Bioware Developer Forum Posts
- Category: Developer Forum Posts
- Published: Friday, April 1st, 2022
I wanted to chat about the history of Bolster, how its evolved over the years into what is now known as our new Level Sync system, and how weve been tuning and adjusting Level Sync based on your feedback. One note on terminology: Im going to refer to Bolster as the pre-7.0 technology and Level Sync as the post-7.0 technology. Weve used several terms interchangeably over the years, but for the purposes of this post Im referring to the technology difference between the two.
In the 4.0 release, we introduced the concept of Bolster throughout the wider game. It was previously launched to specifically address PvP Warzone balance in order to help undergeared players, but the 4.0 release brought the feature to PvE content. When your character visited a planet they had completed the story on, we shifted the character level down to a range we expected players to be in for that planet. Bolster enabled the game to give better and more relevant rewards for high level players going back to older content. We could finally reward max level characters with useful items or currency, whereas previously they would receive rewards far below their actual level.
The reverse was also true: we could Bolster players upwards in order to give more content options to lower level players. This mostly occurred in PvP Warzones in order to keep the queues more active and provide a better Warzone experience for those players in the lower levels.
Unfortunately, this implementation of Bolster brought a host of problems with it. To peel back the curtain a bit, that system relied on applying an ability on the player, and that ability would dictate the level and stat scaling to apply to the player. All of this data was defined by hand in tables, with specific stats defined per planet or per difficulty level per piece of content. Not only was this difficult to maintain and update, but it introduced a host of bugs and undesirable problems that we worked hard over the years to address. Sometimes lower level mods would actually provide better stats in PvP, for example. Or the Bolster ability would fail to apply in Operations or Flashpoints leaving one or more players over leveled for the content, and introducing exploits that allowed players to reliably force the bug and easily complete content balanced for several levels below their own.
This implementation also limited the ideas we had for the future of repeatable content, so for 7.0 we invested in modernizing our Bolster system, and effectively removed it and replaced it with the current Level Sync system.
Level Sync works from a new codebase that is more predictable and less prone to exploitative behavior. Designers can effectively enter item rating ranges per planet/piece of content, and the NPCs in that content are using the same scaling and stat ranges, making the balance relationship more predictable. This was a large change, so it required lots of per-content testing and iteration. We made this change last fall and it went through several PTS iterations. We were able to address lots of balance feedback back then and continue to do so to this day across the game in order to get the system feeling better with each iteration.
With this new system came a few side effects that removed some of the quirks of the older Bolster system. One oddity we solved was the way primary stats were scaled in the old Bolster system, especially when leveled down. They were far from accurate, and the system merely capped stats, so everyone over the defined thresholds had identical stats. With the Level Sync system, primary stats are actually scaled downwards according to how much of each stat characters have equipped. So if you have a high Mastery build, you should see more Mastery than another player who is running a high Endurance build in the same scaled content.
One side effect of the new system is all stats are scaled down when Level Synced. Under the Bolster system, tertiary stats such as Accuracy, Critical Rating, and Alacrity were never scaled. This had both advantages and disadvantages to how players would experience content. The plus side is Accuracy and Alacrity thresholds that players had taken care to optimize would be maintained when playing lower level content. But stats like Crit not scaling made older content more trivial than intended, which set the wrong expectation for game balance when facing other players in other modes such as PvP, or NPCs in Operations, and Master Mode Flashpoints.
We intend to update the new system to maintain Accuracy and Alacrity thresholds when scaled up or down in a future update. This would be very similar to how the old system worked for Accuracy and Alacrity specifically.
Another side effect involves Relics. These typically provide extra stats when they are activated or trigger on their own. As all stats now scale in Level Synced content, there currently isnt a method to scale the extra stats provided by Relics, so they currently provide no stat bonuses when activated or triggered while Level Synced. Weve been working on resolving this problem and intend to address it in a future update.
There is similar behavior with Augments and Color Crystals. We identified some issues both internally and thanks to your feedback on the PTS servers where it was possible to manipulate Augments and Color Crystals to provide huge stat bonuses outside of the bounds of the system. We have identified the root cause of these bugs, and have been working on solutions to both, to be introduced in future updates.
Finally, weve had a couple of issues prevalent in PvP modes that weve identified and fixed incrementally over several updates.
PvP Warzones and Arenas in 7.0 introduced a valid item rating range in level 80 matches. The Level Sync system was intended to allow players with gear from 318 through 326 to compete and upgrade their gear, while synching down players with higher gear (such as 330 gear) to the ceiling of 326. The system was also intended to reduce the stats and effectiveness for equipped gear below the 318 minimum threshold, such as 306 gear.
Once 7.0 launched, players noticed they were not less effective wearing 306 gear in level 80 Warzones and Arenas, and in fact in some cases their equipped stats were the same or better than 326 gear. We found the root cause of this bug and resolved this odd behavior in the 7.0.1 patch.
We have also determined the root cause of a bug that was causing item ratings in Level Synced content to be inaccurately computed. This didnt result in major stat changes, but was the cause of some stats appearing to be worse after the 7.0.1 update in content that was Level Synced, and also that players with better than 326 gear in Warzones and Arenas had a slight stat advantage. We have a fix to this bug coming in the 7.0.2 update.
One last thing I wanted to address is companions, and their effectiveness in combat. The root cause for companions suddenly becoming worse tanks or not drawing aggro or dealing damage as expected was a bug in how their base stats were applied when loading into a planet or area. This caused some of their stats to be missing or inaccurate, which made things like their taunt ability or area of effect damage abilities miss their target NPC every time. The fix for the companion issue is also coming in the 7.0.2 update.
An additional note on companions and their effectiveness: the Presence base stat does scale in Level Synced content to reflect the amount of base Presence a player would expect to have in that level range. This would apply to Presence earned through character level-up and from equipment. However, the system does not scale any bonus Presence earned from raising the influence levels of companions, so companions with high influence levels will always be more effective across all content where companions can be used.
All of the fixes described above for the 7.0.2 update can be currently seen on the PTS, and we continue to keep an eye on your reports and experiences both in the live game and the PTS server. We made over 100 balance tweaks and adjustments to existing content thanks to your feedback in the 7.0 PTS cycles, and continue to address any areas as they are reported by players, our internal testing, and our own playthroughs of the game.
Hopefully this post sheds a bit of light on some of the issues and resolutions with Level Sync in the game. Were still very excited about the content possibilities unlocked by modernizing this huge and fundamental system of the game.