Unlimited Sta-2 Meta analysis and balance suggestions

  • Like probably most of you, I've learned to play in the Smash CS Break Meta and the Revolver Meta that followed the CS/BRK nerfs, both of which were in a way very similar. My analysis will focus on how various balance updates changed the status quo and shaped the Meta into what it is now, then I will complain a bunch, and finally I'll make some suggestions that no one cares about based on my analysis. Keep in mind that I have very little experience with premium stats tournaments, and I don't think there have been many anyway, so my analysis only concerns random matches. If somebody has more experience than me on that front, I'd really like to hear what they have to say.

    1: The Smash CS Break Meta

    In that Meta, it was important to understand the balance between mobility, firepower and defense. To give you an example, sets such as CS / Smash / Revolver excelled at firepower and defense while sets like HG / CS / Smash gave up some fire power and defensiveness in favor of more mobility.

    The result was a soft rock-paper-scissors Meta, where teams that focused mainly on Defensiveness would have a disadvantage against teams that focused mainly on firepower (because the latter had an easier time gaining control of the middle area and didn't have to clash with the enemy team's defense as long as they could wipe them out), who in turn had a disadvantage facing teams that focused on mobility and scoring (because they didn't have all that many defensive options), and of course they had a hard time getting through a team with good defense.

    But ultimately, teams would often end up balanced enough and there were ways to deal with a minor matchup disadvantage on execution alone. In fact, execution was what mattered the most.

    Of course, there were already strategies that were considered cheap (such as anchor or healing + rush), but I would argue that for the most part they were only working due to how people were only used to fighting against typical stuff, and in the end they still had to compromise on some fronts (for instance anchor was a strong tool for scoring, but you needed your team to control the middle area most of the time if you wanted to score with it, and not having HP+30 didn't help with that), making it possible for your average team to figure out a strategy to beat them.

    The main criticism concerning that meta was that there were too many Smash rifles, CS and Breakers around, and they were said to be OP. However, while it is true that playing against the same weapons all the time can be repetitive, players were not restricted to having to play those weapons in order to win. Rifles like assault rifles and SMG were more powerful than smash in certain builds, and I personally was finding some success with Sigma Blade (although I wouldn't have taken it to a tournament) and other under-used swords.

    2: The Revolver Meta

    The CS, break and scythe nerfs (and arguably the smash nerfs too) gave way to the revolver being dominant. This meant generally speaking much more emphasis on the firepower aspect (because of course you can't really play revolver without also playing a rifle). It also meant not as much knockback to stop rushers, so builds such as HG/SMG/PS also found a lot of success during that time. It became extremely important to have good revolver aim, and anchor gained a lot more viability due to the release of the FP version and the nerfs to the CS which used to be able to defend against it (you could intercept them mid-air, although often to the cost of your own life, and defend against their dashes with revenge).

    Overall, though I like playing revolver, it was a pretty frustrating Meta, in which missing a revolver shot could cost your team the game and anchor lead to unsatisfying games. Most Melee weapons were also put aside due to their inability to defend anchor, meaning that the diversity of melee weapons in unlimited was actually hit significantly, and people started to complain about MKII healing, partly because they didn't have the tools to deal with it anymore (aka strong melee weapons).

    That said, execution still played an important role, perhaps more than ever before, and the same principle of assessing the enemy's mobility, firepower and defensive capability still applied.

    3: What has changed since then

    New tools for fraggers:

    -Rail gun is pretty strong now. It enables extremely defensive strategies as users can support their team at all stages of the game (beginning of a round, ramp attempt, stairs attempt, anchor attempt, and ofc defense) while staying safe from any for of harm. Power shield is also a powerful tool to support that archetype, as it allows them to defend stairs and ramp attempts without having to deal with cover fire, and makes it so they're never an easy target for invaders.

