • Weapon mods will now come with one major bonus and an amount of smaller bonuses, depending on the quality of the mod.
  • Damage bonuses are now additive instead of multiplicative, reducing the current spikes in damage which made the game hard to balance.
  • The Firearms stat will become a much more significant source of damage output, leading to more decision making when building your character.
  • Weapon talents have been rebalanced; some have been buffed, others have seen their numbers reduced.
  • The identity of your gear will remain the same, even if the scale of stats and bonuses might change.

Armor

In the current meta, it’s really easy to reach the armor cap without losing any damage output, which makes it easy to create a tanky character that can still do a lot of damage. Most of your survivability is coming from your armor instead of your health. From now on, we want to reduce the impact of armor and instead make health (via Stamina) your main source of toughness. This means that in order to create a tank character, you will have to spec in Stamina and sacrifice Firearms and Electronics.

Armor will now support your toughness, if you decide to spec for it, but you now need more armor to reach the same survivability as in 1.3. In addition, while you will gain more armor as you increase your Gear Score, higher World Tiers will also mean that you need more of it to gain the same damage mitigation. This allows us to create a smooth ladder for progression instead of seeing the numbers reach incredible heights again. Enemy damage has been lowered for Update 1.4 though, so investing in armor won’t be as important as it has been in the past.

Recap of armor changes:

  • Stamina will be the main source of toughness.
  • Armor value will have different results of damage mitigation depending on the World Tier you are in.

Gear Sets Rebalancing

Looking at the Gear Sets, we’ve had to rebalance the current four-piece bonuses. If a four-piece Gear Set bonus is much more powerful than wearing four High End pieces by default, it will always be the only possible choice. For example, Sentry’s Call is currently giving such a high damage boost, that you simply have to have it in order to do the maximum amount of damage. This creates a staler game without much variety in the meta. Many of the four-piece bonuses weren’t very interesting either, something that became even clearer after the Agent Intel poll we did on the forums, so we’ll be testing new variations on the PTS and looking for feedback for how they feel to play now.

We’ve also taken a look at the two-piece bonuses. Since you can double dip into other Gear Sets to get them, we’ve changed them to focus more on utility instead of straight up stat bonuses. They will now allow you to customize your character even further and complement your weapon mods, by giving bonuses to things like accuracy, stability, ammo capacity and similar, instead of just giving pure damage boosts. These bonuses will be based on the overall concept of the Gear Set in question. Five-piece bonuses have simply been removed from the game, since they didn’t actually add anything interesting to the gameplay – they just made the damage numbers even higher, which helped create the current imbalance.

Of note is that the Reclaimer set and the BLIND set have their four-piece bonuses inactive on the initial PTS version released this week, since we’re still actively working on and evaluating them. Don’t worry, they will be back and are not going away permanently.

Recap of Gear Set rebalancing:

  • The four-piece bonuses of Gear Sets have been rebalanced.
  • Two-piece bonuses will focus more on utility instead of stat bonuses.
  • Five-piece bonuses have been removed from the game.
  • Reclaimer and BLIND have their four-piece bonuses inactive on the initial PTS version while they are being worked on.

Skills

As it stands right now, with the amount of raw Skill Power given as bonuses on gear, you’re able to be very efficient with your skills with very low Electronics. This means that it is possible to be both a great skill user and a great tank, or a great weapon damage dealer at the same time, with no significant tradeoffs. In order to address that problem, we’ve increased the amount of Skill Power needed to make your skills as efficient as in 1.3 and we increased the Skill Power gained from Electronics. The net result is that you won’t be able to rely on Skill Power from gear bonuses if you want to be a skill specialist. In Update 1.4, increasing your Skill Power will be an active choice you make by investing in Electronics while sacrificing other core attributes, similar to Firearms and Stamina noted above. With the changes made to the Skill Power calculation, keep in mind that its numbers have been inflated compared to what you’re currently used to. This also has the benefit to bring Skill Power to numbers that are more comparable to DPS and Toughness at end game.

