On Nerfs and Nightmare Power

No, not those kinds of nerfs...

GaddockTeeg (JD) of the Unnamed SWTOR Podcast got himself into a bit of a ranting mood this week, both on his show and on Twitter. He really doesn't like one of the upcoming changes in 2.7, and doesn't quite understand why he appears to be almost alone in his outrage. If nothing else, he sure got me thinking on the subject.

In case you didn't know, nightmare mode Dread Fortress is scheduled to release next month, and it's supposed to be just as difficult as previous nightmare modes. However, part of this difficulty will now be rolled into a buff on the bosses called Nightmare Power, which increases their health and damage output. If you manage to kill the last boss while she still has this buff, you'll gain a special title; however at a later point (I think I saw someone say "not by 2.8, later than that") this buff will be removed, making the fights significantly easier in the process. Basically, the hardest content in the game is scheduled to be nerfed, right from the start.

Now, I think that nerfs are never a good thing, because they basically come down to changing the rules of the game after you've given people time to get used to playing under the existing rules and growing to like them. In an ideal world no content would be released until it's perfectly tuned, but since nobody's perfect, there can be understandable reasons to apply nerfs after release. Explosive Conflict story mode was a good example: my guild cleared it and I enjoyed the challenge, but for something that was supposed to be super accessible it was just way overtuned at launch. It wasn't serving its intended purpose; that needed to be changed.

Nerfs also come in different flavours: personally I don't find it too bad if the devs just adjust a boss's health and damage numbers for example, because that doesn't usually change the very nature of the fight too much. Removing or completely trivialising whole mechanics on the other hand is a big no-no in my book (which is why I remain eternally sad about the nerf to the Darth Malgus fight in False Emperor).

Badly done nerfs can indeed induce a lot of outrage. I remember the last time I got really ticked off about a nerf in WoW, which was back in early Cataclysm. Back before there was a Looking For Raid tool, my guild, like so many others, was working its way through normal modes and had downed everything but the last two bosses in the tier. Then a massive nerf hit, which reduced boss health and damage by twenty percent as well as trivialising several of their mechanics. After that nerf, we downed the boss we'd been working on for weeks in two tries and then killed the last one, whom we had never even seen before, the same night. It was a major annoyance, for several reasons:

- The nerfs came with (relatively) short notice.
- They weren't applied to fine-tune the fights' difficulty, they were applied to make them irrelevant as progression and push people into the next tier.
- They affected a huge number of people (basically every raid guild that wasn't doing hard modes already).
- They were badly handled, going by the standards I set above, because they destroyed key fight mechanics on top of blanket health and damage reductions.
- On a personal level, my guild was robbed of the satisfaction of killing a boss we had been working on for weeks, as mechanics we had been practising were simply removed and our previous efforts were rendered completely pointless.

Now, how does this compare to what's happening with Nightmare Power? I think this scenario is very different. First off, we're being told about the eventual nerfing of the content before it's even been released in its original form. That's about as much notice as it's possible to get. We're also being told that it's only going to affect health and damage, and that mechanics will stay intact.

Finally, and I think this is an important point, it will only affect a minuscule amount of people since only a very small part of the player base participates in nightmare modes to begin with. I've seen the number "less than two percent" thrown around. If we assume that the game has about a million players, counting both subscribers and non-subscribers, that's maybe ten thousand people - and I'd also assume that "participation" in this case includes guilds like my own who set foot into NiM and managed to kill only a single boss before hitting a brick wall. I wouldn't be surprised if the number of people that can actually clear a nightmare mode within a reasonable time frame numbered only in the hundreds. Of those, a lot will probably manage to down Brontes in time to get the title anyway (because that's why they are doing nightmare modes in the first place, because they are that good), and what happens afterwards won't matter to them. There'll probably be a couple of guilds who'll get close and just miss out - and I do feel bad for them, but you'll excuse me for not starting a petition on their behalf.

There is another argument that JD has been bringing up a lot, and that's that of prestige. It will diminish those nightmare mode guilds' efforts if the unwashed masses can do an easier version of the same thing later! Now, I know many people who don't like this kind of argument to begin with, but personally I don't disagree. Of course we all want to feel like special snowflakes, and of course it's not fun if something we worked hard for is given to other people more easily.

However, prestige decays naturally over time anyway. Take the Warstalker title that you get for completing EC NiM in under two hours. A year ago, seeing someone with that title was a rare and impressive sight. These days? Meh. While EC NiM is still no pushover, five more levels and several tiers of new gear have made it vastly easier than it used to be, even if the operation never received a formal nerf. Keeping that in mind, the changes they are making with Nightmare Power are a good thing for hardcore raiders that like to show off: because for the first time, they'll get a reward that less skilled players won't also be able to get later.

Of course, all this rambling of mine doesn't answer the key question of why the hardest content in the game needs to be nerfed in the first place. It's supposed to be hard and inaccessible, right? We have story mode so everyone can see the content, and we have hard mode for people who want a bit of a challenge, why even have a nightmare mode if it's just going to get nerfed to be closer to hard mode? To be honest, I completely agree that it's not needed, but I suspect that it's a case of the devs suffering from a bit of vanity in regards to their work. "We thought up all these interesting mechanics and hardly anyone gets to see them! What a waste!" It's a bit of a contradiction in terms really, because the very definition of difficult content is that it's going to be exclusive and not seen by all. I'm not sure why this is suddenly an issue. Either way, I suspect that the introduction of Nightmare Power and its eventual removal are meant to get more people into nightmare modes once the initial race is over, just for the sake of someone doing them and getting to see the new mechanics.

I don't think it's something that's needed, but I also don't see it having much of a negative effect on most people, so I'm happy to wait and see how it plays out in practice.

EDIT: JD put some more of his thoughts on the subject into a blog post of his own.


  1. I think the nerfs don't have the impact on SWTOR because the focus on SWTOR is different than WoW. SWTOR is more about the leveling game and the story, whereas Blizz explicitly encourages players to believe that WoW is all about the endgame.

    1. Hm, I don't disagree with the principle that both games have a different focus, but I think that the part of the SWTOR community that is focused on endgame is no less passionate about it than those in other games.


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