    -Bombs have an unparalleled ability to consistently deny space to the enemy team, and are extremely versatile. There are many ways they can be used offensively, defensively and for the purpose of gaining control of the Fumbi spawn area. Their only bad matchup is against flying / anchor fraggers, but those are rare. Flying and anchor are more often used for the purpose of scoring, and good bomb users will use their bombs to deny the enemy team control of the Fumbi in the first place.

    Those two weapons are at the core of the most successful fragging playstyles right now, along with mine guns and bind, that I'm keeping for later.

    New tools for scorers:

    -The new chips have resulted in a general increase in tankiness (even the red chips give you +13 HP at LV5) and stamina. This benefits rushers for obvious reasons. For instance, it has become harder to kill anchor users mid-air without using sniper or bind now that they can use the blue set, which gives them more defense, and the bonus stamina makes it easier for them to initiate attempts even if the ball didn't drop close to a good anchor spot. In addition, the green chips F skill is an interesting new tool for rushers, though II don't know to what extent they are effective (don't have them)

    -The boots are pretty self explanatory, but I cannot tell you the effects they should have on the meta for the simple reason that people don't play them as much as they should if their objective is to win. There are almost no good reasons to run any other light weapon over them (aside from moral reasons), yet I never see games where more than two people use them on the same side. Nonetheless, when people to play them, they are absurdly effective at getting through the enemies' defense.

    -The server lag is higher than it used to be, and it makes defending more awkward. I see many players score and then get pushed out of the goal, as if it made any sense. Lag can make an extreme difference when it comes to pushbacks, it's the difference between flying out of the map and safely sliding against a wall. And when it is combined with plasma sword's dash, very often it leads to situations where the user only receives the blow at the end of the dash (aka when it's too late) from a blow that was issued before the dash even started.

    -The plasma sword's dash, like many melee attacks, has gained a certain property. How it used to work is that when you were hit by a dash, you could immediately dodge, cancel the dodge using space and counter-attack with for instance a dagger stab. This meant that rushers could get punished heavily for dashing into someone that was in the way. It got changed (I can't tell you exactly when it happened, I probably wasn't playing the game) and now you cannot cancel that dodge anymore. It means that in a 1v1 defender VS rusher situation, the Plasma sword rusher is near unstoppable when he gets to about a dash's distance away from the goal. You need somebody to tank the dash, and somebody to kill the rusher. This, in addition to CS not being as strong as it used to be anymore, have lead to the Plasma sword being most rushers' weapon of choice.

    New defensive measures (mostly for fraggers):

    -Bind seems to have gotten more popular among good aimers as a counter-measure to everything I've just said about scorers and it happens to work well with the general increase to tankiness and stamina that is the result of the availability of chips.

    -Mine gun is also a strong defensive option that is growing more popular, and versatile as it can also be used to cover the carrier and frag (to a lesser extent, since the Mine gun benefits a lot from the enemy moving towards you rather than freely). Like the bomb, it has the property to be able to deal damage without exposing the user to retaliatory fire.

    And with that, we have the two core components of the current meta: extremely specialized rushers who are hard to stop using conventional means, and extremely versatile fraggers, who can easily create opportunities for the rushers by killing several enemies at once or in quick succession, and kill coordinated pushes with a single well-placed bomb.

  • 4: Me complaining a bunch

    There are two important qualities that are threatened by the current meta: interactivity and player expression.

    Interactivity is arguably the reason why we play online games instead of solo games. Interacting with people rather than AI creates new situations, and a lot of the swordplay and defense aspects of the game is based on making reads on your opponent and feinting them. But it's also the case with gunplay, where you can attempt to throw off your opponent's aim, faint reloads and such. The game must remain as interactive as possible, not only because mind games are fun, but because it ensures that the game remains fair to a certain extent. Having the ability to interact with your opponent's strategy to counter it means that if you do get killed as a result of it, you didn't do enough in that regard, you got outplayed. One of the most common forms of that happening, is shooting back when you get shot at. If you kill them first, you get to live, and if you don't, it means they had better aim or played off of other factors that they set up (like having an advantageous or unexpected firing position).

