Let's not Nerf - let's Evolve!

Now that Cthulu is starting to bed in, there seems to be a push from some quarters to deal with OP skill abuses by applying the nerf gun in various different ways. And while I concede that this is necessary in certain (to my mind) obvious situations, I believe that it’s the wrong way to approach skills abuse in Phoenix Point.

Give a (semi-)infinite number of players enough time, and they will always find a way around a nerf. And then the response is to nerf even more, until the skill becomes next to useless.

As a case in point, let’s take the current debate about Boom Blast. The problem is that some Optimisers have figured out that a couple of Heavies can effectively use Boom Blast to neutralise 2-3 groups of Crabbies in 1 turn. So the proposed solution is to nerf Boom Blast so that a Heavy can only completely obliterate 1 group of Crabbies in a turn. So what’s to stop the Optimisers from fielding 3 or 4 Heavies, backed up by Rapid-Clearing Terminators to clean up what remains of the mess they’ve just made? It doesn’t solve the problem, it simply creates a new one, which the nerf gun can only solve by negating the use of Boom Blast till it’s useless.

However, Phoenix Point has a unique ace up its sleeve which could create a much more ergonomic and tactically satisfying solution to virtually any abuse that’s perpetrated by the players - and that’s evolution.

If a player abuses Boom Blast, the Pandas should evolve Ablative Armour and Counter-Battery Chirons to neutralise it. Now half the Crabbies on the map are only taking 50% (or less) damage from those salvoes, and there’s a new Bombard Chiron on the block with extended range that’s programmed to target the sound of launchers and carpet-bomb the area.

Now, instead of being slapped with a restriction, the player is faced with a series of interesting tactical choices. Does he persist with Boom Blast, but use the APs saved to run under cover or Dash out of the Carpet Zone (effectively halving the strength of the salvo)? Or does he retool his Heavies and pick another strategy which has been opened up by this new form of evolution (for instance, Ablative Crabbies could always evolve without Shields, or MGs, or with fewer MPs due to the weight of their armour).

This doesn’t just work for explosives. Abuse of Sniper tactics could evolve bigger shields and more Mist-layers. Abuse of Rapid Clearance could evolve Goo Traps laid on the map to block the TB’s path, or Sniper Tritons with auto-Overwatch, or Crabbies with Hair-Trigger reflexes that Return Fire against targets that move into effective range - and suddenly those Terminators have a far harder time surviving to clear the map in 1 turn. But the point is it only happens if you abuse the skill in the first place! Don’t build Terminators: don’t get Hair-Trigger Fire. Now TB or not TB is your choice - and it’s a strategic one.

The beauty of this system is its dynamism. Some people will argue: “But can’t you just do one thing to make the Pandas evolve a certain way, and then go a different route which exploits that?” And my answer is: 'Yes!! That’s what’s supposed to happen!" It’s like LW2, when you focused your activity on a particular region to attract Advent’s attention and divert it from the regions that were under pressure or where you really wanted to concentrate. It adds a whole new element of tactics and strategy to the game which is completely missing if you blanket nerf everything that moves slightly faster than you’d like it to.

So the challenge is not to find a nerf to an exploitable skill that will a) last more than 5 minutes and b) not piss off half the player-base, and more to find a series of evolutions that enable the Pandas to counter those abuses and open up different paths for the players to pursue. This, I think, is a much more viable long-term solution to the whole skills problem than trying to contain the blancmange of skills abuse.

That’s not to say that some nerfs aren’t necessary. The devs have, for instance, asked the Council to suggest tweaks to Rapid Clearance that will stop Terminator Runs from being a Thing, whilst still enabling the user to off 3 or 4 Crabbies in a row; and @VOLAND is doing a very good job of canvassing opinion from everyone on the forum as to what those tweaks should be.

But ultimately, PP is such a beautifully exploitable sandbox that nerfs are not the answer.
Evolution could be.

