Patch 4.22 – Passage to Egypt: Balance Breakdown

Looking at the changes in SMITE patch 4.22 and how they will affect the different metas.

The patch notes in the current form have gotten more detailed, and spell a lot more out. This makes the old model of patch note breakdowns increasingly obsolete. This isn’t a complaint. I’m glad the team is taking what the community is doing an integrating them into their normal operation. That sort of cannibalism is great. Rather than continuing to do a full patch notes review, let’s shift to a discussion of the balance changes in specific – looking at stated intent, current behavior, and possible outcomes.

Confusing Times at Mythology High

Let’s assume for a second game designers are not malicious. They aren’t out to ensure their player base has a bad time. They might get things wrong now and then, but it’s not because they are big ol’ meanieheads. In this case, it definitely appears that the designers know there is a problem with how the game is being played right now – read problem as a style of play that is frustrating more than it is fun – and want to take steps to address it. However, they have a bit of a conundrum. Super Regionals just happened and some mighty-fine drama resulted from Elevate (EU) running a triple guardian, double hunter team composition.

This team composition appeared earlier in the season, but damage was still high enough that some tank-busting could occur as long as the carries were relatively protected. Unfortunately, the perception of snowballing was so great that the game was continually slowed down, burst was nerfed, sustain increased, and defense strengthened. Warriors were focused as a major culprit of issues they wanted to address between summer and fall, while hunters were deemed too weak. This created a situation where guardians began to fill a similar role to warriors – though some warriors still did it just fine – and hunters took prominence over mages.

All characters began to build tanky, and were relying on % penetration to be the main carrier of damage for them. It was a natural evolution out of the burst meta, and has sticking around and gaining traction every time a team started winning with tank items on non-tank characters. Junglers spearheaded this movement to a large degree, picking up warriors and relying on the natural base damage of warriors to have a tanky second initiator.

It’s easy to see how titan’s bane is an item that contributes to this meta, but the patch seems to be treating it as a problem in a silo. The decrease in mages, on the otherhand, gets a lot of attention through myriad item changes – albeit some equally confusing ones.

Iceberg, Dead Ahead

Titan’s bane received a cost reduction earlier in the season, putting it inline with items like executioner as part of the overall hunter changes stemming from changing ichaival and the desire for more hunter build diversity. This allowed for an incredibly cheap and quick power spike to occur for all physical damage dealers. This patch increases the cost of titan’s bane by 150 gold, nerfs the % penetration received by the T2 item – warrior’s bane – from 22% to 15%, and nudges down the % penetration on titan’s bane from 33% to 30%.

The reason stated in the patch notes was to decrease the efficacy of warriors and hunters, allowing other classes to shine as damage dealers and allow them to stay in fights longer. The issue with this statement is the triple guardian meta means warriors have already been somewhat hedged out, and the guardians will see an increase in survivability and damage – comparably speaking. It actually exacerbates the tanky meta we saw at Super Regional. Sure, hunters will come online a bit later and do very slightly less damage, but it doesn’t really matter. The front line will be able to be even more control-oriented as a result of nerfing other classes. Assassins are directly nerfed by this change as well, further limiting their role at a time where they have been hedged out for most of a season.

For some reason, assassins aren’t even addressed with this item change. In fact, when you take into account the above reason, the titan’s bane change is just plumb confusing. Sure, it does nerf hunters and warriors, but it doesn’t impact the state of the meta at all. It’s just…making guardians better at what they are already excelling at. Without any acknowledgement or awareness that this is the case.

Just downright vexing.

This Magic (Protection) Moment

Now, it is definitely fair to say that mages are receiving a lot of attention this patch. The design team has recognized some of the reason why mages are seeing less play is the proliferation of magical defense items – reducing burst is more impactful than reducing sustain, after all – and the difficult and limiting starts facing mages. However, here again we see a few missteps based on the available information.

Shogun’s kusari is definitely an incredibly valuable items, but it wasn’t the 50 magical protections that was doing it. Shogun’s kusari saw a buff earlier in the year, as well – increasing the team attack speed it provides. While 40 protections does impact the tankiness of the item, it doesn’t impact the overall benefit and strength of the item. It’s going to be just as problematic as before – and the 10 protections won’t change much. This is largely because protections only matter as long as you have additional health to back it up. When you do that the effective health increases dramatically, and the value of that effective health with only ten fewer protections isn’t going to matter all that much.

