Sword Combat Balancing Update

An update from Design Director Mike Chapman on sword combat changes introduced with the Festival of Giving!

Ahoy pirates! Since the launch of the game, our focus as a team has been to enrich the Sea of Thieves world and experience – adding new tools, threats, challenges and goals. It’s been great to see the game continue to delight players who have been with us since our early Technical Alphas, to newer pirates who have begun their adventures since launch. Where we choose to spend our time as a development team is under constant reflection and discussion as the game continues to grow. There are areas that have received a lot of attention and others that will become the focus as we continue to update the game.

An area where we’ve begun to spend an increasing amount of focus recently is player combat. While we’ve put a lot of focus on expanding the ship combat strategy through new damage options and new weapon types like the firebombs, we’re now beginning to spend more time focusing on sword combat and how it fits alongside the pistol, blunderbuss and Eye of Reach. While we’re keen to expand this weapon variety in the future, we also want to spend some time addressing the issues with these existing weapon options first. As a combat system that has to work against real players who of course behave in unpredictable ways, while also working against AI threats in an always-online environment, it’s especially challenging.

We want to take an incremental approach to changes, ensuring they spend a decent amount of time with our Insiders before moving into the live game. This is especially important with a continually updated game like Sea of Thieves, as anything that affects a player’s muscle memory and how they’ve learnt to play will directly affect the enjoyment of the game until the changes become second nature again.

While we are trying out and experimenting with some larger changes to combat behind the scenes, there are some incremental changes that we’re making in the December release. These all have the goal of removing potential ways in which the system can be exploited, while also creating a better interplay between an attacker and defender.

Firstly, I want to explain how we see ‘exploits’ in the combat system and what we mean by that term. Seeing players master a set of mechanics and use their own ingenuity to best an opponent is the intention. However, finding what is essentially a flaw in the originally implemented system and using that as an advantage in combat is something we would determine to be an exploit.

While it’s easy to appreciate the creativity in how players use these flaws, it was not the intention of the original design and leads to undesirable ‘meta’ ways of play that makes the skill ceiling more about your knowledge of circumventing the game’s systems rather than pure mastery of the mechanics available. Some of these exploits we may choose to live with, whereas others we’ll choose to fix for the wider integrity of the game experience.

Here’s the set of sword combat changes that will be in December’s release:

  • Sword Wield Timing
    • On wielding a sword, the player now has a brief delay before being able to strike. Thematically presented as the player drawing their sword, these revised animations have been added to better identify when the sword has reached its idle state, allowing a player to perform a strike. This change has been made in order to prevent players from using a ‘stow/un-stow’ technique to attack other players more quickly than intended.
  • Sword Miss Cooldown
    • After review we have also decided to remove the missed swing cooldown penalty when missing a strike on a rival player or skeleton. The original goal here was to discourage sword spamming and to provide a disadvantage when making a tactical error, but on reflection it’s clear that this just caused frustration when being artificially delayed during combat due to a miss.
  • Removal of Player Stun from Sword Strikes
    • When engaging in sword combat, getting struck by an attacker no longer stuns the defender in place, unable to move.
  • Removal of Player Stun from Sword Blocking
    • The main focus of this and the player stun change is on providing more defensive opportunities. Getting struck by an attacker and successfully defending no longer stuns the defender in place, unable to move. The defending player should now also be able to dodge while defending attacks to gain a tactical advantage.
    • Attacking players retain a first-hit advantage and the ability to combo into attacks before separating.

While the above changes will be going live in the Festival of Giving update, we’ll be keeping a close eye on feedback, as always. As we continue to prototype more extensive changes at Rare, we’ll look to continue making incremental changes where we can and assess feedback before continuing.

Thanks, and see you on the seas!