Riot Games has stated that their approach to VALORANT game balance will focus more on agents and maps.
Prior to the release of patch 1.02, the first balance patch since the game’s launch, the developers at Riot released a Q&A post addressing some common community questions, as is custom for them these days. This post has been covered to some extent, but one of the questions asked was if Riot would ever add more guns to the arsenal in VALORANT.
Preeti Khanolkar, a producer on the game, responded that they were not looking to add any guns in the short term and that they only ever would if they saw a “gap” in the gameplay that could be filled with the addition of another weapon. This, of course, means that the evolution of the game will be more dictated by the addition of new agents instead, something that Anna Donlon, the Executive Producer of the game, alluded to in this video.
Since Riot also recently released a detailed breakdown of their balance philosophy, we are now armed considerably well to do a deeper dive into what the game could look like in the future, based on other similar games and their balance philosophies.
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So first, no guns. Right off the bat, Counter-Strike comes to mind. Over the years and across multiple titles, CS has retained largely the same core of weapons. In Global Offensive, Valve replaced several old weapon archetypes from previous games with new ones and added 9 more brand new weapons that had never existed before, but still fit within the set categories of price and effectiveness that have existed since the game’s inception. From this starting point, over the course of the game’s 10-year lifespan, they early on in 2013 added the silenced USP and M4A1, then quite famously and controversially added the R8 revolver in 2015, and considerably less controversially added the MP5SD in 2018.
Compared to every other FPS game out there today, this is far and away the most conservative schedule for weapon additions. Most other esport titles these days frequently add content to keep things fresh for their audience, but CS has famously struck gold with a formula and stuck to it. While the early additions of the silenced weapons in 2013 definitely increased the depth of the game by offering players a variant in playstyle, they were not exactly keeping things fresh, as they had already existed in previous editions of CS. The first (and perhaps only) real move by Valve to add content in order to create interest and inject a spritz of life into the game, was the addition of the R8 revolver. This gun was so beyond broken on release and was so largely regarded by everyone to have been a terrible idea, that Valve eventually walked back on it, nerfing the weapon into oblivion.
I believe this is the kind of thing Riot are afraid of. The balance of tac shooters are always on a knife’s edge, and considering weapons are a core feature and function of the games, they naturally appear to be prime targets for balance changes. At the same time, they are also prime examples of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. If you’ve struck gold on a perfect formula that your audience will keep coming back to over and over again, why change it? For VALORANT, this is even more pertinent, because there is an entire layer of complexity in it that simply does not exist in CS. If the gunplay is tight, they don’t need to mess with it, they have the entire axis of agents and abilities to play with to create renewed interest.
To that end, Riot talks about their philosophy for balance in great detail, and we can see in their case study of Raze that they have learned early on that in this genre of game, discrepancies of 0.1% may be as impactful as a discrepancy of 1% in another game. This is to say that even the smallest indication that something may be over or underpowered can have a large impact on players’ perception of the power level of that weapon or ability or character.
VALORANT is unique in that all agents can use all guns - in games like Overwatch, weapons are unique to characters, and even in Rainbow 6: Siege, while some weapons are shared between characters (usually for lore reasons, like if they’re from the same military faction), the immense variety means they largely do not intersect, and characters have their own guns as well as their own abilities. However, due to the way abilities interact with fights and engagements, a blanket buff for some guns can be buffs for the playstyle of certain characters over others. A movement speed buff with the Op, for example, would make it more viable in the hands of all characters, but not as much more viable in Jett’s hands, because her movement abilities would make less of a difference relative to the new buffed movement speed. Conversely in R6, a change for a certain gun much more directly affects the characters that use that gun alone.
On the other hand, balance changes to character abilities can also affect certain guns, like for example if hypothetically Brimstone smokes got hollow insides like Omen smokes, he would naturally be better with shotguns than he was previously. Instead of being a blanket sweeping change, with changes like these, the devs can focus only on specific interactions. This is how focusing only on characters and abilities allows them to play it much safer with the state of the game, and they don’t have to worry about the delicate balance which they have already crafted with weapons.
Images via Riot Games | Valve