03/10/2013

Mercenary/Commando Questions And Answers

I can't believe I almost missed this! It was finally the Commandos' turn to have their class rep's questions answered by the devs - or rather, the Mercenaries' turn, but aside from the fact that they don't have a bright green beam connecting them to people they heal to mark them as an immediate kill target in PvP, they do tend to have the same problems as us, so it was still relevant to me.

The first thing that struck me was that both the questions and the answers seemed very well thought out this time around, which made me happy. It seems to me that both the community and the devs have learned from the whole "heal to full" debacle and made an effort to improve their communication in these Q&As, which is definitely a good thing.

The devs' answers also made me hopeful in that they are finally at least acknowledging some of the problems that plague our AC, even though they remained disappointingly vague when it came to coming up with solutions. I understand why that is, but still, it's hard to get very excited about promises that they'll probably work on improving the situation, at some point. Maybe.

Anyway, let's get down to the nitty gritty. You can read the full thing here, though I've reproduced the parts that I want to comment on below.

1. PvE

Question: "Can you please comment on how you feel both Merc DPS and Heals stack up against their raid spot competitors when it comes to what they bring to the table for ‘Progression Raiding’. More specifically, why would you consider taking a merc in your raid group over a Sniper (DPS) and Op/Sorc (Heals) if faced with the option?"

Comments: [some details about how Mercs/Commandos are technically "viable" for progression raiding, but it seems that other classes always bring that little bit more to the table]

Answer: "(...) Mercenaries/Commandos are not really underperforming in DPS as some sort of trade-off (unless the Mercenary/Commando actually is spending global cooldowns to cleanse, resurrect, or heal); it is more because we went too far to ensure that guilds would bring Marauders/Sentinels and Snipers/Gunslingers into operations. We did this because, while the other classes have an opportunity to fulfill one of two different roles in an operation, Marauders/Sentinels and Snipers/Gunslingers can only fulfill the damage dealing role in operations. So we made sure they dealt plenty of damage, and then we gave them utility to boot – probably too much damage, and probably too much utility, judging by the operation groups that some guilds put together. (...)"

So basically, what he's saying is... nerfs inc. for Marauders/Sentinels and Snipers/Gunslingers? I hope you're making sure to read the Q&As for classes that you don't play, guys! While I can see how this answer makes sense, I still find it a bit hard to get excited about other classes getting nerfed. I'd rather get buffed to their level myself, but I guess continuous buffing just leads to power creep.

"As far as healing is concerned, we agree that Mercenaries/Commandos are viable end game PvE healers, and we have internally been discussing the idea of a multi-target Kolto Shell/Trauma Probe for a while now. We appreciate your suggestion and think it to be a reasonable one. While we cannot make any promises at this time, it is definitely something we would like to give to Mercenary/Commando healers at some point in the future. (...)"

I keep seeing this multi-target Trauma Probe suggestion pop up everywhere, but I'm not sure how I feel about it. I mean, yay, any buff would be nice I guess, but I just don't have any great love for Trauma Probe anymore. They've tried to buff it so many times and yet it just remains... kinda underwhelming. I find it very hard to keep track of the stacks because the speed at which it gets used up varies so wildly depending on how quickly the target gets hit. And on fights with bosses that hit fairly slowly it just feels kind of pointless. Here's hoping I guess.

2. PvP

Question: "Are the developers aware of how the excessive length of Mercenary utility cooldowns have a negative effect on their capabilities in PvP, and how do they plan to improve this situation for Mercenary players?"

Comments: "Mercenary utility cooldowns are all exceptionally long and seem designed around a much slower pace of combat. Most of them do not offer a benefit that accurately reflects the length of the cooldown, and in comparison to similar abilities belonging to other ACs simply do not make sense.

