Yes, Nerfing Blood Flames is Good
Blood Flames, found on Captain Blood’s Robe and its obsidian variant, is arguably the strongest single power in PvE. Players have shown willingness to spend years farming for this robe. Although a nerf has been rumored for years, it has finally happened. Blood and Summer Flames’ damage has been cut in half! Before, they dealt damage equal to 4x player spellpower, now they deal only 2x. Unsurprisingly, this change was met with much wailing and gnashing of teeth. In this piece I am going to lay out the case for why this nerf was not only necessary, but good for the game’s health.
The Current PvE “Meta”
First, why are flames so powerful? To answer that question, I need to explain a bit about the PvE meta and how flames fit in. Since their introduction, flames have been the go-to strategy for rapidly clearing fights in PvE, regardless of player class. The vast majority of enemies in the game do not have powers they frequently use, unlike the Pirate character. Their “strategy” is to walk directly up to you and hit/shoot your character and their crew. The AI’s path is also extremely predictable. They will walk directly toward your crew in approximately a straight line. Thus, it’s very easy to strategically place Blood Flames. Place them somewhere between you and the enemies, and it’s all but guaranteed the majority of them will trigger!
The aforementioned “strategy” is the most simple use case for Blood Flames. Simply place them in directly in front of you for 3300-5500 damage, enough to kill 1-2 of the four enemies that are present in a standard solo fight. There is no additional setup cost, it’s just free damage. Unlike in PvP, the enemy will not attempt to strategically avoid traps, which would force you to use the battleboard’s features to optimally place them.
No other power in the game does this much damage with this little setup cost. A bevy of critical chains can do that much damage, but it requires gearing up your pirate in a very specific way, casting multiple sets of buffs, and getting a bit of luck. A hidden, critical Assassin’s Strike can as well, but it requires a hide, stat buffs, and great critical RNG. This is reason #1 why the Flames nerf was justified: Blood Flames deal more damage than any other single power in the game, and requires zero setup to do so.
Optimizing Blood Flames
The previous section showed that simply equipping Blood’s Jacket and dropping unbuffed flames on turn 1, with no attempt to further optimize deals massive damage. But what happens when you put a bit more effort into optimizing your strategy to abuse them? Enter the other two members of the infamous PvE Cheese Trio: Old Scratch and Frozen Tide. Flames, Tide, and Scratch combined represent the absolute pinnacle of PvE optimization. Combined, they are enough to trivialize even the most difficult fights.
Since most enemies do not have powers, casting Frozen Tide on turn 1 is effectively a free turn for your team. You can use that round to have your Old Scratch(es) cast his 100% Mojo buff, which will increase a single flame’s base damage to 2,000-5,000 damage depending on how many players are in the fight.
Another even deadlier option is to take advantage of the fact that active Blood Flames trigger on end of turn to damage all adjacent enemies. One player casts Frozen Tide and the rest place their flames down in between the enemies. This can let each flame (that should have 2,000-4,000 base damage) hit multiple targets, enough to clear an entire fight in 1-2 rounds, even “challenging” encounters like Smugglers’ Arena. There is no other similarly efficient strategy in terms of both animation time (no need to watch chains trigger) and number of rounds in combat. Thus, the second reason why the nerf was necessary: When combined and optimized with other powers, Blood Flames are enough to completely trivialize nearly every fight in the game.
Variety: The Spice of Life
Blood Flames, whether on their own or optimized, are massively more powerful than any other strategy in the game. There is no reason for any player who owns either of Captain Blood’s robes to not use it and place Flames in the #1 power slot. There is no other robe in the game that is similarly powerful. This leads to homogeneity in playstyle and erases class identity.
Why should a buck waste time watching critical chains trigger when flames deal just as much damage in a couple of frames? Should a privy bother casting Battle Zeal when enemy units will be dead to Blood Flames before they approach? Having something be so powerful that it’s ubiquitous and leaves no room for alternatives is neither fun nor interesting (yes, this same argument applies to Old Scratch, but that’s an argument for another day). Blood Flames are so much more powerful than all alternatives that they invalidate all other strategies.
Flames also make future boss design difficult. There is no such thing as a challenging PvE encounter where Blood Flames are viable. Every single fight that the devs want to design to be challenging needs to have anti-Flames cheat to prevent players from being able to instantly win by freezing the enemies and surrounding them with buffed flames. Otherwise, the fight becomes a complete joke. Thus, the final major benefit of the Blood Flames nerf: It allows for challenging future PvE content that requires unique approaches.
Arguments Against Nerfing Blood Flames
Now that I’ve laid out why Blood Flames were deeply problematic for the game currently and its future, I want to address the two most common arguments against nerfing them (and a third non-sequitor).
First, players have spent months to years farming for the robe and nerfing it means their time was wasted. I don’t buy this argument. It’s not like flames are completely unusable now. They still will deal 1500-2500 damage before buffs. This is on par with powerful single hits like Assassin’s Strike instead of being miles better than them. I would wager that they’re still pretty close to optimal in group PvE when paired with multiple 100% Scratch buffs. Without a binding damage cap in most fights, they will still be strong enough to one hit or two hit enemies in easy and “challenging” fights alike (which is why Scratch needs nerfed just as badly).
Second, nerfing flames makes “hard” parts of the game too difficult (think Valencia Part II and the Obsidian bosses). For starters, Scratch still exists. He does just as good a job at trivializing content as flames did. Secondly, these supposedly “hard” parts of the game are not too difficult. They just require that you use your buffs and doubloons strategically and maybe use a loadout with a defensive companion or two. Yes, they’re not fights where you can mindlessly stat buff once and kill everything with chains. However, these fights (particularly Valencia II) are not ones where there are unique mechanics and cheats; the enemies just have more epics and higher stats. So, get good. (Also, I would wager that the overlap between players with Blood Robe and players who would struggle with Valencia II is pretty small).
Finally, the very bad argument I saw quite a few times in the replies of the original tweet unveiling the nerf: “The devs nerfed the power instead of giving us a new world. KI bad.” Stop. This change required changing a couple numbers in the code (probably exactly 2, the spellpower multiplier on both types of flames). No matter how much you want a world, there is a massive difference in the time required to rebalance powers and create a whole new world (this is why I’ve consistently advocated for QoL and balancing updates– they’re relatively easier to make). This was a good and necessary change that will facilitate more engaging PvE combat and legitimately challenging and interesting bosses that do not get trivialized by a single robe.
The nerf to Blood Flames is a great change and was long overdue. In its un-nerfed state, Blood Flames were the most powerful ability in PvE and trivialized nearly every fight, from basic mobs to Kane himself with little to no setup cost. Because of their insane power level, they were by far the best strategy in PvE, effectively invalidating anything else and reducing class identity. They also made designing unique or challenging fights difficult. Any endgame fight that didn’t have an explicit anti-flames cheat would be easily farmed in minutes with the combination of Flames, Scratch, and Frozen Tide.
Flames in their nerfed state are more in line with other powerful abilities, and they will still be popular and powerful in tandem with Old Scratch. I’m very glad to see this nerf and hope that the devs continue to rebalance aspects of PvE and PvP that have been in dire need of changes (cough Scratch cough).
Do you agree with the nerf of Blood Flames? Would you have done it differently? Let us know in the comments below!