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Why the changes in Update 35 miss the mark and fail to fix the issues that it seeks to address

code65536
code65536
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Note: This thread is a repost of a post that I made in the official discussion thread.

I want to start off by saying that I have no qualms with the "mission statement" of these PTS changes. Specifically:
The closer the gap between the low and high end, the easier it is to create content that can accommodate a wider audience.

[...]

we hope to reduce the stress of many combat rotations, allowing for you to focus more on the action in front of you rather than the action of juggling buffs and debuffs on your ability bar and making the game far more accessible.

I agree that there is a very large power gap, that this power gap is one that has grown over the years, and that such a large power gap isn’t particularly healthy. But I don’t think that the changes in Update 35 is correct way to address these problems.

My post will be in three parts, where I talk about the light attacks and weaving, about effect durations, and about the power gap problem in general.


PART 1: Light Attacks, Heavy Attacks, and Weaving

This is probably the least controversial change. Reducing light attack damage would reduce the power gap between those who can and can’t weave. But there are three issues with this change:
  1. It also impacts some of the people who are ostensibly part of the “target audience” for this change. The proverbial floor--people who just spam light attacks--will be even less effective after this change.
  2. The nerf to heavy attacks seems completely counterproductive, especially since heavy attack builds have been a popular accessibility option for years.
  3. This change reduces everyone’s damage. Yes, it will reduce the damage of someone to weaves perfectly a bit more than someone who misses light attacks, but it’s still a nerf for the latter. And, as mentioned, those people who just use light and heavy attacks.

For the people who are your “target audience”, how do you justify to them that their combat effectiveness is going down? It’s one thing to say to someone parsing 130K on live that a reduction to their damage was for the health of the game, but it’s quite another to say to someone who’s using an accessible heavy attack build that their playstyle is getting hit for their own good. (Example)

This was one of the key issues that I raised two years ago during that special PTS testing LA/HA changes. Back then, I suggested that a better solution was to discriminate between consecutive (and thus non-weaved) light attack and non-consecutive (and thus weaved) ones. I know that you already have the means to do this, as there are sets that require consecutive light attacks.

So, halve the damage of non-consecutive light attacks, preserve the damage of consecutive light attacks, and there’s no need to touch heavy attacks at all. That kind of change would be a far more focused change than what you have here on this PTS, in that it would more precisely target weaving without as much collateral damage to bystanders.


PART 2: Durations

I remember the days when Wall of Elements lasted for just 6 seconds; in 2019, this was increased to 10 seconds. I—and most people—believe that the duration increase in 2019 was the right move. It made the skill easier to manage and on the whole things felt better as a result of this duration change.

So, here we are, three years later, looking at another duration increase. This time, I’m not on board with these changes. Why not?

For short durations, the main problem is that they require a lot of micromanagement. You need to pay attention to that Wall and recast it every 6s, and people will often forget and lose potential damage.

For long durations, the problem is that you are more severely penalized for an early recast. Recasting a 20s Wall at or before the 10s mark is a loss: you would’ve been better to use a spammable instead. You don’t get the full benefit of Wall being 2x the power of a spammable unless you let that single cast of Wall go for the full 20s.

Which brings us to a key problem: I feel like that this duration change makes no sense outside of the sterile environment of target dummy testing.
  • Dungeons and trials: @ZOS_Finn said in an interview that they are actively looking at making sure that fights incorporate movement. The first boss of Graven Deep, for example, is constantly dashing around the room. And there are fights where there are specific burst windows in which to hit the boss: Olms and Archcustodian, for example. For dungeons and trials, around 12 seconds was a sweet spot; you could usually get most of a 12s ground DoT in a mobile fight, and 12s lines up well with burst-window fights like Olms and Archcustodian. 20-second DoTs that do less than a spammable until after the 10s mark are just not worth using in many fights.
  • Overland: Do overland fights last long enough for 20s DoTs to make sense? The existing 10s DoTs are already too long for the vast majority of open world encounters, with World Bosses being the most notable among the few exceptions.
  • PvP: Ground DoTs are already mostly useless in PvP because people will just sidestep them. The lower damage per second will make ground DoTs even less effective at applying pressure and make them even less effective at denying areas. And when fighting classes with accessible class purges (Templars and Wardens), 20s “sticky” DoTs make absolutely zero sense to use, since it’s very likely that they will be removed before they could do more damage than just a spammable skill.

