Episode 17: Proposed Primary Weapon Balance Changes, Special Weapon Usage Stats

In this week's episode we discuss what changes we would like to see come to primary weapons, and give you some hard numbers on special weapon usage and trends.

For those who just want to see my proposed changes, and not the reasoning behind them, there is a TL;DR at the bottom.

Before you read this, note that in my suggestions I do buff the Grasp and Hawksaw archetypes by a very small amount. This is not needed in the current meta, but if all my changes were implemented it would be. It does not change their times-to-kill, but instead helps to give them a specific role in the pulse rifle class, and allows them to continue to compete against other classes of weapons which would be much improved. Read on for more information.

I posted this before the last balance batch, but unfortunately almost none of my suggestions were implemented. Now that /u/Cozmo23 has come back and asked for feedback on primary weapon changes, I figured I could revisit it. Please keep in mind that this post is made with simplicity in mind. I'm looking at small, simple changes that could improve the game, as opposed to large, sweeping ones that might legitimately shift the way things function.

Bungie has a history of overreacting when they do balance patches, and I'd like to avoid that here. Starting small, evaluating how it goes, and then tweaking should be the name of the game, not buffing weapons to be god-almighty powerful and then nerfing them into the ground cough cough mid-impact pulse rifles.

Now, when I look at what I would like to see from a balance patch, it's important to keep an eye on the big picture. As Bungie has said before, perfect balance for a game like Destiny does not mean every gun is equal, but instead that every gun has a role. For a good example of this, let's take a quick look at the scout rifle class, and its distinctive arhcetypes:

  1. High-impact (Hand of Judgmet, Cocytus, etc.) - High risk/high reward. Crit shots lead to one of the fastest times-to-kill in the game, but the body shot TtK is among the slowest. Rewarding of precision, but incredibly punishing of inaccuracy. It's role is a marksman's weapon.
  2. Mid-impact (Hung Jury, DIS-43, etc.) - Low risk/low reward. One of the easiest guns to use in the game. Only requires two shots out of four to be crits in order to achieve optimal TtK, but said TtK is very slow (1.00s) and thus is outside of the competitive meta. An easy and forgiving weapon, perfect for beginners, but outclassed at higher levels. It's role is a beginner/non-competitive gun.
  3. Low-impact and very low-impact (MIDA, Angel's Advocate, DIS-47, The Inward Lamp, etc.) - Medium risk/medium reward. Faster rates of fire are more forgiving of missed shots than the high impact models, but a higher percentage of critical hits is needed to achieve optimal TtK than the middle impact scouts.

    These archetypes sit between the high and low-impact archetypes in both TtK and difficulty of use, forming a solid middle ground. The risk/reward isn't as high as the Cocytus, nor is it as low as the Hung Jury. Their role is that of the in-between guns, better than the beginner but not as good as the marksman version.

Scout rifles are a good example of how a weapon class should be balanced internally (meaning how the archetypes relate to one another), and I believe it is Bungie's biggest success in their PvP sandbox. Every sub-class has a purpose, and they fulfill their purposes well. In the upcoming Balance Patch, I'd be very happy if SRs were left mostly untouched, with the exception two universal changes to primary weapons that need to be made.

  1. The first is that the recent flinch changes, which universally increased the initial flinch taken when being shot, need to be negated when holding a primary weapon. Given that most of the complaints were being lodged at sniper rifles, I feel that it was unnecessary to implement this change across the board. Primary vs. primary gunfights had enough flinch to deal with prior to this patch, so I think the initial flinch taken when holding a primary weapon should be scaled back to pre-patch levels.
  2. Second, and predicated on the above problem being fixed, I would add the ability to deal more flinch to all of the high-impact archetypes. While I disagree that all primary weapons should effectively do more flinch against each other, which is what the previous patch made happen, I do think it's a problem that low-impact weapons cause more flinch than high-impact ones.

