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[Sorceress] Problems and Solutions

Structured balance proposals should be posted here. Posts in this section will be taken into account during class balance reviews.

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Caduceus
Posts: 235

[Sorceress] Problems and Solutions

Post#1 » Tue Mar 23, 2021 10:59 am

Introduction


I write this post in reaction to wargrimnir's suggestion in a different thread, to provide serious and structured ideas for class changes on the Balance Proposals subforum.

Originally, I intended to make this post about both Sorceress and Bright Wizard, since they currently share many of the same issues. I spoke with several Sorcs and BWs that I consider to be some of the most prominent/experienced, to ensure my thoughts about the archetype were substantiated. However, a user named Mor recently posted his balacing ideas for the Bright Wizard, and therefore I will limit myself to speaking only about Sorceress in this thread. Let me just say I agree with most of what was said by Mor.*

Sorceress is a class that for a long time has been struggling to stay relevant at organized levels of play. It is a class with many drawbacks, that supposedly are offset by great damage output. This damage output however, has been severely lacking both due to the Sorc's inherent weaknesses being easy to exploit, and the shape the meta has taken. The introduction of Trivial Blows further compounds this problem and is ultimately what prompted me to address the class's issues as a whole.

The balance issues to be discussed will be viewed from the perspective of organized play. Let it be said that I am well aware that Sorc can be very strong when fighting outgeared or unsupported targets. This is however, in my view, not enough to justify the class's current position in the meta.

This thread will be divided into two sections: one that discusses Sorc's single target specs and one that discusses Sorc's AoE specs. The format I have in mind for these are 6v6 and 24-man warbands respectively. Each section will include a seperate discussion of the problems and solutions. These solutions are exploratory in nature, and I'm not implying all of these should be implemented together or at the same time. Key points will be summarized in a conclusion.

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*Except that Dhar Wind is actually quite powerful, 750 pure damage is nothing to scoff at.




Sorceress Single Target Spec (6v6)

Path of Agony ST build*

Path of Calamity ST build**


Problems:


- Sorc single target damage is heavily reliant on backloaded damage and an elaborate setup. These setups can last anywhere between 7-10 seconds. The result of this is that Sorc burst is heavily telegraphed and this is a major weakness against capable opponents. It opens up a myriad of options for counterplay. Damage reductions (guard, challenge, detaunt, etc.), absorb shields, pre-HoT and other lifesavers can greatly reduce the impact of a well-executed burst. Punts, cleanses, disrupts, stuns, silences, interrupts, AP drains, LoS and ranging can shut it down outright.


- Sorc burst relies heavily on critical hits, since in order to balance out their powerful class mechanic their base damage is some of the lowest in the game. High crit chances made Sorc burst more reliable in a meta dominated by Futile Strikes. However, the introduction of Trivial Blows constitutes a serious nerf to Sorc burst potential, as Trivial Blows is unaffected by RNG. Where in the FS meta a Sorc could still count on occasionally getting their full burst potential, TB simply reduces that potential by a flat (and significant) amount.


- Sorc burst is just that: burst. While the Sorc is setting up, or recovering, it is dealing very little damage. This has two implications: 1. Sorc burst is a finisher and not an opener, meaning that Sorcs must rely on their team to put targets at critical HP where Sorc can burst them down. In competitive 6v6 environments this cannot be taken for granted. 2. Coupled with the unreliable nature of Sorc burst, Sorc is spending a lot of time exerting negligible pressure, giving the opposing team time to recover.


- Sorc is completely shut down by pressure, and possesses very limited CC and escape tools to keep itself safe. Capable opponents know this, and will apply this pressure relentlessly. Once caught, Sorc's only real means of escape is Focused Mind M2.



Solutions:


Disclaimer: I recognize that balance issues are by their nature complicated and finding solutions is hard. These proposed solutions should therefore be regarded as a starting point.