So, in short, buffing durations from 6s to 10s did help with the goal of making effects easier to manage. But there is a limit to how much further increases can help, and in a large number of “real world” scenarios, 20s durations just make no sense. This change is simply incompatible with what combat is like in reality, outside of an artificial target dummy testing environment.

(Aside: I think for self-buffs--e.g., Crit Surge--long durations are fine, but most of those self-buffs already have long durations.)

So, what can we do instead? If the goal is to make timer-watching easier, then consistent timers are more important than long timers. For example, on Live, Stampede leaves behind a 15s AoE while Twisting Path leaves behind a 10s AoE. Disparate timers means that I need to watch both timers separately, whereas if they both had the same timer, I could say to myself, “every time I refresh my Path, I should refresh my Stampede too”.

A timer consistency pass to synchronize durations would’ve helped tremendously with the timer-watching problem, without the myriad of problems with the current long-duration approach.

But instead of timer consistency, we just got long timers. As Nefas demonstrated in his PTS DK parse video, the rotation is still complicated, because the timers are all over the place. Some abilities are shorter than 20s, some are longer, and so he still needs to watch a bank of timers. This isn’t really much easier, and in real combat situations, you need to also constantly ask yourself, “should I be refreshing my Eruption now, or will the boss be moving away soon?”.

Furthermore, not everything was buffed. I mostly play as a tank, and Clench applies a 15s taunt, a 5s Major Maim, and a 4s Minor Brittle. That’s three different timers for one ability, and neither the 5s maim or the 4s brittle were buffed at all by the long duration changes. An even more forgettable 30s blockade means nothing to me when I still need to refresh Clench every few seconds to keep Maim and Brittle up.

Next, a lot of buffs come from sets. One good example is Powerful Assault, which lasts for 10s. The skill most often used by a tank or healer to proc Powerful Assault is Echoing Vigor, which also happens to last for 10s. On Live, all I need to do is to keep Echoing Vigor up, and I know that I’m also refreshing Powerful Assault when it’s needed. But on PTS, with the longer duration, now the timers don’t match, and I’d often forget to refresh the Powerful Assault buff. So, instead of making things easier, this change actually made things harder and worse. Frankly, it looks like very little thought was put into all of this.

Finally, there has been much said already by others about the tick-every-2s change. From worries about how heals will line up with incoming damage in difficult content that often tick for more than once per second (Example of how many damage ticks a tank could take in 1.4s) to concerns about how this will affect set and enchantment procs.


PART 3: Power Creep and Content Creep in PvE

The two problems that I see right now in ESO's PvE endgame are:
  • There is a large power gap.
  • New vet HM content is balanced around what is possible at the top end.

First, I want to give people some idea of what I mean when I say “large power gap”. For example, my weekend group got another Dawnbringer (Kyne’s Aegis trifecta) a few months ago. Our group has Godslayer, and this was our second Dawnbringer, so you can probably say that we’re part of that “elitist 0.1%”. Anyway, for that Dawnbringer run, we killed the second boss in 1m 59s. Recently, a group on EU set a new world record for Kyne’s Aegis. And their second boss kill time was 58s: it was over twice as fast. So there is a pretty wide power delta even between the 0.1% like us and the competitive 0.01% like them, and this is not even considering the power gap between us and groups that are just able to clear vKA HM, the power gap between those kinds of groups and people who don’t even participate in vet HM content, and finally the power gap between those those who just do vet non-HM and people who don’t even participate in vet content.

And this power gap is growing. I’ve been participating in vet trials since 2016, I’ve never seen the power gap as high as it is today.

So, there’s a large (and growing) power gap. But by itself, a large power gap isn’t a huge problem, except that in ESO, the trials team seems to be targeting those 0.01% people at the very top when they balance the new hard modes. Looking at Rockgrove’s HM, for example, the group DPS required to clear Oax HM cleanly and the DPS required to beat the DPS check on Xalvakka HM is higher than the DPS required for Godslayer.

The end result of this large (and growing) power gap is that the two most recent trial hard modes are less accessible than the four most recent trial hard modes that preceded them; I actually don't have a Rockgrove HM clear because my group got frustrated with how it was so overtuned and voted to leave the trial. This is why there are so many players who will cry bloody murder at even the faintest whispers of a power nerf for them. For the vast majority of players, the stuff at the top end is already out of reach, and you are now telling them that, for their own good, they’ll lose power. It should be no surprise to anyone that this will elicit hostility from many players.