    Right now, the issue with the system is that it's based more on number of bullets hitting than on the actual impact stats. As such, high RoF weapons deal immensely more flinch, even though their impact is much lower. The most recent patch, instead of addressing this, made it so that all weapons dealt more flinch, which still kept the problem of low-impact archetypes dealing the most. What they should have done was kept flinch where it was for low-impact weapons, and just added the ability to deal increased flinch to high-impact weapons, which could have solved the problem.

With that out of the way, let's get back to the specific weapon classes with one that is not well balanced, the auto rifles.

  1. High-impact (An Answering Chord, Antipodal Hindsight, etc.) - I'd like to see this archetype become high risk/high reward, as opposed to what it currently is, which is high risk/no reward. With the slowest optimal TtK of all AR archetypes, the high-impact models currently serve no purpose.

    Using one of these weapons offers no benefits, as the damage drop off is still severe enough to limit their useful engagement distances to close range, and they don't even do enough damage to make them kill quickly within that optimal area. High-impact ARs need some work done.

    My suggestion would be to increase the precision and body shot damage by 5%, and push the start of damage drop off out to pre-patch 2.0 levels. Instead of doing 26/21 from crit/body shots, the gun would now do 28/22. This would keep the optimal time-to-kill of 0.93s the same against 200hp (10 armor) Guardians, but would allow the weapon to kill Guardians with mid-armor (7) or lower in 0.80s. High-impact ARs would also be competitive out to closer medium ranges, giving them a chance against low-impact PRs.

    As mentioned before, I would also increase the amount of flinch done by this archetype, to both help with countering high-zoom weapons being used at closer distances, and to offset the inherent drawback of needing to maintain line of sight for extended periods of time while engaging a target. It's role would be a weapon that is very useful against mid to low armor targets, and functions as high risk/high reward based on your opponents build.
  2. Mid-Impact (Paleocontact, Righteous, etc.) - Medium risk/medium reward. Another weapon that suffers from aggressive damage falloff handicapping its usefulness, mid-impact ARs could also use a touch of help. While they have a slightly faster optimal TtK (0.90s) than the high-impact models, their base damage is right on the cusp, and as soon as damage fall off is initiated, they lose the ability to kill 200hp Guardians in 10 crit shots, which prevents them from being competitive.

    I would again add a 5% damage boost, bringing the damage from 20/16 to 21/17, and push the damage fall off out to pre-2.0 values. This will allow the weapon to maintain its optimal TtK longer, and also allow it to compete with high-impact ARs and very-low impact PRs at longer short ranges. Overall TtK would not change. This role would be the jack-of-all trades weapons. Better optimal TtK against high armor targets than the high-impact models, but slower TtK against low armor ones.

    You can choose between using this gun for the guaranteed optimal TtK kill in 0.90s, or the possibility of killing faster, at the risk of killing slower, if you use the high impact archetype.
  3. Low-Impact (Doctrine of Passing, Arminius, etc.) - Low risk/high reward in some cases, high risk/low reward in others. With the fastest body TtK of any legendary primary weapon in game, low-impact ARs don't require much precision to take advantage of their benefits. Although these guns are low risk/high reward within their optimal engagement distances, they do have the drawback of being near useless outside of medium close range, due to damage fall off.

    I would again increase base damage by 5%, bringing us from 15/12 back to 16/13, but I would maintain the damage fall off ranges currently in effect. This would drop the optimal TtK from 0.87s to 0.80s, and the body shot TtK from 1.07s to 1.00s, which would provide an excellent counter to aggressive shotgun play with weapons like Universal Remote.

    The damage fall off would still be quick and noticeable, which would keep these weapons from being effective outside of medium short range. Skilled players would be able to outclass these weapons by landing consistent headshots, as the optimal TtK for this class is almost impossible to achieve, and thus most players rely on a combination of crit and body shots, and the flinch of those impacts forcing other players to miss.

    These guns would have the role of shotgun stoppers, high reward for using them in their optimal engagement areas, but high risk and nearly useless outside of them.

Now that we're done with auto rifles, let's move on to hand cannons.