In my view, there are two approaches that can be taken in regards to mending Sorc's damage output in competitive 6v6 environments. The first is to try and fix Sorc burst to make it more reliable (reliability being, in my eyes, its primary flaw); the second is to give Sorc a viable alternative in the form of sustained damage. With the introduction of Trivial Blows, over-reliance on burst and critical strikes has been punished quite harshly, which is why my preference is with the second solution, as it seems more future-proof. However, I will still also propose a solution that fits Sorc's current role of heavy burster.


- As noted, to fix Sorc burst it needs to be made more reliable. Counterplay needs to be toned down, and Sorc needs to be steered away from having to rely on overly lengthy skill rotations. The most logical approach for this, would be to revamp Shades of Death in the Path of Agony.

Shades of Death is currently a skill without any redeeming qualities. At its maximum potential it deals 150 damage per tick, that is unable to crit and unable to proc Frozen Touch, for a grand total of 750 Spirit damage, affected by all types of damage reduction. Shades of Death could be revamped in two ways. It can be turned into a more powerful version of Skullthumper, with more damage, but a shorter duration and a longer cooldown. This would counteract some of the effects of Trivial Blows, and it would also ensure that even if the Sorc is CC'd, damage would still be getting through because the ability would proc on party members' crits. A second way Shades of Death could be changed, is to make it function as protection against cleanses. For example by making Sorc DoTs impossible to cleanse while Shades of Death is up, or by causing damage when a debuff is cleansed from the target while under the effect of Shades of Death.

Echo of Power could also do with a touch-up. While it theoretically functions to make Sorc burst more reliable, it only tackles one of the many weaknesses it has. Its damage is also too low to be considered any more than dressing on the wounds. A damage buff or an added effect like a cooldown/cast time increase could be options to make it more useful.


- The alternative to fixing Sorc burst, is to give them other options in the form of sustained damage. The Path of Calamity has several unpopular skills that can accomodate this, but for now I'll focus on just one.

Absorb Vitality could potentially offer Sorc a third strong DoT (ontop of Chillwind and Ice Spikes), however it suffers from low base-damage and long cooldown. Consider for a moment that it deals half (!) the base damage of comparable skills like Bleed Fer' Me and Transfer Force, converts 50% less damage into healing, has double the cooldown and that does not yet take into account +25% damage increases through Divine Fury. At a basic level, an increase in damage would be in order, to bring it on par with the aforementioned abilities. It is a 13pt career tree skill; it should carry some weight.

However, one may question what a lifetap heal is doing in the Sorc arsenal in the first place. At any level of play its impact is negligible. Therefore, swapping the lifetap for a different effect with more group utility is worth considering. Options could be to replace it with an AP draining effect, or a healing debuff in perhaps a toned down version of the Marauder's Tainted Claw/Deadly Clutch skill/tactic. Even a snare could be an option as it would bring some much needed CC.


The other problem that was discussed, is the Sorc's lack of escape tools and extreme vulnerability to pressure. To fully solve this issue, it is unavoidable that Sorc is given some additional escape tool or defensive CC. However, the lack of these things can be somewhat offset by giving Sorc more mobility and sustained damage while on the move, in line with my suggestions for Absorb Vitality. This way, Sorc can at least put out some basic sustain pressure, while being pressured themselves.

If one were to opt to give Sorc another escape tool, I would consider adding a defensive, 25ft (melee range) 6 sec stagger, on a sizable cooldown, perhaps as a skill in the Calamity tree. (For example, Absorb Vitality could be moved to Gloom of Night, and this could become the 13pt skill). It would be a weaker version of already existing staggers, since the Zealot/Runepriest stagger has a 100ft range, the WE/WH stagger also comes with a selfpunt, and the Engineer/Magus has 65ft range and an AoE. To make it fit with the theme of Sorc, it could be considered like an attack on the opponent's mind, or the Sorc using their wiley charms kind of like a Witch Elf.

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*Echo of Power optional.

