Interpretation of Weapon Balance Survey Results (part 1)

1 month ago

As promised, here's the second part of my analysis of the Weapon Balance survey results. Sorry it took so long; as it turns out, I had a lot more to say than I was expecting. I started writing this post on Thursday evening, and by Saturday afternoon it was already so long that it threw a database error when I tried to save it. As such, "part 2" has now turned into "parts 2 and 3" which will release simultaneously.

If you haven't already, I strongly recommend that you read part 1 of this series before reading parts 2 and 3 (this post and the next one). I'm going to be referencing a lot of the raw data at the bottom of part 1 as well as some of the data analysis in the middle. Most of these two blog posts are going to consist of my opinions about DRG's weapon balance in U33 and my subjective interpretation of the data gathered by the survey. I'm going to focus the content of this post on identifying what Mechanics, individual Mods, and individual Overclocks need to be balanced in Update 34, as well as the reasons why those things are currently imbalanced. Part 3 of this series will cover Mod Tiers, Overclock Groups, Weapons, and the Classes overall. I'm going to refrain from recommending balance changes in this post, and reserve those ideas for a later date. I'm not going to write about all 130-some Mods/OCs that the survey indicated were in need of balancing, but instead focus on the ones I find most interesting to analyze.

How to Identify what Needs to be Balanced

I find myself in a unique position in the DRG community -- I have both the knowledge of how weapons work "under the hood" as well as the data necessary to assess how popular a Mod/OC is and its perceived balance level. Here are the factors I consider when judging if something needs to be balanced:

  1. Personal observations and opinions: how does it feel when I use it in-game?
  2. Metrics from my DPS Calculator: does it numerically outcompete or underperform in comparison to its neighbors?
  3. Pickrates in Karl.gg loadouts: is it being picked more than 1.5 times its expected average or less than 0.5 times its expected average?
  4. The average rating given to it by the survey: does it fall outside the desired 2.7 - 3.3 range?

I'll use those as guidelines to help quickly sort out which Mods/OCs are imbalanced; the more of them that apply the more likely that it needs a balance pass.

Mechanics

Homebrew Powder (and RNG in general)

I've always been fascinated with Homebrew Powder in DRG. It's an option that can be equipped that multiplies both Direct and Area damage of every shot by a random value between x0.8 and x1.4. Every multiplier has an equal probability to roll, so on average it will be a 10% damage boost as the number of shots approaches infinity, and every shot has 2 to 1 odds in the player's favor of being multiplied by at least x1.0. And yet, these options are generally seen as weak by the DRG playerbase.

  Pickrate in U32 Average Balance Rating
Subata OC "Homebrew Powder" 11.63% 2.203463203
PGL T4.A "Homebrew Explosive" 20.0% 2.181818182
Revolver OC "Homebrew Powder" 0.89% 2
GK2 OC "Homebrew Powder" 7.06% 2.172727273

The way I see it, there are two main issues with Homebrew Powder:

  1. Equipping Homebrew Powder has a chance to make the weapon perform worse than if nothing was equipped in the slot
  2. Because the ammo pools are finite, some bad RNG luck can tank the performance of the weapon to be nowhere near the average 10% boost. This is most noticeable on PGL and Revolver.

Both of those reasons are tied to the fact that Homebrew Powder can have multipliers in the x0.8-x0.99 range. In general, most players want a weapon's "worst case scenario" performance to be consistent and predictable so that they can make decisions in combat knowing how much ammo or time will be required to kill the current enemies. One of the best examples is a PGL with no damage upgrades: it does 110 damage, which is barely enough to one-shot kill Glyphid Grunts at Haz4+. If Homebrew Explosive rolls a x0.97 multiplier or lower, then what is expected to be a one-shot kill either needs a second grenade or some primary ammo, takes more time to kill, and it could throw off the plans they may have had. PGL in particular has a very small ammo pool (<= 18), so having to spend an extra grenade is extremely penalizing. It's ok for a weapon to perform better than what the player expects, because then they'll have extra resources (ammo and time) to spend on the rest of the combat encounter. In my opinion, as long as Homebrew Powder is able to reduce the damage per shot in any scenario (regardless of the probability it could happen) it will never be seen as viable.

In general, RNG mechanics in video games are hard to balance. If RNG upgrades are balanced to be numerically comparable to their static upgrade counterparts, then players will prefer the static upgrades so that they get the same performance but without the gamble. If RNG upgrades are balanced to be strong enough for players to take the gamble, then they'll start outperforming their static counterparts numerically and people like me will point that out. Obviously if RNG upgrades are strictly worse than the static upgrades there's no competition. As such, I have the opinion that RNG mechanics are ok to add to a weapon's baseline (like a chance to Stun or Electrocute on each bullet), but they should be eschewed as upgrades that directly compete with static upgrades.

