Explaining the Shadow Spell Nerfs
The Wizard101 community has exploded as the long anticipated shadow spell nerfs finally hit the test realm. Players far and wide decried the nerfs, calling them heavy-handed and unnecessary. But are they? I will take a look at the Shadow Enhanced spells, discuss the nerfs in general, and offer my viewpoint on the spells at large.
What are Shadow Enhanced Spells?
Shadow-Enhanced spells first appeared in the Darkmoor update to Wizard101 (November 2014). These spells belonged to their individual schools and dealt school specific damage. However, the spells required a shadow pip to cast as well as normal pips. As a result, these spells dealt massive damage and had amazing utility to boot. In fact, they received so much value in both damage and effects that they became the de-facto best spells under almost any circumstance. It is from this position that we come to Test Realm.
Spell Balancing Rules
Wizard101 Developers on twitter, specifically Mattnetic, have shared certain rules the developer team uses when balancing spells. The rules that are most applicable to the recent shadow spell nerfs are:
- Spells that deal damage and gain an additional effect = +1 pip of value
- The value of the effects added = +x pips of value
- AoE spells’ damage is set at a certain % below single target hit damage
- Shadow pips are being adjusted to be equivalent to +3 pips of value
The Math of the Nerfs
I will analyze the numbers behind 3 of the most controversial nerfs: Gaze of Fate, Mystic Colossus and Call of Khrulhu. Keep in mind the spell balancing rules from above as I break down these spells step by step. First, let us calculate their PIP value:
- Total value = 5 pips + 1 shadow pip
- Shadow pip = 3 pips of value
- Total value = 8 pips
Gaze of Fate Rule Application
- +1 pip for dual effect (damage + bubble)
- +2 pips for value of effect (balance damage bubble)
- 8 subtract 3 (pip cost of above values) = 5 pips left for damage
- Balance School DPP is typically around 90-100 DPP
- 5 x 100 damage per pip = 500 damage
- 500 damage split 2 ways is 250 damage on each end
Current Test Realm Gaze of Fate
Mystic Colossus Rule Application
- +1 pip for dual effect (pierce + damage)
- +1 pip for effect applying before the damage
- 8 subtract 2 (pip cost of above values) = 6 pips left for damage
- Myth AoE DPP is 74 based on Humongofrog
- 6 x 74 damage per pip = 444 damage
Current Test Realm Mystic Colossus
Call of Khrulhu Rule Application
- DPP for an AoE drain is 57 based on Scarecrow
- 8 x 57= 456 damage
Current Test Realm Call of Khrulhu
Why did the shadow spell nerfs happen?
The nerfs to the shadow spells happened for one simple reason – game balance. Surprised? Don’t be. Judging from feedback on a variety of venues, many players are convinced that the change is solely motivated by PvP. This is especially true since PvP players have been very vocal about the excessive power of these spells. However, the developers confirmed that game balance and power progression is at the crux of why these spells were modified. Here we see the developers’ thoughts in their own words.
My Thoughts on the Nerfs
When calculating the damage of the above spells and applying the balance rules expounded by the Devs on twitter, one can clearly see that the spells are fairly balanced according to those rules. In fact, in the case of Call of Khrulu-the devs were merciful and deliberately overtuned the spell. However, several problems arise when looking at spell progression, past imbalances, and the nature of PvE combat in Wizard101.
Currently Wizard101 operates under several different DPP (damage per pip) tracks. For simplicity’s sake we will focus on the original damage per pip track and the shadow and lore spell damage per pip track. The lore spell damage per pip tracks are valued at a much higher rate than the original (classic DPP) charts. You can see an example from the spells Skeletal Pirate and Headless Horseman. Skeletal Pirate is a rank 5 spell that deals an average of 470 damage – a value of about 94 DPP. However Headless Horseman aligns to the new DPP track at an average of 560 damage- A value of about 140 DPP. As can be seen the values for these 2 DPP tracks are vastly disparate.