    Railgun is uninteractive. Not just railgun in fact, all snipers are. But railgun happens to also be OP right now. Sniper rifles are a one-sided test of skill. If the user aims well, he gets to hit his enemy. On the other hand, there is not much the person getting sniped can realistically do to avoid getting shot, and from his perspective he might as well have instantaneously combusted. The most telling example of that is getting sniped out of spawn at the start of the round. The thing is, in sta-2 you cannot stay behind cover all the time, it's simply impossible, and you never know for sure when the sniper is aiming for you (cuz they are generally way too far for you to be able to tell, they have the high ground which covers most of their character model and very often the aiming part is done from behind a wall), so you cannot always move in ways that will throw their aim off at the right moment. On the other hand, if you play like the sniper is always aiming for you, you're setting yourself up for defeat. You're giving up a lot of time, ground and stamina. And of course, shooting back is not even an answer, snipers outDPS other weapons by large margin from far away + the aiming part can be done safely from behind a wall while spray weapons require you to show your head for extended periods of time (unless WS or shield is involved in which case nobody is getting nowhere).

    Bombs are uninteractive (also mine gun, to a lesser extent). They allow you to potentially deal damage to the opponent without opening yourself up for retaliatory damage. The main issue with the bomb is, even if that attempt fails (because people move out of the way), you still denied the enemy team space and time (to reload!). And there are situations (happens a lot actually) where you have no choice but to receive the damage and hope that you survive, because you need to be in a good spot to defend. And let's not get started on the MKII bombs, they pretty much explode instantly and the reload happens faster than the effect wears off, meaning that you can get chained by three bombs without being able to do anything.

    Boots are uninteractive because they create situations where the user is going to score past you whatever you do, because you don't have the damage to kill them with your guns in time, and because you cannot realistically be expected to react in time with a sword (and even if you do, server lag) unless you predict their right click timing, which is extremely hard and unreliable, since generally they have a large window of time during which pressing right click is viable. Aside from that, when the enemy team has boots, it closes out options for your team. You cannot first pick anymore, and you cannot reliably punish the first pick from the opponent (unless you got bind, boots are too fast). And killing the ball carrier becomes way more risky (if boots are behind to pick up), even somewhat far from the goal.

    Bind is uninteractive, since getting hit is often a death sentence and there's nothing you can do, and very often you have no choice but to risk getting bound when you want to score (i.e. when you don't have enough ammo left to kill the bind user or when you need to score quickly), which comes up a lot. It's different from revolver in that while you can put yourself in a situation where you can recover from getting pushed by a revolver, when you get bound you can only hope that a teammate is going to pick up after you. That said, with lag and boots and chips and dashes at the disposal of rushers, I understand that some people people see it as an elegant way to stay competitive in this meta without having to play dirtier alternatives.

    Shield (especially power shield) and Blue F skill are uninteractive, since they make it so you can't damage the user with guns, while they can damage you, and in order to damage them you need to go out of your way and it's not guaranteed you'll be able to, while the cost of running either of them is virtually non-existent. You shouldn't have to ambush an enemy every time before your team can make a push when all that enemy has to do to deserve that kind of attention is being able to press shift or F.

    Red and orange F skills. I don't think I need to explain.

    Player expression: Some players have very distinctive playstyles, and it's great when somebody is the one person who can make a certain build work, that kind of thing. Even in the case of people playing generic weapons, sometimes you notice some habits that other players don't have. Has this ever happened to you: you made a secondary account, and got recognized by people who knew you well even though you didn't talk, solely based on your playstyle (or the other way around)? Well it has happened to me, and it's great to see that personality can have direct impact on a person's playstyle. It creates narratives for players and can potentially add some depth if you are able to utilize your knowledge of your opponent against them. It is also a testimony to the depth that is already present in the game that it's possible for two high level players who have the same role to play differently without either of them being seen as playing non-optimally.

