The Curious Case of the Big Daddy and Secretly Scaling Equipment

The Big Daddy is the Cataclysm heavy explosive available to Goblin Engineers. It requires Engineering 440 to use, and 500 to make, it’s expensive, but it also does respectable damage – about 5k – and the damage is tripled against targets at full health. Oh yes, it can crit, too, so you could get a lucky 30k damage off this baby. It’s also off the GCD, so it’s great to use after an instant cast spell, though you really want to use it on “unsuspecting targets” – thats those poor folks at full health – whenever possible.

They’re not quite as nice as the Global Thermal Sapper Charge was in the early days of Wrath – massive siege damage in SotA/WG/IoC was awesome – and they’re not as cheap as Saronite Bombs, which you could make part of your attack rotation with impunity – but they’re good for what they are.

Except… you notice that little bit about “Requires Engineering 440″ to use?

You can get Engineering 450 at level 65, when most characters have around 4k-8k health. Even in the level 70 twink bracket, health pools range from 10-14k, with 18-20k reserved for tanks.

These bombs can 1-shot an entire defending force if you attack when they’re at full health at level 70. At level 80, they can still take out 1/3-1/2 of the defender’s health.

Holy crap.

PvP being PvP, players figured this out, and maxing your Engineering at level 65 became an even easier way to dominating the battlegrounds than rerolling Mage.

(I kid, I kid!)

So far, you’d think that this is a simple story of an item being overpowered in the leveling brackets and getting removed from said brackets, right? I mean, you can’t have bombs that can take out entire nodes of defenders, can you?

But instead of doing the obvious thing – raising the required Engineering level beyond 450 – Blizzard did something really interesting.

SCALING DAMAGE WITH LEVEL

Sometime between 4.1 and 4.2, the Big Daddy was changed so that the damage scaled with level. No longer was it 5k at level 65 – now it was 700. Level 79? 1400 or so. The damage was changed to allow it to still be used at lower levels, but for it to become less attractive overall. Saronite Bombs do more damage at level 65 than Big Daddies, which solves the problem neatly and returns us to the idea that you might be able to use things from the next expansion while leveling, but you probably shouldn’t be using things from two expansions away.

That’s actually an interesting rule to consider: think about how unbalancing Wrath-level gear, gems and enchants would be if they were available at, say, level 30. There are limits on enchants to prevent this from happening, for instance (item level 35 for BC, 60 for Wrath), but no limits on the gems – but sockets don’t show up until BC-era gear anyways, so it isn’t a big deal. With the introduction of Cataclysm, gems needed to have restrictions added because you could have level 60-70 players sporting Cataclysm gems.

So why didn’t the devs just change the Engineering requirements on the Big Daddy to be 475 instead of 440? This would have placed the items out of reach of everyone lower than 75, which would take care of the most egregious abuses. It would still unbalance the 75-79 bracket, but that bracket is already unbalanced because of the availability of Cataclysm-balanced gear starting at 78. The 80-84 bracket is unbalanced as well, but it’s unbalanced because of scaling and the hard ramp of gear. Adding in a bomb that does 5k-30k damage isn’t going to further unbalance things.

Or will it?

Think about this for a minute. Instead of making a simple change that mostly fixed a problem, the developers dramatically changed how something worked by level, making it scale all the way from 65 to 85 (and possibly beyond). It still does a lot of damage, and is great against unsuspecting targets, but it’s not going to 1-shot people in any bracket it’s available in. That took thought, planning, and careful analysis to realize that a simple level restriction wasn’t going to work.

In every sense of battleground fairness, this is a great change. And it’s great for many brackets.

Which is why it’s so unexpected. Not because we shouldn’t expect that Blizzard does the right thing (we should), but that it’s one of the first times I’ve seen an item nerfed in PvP in such a way to take into account its impact in multiple brackets.

The problem with items with fixed stats is that their value increases the earlier you get them. Cataclysm introduced stat inflation into not just the endgame, but up through level 65. The inflation is really unbalancing. It doesn’t take a scientist to notice that if you increase health pools five times between level 80 and 85 that maybe, just maybe, items that are scaled for 85 shouldn’t be used at lower levels.

But hopefully, we can start seeing more fixes like the Big Daddy nerf, which address this inflation in multiple brackets.

