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Black Survival’s Magnus rework was a bad idea

Black Survival developer Archbears recently redesigned Magnus, apparently in an effort to make him more interesting. The battle royale’s resident sexist beef-monster had a very stable and predictable kit. His Tough Body passive granted flat damage resistance against higher level players. His 1vs17 active ability worked a lot like a stronger Banana Leaf Fan: heavy skill damage attack that hits everyone else in the area. Nothing too flashy here, just two safe and reliable abilities.

The rework changed all that. Magnus now has a dynamic area blast similar to Hyejin; it hits really hard if it catches multiple opponents, but it can also miss completely. Tough Body is now a stacking armor buff, and its effects can be tracked which I suppose makes them feel more real. Both abilities get stronger if Magnus manages to engage against groups of enemies often.

This is cool, but it comes at the price of losing all of the reliability of Magnus’ original kit. He is gamble to play after the rework, rewarding lucky engagements in the early game, and falling behind otherwise.

Black Survival Magnus rework

The problem with the rework lies the reasoning behind it. Magnus was a very unpopular pick, but far from an under-performer. Clearly the intent was not to improve game balance, but to make him more fun and interesting to play. And that’s not usually a good reason for a sweeping redesign.

A character does not need to be exciting and cool if it’s one of the few stable options in a game already packed with exciting, cool characters. The reality is, Magnus is now another snowball character and Black Survival has no shortage of those.

What changed?

Magnus went from a balanced and versatile character with built-in catch-up mechanics, all the way to someone who is penalized for not playing aggressively enough and snowballing.

The way 1vs17 scales with how many enemies it hits is, for lack of a better word, annoying. If you get lucky and clap half the lobby, then you get to use it again much sooner, either killing off players or crippling them so hard they kill each other or scramble around for food, falling behind. At that point you are so far ahead you literally don’t need bonus armor, except now you have a ton of bonus armor. This is not the healthiest design.

Worse yet, the rework introduced the unique opportunity for 1vs17 to miss entirely. Every once in a while, the ability won’t hit anyone, and it will go on full cooldown without having done damage or generated armor. If this happens a couple of times in a row, the Magnus player will be at a massive disadvantage, as they are getting zero benefits from their active and their passive.

Black Survival glass cannon
Black Survival already has a lot of high risk, glass cannon characters.

Magnus also lost some of his freedom in this rework. He is now so heavily reliant on hitting with 1vs17, that he has to constantly react to noises. His previous identity was a tanky bruiser who could do what he wanted. He could go toe to toe with stronger players, and automatically punished third-parties. Now he’s a desperate diver like HyunWoo. His playstyle went from fluid to forced.

I understand that sometimes you need glass cannon mechanics and characters because some players really respond to this type of playstyle. Black Survival players do especially, as aggressive characters like Nadine, Jackie and Leon are among the game’s top picks. But the desire to meet players’ tastes should not be the main driver behind balance changes. Those same three characters also happen to have sub-par win rates.

This is a common phenomenon in competitive gaming. Explosive, high-risk, high-reward mechanics can be very attractive psychologically, as we tend to imagine the best case scenario when we “evaluate” them. Heroes of the Storm‘s Butcher makes a good case study for this.

Heroes of the Storm butcher

A snowball hero by design, the Butcher had an overwhelmingly popular talent pick at level 1 called Abattoir. Unlike the other options at its level, Abattoir gave players neither protection nor utility; instead it promised faster and more attack damage stacks. As the Butcher is all about attack damage, most players tunnel-visioned onto that talent.

However, Abattoir consistently had the lowest win rate between the talents at its tier. Ultimately Blizzard decided to scrap it altogether, rather than work overtime to make other talents seem more cool and fun. Heroes of the Storm players were fairly unhappy with the removal, but the Butcher’s win rate naturally increased. The moral of this story? Cool is not the same as good when it comes to balance.

I don’t know exactly how the Magnus redesign will play out in the long run, but I do think it was unnecessary. If Black Survival needed another glass cannon to appeal to its players’ common tastes, that certainly didn’t need to happen at the cost of a perfectly balanced, stable character. The last two additions to the game – Eva and Rio – both have fairly bland skill sets. Archbears could have given one of them this new set of abilities instead of dumping them on Magnus.

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Asen Aleksandrov

I write about games here and at Daily Esports. Send questions/rants to asen@northernarena.ca
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