Will This Knee-Jerk Nerfing Ever End?


One topic I’ve been thinking about quite a lot since we learned about the Module 15 changes on the preview server is an effect that I’d like to call “knee-jerk nerfing”, or “overnerfing”. If we look back in Neverwinter’s history, the game has been prone to overadjusting to issues by completely steamrolling in the opposite direction. Most of the time this leads to a monster nerf instead of gradually approaching a better state of the particular system.

Examples are plenty, but the most recent ones of course are the changes to Trickster Rogues and DO Devoted Clerics. You had two classes that might have been overperforming and the reaction by the devs was to completely level them. To be honest, it might not be as bad as advertised by many complaints, but both classes undoubtedly took a huge hit.

Nerf First, Adjust Later

The current balancing phase is a two-step process that spans into Module 16, but there’s no reason why the first set of changes couldn’t have been a little bit more lenient. In fact, I’m fairly certain this isn’t a coincidence either, but the preferred way of the studio to operate. Like I said, there are many examples in the past that proof this “nerf first, adjust later” approach. It just feels like Cryptic, whenever there’s a serious imbalance, completely takes it out the game first, monitors the impact, and then gradually adjusts later, if at all.

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Some issues of course are so severe that you have no choice but to disintegrate them. Let’s say exploits, or stuff so broken that it prevents you from properly evaluating affected areas. It’s more complicated with other things that do not impact the game as a whole, much less if you let them linger forever. Class balance is indeed a great example, because nerfing TRs and DO DCs didn’t make dungeons particularly harder. It just led to other classes taking over their spots. Like, if you had one class being the difference of a 20-minute and 10-minute TONG, there’s obviously something wrong. But who cares honestly about a 10-minute vs. 12-minute run? It’s good to show off, but doesn’t really alter the state of the game.

Management Not Targeting the Overarching Issue?

Too often knee-jerk nerfing is a symptom of the management not properly seeing the overarching issue. TRs and DO DCs were overperforming, indeed, but the debuff and power stacking synergies that make current dungeons a complete roflstomp are still intact. The same can be said for many economy nerfs that happened throughout the game. All the game did in the past was take away the best source of income without ever thinking about how to generally make the economy more robust and stable. Granted, I’m no (MMO) economist and can’t dish out a great idea here. All I know is that it always felt like the devs took the fastest possible fix without evaluating all options thoroughly.

The knee-jerk nerfing gets increasingly more annoying considering how long the turnaround times for changes are. Since some viability has been taken away from TRs and DOs in five-man content in Module 15, many players basically have to suffer through four full months. And that’s not even the most extreme example. Think about the various Profession changes and nerfs through many modules until we finally got the new Workshop system recently. And hey, it only took nine modules to get us the old dungeons back, right?

Knee-Jerk Nerfing Only Works with Monitoring

In my opinion knee-jerk nerfing only works under one condition. And that’s tightly monitoring the impact and make further changes as soon as possible. I don’t mind having stuff taken away from me if I know there’s a dev actively working on a greater solution. Right now a nerf means you’re left out on an island for months, which is why some changes feel so overly painful and players tend to fight like crazy against them on the preview forums. Some of it is hyperbole, but a decent chunk probably knows that if tweaks go through, it’s what they have to live with for a considerable amount of time simply because no dev will be assigned to a follow-up task.

The crazy thing is, especially a small studio like Cryptic should be able to handle that better. The benefit of small teams is that you can generally react to situations more swiftly. But the game behaves like an elephant while operating with the resources of a mouse. I’d like to credit Uncensored regular Janne for being one of the first to point me towards that irritating fact.

The Cost of Trying to Be Mass-Market

We’ve talked about Neverwinter catering to the mass-market and whether it might be better instead to find a niche to thrive in. You could argue that the game is doing well enough, but knee-jerk nerfing is certainly also a symptom of the devs being forced to do too much. You work with the time you have. So if your schedule doesn’t allow for a thorough investigation, you of course take the path of least resistance. That’s why you can’t blame someone individually. It’s a management issue.