  1. High-impact (Judith-D, Ill Will, etc.) - Needs to become high risk/higher reward. This class of hand cannon is criminally underrepresented in year two, but the truth is you're not missing out on much. Although they are supposed to give you the ability to kill low-armor Guardians (3 armor or less) in a blazingly fast 0.50s with two critical hits, it's becoming more and more rare to see people running any combination that gives them that low of armor.

    What you're left with is a gun that requires a full 1.00s to get a kill on the vast majority of Guardians, and thus is generally left behind. I would increase the damage by 1%, which would bring it from 95/64 to 96/64 (due to decimals, the body shot damage would not round up). This would allow them to kill Guardians with 5 armor or lower in two crit shots, without affecting their optimal TtK against higher armor Guardians, thus resulting in a proper high risk/high reward mechanic. The role is a gambler's weapon, high reward if your opponent is low armor, but high risk if they aren't.

Next up would be a change that would affect all hand cannon archetypes, but I want to clarify that in this case, these changes would not affect Thorn and TLW. They are both unique among HCs, and I actually think they are in relatively good places right now. While still very powerful, they would be less so when compared to the overall increased potency of primary weapons this balance patch would bring. That being said, let's move on.

  1. Remove the accuracy bloom that was brought in with patch 1.1.1. Completely and totally, this should be gone. Nobody likes RNG, especially when it comes to where your bullets will hit, and Bungie should have learned this lesson during Halo Reach's DMR bloom debacle. The accuracy issues came about because of people sniping with TLW and Thorn, both of which were unique cases, and should have been treated as such. Other HCs have suffered for long enough.
  2. Damage fall off should also be pushed back to pre-nerf levels. It's currently too aggressive, and has bullets landing for fractions of full damage even within the supposed sweet spot for HCs, forcing people to again put all of their eggs in the range-increasing-perks basket.
  3. In order to prevent them from once again taking over the long range primary meta, aim assist would be blanket reduced across all hand cannon archetypes. The exact number could be up for debate, but a general decrease of 15% or more would play into the hand cannon ideal of rewarding an accurate and skilled hand.

Mid-impact and low-impact HCs are actually relatively balanced right now, if you focus on things other than the awful accuracy problems. Mid-impacts have a slower time-to-kill, but it's easier to achieve it, needing only 1 crit and 2 body shots. Low-impacts have a faster TtK, but they require 2 crit and 1 body shot. I like this trade off, and if Bungie could make it so that range wasn't the only stat anyone every cared about on hand cannons, I think we'd see a lot more variety in their usage.

Let's move on now to pulse rifles, which is the weapon class that I think needs the most work.

  1. High-impact (Lyudmila-D, Spare Change, etc.) - Currently very high risk/high reward. That risk needs to be brought down a bit. While in theory the very fast time-to-kill is a decent trade off for the slow RoF, the fact of the matter is the risk is far too high to be worth the reward. These weapons either require all headshots from both bursts (Spare Change) or all headshots and one body shot (Lyudmila) in order to get their optimal times-to-kill.

    In practice, this is very, very difficult to do. So much so, in fact, that almost no one uses these weapons at all. A 4% buff to damage across the board would bring Spare Change up from 34/23 to 36/24, making it kill in five crit and one body shot as opposed to six crits, which would not affect the optimal TtK of 0.73s. Lyudmila would move from 26/18 to 28/19, which would not affect the optimal TtK of 0.80s, but would make it require only six critical hits and two body shot, as opposed to the seven and one needed currently.

    These modifications alone would not be enough to drastically change the usefulness of these weapons, but I would pair it with increased flinch, which they deserve to have as high impact pulse rifles. A slightly larger buff could be issued, as I originally toyed with a 9% increase, but I feel like weapons that can kill in only two bursts need to be heavily monitored, and they should stick to rewarding highly accurate marksman working within the given optimal ranges.

    Making the Spare Change kill in four crit and two body, or the Lyudmila kill in five crit and three body, could have the highly adverse effect of making these weapons too easy to use in general, although it would be something I would consider after seeing how the community reacts to these smaller buffs.