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A little bit tl;dr but I suppose I understand what you mean. But don’t you feel that not only terminator builds are messing with the theme of the game? Dark, gruesome, unknown threat is coming to earth and is lurking out of the water…

And you cast Boom Blast and “Forget about anything crawling there, lets have fun!” Aliens evolving to resist it doesn’t change the feeling that this skill was too powerful in the first place.

Or you spam Onslaught and your favorite soldier is running like stupid on the half of the map clearing different corners just like squishing spiders with his shoes… That is not really fitting the theme.

I won’t try to bring any more surrealistic behaviours with current skills, but I suppose you understand me.

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First of all, I’m all for Pandoran Reactive Evolution (PRE). It’s fun, can be easily adjusted for different difficulty levels (e.g. Keep a proportion of 1 PREs on Rookie for every 4 PRE that happen on Legend, or have PREs that can only happen on Hero/Legend), and we can all make suggestions to the devs (here, on Canny, those of us in CC) with the PREs we can come up with.

However, I have to agree with Yokes that some things can’t be, or shouldn’t be addressed through PREs.

Case in point is the discussion on Boom Blast (which I started here because it was going on in different places at different times). Now, the issue is not really Boom Blast, the issue is Explosives. All similar TBS have similar problems with explosives: they are by definition powerful AoE weapons, so all these games do something to create hurdles/opportunity costs for using explosives.

Remember Dr With-German-Accent-Because-Science in Firaxis XCom. Remember mortars in Ja2 (now, how many of those did you get to use per game?). Take the old X-Com: could you carry a rocket launcher, a grenade launcher and a Cannon at the same time?

Something like these hurdles/opportunity costs should exist in Phoenix Point, imo. (I don’t pretend to know what exactly, thus I’m first making suggestions/asking to see what players want with explosives).

Then you can add a PRE making some enemies more resistant to explosives, or that do something nasty as a response to attacks with explosives, for added challenge and fun. But you can’t make PREs carry the whole weight, so to speak.

I’m not saying that you should. But I am saying that nerfing is not always the answer.

Pandoran Evolution has the unique opportunity of addressing skills abuse in an immersive and ergonomic manner that feels right for the game, rather than blanket-banning anything that many players find useful.

But as I said in my OP, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t nerf at all. There are some very obvious abuses, which the devs have even asked us to address, which require some sort of curb in addition to any responses that the Pandas might have.

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I love this.

I thought this game’s solution was to have explosives be very costly? Though the game seems to throw resources at you and it’s pretty easy to steal/trade large amounts.

An entire clip for the grenade launcher was over 100 materials wasn’t it? Maybe they could cost more, other types of ammunition cost less… and find a way to balance out the distribution of resources so explosives become more of a “use if ideal but too costly to abuse” sort of situation? Kind of difficult to imagine a solution here via tech/materials when tech/materials are used for everything but there being very little use for them beyond the initial few weeks of the game. Personally think the game could’ve done with a method of harvest/manufacturing a steady (but low) supply of tech/materials similar to Hydroponics for food and the rewards for everything else being significantly diminished… but that would be another overhaul of the entire game’s balance.

I also really like the suggestion of Pandorans evolving to resist explosives if you use them too much + the suggestion of removing the range bonus (seems too much I agree).

Edit: What if Boom Blast had 3 charges or something and you can’t gain Willpower from any kills made for its duration?

Evolving would be nice, of course. This topic is also the “Holy Grail” in terms of the difficulty of implementation.
Let’s say the pandas react to bombing. In many battles, the pandas are not even there (whole steal and sabotage missions + faction and story missions). What about these opponents?

You can discuss the solution of the consequences if it is known for sure that the Cause has been corrected.

It was Devs who introduced all these broken skills on release.
Did they understand / admit that almost all skills are broken?
If we admit that they have recognized, they will continue to change them one by one, “biting off at the edges”?
And if they didn’t confess, and change only under pressure, then they have no desire to change the game?

I insist that the current attitude towards the game and the community does not give a sense of a responsible approach and, as a consequence, a guarantee of solid results in the planned time frame.