If you will it’s probably the cost of trying to be a mass-market game without having the appropriate devpower. Another reason by the way might also be that their processes of identifying the most glaring issues are lackluster. That’s certainly a topic for another article, but even if I still believe that taking the path of least resistance is the more likely explanation. Taking extreme outliers out of an equation is indeed comfortable for the studio, and sometimes necessary, but it comes at the cost of the players. This is definitely something that I really hope the game will be able to handle better in the future.

What’s your opinion on the overnerfing approach that the game frequently uses? Share your thoughts and experience on our social channels, in the comments below, or visit our message board!

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j0Shi plays the Neverwinter MMORPG since the open BETA in 2013 and is a regular contributor to the blog and the whole UN:Project. Originally a Guardian Fighter, he has built up ALTs of all classes and plays on BIS/near-BIS level.

16 thoughts on “Will This Knee-Jerk Nerfing Ever End?

  • December 4, 2018 at 7:11 am

    Well said, j0Shi. Someone should post this on the official forum. A link will just be deleted and shove a porcupine up Zebutard’s arse.

    The subject of this article may well be why I stopped Maining in Mod 6 and rotate through my Alts instead, for as long as they are fun.


  • December 4, 2018 at 7:12 am

    I feel like this is an opportunity to coin the term “knee-jerf”

    • December 4, 2018 at 2:19 pm

      ‘Knerfing’ perhaps? Lol

  • December 4, 2018 at 8:36 am

    Great article, and right on point. Cryptic needs to create at least two categories for their fixes, ideally with a different task force for each: “emergency” for things like exploits and broken dungeons, and “balance”, for things like class balance and economy.

    The Balance task force needs to take a lesson from recording engineering: move that knob to where you think it should be, then move it back a couple notches, THEN press record. You first instinct is ALWAYS too much.

  • December 4, 2018 at 8:46 am

    I won’t speak for TRs, but DO’s were not “levelled”. The big change – Terrifying Insight – is not enough on it’s own to ‘destroy’ a class. Is the reduction from 20% to 10% group buff a hit? Sure. Does it completely ruin the class / paragon path? No. They get a nice bump to their own DPS, and still bump the groups DPS, just by slotting a class feature.

    If any power is becoming a ‘must bring’, I’d expect this sort of adjustment to occur. AA got it earlier.

    I mean, do any of you remember when the meta was either 1xGF, 4xCW or 5xCW? Because, screw everyone else, stuns and AoE 4TW! And the hammer came down on that kinda stuff. Control-immune bosses. Max number of targets for AoE spells. And CWs were cast into the wilderness, because ‘LOL! Useless.’

    Unless, y’know, you played with anyone who was a decent CW – they still did fine DPS. You just couldn’t build a party of CWs and faceroll content. WDFD.

    If it suddenly becomes a debate about which class / paragon to bring – DODC / Templock / Something else – that’s *good*. It means that they are on a level playing field.

    • December 4, 2018 at 6:31 pm

      DO was certainly not leveled; however, you must remember we fought for that nerf to only be 10% to TI. Also they destroyed FF. Which was a specific nerf to the 2xDC formula.

      DO is not on par with templock and mof. So if your building a meta group you take OP, GF, GWF, AC/DC, and then pick form those 3 for your last member. That’s the meta, you can sub an HR for the GWF in the mail dps role.

      DPS CW, TR, HR, SW, and CW are in charge ensuring the meta group stays well hydrated.

      The reason I pushed back on the complete destruction of TI is that it would have left DO completely out of the rotation and even more of an issue is you only have one healer role in “random” groups. In meta “random” group templock/mof still have a home (just as they did prior to the mod) but the DO DC has no home in that format (neither does healidon or gf).

      and before someone says it, i agree, no one needs a “random” meta group for RAQ, but the same can’t be said for REQ CR and/or REQ cradle.