    If they were to be implemented, it would have to be with the condition that any new guns added to this archetype maintain the erratic recoil patterns of the current models, guaranteeing a certain level of difficulty in hitting the required shots from each burst. The role is a marksman's weapon, rewards high accuracy but punishes missed shots.
  2. Mid-impact (Nirwen's Mercy, The Villiany, etc.) - Currently high risk/no reward. Needs to become high risk/high reward. Among the most useless of guns in PvP, their horrendous optimal TtK of 1.00s with seven critical hits leaves them out of almost every loadout.

    Currently doing a paltry 30/20, I would issue an 11% damage buff, pushing them up to 32/21. This would allow them to kill Guardians with armor less than 5 in two perfect bursts (6 crits), for a rapid TtK 0.63s, but a very slow optimal TtK on full armor Guardians of 1.00s. This would make it a truly high risk/high reward weapon archetype, again based on opponents armor.
  3. Low-impact (Hawksaw, PDX-45, etc.) - Medium risk/medium reward. The kings of the Crucible, I'd still like to see them get a small buff, so they can stay competitive with the improved meta with ARs now having better range and high-impact PRs being easier to use. 4% should do it nicely, bringing them from 25/17 to 27/18.

    This will actually keep the optimal TtK the same, but take it from needing eight crits to needing seven crits and a body shot, while making them more effective against Guardians above 10 armor. This weapon's role would be it's usefulness against high armor targets, and it's relative ease of use compared to the higher impact archetypes. It wouldn't kill as fast in best case scenarios, but then again it shouldn't.
  4. Very low-impact (Grasp of Malok, etc.) - Medium risk/medium reward. Not much needs to be changed here. A 1% buff to damage to keep it in line moves it from 23/16 to 24/16. There would be no changes to either optimal or body-shot TtK, but it would serve better against targets over 10 armor. This weapon's role would be shared with the above impact archetype. More forgiving, less rewarding, but useful against high armor targets.

Pulse rifles would be quite strong overall in this meta, with the higher-impact models having the possibility of faster times-to-kill, while being less forgiving of missing shots. The lower-impact archetypes would have slower optimal times-to-kill, but would be more forgiving of missed shots. Some models would be better against high armor, some would excel against low armor.

Both of these groups would be competing with improved ARs and HCs, while SRs will maintain their position as useful weapons at longer ranges. Now that we're done with the primary weapons overall, you can see that although the majority of changes didn't result in drastic TtK differences, most of the weapons will perform noticeably better, both against each other and against special weapons.

Speaking of special weapons, my recommendations for them are simple.

  1. Sniper Rifles and Shotguns - Make inventory more directly tied to impact. Higher-impact models should have significantly lower inventory than lower-impact ones. An example could be a 1000-Yard Stare only getting 3-4 rounds per special ammo brick (dependent upon weapon and armor perks) while Glass Promontory gets 5-6.

    Same with a Party Crasher vs. a Burden of Proof. This is already partially in game, but it's inconsistent and not described well to the players, until they test the guns for themselves. There needs to be some incentive to run shotguns and snipers that aren't just high-impact, but these classes do not need to be nerfed again.
  2. Take down the aim assist on snipers. I'm not sure what a perfect number would be, but something in the ballpark of 20% would probably work. Snipers need to reward accuracy above all else, and they're simply too forgiving in the current state. Again, it can be scaled so that high-impact/high-AA snipers like LDR and Longbow can be hit a little harder, as a method of pushing people towards other options in the Crucible.

    This no longer needs to be done, as the most recent patch hit them hard enough with flinch. Personally I would be happy with reverting the flinch changes entirely and replacing that nerf with this one, but that's for another day.
  3. Make the difference in range between low impact and high impact shotguns smaller. It's okay if you want high impact shotguns to kill at the farthest distances, but right now low impact models lag so far behind that it's laughable. The trade-off of a faster RoF just isn't worth losing so much of your one-hit kill potential. Bring low impact shotguns base range up, so that you lose out on a smaller amount of kill-distance, on order to make players feel that it's actually worth it to increase the RoF.

Heavy weapons would be left alone in this balance patch, I think they're in a good place.

