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Balance, Mechanics, and Feedback. Oh My! (Really long)

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I'm relatively new to DD2, about a week now and 90 hours played.  I have 260 hours in DD1 which is still one of the best games I've played in my 30 years of playing games.  I have all 4 characters to level 50 and I'm working on the jump from NM1 (pretty easy now) to NM2 (some maps I can do, others are a bit rough).  I currently have no Uber Spheres though from searching around I have some idea what they do but no experience with them.  I've also only played solo after I figured out how to enter a private lobby.  So that's the perspective my feedback in coming from, which means I might be wrong on a few things.


I'm starting here because this mechanic is at the core of most of my problems with the game even though I don't think the mechanic itself is a problem.  The physical/magical resistance is obviously a simplified version of what we had in DD1 and that's fine.  It was really a minor nuisance until I got to NM1.  75% damage reduction (I gather this gets higher?) from physical/magical basically means the towers which deal the corresponding damage type are a complete was of DU to build in that lane.  I actually like this idea in theory since it forces you to build a more diverse set of towers to complete a map and you can't just spam Magic Missile towers everywhere.

The problem I see is the lack of ways to deal with magic resistant enemies.  There simply isn't a diverse enough set of physical towers to properly deal with the kinds of threats that exist in the game.

KPS vs. DPS.

This is just to clarify what I mean by KPS and why it matters because I'll be referring to it.  Way back in the beginning of DD1 I wrote a long forum post about this I wish I could find to link but I'll summarize here.

Kills Per Second (KPS) is the only thing that really matters in this game.  Damage Per Second (DPS) only matters in so far as it helps you achieve a higher KPS.  The best way to illustrate this is to pretend you have 100 enemies with 1 health each.  You have 2 towers you could use.  The first does 1,000,000 damage to a single target and fires once per second (1,000,000 DPS).  The second tower does 1 damage to 10 targets and fires once every 2 seconds (5 DPS).  The first tower will take 100 seconds to kill everything (1 KPS) the second tower will take 20 seconds to kill everything (5 KPS).  Obviously the second tower is superior because the KPS is what actually matters.  The other end of the spectrum is bosses, like ogres.  Against those the first tower is obviously better because it will kill it faster.  It will kill it in less seconds, so a better KPS. 

There's also the idea of wasted DPS which comes into effect with towers like the first one hitting enemies with 1 health.  That just feeds back into why KPS is all that really matters though.

DU Per Lane

Anyone who has paid attention will realize in the current crop of maps you generally have about 250 DU per lane.  Liferoot Forest for example has 1,100 DU and 4 ground lanes plus 2 Air Lanes (3 if you let the Quab die).  So if you assume 50 per air lane for an AA tower each then you have 1,000/4 = 250 DU per ground lane.  Assuming the Devs are happy with that it means players are expected to defend each lane with 250 DU.  You can obviously pool DU together in place where lanes join, like in Liferoot center lane.  This gives you 500 DU for that double lane though you can usually save some DU by doing things like that because AoE towers doing care if there's more enemies in an area.  Your KPS on Explosive Trap doesn't go down because there's a bigger crowd, quite the opposite.  The KPS on Explosive trap goes UP in there is more enemies around.  Ballista on the other hand gets a KPS benefit up to a point and then it plateaus due to the target limit.  Cannonball tower doesn't benefit and arguably suffers from crowds because it can't handle more than one at a time.w

The Towers

I feel it's important to look at the towers in 3 separate groups, physical, magical, and support, because of the resistance mechanic.  It doesn't make sense to even consider how Lightning Aura and Cannonball tower could work together or not since one of the two would be a waste of DU in a particular lane.  I'm not really going to talk about damage numbers because that's polish level balance and I'm more concerned with the mechanics right now.

Physical Towers

Ballista, Cannonball Tower, Training Dummy, and Explosive Trap.  These are the options for a magic resistant lane, and it's a pretty small and depressing set of options.

Ballista: The tower that is almost a thing.  Ballista has potential but it requires as a minimum the defense speed increase from the weapon and relic.  Firing every ~2 seconds instead of every 3.5 is basically mandatory to use it.  The 50 DU cost is a bit steep but it's manageable.  It's biggest down side is that it requires a long straight lane to really be a viable option.  It also requires very precise placement to fire along the pathing route of enemies or it isn't going to hit more than one at a time.  This isn't really a problem it just requires thought and I like that.  Also pretty good against fliers.

