Thursday, 6 June 2013

Dust 514 and Why The Metagame Is Important

I was hoping to write about something else today, but this has been nagging at me for the past week and people were talking about it today. Despite the topic of the article, I should note that I'm not against change for the sake of balance, but simply that it should be left in the hands of the players first.


There's been a lot of talk recently about LAVs since the buff they received to their health. Since the buff, they've seen a huge spike in popularity. It's rare to play a game of Dust without running into (or getting run over by) an LAV. They're cheap/free, they're fun to use, they're extremely powerful against any dropsuit they slam into and people are using them en masse because of this.

Despite what some people might think, this is actually a great thing! Players of all levels are adapting to be competitive in an environment that rewards thinking about how to beat what is currently strong. In other words, the metagame is shifting. The previous strong tactic of squads with full proto/advanced gear stomping is now facing a decline against the rise of the 4 wheeled menace.

Now if Dust turned into a bumper car game and using LAVs became the only viable way to play, we'd have a problem. Many are calling for LAVs to be nerfed and while there's somoe valid points being made. A slow moving vehicle shouldn't really 1-hit KO a heavy and it's a bit strange that the LAV doesn't take small amount of damage it return for hitting a sold metal suit.

Despite this though, there are already counters to LAVs in the game. Off the top of my head, I can think of 6 standard weapons that are at least somewhat effective against LAVs (not including sniper rifles killing drivers). AV grenades do strong amounts of damage to them, with the other 2 classes being moderately effective. Equipment such as remote and proxy explosives are also highly effective. On top of just infantry equipment, turret based platforms such as installations and other vehicles are also highly effective against them.

The story of so called "cheap" tactics such as spamming LAVs has existed in competitive games for decades. The book 'Playing to Win' by David Sirlin goes into detail about about this.
In Street Fighter, the scrub labels a wide variety of tactics and situations “cheap.” This “cheapness” is truly the mantra of the scrub. Performing a throw on someone is often called cheap. A throw is a special kind of move that grabs an opponent and damages him, even when the opponent is defending against all other kinds of attacks. The entire purpose of the throw is to be able to damage an opponent who sits and blocks and doesn’t attack. As far as the game is concerned, throwing is an integral part of the design—it’s meant to be there—yet the scrub has constructed his own set of principles in his mind that state he should be totally impervious to all attacks while blocking. The scrub thinks of blocking as a kind of magic shield that will protect him indefinitely.
By this same token, the LAV could be seen as similar to the throw example Sirlin uses. People who were using superior gear, teamplay and gunplay that would previously wipe the floor with others are now faced with a literally "cheap" tactic that can cause them to lose in situations they would previously win. A call for LAVs to be nerfed because people think the spamming of them being a dominant strategy is stupid seems to be a popular sentiment right now. The issue with this is that people haven't had time to adapt to an environment where LAVs are this strong. As more and more people use this and it becomes truly dominant, smart players will start to use more and more anti vehicle gear to counter it. The cool part is that by doing so, those players leave themselves open to being countered themselves. Eventually you'll end up with someone hitting a few sweet spots that combine a mix of different infantry and vehicle loadouts. This process comes from a shifting metagame and is called "Perfect Imblance".

I asked Counter-Strike 1.6 commentator Darryl "SyN" Kucmerowski for his thoughts on how this played out in Counter-Strike.
Some maps have seemed to change, while others have always been one way or another. One thing is almost all the maps have, at one time or another, changed from seemingly CT based to T and back to CT again.
What makes those changes happen is the evolution of tactics. A team will develop a set of strategies that works for a map on a particular side and then once word gets out of how that seems to work, you see the copy cats start and eventually, someone finds a counter for that tactic simply because they have to.
For instance, Inferno used to be a pretty heavily CT based map WAY back in the day but then we started to see people boosting window and that forced a lot of changes as to how you would defend that map.
Some maps though just evolve through the execution and timing of tactics, like dust2. If you time things properly you can get CT's moving one way and hit another on dust2 pretty easily.
Now of course, with no changes you'll eventually start to see this process decay over time. But there's a lot of things in the pipeline that will shake this up. There will be balance changes and sometimes the meta of the game might get silly. But as players adapt to each other, strategies will come and go. Just as they always have across many genres and will continue to do so.

But What About The TAC AR

So the TAC AR was deemed too strong and was nerfed. Where this differs over the LAV for example though, is that where the spamming of LAVs is a counter to certain strategies, the TAC AR made other weapons almost redundant. When comparing it to other weapons of a similar role, it outperformed them in pretty much every way. It had higher damage, a longer range and better accuracy than pretty much any other light weapon. With certain types of auto-click mice and pads, it could out-damage every other hitscan light weapon in the game.

With such power it quickly became the dominant light weapon and made other weapons invalid. It remains to be seen if CCP nerfed it too much, but one thing is for certain: the metagame will decide how good it is, not CCP.

1 comment:

  1. I believe you are right in regards to the LAV's new role on the battlefield. My only problem with them is when you got 3 mercs in the same LAV. It takes away 2 clones from the battle and hurts the overall effort. Also, as a heavy,I rely on LAV's to get around. In most fights, I cannot even call one in because the team is at the limit of the number of RDV request. I get stuck running(jogging)across open fields and most likely become roadkill.