    • December 4, 2018 at 7:43 pm

      100% agree

    • December 6, 2018 at 1:13 am

      Yeah. I remember that. Greatest time of the game. Way more better than this lame 4buffer+1 dps meta!
      Then faceroll GWF and devil boot-licker SW QQ choir assist to the nerf and continued the QQ not to undo!

  • December 4, 2018 at 8:59 am

    In other games I’ve seen buffs and nerfs used to force players to use other classes or do other grinds. It’s a tactic to keep players constantly shifting to burn through content and resources.
    I’m not going to say that’s what Neverwinter’s doing because they have a more complex layering of mechanics in play. It generally feels like the devs are constantly struggling with their own code.

    • December 4, 2018 at 6:35 pm

      yeah but that is no reason to target TRs who weren’t that popular to start with. If that was the motivation they’d have targeted GWFs or OPs which are probably the most popular classes in the game. DC’s usually make up 10% of the community (based on old reports), I don’t remember what TRs are but they data was always skewed by their prevalence in PVP. The data was always kind of off anyhow because you’d need to categories them by ilvl. ex. how many of each class is 16k+. That way you can get an idea of what people are playing vs what they make for leveling mules

      • December 4, 2018 at 7:43 pm

        TR’s were fine before mod 14 and then got a super buff the likes of which this game has never seen. Mod 14 the TR was so overpowered that it was a joke.

  • December 4, 2018 at 6:23 pm

    Part of the challenge your alluding to j0shi is they don’t have project management. In the world of project management they have different approaches for different scenarios. The flexible iterative approach common with small groups would be called “agile”. There is a good presentation here that explains the philosophy


    Its a project management philosophy designed for doing small flexible iterative releases (in contrast to windfall which is for big project releases like a new product launch).

    Cryptic doesn’t have anyone that can does this. I know from job postings at cryptic that they hire project managers and even ask for certifications but I’ve seen 0 indication that they are actually engaged in game development. It’s a role that simply goes unfilled and the product quality reflects that.

  • December 4, 2018 at 8:57 pm

    while I don’t agree w/ everything, nor is it a complete summary of any one issue, this is a surprisingly insightful piece overall. GJ. And you managed to resist touching overtly on the glaring, perpetual lack of QC, which, I think, was a good choice as it would have distracted from your pt (although certainly of the same root causes).

  • December 5, 2018 at 6:27 am

    The changes for mod 15 are a move towards additional changes coming to move 16. At this point what mod 16 will offer are all speculation from a new role being added and allowing all classes to play more than one role. Instead of holding off and doing a massive update at once impacting all classes the devs seem to split the change into two updates vs. one update.

  • December 5, 2018 at 8:23 am

    How about Griffon’s Wrath spamming (even with the “fix” i can use GW like an at will), and Shield Warrior’s Wrath giving a damage buff for 120% instead of 20%? They can’t fix class unbalance because they made it, they wants a game with 1 DPS-4 supports, they wants only one class viable as DPS, and the other “DPS” classes only viable as support (Hello SW) 2x DCs meta isn’t the problem, they need to fix all the stuff they did to the latest dungeons, they made all only for one DPS in the group: Orcus bloody curse, sunsword. And they only care about double DC meta? GF damage is more broken than pre-SOD fix TR, but they don’t fix it. it’s more than unbalance, it’s intended. The nerf hammer is for some classes only.

    • December 5, 2018 at 9:01 pm

      My GFs cannot spam Griffon’s Wrath. I asked Robb, Integrity and a few others if I need high Recovery and they said no, it’s a bug. And yet, I cannot spam it. So I don’t know what i am doing “wrong”.

      I do notice that sometimes, I have no cool down but it simply will not fire, it just says “xyzpqrst is not a valid target”, or says he is out of range when he is standing right in front of me.

      So I do not get infinite casting of Griffon’s Wrath but I do get invisible cool down, where I am unable to cast it when I should be able to.

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