My biggest criticism of the Ballista is the firing arc.  It's too wide.  Given the fact that proper placement of a ballista means considering a straight line from there it is that you want it to fire along the 45 degree firing arc is absurdly wide.  This wouldn't be such a problem if it didn't try to shoot enemies through terrain 2 lanes over instead of the enemies walking down the lane in front of it which are just slightly further away.  This really hurts with even a 2 second reload time.  A narrowing of the firing arc wouldn't negatively effect the usefulness of the tower but it would allow players to place it in a way that it doesn't try to shoot through terrain far more easily.

Cannonball Tower: If you get the ballista firing rate down to 2 seconds the Cannonball Tower is entirely useless (no opinion on the Uber).  The Ballista can achieve equivalent single target DPS and do AoE damage.  The single target slow firing nature of the Cannonball with nothing extra (small chance of stun from gear is not enough) means it can't achieve a KPS anywhere near high enough to justify 30 DU.  It really doesn't matter how high its DPS gets it just isn't good enough.  As I type this I'm farming an onslaught and looked over to see ~30 little goblins get blown up by an explosive trap and thought, good thing I didn't use cannonball towers.  The Cannonball Tower in DD1 had a place because of the knock-back effect.  It delayed a lane to give other towers a chance to do their damage.  This Cannonball Tower does nothing.

Training Dummy:  No... Just no...  The obvious similarity to the Slice and Dice from DD1 makes me want to like it but the requirement for it to get hit means I really can't.  At the end of the day it's a bad blockade right now.  The damage it does isn't enough when it has to take a bunch of damage first and can't heal itself without constant maintenance from the player.  I wish it was just the Slice and Dice Blockade.  Those things were great for shredding ogres.

Explosive Trap: These are fine.  The do what you would expect them to.  The synergy with the current frost tower build makes them really good.  Although it's arguably the fact that the frost tower build requires traps/auras because it doesn't effect towers in a useful way.  There is some reliance on a corner in the lane to prevent ranged enemies picking off your blockades without spending too much DU on filling a long straight lane with traps.

Summary of Physical Towers: If Ballista where slightly improved to be more reliable (see firing arc) and maybe buffed slightly I think physical towers would have a viable set of options, thought really boring.  It would be blockade + Ballista in straight lanes and Blockade + Explosive Trap + Frostbite in lanes with corners.  Those are the only physical options that bring enough KPS through DPS and AoE to actually handle NM1-4.  Sadly it's really an either/or situation because there just aren't any other physical towers that are worth spending DU on.  Unfortunately given an option the explosive/frostbite combo is superior because of Kobolds primarily.  The 2 second firing rate on Ballista (with gear) isn't enough to effectively stop kobolds all the time and the DU cost of Ballista (I find I really need at least 3 of them and that's 150 or 180 with a blockade) makes it challenging to achieve the KPS required and have DU leftover for support towers like Frostbite.  The target cap on Ballista is also a bit of a handicap when compared to Explosive Trap but the ability to deal more instances of damage before the enemy reaches the Blockade can balance that out.  Again the map/lane layout dictates which is superior (in theory, remember I'm ignoring damage numbers).

Magical Towers

Fireball, Earthshatter, Lightning Aura, Elemental Chaos, and Blaze Balloon.  Honestly a better lineup than the physical towers.  Mostly because it's all AoE and 3/5 work with the Frostbite passives.

Fireball: Not much to say really.  The range hurts it a little bit given how fragile it is but overall I feel like Fireball is in a fairly decent place.  It probably needs some damage tweaks to make it more viable at higher NM levels.  Passives may push it over the edge as well.  It does a decent job of outputting single target DPS while maintaining a reasonable KPS against hordes.

Earthshatter: I honestly haven't been able to justify using this thing.  50 DU is just too high for what it does.  It's slow fire rate means it can't reliably control crowds to let the fireball tower focus on the bigger threats.  It just can't achieve a KPS to make it worth using from my limited experience with it.  If this was a physical tower instead with a faster firing rate it might have a place since there it wouldn't have to compete with Lightning Aura and Blaze Balloon that do AoE KPS better.