We have to understand that a patch like this doesn't aim to completely destroy the meta, like previous ones have. We're in a good place overall, with multiple classes being represented, and very few completely dominant weapons. Now is the time to tweak things, no reinvent. This article has just been an episode in hypothetical possibilities, but I hope you enjoyed reading it, and that it provoked some thought. I'm 100% positive that many people will disagree, which is reasonable, so I'd like to hear your arguments as well. Thanks for reading!




TL;DR of the Proposed Changes -

  1. When holding a primary weapon, the recent change that increased the amount of initial flinch taken should not be in effect. The complaint was directed only at snipers, and the response should have been too. Making all primaries deal more flinch to each other was an overreaction.
  2. With that being said, high-impact archetypes should due deserve to have the ability to deal increased flinch. High-impact weapons specifically need a buff so that they can deal more flinch than low-impact ones.
  3. 5% damage boost to all ARs. High-impact goes from 26/21 with TtK of 0.93s, to 28/22 with a possibility to kill Guardians under 7 armor in 0.80s, and a full armor TtK that remains 0.93s. As mention, they are given the ability to deal increased flinch. Mid-impact goes from 20/16 to 21/17, TtK stays the same.

    Both archetypes have the damage fall off pushed back to pre-2.0 levels, to allow them more competitive space. Low-impact goes from 15/12 to 16/13, bringing optimal TtK down from 0.87s to 0.80s, and body shot TtK down from 1.07s to 1.00s. Damage fall off remains as is. This allows the low-impact archetype to be an effective counter to shotgun rushing, without making it too powerful outside of its given range.
  4. 1% damage boost to high-impact hand cannons. Brings them up from 95/64 with the possibility to two-shot Guardians with 3 armor or less, to 96/64 with the possibility to two-shot Guardians with 5 armor or less.
  5. Reset the accuracy bloom and damage fall off effects on all HCs to pre-1.1.1 levels.
  6. Reduce HC aim assist across the board by 15% or more to reduce ability to engage at long distances without precise aim.
  7. 4% damage boost to high-impact pulse rifles. Takes Spare Change from 34/23 with six crits needed to kill to 36/24 with five crits and one body needed to kill. TtK remains the same. Lyudmila-D goes from 26/18 and seven crit one body to 28/19 and six crit two body. TtK remains the same. High-impact archetype receives ability to deal increased flinch.
  8. 11% damage boost to mid-impact pulse rifles. The archetype goes from 30/20 with 6 crits and 1 body needed for a 1.00 optimal TtK, to 32/21. This allows them to kill Guardians with less than 5 armor in 0.63s with six crits, while maintaining the normal 1.00s TtK, with a slightly more forgiving 5 crit and 2 body shots needed, for full armor Guardians.
  9. 4% damage buff to low-impact pulse rifles. Leaves TtK unchanged, but brings damage from 25/17 to 27/18, and requires seven crit and one body instead of eight crit. Weapons would be more effective against Guardians over 10 armor.
  10. 1% damage buff to very low-impact pulse rifles. Leaves TtK unchanged, but brings damage from 23/16 to 24/16. No changes to either optimal or body shot TtK, but would be more effective against Guardians with armor over 10.
  11. Tie the inventory stat to the impact stat for special weapons like snipers and shotguns. Higher impact specials should consistently get significantly less ammo than their low-impact counterparts, and it should be advertised as such in game to promote greater variety in special weapon choices.
  12. Decrease base sniper aim assist by 20%. They should reward accuracy, not near misses. Again, this isn't needed any longer because snipers were hit hard enough with the last patch, but I would much rather have seen this change than increasing flinch.
  13. Make the difference between low and high impact shotguns' ranges less. Right now the trade-off of a faster RoF for less range isn't worth it, which is why no one uses them. If you increase the base range of low-impact shotguns slightly, pushing them closer to the cap, more people will see them as a viable option. Losing a small amount of kill distance to gain faster RoF is a good tradeoff, losing almost all your kill distance for it is not.
  14. Leave heavy alone.

Thanks for reading!