Fixing leveling PvP is not simple. Little things add up. I’ll wager you didn’t even realize there was an explosive that could 1-shot you from level 65 to 80 until this post. The fact that it was fixed without your knowledge is a good thing. There are a lot of small, unbalanced items which good PvP players seek out and use against their opponents, and they add up. Not all of them are as big as this one, but hey – this is the Big Daddy we’re talking about.

Smart fixes like this raise the possibility of other items using smart scaling, which would be a good start towards equalizing the brackets. Heirlooms already do this; having normal items start adhering to this rule would help bring leveling PvP back into a more balanced state.

Bravo, Blizzard. Well played.

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17 Comments

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17 responses to “The Curious Case of the Big Daddy and Secretly Scaling Equipment

  1. Now, if Blizz will address the one-shotting that Rogues and Hunters can do in the low levels by scaling things better…

  2. scotth

    I wonder if they did the same thing with tazik’s.

  3. I really liked to hear about Blizzard doing something right for a change, particularly because of those last few words there: “for a change.” Hopefully this is a hallmark to a new era of Blizz fixing things the right way instead of just throwing them out (threat, defense) or replacing them with an entirely new mechanic that was just as screwy (Mp5, Vengeance). Then again, since they’re tossing talent trees out the window, I’m not too sure. At least for this one – and you were right, I had no idea – we can be happy.

    Maybe they’ll work to balance low level PvP, too… (man I could barely keep a straight face there).

    • Seconded. This is a really elegant, intelligent change, and “elegant” in particular has been an adjective that has been missing from Blizzard’s design vocabulary for a while. I wonder what the history of the person/group within Blizz that implemented this change is, and what other areas they have an impact on?

      I’ve featured this post over at the Melting Pot today, btw, because it’s actually headline news that Blizzard got something this right! (also, of course, because it’s a great post!).

    • I brought this change up because it represents a substantial departure from how items work. This is applying heirloom logic to an engineering device, which I think is actually a good thing. I like thinking in terms of percentages instead of absolutes.

      Let’s see if there are more smart moves like this or not in the future. I hope there will be, but … we’ve all been burned before.

  4. Pingback: Blizzard Does It Unquestionably Right — MMO Melting Pot

  5. Are you celebrating that after 10 months Blizzard applied an overly complicated solution to a problem? I don’t really understand you, honestly.

    Having abilities automatically scale is not a something REALLY interesting, but something Blizzard is doing for a long time now. Have a look at your spells. Moreover, I think it’s pretty ridiculous that exactly the same bomb does vastly different amounts of damage depending on somebody’s level.

    I know I come across as constantly seeing the bad side in everything. But this really late fix that is one of a hundred needed fixes for low-lvl pvp doesn’t really enthuse me …

    • To be honest, Nils, I think you’re reacting more to Hugh’s writeup of my post, my post on Lone Wolf and Cub, and your reactions to the Mists of Pandaria announcement, than this specific post. But as we are, neither of us, frequent readers of each other’s work, we have to go with what we have written recently, and what others have written about our work. I’ll try to treat your comment seriously and not fall back on “but you’ve quit the game,” which commenters on your site seem to have done. I hope you can do the same.

      Having abilities scale is not new at all in WoW. Having gear scale is also not new in WoW, as Heirloom gear crossed that bridge a long time ago. I never said anything about either abilities or gear. What is new is scaling a consumable item that was being abused in PvP battlegrounds, and of coming up with the right fix instead of the easy one. I have been very critical of Blizzard’s attempted PvP fixes in the past, as they all too often try to take the easy way out instead of addressing root problems.

      As a PvP enthusiast, what I find noteworthy about this change – which happened right around 4.2, I know I didn’t call that out in the post – is that it introduces the possibility of other changes to consumables, enchantments, and even normal gear, that would help normalize battlegrounds below level 85.

      Regarding static damage versus scaling damage, you wrote:

      Moreover, I think it’s pretty ridiculous that exactly the same bomb does vastly different amounts of damage depending on somebody’s level.

      I counter that I find it ridiculous that the same piece of gear can give me 50% Haste at level 10, and 10% Haste at level 14. Or that I lose 25% damage reduction from Resilience by leveling from 70 to 74, with no change in gear. The combat rating system is predicated upon this type of scaling; it demands a constant increase in statistics to maintain the same amount of efficacy. Gear, spells, abilities – all of these things become more or less effective over time.