If there is no global systems approach, any super-efficient local solutions will still lead to frustration.

Players are creative, they will always find a way to abuse the game mechanic, like the current endless resources farm from your kind neightbours.

Actually im in love with APC, even they consume 3 soldier slots, but the mobility, their tankiness is over the top.

Also lategame, almost every enemy has return fire, or running with stunning gun, whichs cripples your soldier for the whole mission, or spam with virus attacks, which disables your soldier too, since this cant be curred, like stun.

Also some missions start, where you are surrounded by 200 enemy soldiers. So you need something to overwhelm them, or they overwhelm you with alls their grenades they are throwing.

It is almost impossible to have a perfect balance without crippling the game mechanic too much, because you will always find something, that works fine. The heavy scream for example, that removes 2 AP from enemies, so a chiron is almost disabled now and you can kindly ask him to become a tasty meal. A Chiron gives ~300 Food.

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“People go to sea” and then mutate

I wasn’t sure at first, since I thought this was gonna be another post about how people want the 5-shot instant boss killer ability back… but actually, I wholeheartedly agree with everything the OP said. Building the enemy evolution to counter the player is what Phoenix Point is actually supposed to be about. I love the reference to Long War 2 for XCOM 2, as well, because I played that mod end-to-end and was always SO amazed with the Infiltration system, and how the enemy increased their presence the more you hit targets in a given region.

Please, don’t try to compare old X-com and this game. In old X-com I had 14+ soldiers and equip one or two of them with rocket launcher and few rockets only. And with guided missiles they even didn’t go out of aircraft. and it was normal cause you have many soldiers that scout for them or fighting single enimies. In this game you can’t do that cause very small squad size/ And cause it’s game with another mechanics

I’m not suggesting to borrow mechanics from X-Com, or XCom, or JA2 for that matter…

My point is that all similar TBS games had some mechanics to curb the inherent utility of explosives, and Phoenix Point needs that, imo.

This is a fair point. Even a detailed simulation such as Combat Mission had to tone down the effects of artillery for their tactical game since otherwise it would be devastating.

Personally I think restrictions should come via effective blast radius reduction, more randomness (i.e. shrapnel), and build costs. Blowing s**t up was a key point of the old X-Com games and I love that PP goes back to that.

Do you mean, for example, reducing AoE from current 3.5 tiles to 3 or to 2.5?

Personally, I’m warming up to this idea because in Phoenix Point there is no drop off in damage the further the target is from the explosion. The way blast damage works is that each body part that gets hit by the explosion receives the same damage, regardless of distance from it - so it comes down do the angle at which the target is to the explosion and whether there are any obstacles between the two. This is what makes explosives devastating when they land in the open between 2 or more enemies even when they are quite some way apart.

Reducing the AoE would be a way of abstracting the expected drop off in damage.

I think it’s a design choice to avoid randomness when it comes to damage with all weapons in PX.

A different issue would be making explosives less accurate, particularly hand thrown grenades, which currently have 100% accuracy. This is, in fact, connected to my main gripe with Boom Blast - when combined with Quarterback it doubles the range of hand thrown grenades, turning them into 100% accurate artillery.

However, I think that many players (particularly the more casual ones, or the ones coming from Firaxis XCom) would not react favorably to explosives being less accurate and doing things like friendly fire damage…

This is definitely a thing in PX. For example, look at the cost of GL magazines: (IRRC) 110 Gears, which is comparable to the cost of armor (and actually higher than some armor pieces). However, should it be even more? I’m inclined to say no, because resources are already scarce for many players, but at the same time there are ways to play where resources are much less of an issue (for example, equipment sharing between the teams using the ‘tedious teleportation technique’). So, it’s there but it’s not enough on its own.

My favorite approach currently is:

  • Stop Explosives from working with Sneak Attack

  • Make all weapons cost at least 1AP to fire (so Boom Blast doesn’t reduce cost of using mounted rocket to 0AP)

  • Take away the +50% to range from Boom Blast, but increase range of GL to 32 and reduce its AoE to 2.5 or to 3 from the current 3.5.