**This build sacrifices some burst for more sustain (harder hitting DoT) and mobility.




Sorceress AoE Spec (24-man)

Path of Destruction AoE build*


Problems:


- Sorc AoE is very immobile in nature. Sorc used to be able to rely on Infernal Wave to keep up damage while on the move, however this has since been hardcapped at a 5 second cooldown. Common rotations when moving will include casting IW on cooldown, while weaving in Ice Spikes, Surging Pain and Impending Doom. This rotation is lacklustre damage-wise, because it involves dumping Dark Magic when Sorc really needs it at 100 for their damage to be viable. However, the only alternative is to spam Ice Spikes for 5 seconds while waiting for IW to come off cooldown, which is obviously even worse. Sorc's real heavy hitters (primarily Disastrous Cascade) cannot be cast on the move, and therefore are unable to be cast during large parts of warband-on-warband engagements, which are often highly dynamic. This is a large part of the reason why mDPS is considered by many to be superior to Sorc in RvR.


- Sorc has to sacrifice virtually all of its single target pressure to get to a somewhat acceptable level of AoE damage. This is in stark contrast to mDPS classes who tend to maintain a sizable amount of their single target damage even in AoE specs. This is a big problem in warband-on-warband engagements, since these do not tend to be particularly target rich environments. Good warbands know to spread out and bringing down single targets often becomes more important than applying AoE pressure. Sorc AoE is too lacklustre to justify its use on small groups of enemies.


Solutions:


The two aforementioned issues result in Sorcs being ineffective during large parts of the fight. Whenever the DPS balls are moving around, and whenever vulnerable targets are not clumping together. In and against competent warbands this is virtually always. Luckily, I believe there are many potential remedies for this situation. First off, I don't think Sorc AoE damage needs to be put on-par with mDPS. I do however think Sorc needs to be given tools to make itself useful, even when on the move. Like the Path of Agony and Path of Calamity, the Path of Destruction too is filled with spells of questionable usefulness, so at least there is wiggle room.


- The first solution to Sorc's AoE issues would be to give Sorc more offensive group utility, rather than focusing on boosting its damage directly. I like this approach the best, because it would establish Sorc with a more unique class identity, which I think is more desirable over making it similar to other classes. In addition, it also seems the future-proof option, considering it will not have to rely solely on its critical hits for its usefulness. The changes I will propose to this end are intuitive and logical. If Sorc is given some group utility it can cast while moving, it essentially solves both of its core issues.

Infernal Wave needs to receive some form of compensation for the nerf it received, hardcapping its cooldown to 5 seconds. This nerf, while perhaps justified, effectively neutered Sorcs ability to deal damage on the move. I think an intuitive change to this ability would be to add some form of debuff to it. Ideas that come to mind are: an increase to damage taken, a cooldown increase, a build-time increase, a toughness debuff, decreased chance to crit, or increase chance to be crit. Honestly, any debuff that gives warbands a reason to bring a Sorc would suffice.

Black Horror is rarely used, mainly because its design makes it all but unusable in PvP. This is a shame, because the AoE initiative debuff it gives would be quite unique and useful. I propose the following changes to the skill: remove the cast time completely, and scale back the damage accordingly. Add a 5 second cooldown. This would give Sorc both another spell to cast on the move, and a strong AoE debuff that would increase Sorc's usefulness in warbands.


- The second solution to Sorc's issues could be simply to increase Sorcs damage potential while moving. There are a few ways this could be done.

Shadow Knives is currently in a strange spot with a very niche application. Essentially it is a worse version of Pit of Shades, dealing less damage and being much more awkward to use. Instead of being a channel, it could be turned into an instant-cast spell with much of the same effects, but with perhaps a longer cooldown and lower damage. One way to change it, is to turn it into a single-target DoT, that with every tick spreads a weaker DoT to nearby targets. The idea behind it: the knives that are cutting up the primary target are also lacerating their allies around them. By playing with the damage, this could hit two birds with one stone: the single target DoT could make the Sorc retain some of their single target pressure while in AoE spec, while the instant cast time and AoE DoTs help the Sorc to apply AoE DPS on the move. There is also a clear option for counterplay, as the affected person can move away from the crowd to avoid hitting his allies too much.

