Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Get on the scaling

In my last post I talked some about how crazy Skyrim weapons scaling made my game silly.  The thing about weapons scaling is that from the early game to the late game my weapon increased damage by roughly 100x using crazy combinations of smithing, alchemy, and enchanting.  That sounds absurd but the game has difficulty levels for a reason and monsters do get more powerful too.  In a single player game it really isn't much of an issue if the player can tweak their way into being ridiculously powerful since they can just set the difficulty to Novice if they really want to blow stuff up with no effort.

The trouble with that theory is that scaling of things other than weapons doesn't quite work that way.  At low levels a character will be doing 8 damage per second with the Flames spell.  This is similar to a weapon attack but has some range and is easier to aim but costs magicka to cast.  Overall a totally reasonable choice.  Unfortunately in the endgame things don't work out quite so nicely.  The most powerful spammable single target spell will deal roughly 108 damage per cast and at most one cast per second is reasonable.  This is a big improvement in that it does 13x the damage of the low level spell and has much greater range.  

Unfortunately one of the main things the game allows in theory is a hybrid caster / weapon user and in the end game spells have scaled 13x to the weapon's 100x.  This is a problem because the hybrid character will either one shot everything with their sword and wonder why they even bother with spells or they will have a reasonable time with their sword and the spells won't even scratch the enemies.  Neither is particularly good.  It gets even more silly if you twink out harder and sneak attack the enemies - I got my dual sword damage up to around 30,000 for a single sneak attack which kills anything in the game pretty much and although setting up a sneak attack is much tougher than shooting fireballs from far away it is pretty hard to say no to doing 300x the damage.

What ends up shaking out of all of this is that Bethesda made some errors when scaling the various ways to attack.  It is actually very much like Diablo 2 in that weapons scaling off of many enormous % bonuses eventually eclipsed spells in damage and only Static Field let a sorceress compete.  Diablo 3 deliberately avoided this issue by not having spells do fixed damage but rather scaling them off of weapons just like weapon users.  People criticized this for having bad feel but seeing how badly things get messed up when you scale weapons multiplicatively and spells additively in Skyrim I am inclined to support the decision of the D3 designers.  (I supported it back in the beta days too!)

If in Skyrim the two styles were really independent then I wouldn't worry too much about it.  Unfortunately the game really is meant to accommodate hybrids and it ends up not doing so all that well.  Of course you don't have to twink out as hard as I did but even with just using the best weapon you find and drinking potions you find and putting points into the weapon trees it is clear that weapons rapidly make spells a futile venture.

I ended up wanting to up the difficulty level even beyond Legendary so I decided to simply refuse to use any potions that increase Enchanting or Smithing or any enchanted gear that increased Smithing or Alchemy.  This dropped my damage by 75% and forced me to actually pay attention to armour and resists so it brought some level of challenge back into the game.  I don't much like refusing to use all the options available to me but this does make the game feel a lot more reasonable.


  1. Actually spellcasting can be pretty nasty too. You can do the same enchanting tricks to get gear that makes your spells free. How long a spell takes to cast is partly based on how much mana it costs. You can dual cast spells as well. I also think that monsters tend to scale their armor as they get more powerful but not their resistances (I might not have this right).

    Anyway, I tried shooting lightning bolts out of both hands two or three times a second and found it was pretty comparable to my bow. I wasn't one shotting everything so it seems you had a better hammer than I had a bow, but it's possible that ranged does less than melee (and to be honest I never ended up going full out with the potions - I knew there was a positive feedback loop that allowed unbounded stats and consciously chose not to engage it).

  2. I found archery to be very underwhelming. Melee weapons do treble the damage at least, with the power attack perks probably a lot more than that. The dual wielding power attack sneak attack just made everything else seem like kid gloves to be honest. You are right though that I discounted some of the spell bonuses, forgot that dual spelling was a thing. Even then though weapons just scale so much better. Fully potioned up with dual casting you can probably do 600 damage a shot, whereas my dual swords are hitting for 5000 a shot, 30,000 on a sneak. I don't know how many enemies are rocking good resists except that dragons for sure have strong cold/fire resist.

    I never went for the buggy feedback loop to infinity, that is no fun. I just used the normal stuff and got my enchant potion up to 32%, smthing to 130%, and enchanting crafting gear to 29%. That was broken enough!