This leads to the issue seen with the shadow enhanced spells. Currently the 4 pip and most (Rusalka is currently not but will be fixed) of the 6 pip shadow spells are valued along the new DPP chart. However, the 5 pip shadow spells are valued along the classic DPP track. As the new DPP track is vastly superior to the old DPP track- the 4 and 6 pip shadow spells are receiving much more value than the 5 pip shadow spells and the 5 pip spells seem incredibly weak by comparison.
The issue is further complicated because of several past imbalances. According to Developer Mattnetic on twitter: KI’s old policy used to be that when they made an overtuned/overpowerered spell by accident- they would simply leave it in the game and adjust the game around it. However, several years of leaving imbalanced spells in the game and adjusting the game around it has left the developers at an impasse when it comes to designing future content.
Right now, if the Developers have to design content to fit the Old Shadow Spell’s values- monsters would have to become even beefier, with more damage and probably more cheats in order to compete with player growth. The monsters/bosses in the catacombs are tuned to hardcore players but if game progression is allowed to continue along current trends, then bosses like the Greggor’s will become the norm. That is not sustainable for the player base, especially not for casual players who already struggle to compete in the current game environment.
Past imbalances do not only affect monster growth but also spell potential. Right now, a common complaint is that Glowbug Squall is perfectly fine because we get it 50 levels after Storm Lord. Live realm Bugs represents a 62% damage increase on Storm Lord without accounting for utility. If player’s expect power progression to follow along this curve then at level 150 we would have a Storm AoE as cheap or cheaper than Bugs, with more utility, that deals a whopping 1814 damage at base. With an epic enchant that would be a spell dealing 2114 points of AoE damage without accounting for gear boost, buffs or any other stat.
What kind of monsters would KI have to design to compete with players capable of dealing 2114 damage in the first or second round of battle? What kinds of spells would KI have to design to be competitive with this insane standard? Keep in mind that level 150 is a mere 20 levels away. That’s 2 world updates. The problem with power creep isn’t some far flung future issue, it’s literally right at our doorstep.
Wizard101 PvE combat revolves around the concept of Alpha striking. Alpha striking refers to blading/buffing up until a player can take out enemies in one shot. As most Wizard101 fights involve multiple enemies, this means that players are motivated to gravitate towards AoE (Area of Effect or Attack on Everyone) spells. What this means from a gameplay perspective is that Wizard101 PvE effectively revolves around 3 types of spells: blades, feints and AoEs.
The emphasis on dealing one shot damage means that the utility of a spell is often irrelevant in a majority of PvE encounters. This leads to the issue where PvE players do not value the utility of a spell (except against rare bosses), even though that utility is an innate part of the spell and must be accounted for. That leaves the devs in the awkward position of having to balance spells without accounting for utility (leading to even more overpowered spells such as lord of winter), or stripping the spell of its utility to increase its damage (which also overpowers the spells, such as the case with Storm Owl).
In an ideal world, the solution to these problems would be a full spell audit, using a consistent DPP scale and consistent balancing rules. A full spell audit would allow all spells to be balanced along a standard- reducing discrepancies and outliers- and allowing for consistent growth throughout the game and a more transparent balance scale for all classes. Mechanics that are over/under powered would be easily visible along the standard and could be buffed or nerfed as necessary.
However, player reaction and the logistics of a full spell audit probably render the idea nonviable. When it comes to the Shadow enhanced spells that leaves several viable solutions. One solution is to value all the Shadow Spells along the same scale- either bringing the rank 4 and 6 spells down to the rank 5 spell’s scales or buffing the rank 5 spells to the DPP scales that the rank 4 and 6 spells follow. Another solution is to universally increase the cost of the spells while giving PvE some compensatory mechanic. This would allow the developers to rein in Shadow Spell’s values, adjusting PvE monster difficulty along a more sustainable scale while still making PvE “feel” powerful. We know the Developers are hard at work modifying the spells and I can’t wait to see what adjustments they make when Test Realm reopens.
What Are Your Thoughts on the Shadow Spell Adjustments?
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