Another change we’ve made is that we’ve effectively removed the hard caps on skills. Instead we are introducing a curve of diminishing returns. That means that the more Electronics you have, the less of an impact every additional point of Skill Power will have on the power levels of your skills. You can keep investing in Electronics, of course, and by doing so you will keep making your skills more powerful, but the power curve will no longer be linear, so you might want to consider moving points over to Firearms or Stamina instead.

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If we look at the skills currently used in the game, certain skills are incredibly popular while others are hardly ever used. Very often, this is not because they are more fun to use than others; it’ because they are either over- or underpowered, or in some cases simply bugged. The skills that are not percentage based, like Turret – Active Sensor or Seeker Mine – Cluster, are practically not used at endgame in 1.3, since they don’t scale well with the current enemy health and damage. For example, while they are used by many during the 1-30 game, as soon as the player hits 30, several turrets fall out of the meta.

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By rebalancing the skills, and fixing many of the bugs associated with them, we hope to bring more of them back to the meta and create an environment where players can come up with new builds and be more creative in how they use their skills. Skills were also a big topic of discussion during the Elite Taskforce workshop, with many of the changes discussed in detail, both from the PVE and PVP angles.

Some changes might be seen as direct nerfs, but as is the case with so much else going on in Update 1.4 it needs to be seen in the correct context. Once enemy health and damage are scaled down, the skills will need to be adjusted as well in order to not become overpowered.

To give you a couple of examples of changes we’ve made, let’s take a look at our most popular skill: First Aid.

First Aid was bugged up to now, healing players twice with the Master Mod and allowing them to move in and out of its area of effect to be healed several times. That was not working as intended and had some undesirable side effects, especially when combined with talents like Triage. Fixing those bugs has resulted in the skill becoming less powerful that it used to be, so to compensate for the effective loss of healing that was coming from those bugs, the base healing of First Aid has been increased. It’s also worth mentioning that First Aid will now heal the user instantly, with no delay.

Two of the other most used skills at end game, Pulse and Smart Cover, have also been updated. In 1.3, Pulse and Smart Cover were almost mandatory in order to clear the toughest content in the game. Even without a fully specialized build, players could boost their team’s damage and mitigation to extremely high levels. In a meta where enemies were too tough and lethal, it was necessary for groups to have access to such high levels of damage and mitigation. In 1.4, with enemies being rebalanced to more reasonable levels of power, Pulse and Smart Cover needed to be adjusted, and their buffs were updated accordingly. Smart Cover now focuses more on defense, and with skill specialized gear, will buff the team’s damage mitigation by 30% to 35%. The damage buff was removed and replaced with weapon stability and accuracy buffs, which are very useful with the adjustments made on weapon handling in general. Pulse still provides critical hit chance and damage buffs, in addition to its recon abilities, but the numbers have been brought down to match the decrease in power of NPCs.

Those are the changes on the most popular skills, but in general, all the skills have been rebalanced, generally seeing an increase in power and for some of them, receiving new functionalities, to make them more interesting.

For example, while First Aid – Overdose will still be great for healing yourself, First Aid – Defibrillator will be better at healing allies and will now revive them from death as well. It makes for a more interesting choice when playing in a group, and is one way to open for a more dedicated support/healer role in group content.

Turrets are getting more health and like Sticky Bomb and Seeker Mine, that also didn’t scale well at PvE endgame previously, will effectively deal more damage due to the lower enemy health.

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We’ve also given extra love to Ballistic Shield. It now has more health, since it was destroyed way too quickly before, and many of the bugs associated with it have been fixed. The priority with Mobile Cover was to fix the exploits it enabled. Both skills benefited from the overall change in NPC damage and will now survive enemy fire much longer.

Support Station has seen its healing amount increased and been given more health, so it doesn’t die as soon as an enemy as much as glances at it. The Support Station will also let solo players revive themselves in an upcoming PTS update.

