Now then, as I promised, today’s post is on weapons in gaming and the aspects of balance for them. Note these are equip-able items not characters that use weapons. We’re just talking about the thing that (usually) goes in the hand(s), be it sword, mace, shovel, or what have you. Mostly we’re going to cover the variety of types weapons come in and how they all relate, and can have a bit of uniqueness to make each weapon fun to use. Right then, let’s just jump straight in with the weapon types themselves!

Weapon Types:
This is the most obvious and basic breakdown in weapon diversity. Usually there will be a fairly large amount to chose from, but the choice will be fairly unimportant. I’m talking basics like Two-Handed Sword/Mace/Axe, when which of those three you pick is mostly for flavor. Sometimes you have other things play in, like Race X has a higher damage threshold when wielding an axe, so you see players going for that, but ultimately it’s down to what you prefer (Or in some sad cases, which ever animation is least terrible).  What it boils down to is 1-hand slashing, 1-hand blunt, 2-hand variants of the same thing, and then, if you’re lucky, piercing damage (usually a bow), with the actual weapons all slotting into One of those 5 categories.

Six, if you count "instant death" as a weapon type.

What ever happened to diversity? Why can’t Axes have more damage than Swords, but less ability to Parry? You often see daggers having faster attack speed but lower damage than swords, and that makes sense. So why is that about the only two weapons with any real flavor between them? Part of the reason is to make balance easier, and should be taken into consideration. It’s much easier to balance weapon categories (1-Hand Slashing, 2-Hand Blunt, etc.) than it is to balance multiple weapon types (Dagger, Warmace, etc.), but if you can spare the time or want to go the extra mile for the player, seriously consider starting here. You can add entirely new levels to balance your weapons around, such as an axe that deals more damage than its twin item in a sword, but loses some defensive abilities. Is the player willing to trade staying power for damage? Is the trade-off worth it to them? Balance is very important to prevent one-sided decisions, but having a meaningless decision (This mace, axe, and sword all do the same thing. Which to take?) can be just as bad for the player’s experience.

Stat-Sticks:
An almost sub form of what we discussed above. When a weapon is treated as nothing more than a stick with the stats you want on it. This is the polar opposite of having diverse weapon types, now you need a diverse amount of stat types to bring in the diversity and balance decisions. Critical Hit, Hit, Parry, Dodge, Strength, Agility, Cooldown Reduction, Critical Damage, Health Points, all of these can be put into various weapons for the player to enjoy. Say there actually is zero difference in the difference of the sword and axe I mentioned before.

  • Sword: 23-30 damage. 1.8 second swing time. +10 Critical Hit +10 Agility +10 Strength
  • Axe: 23-30 damage. 1.8 second swing time. +10 Hit Points +10 Hit +10 strength

Now we have something that is beginning to differ in interesting ways. While both do the same damage (23-30 + whatever modifier you want strength to include), they have two more changes. The Sword has a higher chance to crit (higher still if you want to convert some of that Agility into crit) and whatever else you want Agility and Strength to go into. Let’s say it’s critical strike/dodge and damage/HP respectively. Now that Axe is a much cleaner conversion, you get bonus to health, hit chance, damage, and more health (from the Strength). So now the weapons become:

  • Sword: 23-30 damage baseline. Higher critical hit chance with a small amount of dodge and hit points from the other stats. A crit-stackers weapon.
  • Axe: 23-30 damage baseline. Has a higher chance to hit the enemy while giving the player more hit points, letting them take more attacks while dishing more out.

The Sword will win out in terms of spike damage, it has a higher critical hit ratio. However, the Axe has more chance to hit the enemy at all, and gives more defensive stats to the player. While the critical hit sword may allow players to kill faster with spike damage, the axe player will be able to grind through with consistent damage and a higher health pool. These don’t even have to be an axe and a sword, it could have been two swords, carbon copies in every way but two of their stats. This is where the fun for a player comes from when weapons are treated in this way, deciding which stat increases fit their character best.

Passive Effects:
Okay then. We have what type of weapon we want from before. Now we need a way to further distance weapons  from each other. Something outside the previous parameters, that will let a designer either make a special, powerful item or a unique but still balanced weapon. Here’s the next thing to look into: Passive effects on weapons. You see this a lot in MMORPG’s, usually as a high level enchanting, spellforging, whatever profession, able to imbue bonus abilities to weapons. Things like “Has a chance to ignite, inflicting 50 fire damage to your enemy” or “siphons the soul from on hit, stealing 5 hit points on every swing.” This is the end-all, be-all for creating unique and fun weapons. Literally anything can be crammed onto a weapon as a passive effect, and players will love those weapons as long as they are comparable. I personally stack weapons that cause bleeds or poisons on the target, because I am a sick sadist who likes inflicting pain on the target. Tanks can get weapons that create small shields or infuse them with a certain attribute or stat (NOTE: This can apply to shields too. Most tanks have abilities to use a shield as a weapon, so don’t be afraid to add passive abilities to those, just make sure some can be activated when being hit), spellcasters can have augments that siphon ambient magic to fuel bonus effects or boost spell power, the possibilities are limitless.  As an example from before;

  • Sword: 23-30 damage. +10 Critical Hit +10 Agility +10 Strength
  • Axe: 23-30 damage. +10 Health +10 hit (New effect:) On Hit: Has a chance to make the target Bleed, dealing 15 physical damage over 3 seconds.

Now we have something fun to toy with. Please note I did not apply these numbers to any game or theorem, I just pulled them off the top of my head. What you have now is the sword from before, and an Axe that, while lacking the raw damage of the sword, can make up for it with an on-hit effect. These kinds of things are also great for the player, because getting a proc feels good. To us, it’s like the game, or luck, is on our side, and makes fights easier. It may not make the fight any easier or harder in truth, but it feels that way, and that’s whats important.

Or make a hammer that slows, if you don't like blood.

Active Effects:
These are extremely rare now, and you won’t see many. Weapons with abilities that you have to use to get. These can be easier to balance than the passive ones because you know the player has complete control over when the effect goes out and how much time will pass before they can do it again. However, they feel less satisfying to have happen (unless they happen to be quite powerful) and rely on the player remembering to use them. That last one is the kicker. I can go for a half hour and forget I have an activatable ability on anything, much less my weapon, while someone else could be hammering the skill every time it comes off cooldown. Player variance is where the problem with these come in. Otherwise, they are the exact same as passive effects in any way you choose, only they have to be hit to activate.

Overall, weapons have some of the most tricky balance problems, but are on the forefront of player use and interaction. Some people, myself included, see armor as something shiny to look at. I’m not going to notice a little extra armor or resistances from a new piece of gear. But a weapon? I see what that is doing on every hit, I can count it’s procs or the time I can kill my target and compare to other times. While it’s tricky, and only gets harder when you add more things in, players will love you for having choice, and even if the weapons are 100% balanced, swear up and down on the weapon of their choice. That’s the best thing in the world, when someone makes a decision without any regrets and loves every second of it. Devs, that’s the goal to aim for.