The devs like to say that balancing is a process that never stops. That’s not entirely true however for Neverwinter, a game that doesn’t seem to have a developer exclusively working balance all the time. Balancing passes are more like bigger projects that happen once every three to four modules. And even then it’s usually only one developer having to deal with figuring out and improving the dynamics of no less than 48 combinations of classes, paragons, and feat paths. Of course the whole (systems) team gives feedback, but Module 15 once again showed how these tasks really push the devs to their limits. This time around Cryptic wasn’t able to include all changes in Neverwinter’s Heart of Fire, and instead had to schedule a second phase of the balancing process for Module 16. And that was even before the guy working on the project decided to leave the studio.
So yeah, it’s kind of a mess. I mean it works, but you can’t avoid to think that the current size of the team might not allow to balance all classes equally, much less in timely fashion. That’s why I’d like to pitch what some might be hot-ish take. Why not substantially rework the paragon path system?
Let’s Rework Paragon Paths
Some of the current balancing struggles are rooted in the fact that paragon paths are not distinctive enough. In fact, the feat paths largely decide a toon’s tole on a team. This means that paragons compete with each other all the time instead of offering true choices. They are almost redundant. And that’s what players do actually complain about when it comes to balancing. They expect to have choices when in reality there’s only one viable build most of the time. This is not a recent development but has been an issue ever since. So I do believe it’s time to cut down on options instead of trying to find ways to make it all work.
What got me thinking is how the Oathbound Paladin is set up. I really like that the paragon path gives a boost in one major area. This defines the overall play style (tank or healer) while the feat paths refine a much smaller niche (buff, survivability, …).
I believe this is a great concept for all classes. Why not let paragon paths be that one big tone setter to start with. Control Wizards could choose between buffing and DPS, Trickster Rogues between stealth and melee combat, Devoted Clerics between buffing/support and healing, etc. The key to this approach would be that you can’t have both. So if you’re choosing DPS on a CW, you cannot buff at all and vice versa. This of course would mean that all classes, just like the Oathbound Paladin, get additional effects on (some of) their powers based on the path they choose.
Feat Tree Adjustments
The feat trees would need to get adjusted as well. If you’re picking tank vs. utility with your paragon path already, it doesn’t make tons of sense to include the same aspects in your feats as well. The goal is to add a secondary layer to your build. You’re always your paragon first, but then can add an additional element like control, survivability, or single target potency. Take Hunter Rangers as another example. Players would like to freely choose ranged and melee combat and not just base it off what’s currently performing better. Well guess what, let’s make that choice a paragon path!
I think those distinct choices are necessary. What you’re doing when coming up with builds is looking for that one best combination anyway. So the game might as well just tell you where to look. This doesn’t change the fact that some builds might be more viable within a meta, but at least you don’t have to make sure that two paragon paths are equally powerful in the same role. In my opinion that’s much easier to balance. In case you feel like a class needs some more DPS, you either tweak the paragon boost or one of the feat paths. You don’t have to be aware any longer what it potentially does to other paragon/feat combinations.
Scratching Additional Feats and Powers
Despite the fact that the devs would have much less dynamics to be aware of, I would additionally get rid of different powers and feats. Just have one set for all builds. Powers then get that extra paragon effects, but feats stay the same all the time. This takes away some build options from players, but to be honest the current system only offers variety in theory anyway. Practically, only a fraction of powers and feats are actually used. Many paragon/feat combinations try to achieve the same thing and in the end one is best in DPS (or whatever), and the rest gets ignored. So I envision this as defining the purpose of paths more clearly. The full layout could look like this:
|Control Wizard||DPS||Buff||Survivability||Control||AoE Focus|
|Devoted Cleric||Healing||Buff||AoE Focus||Single Target Focus||Solo DPS|
|Guardian Fighter||Tank||Utility||Threat||Survivability||Solo DPS|
|Great Weapon Fighter||Single Target||AoE||Survivability||Utility||Agility|
|Oathbound Paladin||Healing||Tank||Survivability||Solo DPS||Buff|
|Scourge Warlock||DPS||Buff||Survivability||Single Target Focus||Agility|
|Trickster Rogue||Stealth||Melee||AoE Focus||Control||Single Target Focus|
I don’t think this is perfect, but I guess you get the overall idea. The paragon gives a big boost that defines the play style and role. Feat trees in the meantime refine much smaller aspects. A Guardian Fighter or Oathbound Paladin that choose to be tanks for example shouldn’t be able to equally hold their own with just the “survivability” feats.
Might Be Too Difficult to Pull Off
I think this is a great way to both give paragon and feat trees a necessary distinction as well as making it easier for the devs to balance classes going forward. Unfortunately the concept might still be a pipe dream, because it takes substantial amount of time and effort to rework the current system into the proposed one. It’s possible, but I’m fairly certain it’s not something the devs are thrilled about. If at all, this would be a long-term project.
I also haven’t researched whether this version of paragon and feat paths is even possible under D&D 4th edition rules. I’m discussing Neverwinter the MMO here, and not Neverwinter the D&D system. We know Wizards of the Coast has a say in all of these things. And in case it messes with their rules too much, it may never get a green light.
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It was nonetheless fun thinking about how to simplify the paragon system and first and foremost avoid competition between different paths and combinations. I’d love to hear what you think about it. Do you agree or do you think the game’s current approach is better? Share your thoughts and experience on our social channels, in the comments below, or visit our message board!
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