Lightning Aura: I want to love this.  I think Lightning Aura really just needs some number tweaks.  Overall it does a great job of picking off the trash and softening up the big guys.  Exactly what it should do.  Also passives.  I struggle to see why I would ever want to use the Uber for it though, maybe the numbers justify it but trading AoE for single target is rarely a net positive for KPS even with increased attack speed.

Elemental Chaos: I haven't tried it but I gather it's just magical Explosive Trap so I'd say it's probably fine.

Blaze Balloon: It's Lightning Aura but fire and less consistent because something has to be in the middle for it to trigger.  Since there is really no difference between Lightning and Fire for the most part I'd say it's kind of redundant.  I know there's Drenched and Oiled but those seem to be difficult to actually apply in any consistent way so it's kind of a moot point.  Overall I feel like Lightning Aura is just the superior option for Magical AoE to deal with Goblin swarms based purely on mechanics.  Blaze Balloon has a smaller AoE that isn't always up so it isn't always able to get in as many damage ticks while the enemy is in the area of effect.

Poison Dart Tower: This one feels really weird.  It's a single target DoT that fixates on a specific enemy while it's in range.  This means it's KPS is terrible if it's at the end of a path so it seems like you should put it early in a lane to soften up enemies but it does barely any more single target damage than a Lightning Aura or a Blaze Balloon.  The passives make it a wall with reduced aggro so you have to block off a lane but then it's an inferior Spike Blockade with bad damage that takes forever to kill things.  The firing arc is terrible as well though it does help with the tower fixating on one enemy.  Lanes generally aren't long enough for a DoT to work though.

Summary of Magical Towers: Overall I think Magical towers are in an okay place though there is a a bit of redundancy.  Your choices are basically varying amounts of damage in a circle.  There isn't really that choice you have to make between Ballista and Explosive Trap based on terrain.  The existence of the Frostbite build does make Fireball tower pointless though because Lightning Aura has synergy with it and Fireball doesn't (again, I don't have Elemental Chaos).

Support Towers

Spike Blockade, Arcane Barrier, Frostbite, Serenity Aura, Boost Aura, Sky Guard, and Geyser. 

Sky Guard Tower: Yes I put this under support.  I really don't have much to say about Sky Guard.  It does what it needs to do.  The DU cost of 50 can feel a little steep on some maps though.

Spike Blockade:  It's a wall that walls when you need a wall.

Arcane Barrier:  The inferior wall.  Even if Spike Blockade didn't exist Arcane Barrier feels off.  It's ability is made less useful by making the wall better.  Since it has to lose 20% of its health to do something and you want a wall to have as much health as possible you would end up reducing the likelihood of it's ability activating by making it a better wall.  Also, I've always been opposed to game mechanics that require failing to be useful (if my wall has lost 20% of its health I'm not exactly 'winning' at the moment).

Frostbite Tower:  No complaints.  It does what it needs to do.  Although the Frostbite passive only effecting towers that the enemy is on top of feels really weird and counter-intuitive.  I originally assumed it meant "Enemies who are effected by the slow take more damage" and not "Towers that are within the frost AoE of the Frostbite tower deal additional damage."  Regardless, it basically only effects traps and auras which is fine I suppose.

Serenity Aura: I haven't had much use for it yet but it's fine for what it is I just find when I'm fighting enemies it's either easy or 1-shot, not a lot of wiggle room between.  The current set of passives are really interesting.  Though the Purge Evil being magical damage means it's useless in some lanes.  Idle Flow feels like it doesn't quite slow enough to be really worth it.

Boost Aura:  This needs something.  The 10% damage boost isn't enough to justify 40 DU.  It would have to buff 10 towers to be a better option than another tower.  Even that would be questionable because it buffs DPS and not necessarily KPS like another tower would.  The damage reduction and health (with sphere) for spike blockade would be great but the DU cost is just obscene.  When you need 1 per lane and each lane has ~250 DU allocated to it spending 16% of that DU on a Boost Aura isn't generally an option especially when it'll maybe effect 4-5 towers/traps and a blockade.  It's a mechanically sound idea but the numbers need to be tweaked so that there's actually times when putting one of these down is the best use of DU.