Disastrous Cascade could be made castable while moving. While this would be a very effective solution to this problem, it would also somewhat dilute the identity of Sorc as a class, since this would essentially just make the skill more like similar channels from mDPS. This is however a very straight-forward change, and I have also seen Bright Wizards suggest the same change for their Annihilate.

Surging Pain's 20 Dark Magic cost could be reduced to 10 Dark Magic. The negative impact of being below 100 Dark Magic and having to spend time building it back up cannot be underestimated, and this change would greatly reduce it. A different option for changing Surging Pain is to increase its damage, which would be offset by the fact that Sorc can only cast it once at 100 Dark Magic and is then forced to either spend time building it back up or accept significantly lower damage output.


- Fixing Sorc's reliance on restrictive, immobile casts like Disastrous Cascade, and adding some group utility would greatly reduce the need for Sorc to maintain single target pressure in the way mDPS can. Debuffs, for example, would ensure that Sorc is contributing to all of that pressure indirectly. Trying to match Sorc's AoE/ST pressure with other classes would dilute Sorc's identity, and possibly require a rework of the class, which I think is undesirable.

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*I consider "Bomb spec" the only viable option for Sorceress in organized warbands.




Conclusion


In 6v6, Sorceress's single target damage relies heavily on elaborate setups and burst. In practice this means the Sorceress's damage is unreliable, and sustained pressure is very low. In addition, Sorceress is easily pressured into complete ineffectiveness, because of their lack of escape tools and the ability to deal damage while on the move. Shades of Death can be reworked into a more powerful skill that continues to be useful, even if the Sorceress is interrupted in their burst phase, providing some much needed reliability while also emphasizing group synergy.
Absorb Vitality is a comparatively weak skill that could do with a buff to its base damage, to make it more on-par with similar skills. This would help greatly with giving Sorceress more options for builds that focus on sustain rather than burst. In addition, the (very weak) lifetap aspect of Absorb Vitality doesn't seem to do much for Sorceress, and this could be replaced with a different type of effect, like an AP drain or snare, or even a healing debuff/healing absorb like the Marauder's Tainted Claw/Deathly Clutch.
Finally, to solve Sorceress's issue with being shut down completely through pressure, Sorceress needs some extra escape tool. A 25ft (melee range) 6 second stagger would give Sorceress a defensive tool that requires skill and coordination with their team to pull off effectively.

In 24-man warbands, Sorceress struggles with immobile casts and lack of single target damage while in AoE spec, making it very weak in the mobile, low-target density environments that typify warband-on-warband engagements. Rather than opting for an increase in damage, the prefererred option would be to increase mobility and give Sorceress tools to be useful to their team in different ways. Intuitive changes would include adding a debuffing effect on Infernal Wave to compensate for its cooldown being hardcapped at 5 seconds. Further, Black Horror is a skill that, if made an instant cast (with its damage appropriately scaled down), can greatly help in giving the Sorceress spells to cast while on the move, and a unique debuff that would make it desired in warbands.
Alternatives include smaller tweaks to other spells like Shadow Knives, Surging Pain and Disastrous Cascade to make them more usable while moving.

In conclusion, Sorceress is a class that struggles heavily in organized play, due to its fragile and immobile nature. At the same time, its damage does not seem to justify its glaring weaknesses. Rather than simply opting to increase Sorceress's damage output, the answer should be to address the Sorceress's weaknesses, which are simply too easy to exploit for capable opponents. Sorceress's career paths are somewhat disjointed and many skills remain unused, so there is enough space to make changes in order to address these weaknesses.
It should be self-explanatory that I don't believe all the changes I proposed must be implemented together. I opted to share a number of ideas to explore different avenues of solving Sorceress's issues. If you agree with (some of) the observations and conclusions I have drawn in this thread, I am open to working out the solutions further.


Thank you for reading,

- Caduceus
"I watched a snail crawl along the edge of a straight razor. That's my dream; that's my nightmare. Crawling, slithering, along the edge of a straight razor... and surviving." - Colonel Walter E. Kurtz

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