Wasteland Diaries: Choose your weapon

The new Fallen Earth combat system is sweet. I really don't have much to complain about. But there is a serious lack of balance between the weapon types (I almost said classes). I like the fact that when I shoot someone in the head with a shotgun, I see results -- not the kind you'd expect to see in an ultra-realistic tactical FPS, but very tangible results for an RPG. The focus on weapon damage (aka white damage) has made the combat system more intuitive and user-friendly. But it has also (despite a decent increase in everyone's health) made combat much more decisive.

Making a shooter with firearms and melee weapons is a daunting balancing act. If you make the firearms too powerful, nobody will use the melee weapons. There will always be those who use the under-powered weapons, but in the competitive world of PvP, most PvPers will opt with the most powerful ones. The pendulum of balance has been swinging since Fallen Earth launched in September 2009, but more often than not, one weapon type has come out on top every time. In fact, one weapon is very popular and has been since launch. Oddly enough, that weapon isn't even a 180 weapon; it's a 164. That's right, you can be dual-wielding the most deadly weapons in the game at level 45. Most of you seasoned vets know what weapon I'm talking about, and after the cut I'll confirm your suspicions. If you are a new player, you should also read on.

The last round of combat changes was particularly tough on riflemen. Riflemen have always been the Fallen Earth whipping boys, and they did get some love with this patch with improved white damage. But there were a few key skills and items that were taken away. My main is a rifleman, and I love using rifles in FE, but I find myself more often than not using my shotgun. Especially in a PvP situation.

Rifles are still the king in PvE, and the balancing act goes into hard mode when trying to make PvP and PvE both work in harmony. It's easy to lay waste to mobs that don't hit Dash 2 and then zig-zag like a maniac while you try to land Agonizing Wound on them. They'll usually obligingly run right toward you. I've seen them zig-zag a little bit, but they are much easier to hit than a human player. If the devs made rifles too potent, then PvE would be too easy for those with a rifle. Now that the mobs hit as often as they used to miss, a sniper rifle is a terrific weapon to take out mobs, but it's a mere annoyance in PvP. Sniping in PvP is more effective now, but it's still just a means of harassment with the amount of cover available. Especially since you can't shoot through trees anymore (a huge change, and I love it).

In the old, slower combat system, a rifleman needed to do a few things when beset upon by a vicious melee specialist. The first (and probably most important thing) was a shotgun. I'll get into why later, as shotguns have a much lower damage-per-second (DPS) than an assault rifle of the same level would have. The second thing was a damage shield. I preferred Scorching Rebuke from the Thermal mutation line, but there was also Sympathy Pains. Then there was the Tesla Coat. You would sacrifice a bit of armor for the Tesla Coat but it provided a second line of defense against melee attacks. Damage shields like Scorching Rebuke would damage your attacker with each hit, so dual-wielders would take insane amounts of damage.

Add to that the Tesla Coat, which acted as a second damage shield and a damage-over-time (DoT) ability like Molotov or One Shot, One Kill. Then apply a snare like Agonizing Wound or Rifle Smash and blast away at the target while you kite him. There were also other nasty debuffs like Fatal Setup and Denial that you could add to this "broadside." When the new system came along with its increased weapon damage, this ploy became very effective, and it made the shotgunner (not the rifleman, mind you) a bit over-powered. I didn't make a rifleman character to use a shotgun.

The combat changes were not well-received by the melee PvPers in general on the Public Test Server (PTS), and some drastic changes were made. The snare duration of Agonizing Wound and Rifle Smash were reduced, and the damage shields' reciprocal damage was reduced quite a bit. The Tesla Coat was nerfed into oblivion. Its damage shield proc was completely stripped out and replaced with some elemental resistances. Needless to say, on patch day, I sold all of my Tesla Coats. Many of these tiny changes made minced meat of a rifleman when he's beset upon by a melee (which is bound to happen unless a snare is landed).

One thing that should be looked at again is the melee defense penalty that comes with equipping a rifle. I've never seen a real need for this, and it just makes the unfettered DPS of a dual-wielding melee that much worse. If a big CHOTA is swinging a nine iron at me, I'd rather have a rifle to block it with than nothing at all. It can be justified if the rifleman is scoped-in and blindsided, but the melee penalty has outlived its usefulness. The perceived firearm's range advantage is nil in a cover-strewn world.

I stated earlier that I would explain why the shotgun, despite its low DPS, was so devastating. It's quite simple. The shotgun has the melee reticle. There is no recoil penalty; there is no movement penalty. The circle stays the same, and you simply need to fire when the target is inside the circle. It is as easy to hit with a shotgun as it is with a melee weapon. So it is reliable DPS, just like a melee weapon or two would be. But a melee weapon can be dual-wielded for twice the destruction, and you need not pause to reload it.

The melee specialist's weapon of choice in most cases is the Kinetic Hammer (or a pair of them). This weapon is preferred because of the electrical damage (which most armor doesn't mitigate much of). This results in more overall damage than a weapon with a substantially better DPS might yield with only physical damage such as slashing or crushing. It just seems a bit silly that the most popular melee weapon is available to be used at level 45.

Usually a rifleman's only chance to win a fight against a melee is to catch him out in the open with a snare. Then the race is on to drop him before he finds some cover and hunkers down, all the while healing and waiting out the snare. Riflemen do still have a place in Fallen Earth group PvP, and they are by far the most versatile weapon class in the game. With sniper rifles, shotguns, and rocket launchers, they have the most varied tools-of-the-trade. It should also be noted that only melees have Knockdown now, and it is a death sentence when you get caught by it. I feel kind of responsible for it, because I suggested it on the forums, so I may have put the idea in Icarus' head, but let's pretend for the sake of argument that the team came up with it on its own. Sorry, riflemen and pistoleers.

I will always have a rifle-centric character, no matter how useless rifles might become in the future wasteland. I'm hoping for the best when the pendulum-of-nerf swings back, but for the time being, three of my four clones will be swinging Kinetic Hammers. I'll either see you here next week or in Park City, but if I see you in PC, keep out of the towers. Exile is watching.

Ed Marshall has been playing Fallen Earth since beta and leads the KAOS clan. Wasteland Diaries is his weekly column that covers all aspects of Fallen Earth: PvE, RP and PvP. To contact Ed, send an email to edward@massively.com, find him on the official forums as Casey Royer, or hunt him down in the wastelands as Nufan, Original, Death Incarnate, and Knuckles Mcsquee.

This article was originally published on Massively.