Geyser: The firing rate kills it.  Once every 6 seconds is too slow of a firing rate to provide meaningful crowd control.  If it pops up a few goblins and 1 second later a real threat walks by it then it was useless and a complete was of DU.  A frostbite tower without passives or even a Serenity Aura with Idle Flow just stalls better and more effectively than this does right now.  I realize there's a problem with Geyser and Lightning Aura if it fires too quickly because of the stun that follows but right now it's just unusable.

Support Tower Summary:  Really hit or miss.  I have a really hard time justifying using more of these because of high DU costs and minimal impact on victory.

General Summary

I feel like the Physical/Magical resistance mechanic creates some really interesting gameplay possibilities but right now it's create 2 pools of towers that are each lacking in some areas.  Most notably physical damage lacks a really solid way to deal with swarms of weenies in large open areas.  Explosive traps aren't great in open areas and Ballista are not quite there large due to shooting at walls instead of legitimate targets.  Magical damage lacks good long range options to deal with bigger threats and is overloaded on redundant AoE for weenie swarms.

There needs to be at least one tower in both physical and magical that has a solid KPS for weenie swarms, at least one tower in each with enough DPS for the tankier threats, and something with enough range to hit the stupid healers (looking all smug on their books summoning skeletons).  Right now I too often wish I could use a magical tower in a physical lane (or vice-versa) because I need something with those mechanics but the resistance means I can't.  One option is just keep reloading the map since the resistances are random but that's obviously undesirable gameplay.

Some towers don't have a place and that needs to be solved somehow.  Ballista and Explosive trap are a good example of two towers that do basically the same thing but are mechanically different in ways that the map dictates which is the superior option (if numbers were balanced, but that's more Frostbite unbalancing in favour of ET).  I'm not sure all the current traps can be saved with their current mechanics (Arcane Barrier and Training Dummy for example).  In which case I really think they should be scrapped in favour of a tower that fills in one of the gaps in the existing line up (a physical trap mechanically similar to a lightning aura or blaze balloon for example).

Sorry this got so long but hopefully some of those who read the whole thing can express their views on these issues below.  Especially if you think I'm wrong about something.  I'd love to see this game become as great as DD1 (or better) because I do believe it has the potential to be.

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To preface, I usually play this game two-man.

I like your analysis of the towers and I pretty much agree with all of your points, especially that some towers are practically useless (e.g. Arcane Barrier) and that there may need to be more build variety. For perspective, here's an example setup my friend and I have been using in Nightmare 4: squire Spike Blockades in all lanes, Explosive and Elemental Chaos Traps in the corresponding lanes, Boost Auras hitting the blockades and some traps, Serenity Auras in all lanes, Frost Towers in all lanes, and Sky Guard Towers where needed. The heroes we have out are generally ones we want gear for but if we were to be optimal, we would have some combination of squires and huntresses. 

Traps seem to be king because they fire fast enough to, in conjunction with Purge Evil, take out smaller mobs and, when upgraded enough (i.e. the trap directly in front of the blockade), are strong enough to take down bosses. Even in magic resist lanes Purge Evil is useful for providing the tipping point to blowing up a bunch of mobs. Boost Aura not only provides the traps with a bit of extra DPS but provides the blockades with 25% extra health (from a large sphere), saving an upgrade's worth of mana on them. The Frost Towers are just great supports especially with the large sphere that gives them a 45% chance to freeze the enemy at the end of a channel (which instantly kills air units).

Something to consider is that towers like the Ballista and Blaze Balloon do get special attributes (like Serenity's Purge Evil) that perhaps make them more viable, but I haven't gotten the right gear to properly test this.

Also to consider is that your hero can act as your most versatile tower, if geared correctly. You can use the huntress or apprentice for hard-hitting long range damage and the squire or monk for the short range AOE. I do understand your point, though, of diversifying the towers.

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@stratigizer quote:

Something to consider is that towers like the Ballista and Blaze Balloon do get special attributes (like Serenity's Purge Evil) that perhaps make them more viable, but I haven't gotten the right gear to properly test this.

From what I've tested these are very niche at best, and they certainly don't fit in very well in NM4 play.

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Why do you obsess over KPS? It's a useless metric. I don't know why you want to take your DPS, and divide the enemies' health by it in order to come up with a DPS, and sit there and try to calculate every individual enemy in every individual game mode in every individual map, in every individual difficulty...

But that's just convoluted noise.

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