Also, power creep isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it means that people who can’t tackle the latest hard modes might have a chance to do so in the future. This is especially true since new content balance takes this power creep into account. People have come to expect power creep each patch to help bring inaccessible content closer within reach, and telling everyone that you intend to roll back power creep is, um, controversial, to put it lightly.

Conversely, balancing for the top end is okay, when there isn’t a huge power gap. If the difference between what we can do and what a world record group could do is only 10-20%, then it’s fine for trials to be balanced around “if there's a group that could pull it off, then it’s fine”. But when that gap is as large as it is today, that just means that far too many players are excluded.

It’s the combination of a large power gap and balancing for the top that is causing problems.

And as someone else has pointed out in their PTS feedback, not everyone sees this power creep. Seemingly every patch, new things are added that are not universally accessible. New buffs to keep up (e.g., Minor Brittle), new sets to juggle around and maintain uptimes for, new "kiss-curse" mechanisms offering power to players skilled enough to deal with the "curse", etc. All of these things provide opportunities for players and groups with the wherewithal to efficiently take advantage of new sources of power, while most players will not see their benefits. This is why when I recently joined a number of vet trials PUGed out of Craglorn, I still saw 8-minute Yolnahkriin non-HM kills that don't seem any faster than what I saw in PUG runs a couple of years ago, while at the top end, Yolnahkriin kill times have gone down with each new world record that gets set.

The power creep that we see is predominately power creep at the top, because it's power that requires skill and group coordination to extract, and this is why we have an ever-increasing power gap.

But NONE of the changes being proposed in Update 35 targets any of this. Hard-to-maintain effects are unchanged (e.g., Minor Brittle is still 4s, buffs and effects from sets like Powerful Assault are unchanged, etc.), so that gap between groups that are able to efficiently maintain that effect and most other groups is untouched. It doesn't change that there is an ever growing number of supportive item sets that well-coordinated groups are able to work into their composition, while more casual groups will not have them.

Take, for example, the Bahsei's Mania item set. It grants the player power if their magicka is low. Skilled players will start a fight by dumping their magicka, and will have calibrated their sustain so that their magicka level remains low without running out. They're able to extract a lot more power out of this item set than the average player, thus contributing to the growing power gap. And then the power gap that was expanded upon by this--and many other new sets or new combat mechanics such as Brittle--are compensated with by disruptive changes in long-standing combat mechanics, resulting in nerfs for players who had never taken advantage of this new power in the first place. This is why these changes are frustrating for so many players.

But at the end of the day, I’m perfectly okay with there being a large power gap and power creep, as long as content isn’t balanced for what the top end is capable of doing. Let them have their portal-skip Cloudrest; that trial is still hard for the vast majority of groups even today, but that’s fine, because Cloudrest and the achievements in Cloudrest were never tuned for those kinds of “tippity-top” groups (to borrow phrasing from Rich). It’s when you have things like DPS checks in Rockgrove HM and insane speedrun time requirements in Dreadsail HM that are clearly aimed at those “tippity-top” groups that the power gap becomes a major problem in PvE. Let score competition be the (open-ended) outlet for those groups at the apex of the game, and buff up leaderboard rewards for them, but stop balancing achievements and even just hard mode clears around that level of play, and you'll have a much healthier raiding scene where more things are accessible to a greater range of player power. And perhaps then, people will not be as likely to react with such strident hostility to the prospect any power being ripped away from them.

@ZOS_BrianWheeler @ZOS_Gilliam @ZOS_RichLambert @ZOS_Finn
Edited by code65536 on July 18, 2022 11:36AM
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  • BardokRedSnow
    BardokRedSnow
    Soul Shriven
    These changes also gave major resolve to vigor lool so now dks wont need to use their spikes. Frees up a slot for us which for dk is a big deal.

    Don’t need the reflective damage or dot from spikes, was weak anyway, and don’t need the damage shield.

    Lol Zos
  • Alucu
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    Let's hope they listen to what you said here
    Building communities since 2017

    Para los Jugadores Hispanos: LA FUNDACION GM
    For advanced PvE: DRAGON VOID Officer
    For advanced PvP: PROJECT NOVA Member
  • Jeirno
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    Spot on mate
  • JustAGoodPlayer
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    14 seconds dots feel good, DK have such dots.

