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Focus, Balance, And Intended Gameplay Effects


BornWithTeeth
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Alright chaps.

 

Focus is kinda not great right now, and in fact has, uh, never been in a good place balance-wise. Sorry.

 

Several different notes here, those being:

1. Two Steps Forward, One Punch In The Face Backwards

2. Synergy And Intended Gameplay

3. The Zenurik In The Room

Right.

 

'Two Steps Forward, One Step Back' Design

One thing you might notice if you go and look at the way that players fill out their Focus trees is that a fair few people do things like unlock Void Radiance (Madurai) but then never level it, and instead unlock and fully level up Void Strike (Madurai). Why? Because levelling up Void Radiance is not actually helpful to the use of Void Strike. In fact, it's kind of unhelpful to its use in a pitched fight, due to its increased energy cost on exiting Void Mode. There are other examples of this in the Focus Schools. Let's take a look! 

Madurai
Void Radiance: consumes extra energy on leaving Void mode. Costs more and more as you level it up. Actively impairs synergy.
Void Strike: Increases cost per second of Void Mode. Costs more and more as you level it up.

Vazarin
Void Regen: Increases cost per second of Void Mode. Flat cost per level. 
Void Aegis: Increases cost per second of Void Mode. Flat cost per level. 

Naramon
Void Stalker: Increases cost per second of Void Mode. Costs more and more as you level it up. Actively impairs synergy.
Void Hunter: Increases cost per second of Void Mode. Costs less per level for some reason, but is impaired by its own prerequisite.

Unairu
Void Shadow: Increases cost per second of Void Mode. Costs more and more as you level it up. The player wiki actively advises against levelling it up too much.
Void Chrysalis: Increases cost per second of Void Mode. Costs more and more as you level it up.

Zenurik
Void Static: Increases cost per second of Void Mode. Costs less as you level it up, meaning that it is the only prerequisite ability in this entire list that it is mechanically optimal to unlock and then actually level.
Void Singularity: Increases cost per second of Void Mode. Flat cost per level.

Have you spotted it? The most openly useful abilities in the list, the ones with actual ability to enhance combat damage and utility, are the abilities which are punished for levelling up. Void Strike (Madurai) improves your damage output, but you better be clever enough not to actually level up its own pre-requisite ability. Void Hunter (Naramon) is a neat situational awareness ability, but if you level up its pre-requisite it becomes too expensive to be able to help with stealth gameplay. Its prerequisite, Void Stalker (Naramon) grants cool melee crit bonuses!...but becomes expensive and impractical to use as you level it up, in addition to crippling Void Hunter's utility.
                                      Again and again, the design principle behind some of the more interesting Focus abilities emerges and reveals itself to be the idea that as things become more useful, they should also become more and more of a pain in the arse to use effectively, a design philosophy which isn't present in the rest of the game, which is not applied evenly, and which kinda screws up the actually good applications of those Focus nodes. Speaking of...

 

Synergy And Intended Gameplay

DE, what are the explicitly intended gameplay results of these Focus nodes? I, uh, am not kidding, that's not exactly a rhetorical question. What are the intended outcomes, interactions, and synergies of these Focus nodes, considering that as you level them up it becomes harder and harder to combo them?

What actually gets used, so far as I can tell, is Void Radiance (Madurai) unlocked but not levelled, in order to access Void Strike (Madurai) unlocked and fully levelled for Eidolon hunts. Otherwise...Void Hunter (Naramon) is a cool stealth utility power which actually costs less as you level it up, good job! However, its direct prerequisite Void Stalker (Naramon) works exactly the opposite way. Basically, the Focus trees have cool powers which link directly into each other, but when fully levelled up then actively impair each others' functions rather than having any kind of synergy, and once they're levelled up they cannot then be un-levelled back down. This is rather odd and hostile design, and I know for a fact that feedback has told you guys this before.

 

Now, I'm not a naive idiot, I fully understand that the idea is that one must pay for power, but in the Focus trees as they exist, the actual outcome is that one pays so much for power that that power itself becomes way less useful. In 99.9% of the game, do you think people bother to use Void Strike or Void Hunter? Please recall that when I speak about the utility of Focus powers, they are not just competing against (a) each other, or (b) not doing anything. They are competing against (a) each other, (b) not doing anything, or (c) using literally any other option which the game's toolset provides. Any other option. Void Hunter (Naramon) is rendered laughably pointless compared to, say, hotkeying a Synthesis scanner to a convenient button. Void Strike (Madurai) has one of the most niche uses of any ability in the game, which is to say, spending as much time in Void Mode as possible muttering "KAME...HAME...." and then blowing an Eidolon's shields and kneecaps off. That literally only works because an Eidolon is a big single target, and it has no use in any other part of the game, where one would just use any other damage buff.

Oddly enough, Zenurik escapes this design philosophy almost entirely unscathed, with ability steps in which one has a prerequisite ability which becomes easier and more rewarding to use as it is levelled up. It's really the only School to get away, which, uh....