This is the case for the void stone, as well. It didn’t used to have health on it before a buff earlier in the season changed it. All of a sudden it became one of the best items in the entire game – the effective health coupled with the damage it provides just screams “great value.” Lowering the protections from 70 to 60 only decreases that marginally.

In each case, reverting the buffs or nerfing the areas buffs is more likely to bring about meaningful change. Even a combination of reversion and additional changes. These straight protection nerfs don’t do too much to address the issue of magical defense and burst mitigation – especially not with the genji’s guard out there.

The changes to the mage starters and early game items are all very solid, however. Well, soul trap didn’t need a buff, but that’s a minor quibble.

Second Verse, Same as the First

The god changes that were implemented in this patch are all incredibly suspect. Addressing the elephant in the room, seeing Fenrir buffs prior to SWC greatly improves the odds of an extended NRG Esports (EU) run. Adapting (Jungle – NRG Esports) is both an extremely accomplished Fenrir player and is known to break him out when things are tough during SWC. This combined with the continual shift to meta that is more like the late Season Three meta – the one prevalent when NRG won worlds last year – means the changes seem to keep favoring meta. I absolutely do not believe the changes are being done explicitly for that purpose, but it’s easy to see how people could easily think that. Especially with the amount of vocal dissension regarding previous patches NRG has had. It is what it is.

The long and short of it is – whatever Fenrir is good at now, he’s just better at it. His shortcomings are a little shored up thanks to extra protections, but his jump still sucks. He’ll see play for sure, and might even be a contested pick. What he’s good at he got a lot better at.

Big Bullies

Cú Chulainn is receiving meaningful nerfs this patch. The stated reasons make sense, and probably get the job done. One of the changes should have been that transforming early doesn’t grant you all abilities if you haven’t put points in them. That would have seen a reduction in his jungle efficacy, certainly. The reduction in the shield he gets when he transforms hits his sustain at all levels – though it matters most early on – and the decreased movement speed from vent anger impacts both his survivability and his engagement potential – both to engage and to prolong engagements. These are the areas the changes are attempting to address, so this is more or less spot on.

Artio is a different story. Pros, semi-pros, skilled amateurs, and plebs like me all agree that Artio is strong. However, the cream of the crop swear it’s not the cripple field that is the root of her strength. It’s the sustain…no it’s the protection shred…no it’s her hard control…no it’s her soft control. They are all correct, but they are also all incorrect. As far as I see it, the problem is the cripple field. It’s just not the cripple itself that is the problem – though it’s fairly strong in its own right.

Taking a wider view, the strength of Artio resides in the direction the game has taken. The increase of highly mobile gods simultaneously increases the strength of abilities that deny them that same mobility. In some cases, the entire kit of a god is built around the use of a mobility skill. When that is the case, those gods are shut down entirely by anti-mobility. A counter isn’t necessarily a bad thing – particularly in a team game with picks and bans. However, Artio’s anti-mobility provides an additional strength beyond the denial of others – it allows her to secure her entire kit with little to no risk.

This means all those things people complain about – sustain, soft control, protection shred, etc. – are all exacerbated by the presence of the cripple. When mobility is denied, it’s damn near impossible to miss with your abilities. They are all fairly wide, easy to hit cones, lines, and circles. There isn’t a projectile or travel time to worry about. You don’t have to predict anything. You just hit your cripple, and roll around to stay near the person you want to assault. Without burning an active, CC immunity, or focus from their teammates you largely get to do whatever you want to do. Even her relatively weak early game isn’t that big of a deal thanks to elongated game times, prevalence of available farm, and ease of siege defense.

Unfortunately, the cripple field is seen as the identifying factor of Artio’s kit. This means it is unlikely to be addressed – particularly not while there is so much vocal dissent as to the “cause of Artio’s strength” among influential players. Instead, the rest of the kit will be continually toned down to the point where she no longer sees play. These changes addressing her sustain seem to confirm that fact.

 

 

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