When people think about games like EverQuest, if you ask them about class balance will probably tell you that either the casters, or the hybrids will be the hardest to balance. But in truth, the hybrids are easiest, followed by casters, and leaving the melees at the hardest to balance.
It almost seems illogical that the simplest classes would be so hard to balance, however it is exactly that simplicity that makes it so hard.
With casters, if you have an imbalance, you have give them new spell lines, remove spell lines, play with damage caps and resist rates, mana costs, etc… spells open themselves to alot of “wiggle room” in their design, both in direct use by the caster and in direct effect on the target.
Hybrids have the spell flexibility of casters, even if it is to a muted level, as well as having an avenue for melee damage output, damage avoidance, mitigation, etc… all the melee skills.
A pure melee has only those melee skills. The only way to balance a melees is by giving him new armor and weapons, or changing the effect of the weapons on a target. The problem with changing the effect on a target is that those changes will inherantly filter down to the hybrids. The hybrids might be well balanced, but when you make melee skill changes you may unbalance them inadvertantly. The problem with armor and weapons is that its boring.. and frankly, just how big a sword do you give them? And if you give them class restricted weapons, especially no-drop weapons, as loot, you basically place a hole in the loot table that even the most diverse guild will eventually arrive at. Once all the rogues have the new weapon, it becomes rot loot.
Before going on with my ideas on balance, let me just lay down one thing you must understand before going on… Active vs Passive. In EverQuest, pure melees are largely active for the first few seconds of combat. The mob comes in, you move around, get set, assist. Once combat is fully engaged, the pure melee classes become passive. Warriors get taunt and kick, rogues get backstab, and monks get flying kick or other alternate attacks, and they all get disciplines, but by and large you turn on auto-attack and then hit one key until the mob is dead. Hybrids and Casters on the other hand are different. Hybrids remain active all the time, and casters become active after the mob is set (or before in the case of clerics healing melees and enchanters controlling mobs on multiple target pulls). The biggest play advantage they have is that using their choice of spells and skills they can help affect and control the fight in a way that a pure melee cannot.
That said, most of my ideas are not just for pure balance, but also to make the pure melee classes more active in their combat rolls.
The first item I would suggest toward melee balance would be to unlink the disciplines they already have. While I see much merit in the idea that I have to wait an hour to repeat a discipline that is of great use, I do not see why that should prevent be from using a little use, or moderate use discipline. Allowing pure melees unlinked disciplines would go toward them having a more active role in combat.
The next thing I would suggest is to give pure melees “specializations” similar to what casters get for their schools of magic. Allow a pure melee at level 20 or 30 put a point into the specialization for all his available weapon skills, with only one able to go above a skill of 50. As skill in the specialization grows, have it factor into a pure melee’s ATK or “to hit” mathematics so that they become more effective with that weapon type over the others. Not so dramatically such that using a non specialized weapon will cut your damage output in half, but enough so that the player would come to prefer a certain type over others. Of course, like the casters, offering a way to reset and respecialize later would be best to help reduce the impact of mistakes or changes in preference.
Another thing I propose is to give melees more avenues for balance in the form of Fighting Styles.
At just a quick glance at speedy implementation, you can give the pure melees mana to manage the use of these styles, making it act the way that Bard mana does now. These styles would alter the melee attack slightly, offering a way for a pure melee to interact and affect the course of battle in more ways than turning on auto-attack and hitting a special attack key.
A few simple examples of what might be done:
- Offensive Stance: This would increase the melee damage, which decreasing defensive skills. More damage for less armor class.
- Defensive Stance: The brother to the offensive, increaing defence skills while lowering damage output. More armor class for less damage.
- Forceful Blows: Cut the damage of blows in half, but add in a greater chance to interrupt spells.
- Slashing Blows: Increase damage output for mana cost per tick, increased damage only applies to mobs tagged “fleshy”. The idea being that you are slashing and tearing the skin for more damage.
- Crushing Blows: Increase damage output for mana cost per tick, increased damage only applies to mobs tagged “non-fleshy”. The idea being that you are trying harder to break the bones of undead or the shell of a bug, etc, monsters with an outter layer that is not flesh.
- Precision Strikes: Quadruple the damage per hit, while tripling the delay between hits for a mana per tick cost.
- Critical Study: Every critical hit becomes a crippling blow, every crippling blow becomes a doubled crippling blow for a mana per tick cost.
These are, of course, just simple examples that would need to be greatly tested and tweaked before implementation, but I think something of this sort would help give pure melees more to do, and more avenues for balance without greatly overhauling the classes.
In any event, I don’t think that balance of the melees can be achieved with directed changes to the existing structure. Simply adding more damage per second, or more “tankability” won’t cut it. I strongly believe the only way to properly balance the melees is to broaden these simple classes and make more ways to improve them slightly as opposed to having to improve their one or two ways greatly just to see a difference.