February 2022 Balance Update – Follow-up

Warm greetings from the Empires & Puzzles team!

We are here to provide additional context around our latest balance update, the effects of which we have been closely monitoring since it went live; hopefully the information here will make it clear why those tweaks were needed. We haven’t been ignoring your concerns — it’s just that we had to first wait for enough new data to check whether the changes hit the mark.

Just how dominant was the Winter Family?

The situation was serious, particularly at higher tiers of play: At the time of the balance update, the top four Heroes used on Defense Teams belonged to the Winter Family. It was clear that they were taking over the meta to an unhealthy extent, both in terms of win rates and usage rates. We do encourage players to take advantage of Family Bonuses — that’s why the mechanic exists! — but it was becoming obvious that this one was overtuned.

One specific Defense Team setup becoming so prevalent simply does not make for an enjoyable experience for anyone; battles start feeling repetitive, Heroes that don’t match up well against them lose value, and there’s no incentive to experiment with new compositions in hopes of discovering a better setup. Action was needed for the health of the game.

We believe most players will agree that Empires & Puzzles is at its best when there’s a good deal of variety in the teams you face, and a lot of viable strategies to try out against them. This is why we place such a high value on maintaining healthy levels of Hero diversity. It’s not the first time we’ve made our priorities clear — seasoned players may remember our old Raid Indices and our Spring 2021 AMA.

Well, you got the solution wrong. C-Krampus wasn’t the problem, [this Hero] was!

Contrary to such observations, our data indicated beyond any doubt that Costume Krampus was a singular outlier. He was performing far better than not only his non-costumed self, but also all of his Winter Family peers AND other similar tanks (such as Black Knight).

But weren’t the nerfs a bit too much? My Costume Krampus is now worthless!

While many top players have pivoted to using non-costumed Krampus following the changes, Costume Krampus has retained his own edge and remains quite competitive; for instance, the Costume still boasts the best win rate among all of the Winter Family when deployed solo. Some of his oppressive power may have been lost, but we have not “killed” Costume Krampus with the update. Data indicates he still is a great Hero to have in your roster, and far from “useless”.

Okay, but if Costume Krampus was the main problem, why also nerf the whole Family?

Costume Krampus was indeed the only Hero who was too strong even when used alone. However, compositions with three or more Winter Family Heroes were also putting up highly concerning numbers even without Costume Krampus. It was clear that the Family Bonus was another, separate problem; tweaking Costume Krampus alone would not have been sufficient.

Actually, people just didn’t know how to play against Winter Family defenses.

Our players actually did strategically adjust pretty well! We saw many players start bringing along the right “tech” Heroes that theoretically should have countered Winter Family setups well. However, our data indicated that even those “hard” counters were not effective enough against such a dizzyingly tanky defense. A balance adjustment was clearly necessary.

Why couldn’t you have solved the problem by releasing even better Heroes?

We agree that maintaining a slow drip of good new Heroes and letting the meta naturally rotate towards them is the ideal way of keeping the top end of the game fresh — it’s exactly how we go about things most of the time.

Unfortunately, this approach does not work when certain Heroes turn out to be far more powerful on Defense than they were intended to be. In such situations, blindly releasing even stronger Heroes is not a sensible solution; those new Heroes would most likely just be slotted next to the current suspects to create an even worse balance nightmare.

We try very hard not to nerf Heroes post-release, and such decisions are never made lightly. Our more seasoned players will know that we nudge the meta through buffs most of the time. Taking the Winter Family down a notch was a tough call to make, and we knew it would be unpopular, but it simply had to be done.

But what about my poor Buddy / Frosty / Rudolph caught in the blast?

With the live balance crisis continuing to spiral, we determined that the big problems (Costume Krampus, triple/quadruple Winter Family defenses) had to be addressed as swiftly as possible. Accurately accounting for the effects of the planned changes on Epic and Rare Heroes would have delayed the update by quite a bit, so we chose to focus on our priorities.

We’ve since heard much about poor Buddy, Frosty, and Rudolph, though — thank you for showing them so much love. We’ll continue to keep an eye on their performance, and if they fail to hold up well, we’ll consider fine-tuning their power levels in the future.

Couldn’t you have nipped this issue in the bud during Beta? / Didn’t Beta testers tell you that Costume Krampus was way too strong?

Actually, our internal simulation results and beta feedback were in agreement that the latest additions to the Winter Family would be sufficiently strong but not excessively so. We usually do a good job of making sure that new releases are reasonably powered. This time, we were unfortunately off the mark. We are disappointed and sorry that this happened.

For additional context, neither Costume Krampus nor triple Winter Family teams put up particularly concerning numbers when they first hit the live servers in December. It seemed that we had set their power levels correctly. Their metrics slowly kept on improving, however, and by late January it was evident that quick action would be needed. Again, this was not how we expected the meta to develop.

To be clear, no simulator or test group can nail long-term predictions 100% of the time; if that were possible, games would never need balance updates. Still, we are constantly making efforts to improve our forecasts. If you would like to help us in that endeavor, please consider signing up for the Beta Program — applications are currently open!

We hope this post answered most of your questions regarding the February 2022 Balance Update; thank you once again for your continued interest and support. As we’ve said before — while we do not always have the bandwidth to respond to all the feedback we receive, we truly do read everything and try to address valid concerns as much and as quickly as we can.

Best of luck in the battles, everyone!