    More long dots may be feel bad. For now they have good power, so all other dots can be based on it and entropia from mage quild.

    20 seconds is too long.

    Werevolf LA need more attention, because it is big source of damage for their builds, to not nerf it. They are not too OP for now.

    Do not remove current unique skills that already were in game for last 3 + years.

    Some class skills need rework, they are really bad for now.
  • Jazraena
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    There's quite a few secondary effects on niche sets; some of which they only recently rebalanced or released - things like Draugrkin's Grip which was literally just almost cut in half, and now again, or Storm-Cursed's Revenge or any other set dependent on number of damage sources like these or other factors like Elf Bane (DoT Duration) or Deadly Strike (Jabs and general DoT Nerf). I was hoping we'd eventually get done with sweeping balance changes, but right now it feels like like we're only being set up for the next wave.

    In general, I couldn't agree more with the OP, save perhaps that I am mostly fine with the 20s DoTs since I already play an Elf Bane DK... but not in conjuction with the effective DPS Nerf that, as OP correctly states, often makes the recast not worthwhile. Also, interactions with class passives mean we still have durations that vary by 2-4 seconds, but only for your class DoTs, and since all DoTs share the same base duration you now don't have out-of-class DoT variants with the same timer to pair them with. For quite a few builds, this means the timer tracking has gotten worse.
  • JustAGoodPlayer
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    I do not want 14+ seconds dots on dk, 14 seconds feel good, 19 with elf bain too )))

    24 second dots with elf bain is some thing ... i do not need on my dk )))
  • Jazraena
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    Then just don't use Elf Bane. 20s by itself would be fine, as current Elf Bane users can attest. Right?

    ... except you don't get 20s without Elf Bane, you're getting 24 on things like Engulfing Flames because of the Searing Heat passive, and then the choice to pair it with a wall that lasts 20s or 30s. Or in many cases... just 20s.

    I'm all for standardizing DoT Durations, and don't even mind 20s, but please... not without looking at the passives too, and not with reduced DPS.
  • Necrotech_Master
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    a couple of comments on a few things

    in part 2 of your OP you mention durations, i dont necessarily see the duration changes as a bad thing, the problem with the duration changes is that they are also simultaneously nerfing both dmg per tick, and the tick rate

    tick rate being 1 time every 2 sec is just too slow, and as you mention with the avg "comfort" time being about 12 sec, that is only 6 ticks from most DoT, and with the dmg per tick also generally going down, a dot is going to do even less over those 12 seconds

    if the dot dmg per tick and tick rate were unchanged but duration increased, i think that would be a big help for supporting dot builds, but also not penalize someone for recasting early if the target moved or need to focus a new target

    (also as a side note, using eruption for early recast is probably a bad example since that skill can technically be made free cost fairly easily, it might not be meta, but if its free there is no downside to recasting early except you might not get the burst dmg)

    also i want to add to your note about sticky dots in pvp, its going to be especially useless since they are effectively nerfing plaguebreak too, purging is going to be back in force if they can purge it when they get it and then have a solid 20 sec of downtime from the fear of another plaguebreak

    my experience with plaguebreak in current live game is that i get far more kills with the plaguebreak DoT than i do the explosion

    i completely agree with parts 1 and 3 of your discussion, for part 3 especially because i would be in the group of "ive just gotten a decent enough dps build to start feeling comfortable running at least vet trials" and the group im running with has still yet to clear vet dreadsail (we just had our first experience on the last boss a couple days ago)

    edit to add: i was re-reading patch notes again and they didnt mention anything about changes to most gear sets, so only SKILLS that are dots are getting nerfed, but i didnt see anything say about winters respite healing (which is per second ground aoe on 10 sec timer, works perfectly with illustrious healing right now), or something like pillar of nirn which is one of the higher tier dps sets for a dot build
    Edited by Necrotech_Master on July 13, 2022 7:10PM
    plays PC/NA
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    active player since april 2014
  • Melivar
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    Great post with pretty clear details for things I hadn't considered. Hopefully it catches the attention of the powers that be.

    The hard mode trifecta information is particularly interesting from an outside perspective. I don't have the time or determination to tackles these things but I know a fair number of people who do but also don't likely have the skill within the group to pull off.
  • WanderLost
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    100%
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