EDIT: After @MadSkunky kindly pointed out that Quick Aim also works with GL and mounted rockets, instead of removing the 50% bonus from Boom Blast, I suggest reducing it to 25% and reducing the bonus from Quarterback from 50% to 25% as well.

MadSkunky on Quick Aim and Boom Blast

Long term it would be nice if the GL could be modded (before each mission, like in Xcom2) to fire munitions with different properties, if modding weapons becomes a thing one day… Then the different munitions could become gradually available to the player and that way the GL could be made weaker at first, and much stronger in the late game.

And on top of all that it would be great imo if some enemies developed a partial resistance to explosives, but I don’t think you can, or should address obvious balance issues through reactive evolution. I see it as something that will make the game more fun though.

To address the OPness of explosives purely through reactive evolution would be something like saying “if on average the player causes 30% or more of all damage using explosives, all Pandorans progressively develop a higher resistance to blast damage (starting at 20%, and going up to 80%, for example).”

This is simple and relatively easy to do. (Other stuff involving new AI behaviors is not).

Thoughts?

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While I’m not averse to any of these changes in principle, what they do is attempt to stop one particularly egregious abuse of Boom Blast by preventing all other players from using GLs and other explosives in the alternative ways that they favour.

Because I see BB abuse as akin to TBs and RB with Sniper Rifles, I refuse to use it that way - which means that I find the main utility of BB is as a range amplifier, and the main utility of grenades is as a guaranteed hit for lower level squaddies, especially when you’re forced to arm them with non-proficient weapons due to lack of resources. They’re also very good at worm clearance on a wide area.

Your proposals remove all of those benefits just to stop people from spamming explosives all over the map.

Precisely. And the beauty of that is it doesn’t nerf an entire weapon class just to prevent one egregious use of it - because it only kicks in if you egregiously overuse explosives.
Furthermore, it acts as a dynamic nerf. If you don’t abuse Boom Blast to spam 3 explosives onto an enemy cluster with 2+ Heavies each turn, it never kicks in at all. If you do, it kicks in until and only until it prevents you from clearing Xty% of the map in a couple of turns, and then it stops - which is exactly what you’re asking for when you propose a global nerf of the weapon to prevent BB abuse.

So the beauty of evolution, if it’s done properly, is it can balance out abuses of the system without ruining other people’s enjoyment of the weapon in other ways.

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Sneak Attack has to be balanced/reworked anyway because for me it is simply too strong. So I personally wouldn’t like it that it only stop working with explosives.

:+1:, IMO that should be done definitely.

Then there would be no real ‘special’ to skill a Heavy with Boom Blast. A Sniper with Quick Aim (and of course Strong Man or cross classed to Heavy) can do almost the same, it costs overall more WP for 2 shots but is also more flexible to take only one 2AP shot for 3WP.
For me personally, the Heavy with the actual range boost compares nicely to a Sniper with Strong Man and it is somewhat balanced even with Berserker and Strongman because of his daze satus after AR.

Of course IMO all this is independent from the fact that explosives are sometimes over the top, but also sometimes they aren’t. But I think we shouldn’t fix this through the Boom Blast skill, this one should have some advantages that you can’t get with other combinations and actual this is the range boost.

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I’m not sure I follow - Quick Aim works only with direct fire weapons, just as Boom Blast works only with explosives. Or do you mean something else?

No, Quick Aim actualy works with everything, with GL, mounted launchers (0 AP!), the spider drone launcher (forget its name :wink: but not for the special triple shot) and I think also even with hand thrown grenades (not tested).

Edit:
Quickly tested, it doesn’t work with hand thrown grenades. :slight_smile:
From the description of Quick Aim it is only necessary to have proficiency with the weapon, there is nothing mentioned that it only works with direct fire weapons.

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Lol, :sweat_smile: I didn’t test Quick Aim in a while. Btw, does it stack with Boom Blast? Can you fire the GL for 1 AP?