    There are two reasons why I think player expression is threatened by the current meta. The first reason, is that it is oppressive. Many playstyles are simply ruled out by players who don't want to get trashed because they are too weak to certain weapons (playing Sigma Blade for instance is a lot less fun now that railgun and bombs are around) or get outmatched by those weapons too heavily (what reasons does anyone have to play dagger instead of boots, aside from the obvious moral one). The second reason, is that the skill curve has been lowered. For instance, where a rusher used to make use of complicated jumps and feint their opponents, with boots it is now more efficient for them to just press right click and then make a simple wall jump or something. Where a melee user used to try to dance around a target to push them off the map at the right time in defensive situations, a bomb user just throws their bomb in the approximate direction of their opponent (and presses F in case it didn't work).

    5: Suggestions no one cares about

    Rail gun, sharp shooter, cannonade: Those weapons are the most fun and skill-requiring at close range, and yet they are the most effective at long range. I would personally give them heavy damage and pushback/blow drop-off at long range but in return buff their close-range capabilities. One may argue that it would defeat the purpose of snipers even being in the game, but they would still be unique in that they require more precise aiming.

    Bombs: No more random fuse time or random damage, no more slow effect, very slight stagger. Lightning and MKII Bombs dont need to be as OP as they are right now to see play, and there is value in being able to tell exactly when your bomb is going to explode, to combo it with other sources of knockback / stagger / blow. It's much more interesting than throwing and praying. Also, fix the hitbox when it's inside the train for example and hits people that are outside even without line of sight and fix the vertical hitbox that doesn't make sense (you can get crit even though you're way above it after having double-jumped with anch or used exo beam).

    Boots: I don't know, just do something. To be honest if you nerf them to the ground and make them unplayable I won't complain.

    Shield / Power shield: Being able to utilize your SP in order to not get hit is what good dodges and such are supposed to achieve, and it's ludicrous that just pressing shift does the same with very few counter-plays. If Bombs do get nerfed, this skill is going to become a huge pain, even worse than it already is.

    I think it would be good enough to see play still if it was impossible to shoot while it is activated, because of its animation cancelling applications (that are the only interesting part of the weapon)

    Anchor: If snipers lose their long-range potency, or receive any kind of nerf, we'll have to deal with chips-powered dashing lagging FP anchor rushers, and I must say I'm not thrilled by the prospect. I think it should receive the fly treatment: when the user gets shot mid-air, they lose SP. if their SP reaches zero, they fall. In exchange, the cost could be reduced to have it stay a viable mobility tool for fraggers.

    Those are the main ones. Aside from that, some weapons need to get buffed but I think my post is long enough as it is.

    Well anyway, while this took way more time to write than I'd like to admit, I just wanted to give my opinion and also receive that of other players, so if you have anything to add or want to contest one of my points, do not hesitate to share your opinion.

  • About Bombs: Their damage isn't random. The Earth Bomber deals its full damage at the center, while the Lightning Bombers both deal more damage at the edge of their radius, (which is also why jumping to the top of its vertical radius results in huge damage). The closer anyone is to those points, (depending on which bomb), the more damage they take. Bomb actually is interactive if you think about it. The mind game is "have they used it yet"? Also the Lightning bombers and the MKII do have differing times from each other, however they don't have random timers. I use Lightning often when I play Unlimited, and it is possible to combo it with other things, and it's fun as heck too.

    Slow Effect nerf: The slow is meant to counter rushers from scoring, or to sabotage the enemy team in general to make them easier to kill. At 1 ammo per reload and with such a limited supply of bombs per life I think I don't think the Lightning Bomber itself should be nerfed too hard. You can't use Anchor or Fly while you're slowed. How about they weaken the duration and effectiveness of slow itself? Make it so players can dodge at normal speed even when slowed, the person with the ball would only then suffer the full consequences for getting nailed by it, and then in other situations players could still at least defend themselves.

    Snipers: The interactive thing about sniper is "Who're they targeting". Which if you have the ball that's an easy answer, but in DM it's much harder to tell. Rail is just stupid as it is. Slow effect on a snipe gun that can knock you back and 1 hit kill you sounds so unbalanced even on paper.