Overall, our aim has been to adjust the skills to the new meta, to make weaker skills viable again, and of course to fix bugs associated with skills in general. In 1.4, more skills will be valid at end game and hopefully the meta will be much more varied as a result. Please try out the new and improved skills on the PTS – all balancing feedback is very appreciated.

Recap of skill changes:

  • Electronics will be the main source of Skill Power.
  • Skill Power will not scale linearly anymore, instead it will follow a curve of diminishing returns.
  • Certain skills are currently much more popular than others. Some skills are overpowered, others underpowered or bugged.
  • Skills have been rebalanced to fit the new game balance or to bring them up to par, in the hopes of creating a more varied meta.
  • First Aid no longer allows for multiple heals, since those happened due to a bug. First Aid’s healing has been increased to make up for this fix. It will now heal instantly.
  • Smart Cover and Pulse have been reworked. Smart Cover is now more defensive and Pulse’s high damage boost has been lowered to make it balanced with the new enemy health.
  • Ballistic Shield and Support Station have been given more health. Support Station’s healing has been increased.
  • Many bugs associated with skills have been fixed.

Signature Skills

Signature skills in 1.3 are not all equal, with Survivor Link dominating the popularity chart, leaving both Recovery Link and Tactical Link far behind in terms of usage.

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In 1.4, all three of the Signature Skills have received some changes.

Survivor Link used to be very powerful in 1.3, and was clearly overpowered in the new meta. It has seen its damage mitigation lowered from 80% to 50% and its duration lowered from 15 to 12 seconds.

The remaining two Signature Skills have been buffed and have received some functionality changes.

Recovery Link has seen its range increased and can now be used to revive dead players (outside of the Dark Zone), while also giving more healing overall. The skill also has a new functionality, aimed at helping solo players, that we want to test with the PTS: if you’re playing solo and you have Recovery Link off cooldown, the skill will automatically trigger when you are about to die, saving you from death. This feature is a work in progress and the mechanics of it are still being tweaked.

Tactical Link functionality was changed to make using the skill more fun, without sacrificing its power surge potential. The damage buff was lowered from 50% to 30% and the critical hit chance buff was removed altogether. Three new buffs were added instead: weapon RPM, reload speed and weapon stability. The result is that triggering Tactical Link now puts you in a “shooting frenzy mode” for 12 seconds. It’s proven to be a fun and satisfying experience in our internal testing and we’re really curious to hear your feedback once you’ll have tested it on the PTS.

Consumables Changes

We’ve made significant changes to how special ammo (incendiary and explosive bullets) work. Instead of lighting things on fire or staggering your enemies, they will instead convert some of your bullet damage to fire or blast damage, damage which in turn is affected by exotic damage reduction. The effects of those two special ammos were previously overpowered in both PvE and PvP, without requiring much skill to use. These changes should make them more balanced, and we’ll keep an eye on how they are used on the PTS.

Conclusion

As you can tell by now, big changes are coming to The Division in Update 1.4. At first glance, it might look as if though we’re just raising or lowering numbers across the board, but mixed with the new enemy balancing and time to kill-changes detailed in our last development article, our goal is to make you feel more powerful once the update comes out. The current big numbers are going away, but that doesn’t mean you won’t feel a steady increase in power as you get better and better gear.

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Note that most of these changes will be retroactive. You won’t be able to save overpowered “legacy” weapons, instead you will see a direct change to the items in your inventory. While we realize this might come as a shock to some, we’re sure that the overall gameplay experience will be much more satisfying and simply more fun after these changes have been made.

We’re looking for all feedback you can possibly give us on these changes, as we’re trying to build you a much better game. If you’re on PC, please jump on the PTS and give them a proper shakedown, and post your thoughts and feelings on our forums. We’re looking forward to hearing what you have to say!

- The Division Dev Team