      In that context, why should a bomb having scaling damage be that strange? It’s more fair than having it have too much damage on the low end of usability, or too little on the high. It’s switching over to a relative RPG system like FUDGE; the bomb does Fair damage (Great versus surprised opponents) and removes either 1/4th or 3/4ths of the opponent’s total Health. I find that there are a lot of possibilities that open up when you challenge the notion that bombs, food buffs, enchants, or even normal (non-heirloom) gear has to have fixed values. Why not scale it to level?

      In the context of low-level PvP, I find moving towards a more relative, scaled approach to consumables to be a good start – that’s all. It’s not like this one change is going to suddenly make it all better; fixing low level PvP is going to take a lot of small, focused changes that require paradigm shifts like this one. The problems are too entrenched to fall to a silver bullet.

      I’m sorry this post didn’t excite you more.

      Thank you for your comment.

  6. Interestingly, this actually isn’t the first consumable to scale with level. Food buffs actually saw this treatment quite a while back, with “stamina and spirit based on a percentage of your level” – specifically dealing with event food buffs. Additionally, buffs like you get during the Midsummer event also scale with your level – usually in the format of “x * (level * 0.25)”. Fish feasts and the like, however, don’t see this treatment, which I can understand – mostly because cooking needs to have SOME sort of perk to it!

    On the whole, this is a good change. There’s more that needs to be done to fix low level PvP, for sure, but still a good change. I haven’t done low level PvP but once in a great while since heirlooms came out; even heirlooms don’t prevent you from being one-shotted by Explosive Shot, Avenger’s Shield, Ambush, Mutilate, etc. at low level.

    Still, this is a great start, and hopefully Blizzard will continue to look at low level PvP and try to prevent it from staying the Global Extravaganza that it is currently.

    • The holiday food buffs are interesting, and I’ve often wondered why other foods don’t follow their example. They tend to be the most balanced (because they scale), while static foods are imbalanced. Sure, most twinks drink Rumsey Rum Dark (+15 Stamina), but that’s because it’s easier to get than Halaani Whiskey (+20 Stam).

      But the real kicker is having a Fish Feast at level 19. Hello, +40 Stam/+46 Spellpower/+80 Attack Power! I love having them as a buff.

      Holiday foods are much better. Pity they disappear so soon. :(

  7. Tesh

    At some point, if you’re going to scale everything to level and HP… it all becomes relative, and you don’t actually need levels any more.

    I *love* that, because I think levels are trouble in PvP. Gear and level imbalances are my biggest annoyance with PvP. Class imbalances I can deal with, as they tend to be “rock-paper-scissors” sorts of tactical decisions. Gear and levels are metagame fudge factors that I don’t like to see in my PvP, even though they are useful in PvE to compensate for lack of difficulty settings.

    …and yes, a FUDGE system for PvP would be fantastic. I’d love to see it normalized so that a skilled level 10 character could beat a lazy level capped character.

    • Levels are the enemy! Down with levels! :)

      In all seriousness, working with the FUDGE system during some of my formative RPG/LARP game design years really shaped my concepts about how games should work, and how relative power levels are to the difficulty of the story.

      I could write a whole series of articles about how strange it is that our characters go from Superb (or Legendary) at the end of an xpac to Fair in their major abilities. I’d much rather see raid tier sets be thematically powered – this is a Good/Great/Superb set of armor, with bonuses to Undead/Demons/Beasts/Fire Elementals/Gnomes, so you can take tier sets from one expansion and use them in another without significant penalty. You could even find that as the story gives you different challenges, old gear might be the best gear for the job! (Fire-slaying armor from Molten Core becomes useful again in Firelands, but perhaps with a different emphasis. Perhaps one is resistance, the other is elemental-slaying.) Each tier in the expansion represents real growth (Good/Great/Superb model), but the bonuses are necessary for completing hard modes.

      And that’s just raiding! PvP would be … ! ! !

      I have to stop this line of thought. As appealing as applying FUDGE to WoW would be, it would make it not WoW anymore.

      (But oh boy would I like to see it!)