Crytek’s 2013 first-person shooter Warface recently launched for free on the PlayStation 4, where I jumped in for the first time. It’s not quite the caliber of game you’d expect from the developer of the Crysis series, but despite its pervasive lack of polish, Warface is actually a reasonably fun distraction. It does, however, have one issue that towers over all the rest. There is a significant imbalance found in its weapon design, specifically within its selection of shotguns and sniper rifles. Weapon imbalance is par for the course in shooters, but as Warface’s balancing flaws are both clearly identifiable and easy to explain, it serves as an effective scapegoat for illustrating how games can best counter this incessant problem.
Warface boasts a broad selection of assault rifles, machine guns, submachine guns, shotguns, sniper rifles, and handguns, all of which have differing values across six stat categories (damage, range, etc.). The balance of this system falls apart when you get into the shotgun and sniper rifle weapon types, as both have a damage threshold at which the firearm kills with one shot at short-to-medium range, which is the max range for the vast majority of engagements. The hits don’t need to be headshots either, as aiming center mass works just as well. Now, perhaps this is reasonable for such weapon classes in other gaming environments, but the map sizes of Warface are claustrophobically small. A weapon that can instantly kill targets up to medium range offers a prominent advantage over every other type of weapon in these settings.
There are two potential arguments one could make in favor of this balance design. Firstly, every shotgun and sniper rifle I’ve seen over this threshold has been pump/bolt-action, which is admittedly harder to use effectively, given the slower firing rate. Unfortunately, this does little to temper the weapons’ efficacy due to the game’s very generous aim assist and aim-down-sight speed that is far faster than in most other games. Combine this with the virtual lack of any sway in sniper scopes, and players will find it fairly difficult to miss.
The other possible defense for the weapon balancing comes from Warface’s peculiar, mobile game-style transaction system. Some weapons are unlocked through play, but the best ones are purchased permanently or for varying periods of time using one of three different currency types. On the surface, the system appears to impede the rate at which players could get their hands on the game’s most powerful weapons, but there is a wide enough variety of weapons over the damage threshold that players essentially always have access to at least one.
Warface is far from the first shooter to screw up its weapon balancing. Poor weapon balancing in games is generally where a small set of weapons are objectively superior to the remaining selection. Gamers tend to gravitate toward a path of least resistance, resulting in a large percentage of these player bases exclusively using the overpowered weapons, as they are the only way those players can stay competitive. (Noob tubers in Modern Warfare 2 are an excellent example of this phenomenon in action.) What makes the prevalence of this issue so frustrating is that there is actually a fairly easy way to avoid it.
Simply dialing the lethality of the overpowered weapons down below the average firearm would incentivize more widespread utilization of a game’s available weaponry. If a handful of weapons fall by the wayside due to inefficacy, a game can still maintain balance within its larger selection of content. Alternatively, permitting a few guns to completely run the show limits the variety, flexibility, and consequent entertainment value of a game’s competition. In Warface’s case, knocking down the damage of the shotguns and sniper rifles in question would make them much harder to use, but it would also make their use that much more impressive, while relieving pressure on the game’s general multiplayer experience.
This solution is not flawless, but it is easily the best option. Presumably, certain developers allow overpowered weapons to dominate their games because the developers don’t want to adjust the weapons to a point at which they are abandoned completely. They would rather a small amount of content disrupt the experience than let that content slip into obscurity. Whether this is those developers’ reasoning or not, shifting content to one side so it can be balanced accordingly is preferable letting it run rampant, and we should all thank Warface for reminding us of this.