    Snipe Nerf: Revert Rail-Gun to its previous version. Make it so Snipe guns can't WS, as it gives them more advantage than any other kind of gun. Make them also do LESS damage the closer you are to someone, (because they're designed for long range).

    Boots: I have mixed feelings about the Boots. As to why you'd take Dagger over them it's simple, (killing power). Say there's only 1 guy blocking you from the goal, 1 stab would probably be enough for you to score if you can land it. You could take Vital instead as a scoring tool for its Lunge attack which executes faster than PS Dash while not giving up as much movespeed as taking a PS. Although the Boot Jump crit is arguably one of the most powerful melee attacks in the game, it's not very useful in TD besides for breaking the bridge in 1 hit. The Booster has a cooldown of 10 seconds on it already, it'd be a bit overkill to nerf it anymore I think personally.

    Boots Changes: I'd revert the base move speed to 110 as it used to be. The special makes it faster than anything else in the game, so it doesn't need to have 130 base move speed. Un-hinder the ground combo attack sequence, as it'd make it more effective, and also shorten the post delay on said ground combo attacks. Nerf the Jump attack damage to 30 like CS, as it has more range than CS and can ignore Revenge Stun (at the cost of SP) despite being the same kind of attack as CS jump.

    Shields/Blue F: Shield I personally don't mind, as I usually take a Melee or a Bomb do deal with that. Blue F is another story, why should anyone be able to get a limited duration "Better Shield" without the drawback of being able to lose +30 Hp? Not to mention Blue F lvl 5 set gives you the highest def in the game compared to the other chip sets, and it also protects you from MS and Melee weapon damage... Blue F needs a much bigger CD than it has now.

    Anchor: My primary skill, (i'm a DMer though). Personally I wouldn't mind if this got the fly lose sp on being shot treatment.

  • Thank you for reading through all of this and explaining your point of view.

    About bombs, I guess I might have been wrong about the damage being random. I remember staying in the dead center of an FP earth bomber and receiving less than a fifth of my health as damage, but I guess it could have been due to factors such as lag and a visual glitch. However, from having played a lot of normal lightning bomb myself, I'm pretty sure that at least its timer is random (I'll try it later if I get the chance). As for your point about the "have they used it yet" mind game, I would argue that it gets kind of nonsensical when you can realistically stack up to 3 bombs individually (you can cause a lot of chaos by just repeatedly throwing your bomb and reloading right away which is kinda stupid) and when several people are using bombs. But I guess it's more of a problem in 5v5 and 6v6. Lastly, even if you expect it, it doesn't change that it restricts your options and putting a bomb to where the Fumbi is securing it for your team is easy and extremely effective.

    About Snipers, it's wrong to assume that people who have the Fumbi are automatically targeted. Many snipers purposefully target other players because they feel safe (and you have no way to know that you're getting targeted unless they miss a shot). Beside, even if you know you're targeted, you don't know when the sniper is going to shoot, so even feinting them can prove ineffective. It would help is snipers didn't send you flying out of the map when you're at the baste of the ramp area. The thing that makes them uninteractive though, is that you can't punish them when they make a mistake. In TD snipers always end up almost never getting killed because you have to either invade (which is generally not a very good idea since it's a huge time investment and can fail) or push the Fumbi all the way to their side to have a chance to kill them. While I do agree that making it so they can't WS would be a noticeable improvement, it doesn't change the fact that as a sniper you just have to show yourself when you actually take the shot and you can do the aiming part while behind cover.

    About Boots, that dagger is better at killing than Boots is debatable, especially after the light attack range nerf. But I like the changes you've proposed, it shouldn't be a light weapon with that much utility attached to it (boost, push, air recovery potential).

    I always thought solo rushing the stairs was the meta. At least all my teammates are trying it.

    Eh. Everybody knows the meta is 4 snipers and 2 healers.