[list of several examples] While these utility abilities are obviously not intended to be used in every encounter, the cooldown length is prohibitively long (players find themselves not using an ability where they normally would/should because the cooldown is so long and they want to use it at the perfect moment. This results in the ability being used far less than intended). The median cooldown of Mercenary utility skills is 105 seconds. Compare that to Sniper, who has a median utility cooldown of 60s (that’s ~40% lower than Mercenary).

Side Note: Tied into the idea of utility abilities is that they play a significant role in our ability to avoid being easily shut down and keep our enemies at range at least momentarily. This is a big concern in the community and the developers have stated they are working on this but a lot of time has gone by with little done."

Answer: "The reason why Mercenaries/Commandos were originally given longer, weaker cooldowns is because they are passively superior to many of the other classes in the game. By nature of wearing the heaviest armor in the game, they take less damage than many other classes without needing to touch a button. They also have the ability to heal themselves and their allies, along with a 30 meter range for most of their abilities."

I know this was only brought up as a "something that we thought in the past" thing, but the comment about heavy armour still made me sigh. Heavy armour seriously does bugger all in PvP these days, considering how many classes have abilities to reduce or even completely bypass armour. My Commando gets sliced to bits just as quickly as my Sage in her cloth, but at least the Sage is much better at running away...

"It is fairly clear now that Mercenaries/Commandos are not the dominating force on the field of battle that we originally feared they might be. With that said, some classes have utilities that are just too strong and/or cooldown durations that are quite possibly too short – the Marauder/Sentinel is a good example of a class like this. So while some classes may pine to be given cooldowns that will make them as strong as Sentinels/Marauders, we would rather reduce the effectiveness of Marauder/Sentinel cooldowns to make them more like the other classes when it comes to survivability."

Oh hey guys, more Marauder/Sentinel nerfs incoming! Seriously, are you reading this?
 

"However, this does not mean that we should ignore Mercenary/Commando (or any classes, for that matter) cooldowns. [some examples of changes they might consider] Unrelated to utility cooldowns, another thing that we have been internally considering for a while now is adjusting our pushback & interrupt systems because we believe the classes that have abilities with activation and channel times are simply being too greatly affected by those systems. These adjustments would primarily benefit all Mercenaries/Commandos and Sorcerers/Sages (Snipers/Gunslingers do not gain much because they are already immune to pushback & interrupts while in cover). Power Shot/Charged Bolts, Unload/Full Auto, and Tracer Missile/Grav Round are some key abilities that would benefit from these adjustments. Please let us know your opinion of the pushback & interrupt systems as they currently stand, and we will take the community’s feedback into consideration."

Hm, I hope the Sages are reading too. Anyway... I'm glad to see them acknowledging that interrupts are kind of overpowered vs. some classes right now. I understand that it's a difficult balancing act because there is obviously a point to letting certain things be interrupted and you don't want to swing the pendulum too far the other way.

Personally I wouldn't necessarily want an overhaul of the system as a whole, just... tone it down a little I guess? Maybe give a little bit of interrupt immunity to some abilities and/or on a cooldown. Or take out things like Force Leap automatically interrupting on top of its main purpose as a gap closer.

3. Other

Question: "A big concern/complaint in the merc community revolves around resource management across all specs. How do the devs feel about where the Merc A/C is at regarding heat management? Do you intend to make any changes in the (near?) future to alleviate some of the community’s frustration over heat management?"

Comments: [some stuff about dps recource management] "We still lack the basic ability to heal ourselves with our default heal (Rapid Shots) -- a basic function we need to share with Operatives with a similarly tiered resource regeneration system. ur very roundabout way of doing it with Kolto Shell + Peacekeeper, is only minimally useful in PVP, dismal in PVE, and above all else, is not as simple as what the other healers have. If you overextend and drop into low-tier regen, you're punished quite a lot if vent heat or TSO aren't available to help you get back to a manageable level or throw out a big heal while you don't have you heat to do so. You only have rapid shots (small heal) and emergency scan (long cooldown) while you slowly regenerate energy, and no way to speed up the process. In comparison, Operatives can use diagnostic scan and its crits restore energy, and Sorcerers can use consumption, and they also regenerate force at the same rate no matter their force level anyway. (...)"