 

The Zenurik In The Room

Yo DE, what exactly are the usage statistics on the Focus Schools? I had a quick Google there, and you've shown us statistics on game mode and level activity, Warframe usage by Mastery Rank, and you openly showed us how insanely high the usage of the Catchmoon kitgun was before giving it a well deserved nerf. I did not find anything on the usage stats of Focus Schools, so if I've missed something in a Devstream, I would genuinely appreciate someone letting me know, that'd be great! However, in the absence of hard data, let me go out on a limb here: Zenurik is one School out of five, but its usage is probably way higher than 20%, no? Couple of reasons there, which I think go as follows:

Unlimited powwwaaaaahhhhh! Seriously, for most of the game's content, popping Zenurik every so often means that energy economy is a joke. A total joke. That's been true of Zenurik since, uh, December 2016. Zenurik is so good at what it does that it comes close to warping the game around it. For any Focus tree, you ask "How does using this affect my Warframe gameplay?" and Zenurik's answer is "Here, have hundreds of energy points, and tap me again when you start to run low."

That then runs smack, headfirst into the brick wall of my previous point: for most of the more interesting and interactive powers, Focus nodes are punished rather than rewarded for synergising. That means that for any combination of Focus powers, you could try to use them, or you could just use a combination of Warframe powers, weapons, and tools which are allowed to synergise.

Put these things together, and then ask the following questions:

"Why don't players use the tactical Naramon School for stealth missions?"
-------------> "Because why use the tactical Focus School whose nodes actively impair each other when using Zenurik to keep a stealth 'frame full of energy is both easier and superior in outcome?"

"Why don't players use the aggressive Madurai School for constant damage buffs?"
------------> "Because why use the aggressive Focus School whose nodes are sort of useful when using Zenurik to keep an energy hungry, high-damage Warframe build charged up leads to a superior and more tactically engaging outcome?"

 

It goes on like that. Focus powers will never be as useful as being able to just use loads and loads of Warframe powers whenever you need them. Zenurik is really good because Warframe powers are really good.


That then leads me to one other little observation: things have been like this for a really long time. Zenurik has been a casually overpowered source of constant reliable Warframe energy for half the lifetime of the game so far. Naramon was broken as hell on release, making mission long invisibility available to any 'frame, and that got rightfully removed. In contrast, by now it seems that Zenurik is sacrosanct, untouchable, while the other Focus Schools are not permitted to be useful. Hell, the most recent melee update quite literally took Naramon's most useful main feature, its ability to power up combo counter builds, and gave it to Zenurik.

 

 

 

What I'm saying is that Focus is a weird mess with what looks like a wildly unhelpful, counter intuitive, and counterproductive design philosophy underlying it. 

Positive feedback is good though! If I were to make any suggestions, well...

  • The 'two steps forward, one step back' design principle is really not doing Focus any favours. Removing it, and rebalancing Focus nodes with an eye towards allowing them to synergise, and making it so that as one levels up a Focus node it always becomes more useful instead of becoming (in practical terms) more powerful but less useful would be amazing.
  • Recognising that what makes Zenurik 'good' is not its own innate nodes and Focus powers would be good. What makes Zenurik good is the fact that Warframe abilities are good, and being able to cast them all the time is powerful. 
  • Keeping in mind that Focus nodes, as investments in xp, and as opportunities to use powers to solve problems, are not competing with each other, and they are not competing with 'doing nothing'. As choices, they are in competition with all the other tools and 'frame abilities in the game.
  • This is gonna sound insanely harsh, but bear with me...Please do not carry on with what really does seem to be the working assumption, that players should just use Zenurik for everything, that it should be the default Focus School, that it is the Focus School which is 'allowed' to be good while the others are intended to be niche.

 

 

And now I will proofread this thing before I hit submit. Probably still gonna miss some typos.


 

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While I agree with most of this, I feel it's worth it to point out that if they are going to touch Zenuric energy they need to also look at and change energy balancing across the game. Personally, I would do the following:

  1. DPS abilities cost more or less at base based on their reliable DPS compared to each other.
  2. Survival abilities cost less in general than DPS abilities and balance their costs off of their strength and scope (does it prevent death or just make it harder, does it affect one frame or multiple with a single cast, etc.).
  3. Buff abilities have costs based on whether they increase survivability or DPS, their base strength/range/duration compared to similar buffs on other frames, and whether or not they affect multiple frames, one frame, or just the caster.

This way Zenuric is not nearly as necessary for basic survival on some frames, or being mandatory for support frames to function, while still being a good choice for frames that need every bit of energy they can get to provide the amazing abilities they have. Then you could reduce its effectiveness at restoring energy while not having an unnecessarily harsh effect on some of the weaker frames in the game.

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some Focus Nodes are counter intuitive or even harmful to use, mmh. it's... kinda dumb.

 

most importantly though, even if Zenurik didn't have Energizing Dash, it would still be the Focus School to choose in 90% of Gameplay. there are many tools offered in each Focus School, and Zenurik just has the largest handful that is actually useful in the widest scope of Gameplay.
if you think the reason why that Focus School is useful is just Energy, you're only scraping the surface there. the most popular node to the Community in Zenurik literally isn't even the one that has the biggest impact in Gameplay most of the time.

Edited by taiiat
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