Answer: "(...) As a damage dealer, it is not fun being forced to fight two battles at the same time – one against your enemy target and another against your resource bar. As you pointed out, we have made changes to certain abilities (like Incendiary Missile/Incendiary Round) and even created entire abilities (Vent Heat/Recharge Cells and Thermal Sensor Override/Reserve Powercell) to mitigate the frustration caused by an unforgiving resource system. But maybe the time has finally come to fix the real problem – the resource system itself?

Thematically, we would still use Heat/Energy Cells, so the change would only be in functionality. There is nothing that thematically requires Heat/Energy Cells to work how they currently do. For example, we could let you safely use more than 40% of your resource bar more than once every 2 minutes; however, we cannot allow Mercenaries/Commandos to heal indefinitely – which is actually the reason why the system works like it currently does. This is why a resource system that works in a similar manner to the Sorcerer’s/Sage’s Force resource could work for Mercenaries/Commandos, while something like the Juggernaut’s/Guardian’s Rage/Focus resource would not be feasible. We should state that overhauling a resource system is a substantial amount of work on our end, and as such, it is not something that would happen anytime soon. We will be looking for your feedback here, because we would not want to make a drastic change to your resource system without support from you – the players."


Again, it's nice to see them acknowledge that ammo management is a bit of a pain in the butt right now. I remember how pre-1.2, simply hitting Overcharge Cells would pretty much give me a full ammo bar again, and just how hard I found it to manage my resources right after that fateful patch hit. I did get used to it to an extent, but it can still be extremely fiddly at times. Especially while working on nightmare mode progression, I've frequently found myself in situations where I had to cast several big heals on the tanks right now, as they were on the verge of death... and then I'm out of ammo with no cooldowns and we wipe anyway simply because I can't do any useful healing at all anymore. That's pretty harsh.

The comment about completely overhauling the whole system immediately made me go "whoa, whoa, let's take a step back here" though, and I'm glad to see that most people responding to the thread felt the same way. We do like the way the system works overall, it just needs fine-tuning. For healers it was a lot more forgiving pre-1.2 for example. Or look at Scoundrel/Operative healers right now, they basically use the same system and have trouble running out of energy even if they try. I'm not saying Commando healing should be just as easy, but surely it should be possible to ease up on the unforgivingness of the regen system just a little bit, if simply by tweaking some numbers...?
 
"(...) We think it seems reasonable for Mercenaries/Commandos to be able to heal themselves with Rapid Shots/Hammer Shot, and we will look into making this a possibility – but it might not generate Combat Support Cylinder/Cell charges when you heal yourself with the ability. It is something we will need to test out internally first.

As for venting Heat/recharging Energy Cells when Rapid Shots/Hammer Shot is used, that may be something we could do. However, it is also possible that the energy return tied into Diagnostic Scan makes Operative healers better than they should be. It does seem strange that one healer would have an energy-returning ability, while another healer using basically the same type of resource system has nothing to compare with it. We will investigate this further, and the outcome should be positive or at least neutral for Mercenaries/Commandos. (...)"


My theory as for why things are the way they are is that a) Mercenary/Commando healers heal with their weapons, and it would look awkward for them to shoot themselves, and b) our "free heal" can be used on the move while Scoundrels and Operatives have to stand still to use theirs. Which sounds like a fair trade-off on paper, except that using Hammer Shot on the move is frequently impractical due to the directional requirements, and the "disadvantage" of not being able to move while casting Diagnostic Scan hardly affects Scoundrels and Operatives since they can still do most of their healing while on the move anyway. In comparison, being completely unable to heal yourself when you're low on resources is pretty damn harsh. So I'm in support of changing this, even if I'm not sure I really want to take shots out of my own assault cannon to the face...

All in all, this was a good Q&A; it just remains to be seen whether it actually leads to any changes in practice.

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