Some of the other RNG upgrades in DRG that I have my eye on are Subata OC "Chain Hit", Minigun OC "Bullet Hell", Autocannon OC "Neurotoxin Payload", and Revolver OC "Chain Hit". Bullet Hell and NT Payload each get their own section later in this post.

Armor Breaking

Lots of enemies in DRG have Armor: Grunts and Spitters have Light Armor which reduces incoming Direct Damage by 20% and has a chance to break every time it's damaged, Wardens and Menaces have Heavy Armor that negates all Direct Damage until broken and has a chance to break when damaged, and Praetorians, Shellbacks, and Brundles all have Heavy Armor that negates all Direct Damage until broken and every armor plate has its own healthbar that needs to be depleted before it breaks. Armor Breaking mods ("AB") dramatically increase the probability that damage will break Light Armor or Warden-style Heavy Armor and reduces the number of shots necessary to deplete the healthbar of Praetorian-style Heavy Armor. Additionally, ever since Update 32 fixed it, Direct Damage that breaks any armor plate will have its full damage passed through; it doesn't get reduced by Light Armor's -20% or negated by Heavy Armor any more. So, if AB mods do so much, why are they generally perceived to be weak mods?

  Pickrate in U32 Average Balance Rating
Shotgun T4.A "Tungsten Coated Buckshot" 9.82% 2.666666667
PGL T3.B "Pressure Wave" 80.83% 3.135371179
Breach Cutter T4.A "Armor Breaking" 32.94% 3.080717489
Minigun T3.A "Hardened Rounds" 23.81% 2.862222222
Autocannon T4.A "Hardened Rounds" 47.96% 2.976525822
BRT T4.A "Hardened Rounds" 9.41% 2.328358209
GK2 T4.B "Hardened Rounds" 9.89% 2.538116592
M1000 T4.C "Hardened Rounds" 16.67% 2.23255814
Boomstick T4.B "Tungsten Coated Buckshot" 12.15% 2.562790698

When looking at that table, something stands out to my eye: AB mods are seen as balanced on PGL, Breach Cutter, and Autocannon, but are seen as weak and have bad pickrates on the other six weapons. PGL AB mod has a great pickrate, Autocannon's AB mod has a balanced pickrate, and Breach Cutter's AB mod competes against the 3 second stun (more on that later). In my opinion, AB mods are seen as weak on the other weapons because they compete against mods in the same tier that give either max damage or DPS boosts. Shotgun has +1 Damage per Pellet, Minigun has +1 Penetration, BRT has +72 Max Ammo and +40% Weakpoint Bonus, GK2 has +20% Weakpoint Bonus and +2 Rate of Fire, M1000 has +3 penetrations and +25% Weakpoint bonus, and Boomstick has +3 Penetrations and +20 Blastwave Damage.

Fundamentally, AB mods are designed to mitigate damage lost whereas the competing mods on those six weapons all increase total damage or DPS. There's an upper limit to how effective the current design of AB mods can be; they can never reduce damage lost below 0%. On the other hand, their competing mods have a lower limit of how much damage or DPS they give which then gets multiplied by other mods and Overclocks that get equipped. In my opinion, there's no good way that an AB mod can ever directly compete with a mod that gives damage or DPS. I have a few ideas about how this dilemma could be resolved, but as I said at the start I'm going to focus this blog post on identifying what the issues are and hold back on suggesting changes. There's a strong possiblity that the Armor Breaking mechanic may get its own blog post in the future...

Accuracy vs Damage

In first-person shooter video games, there's a trope of balancing weapons along a spectrum of "high accuracy, low max damage" to "low accuracy, high max damage". In DRG's case, you can think of it like Scout's M1000 on one end and Gunner's Autocannon on the other. In general, most weapons in DRG fall into the middle part of the spectrum with medium-high accuracy and medium max damage. Because of that, GSG is able to add upgrades of both types (accuracy and damage) and place them in competition with each other so that players can make each weapon feel better for their preferences. But across the board, accuracy mods are generally seen as weaker than damage mods, and Overclocks designed to have damage boosts offset by an accuracy penalty are generally seen as much stronger than ones that provide accuracy boosts at the cost of a damage penalty.

Subata Tier 3
  • "Improved Propellant"
  • +1 Direct Damage
  • 31.87% pickrate
  • 2.668122271 rating
  • "Recoil Compensator"
  • -20% Spread per Shot, x0.5 Recoil
  • 23.08% pickrate
  • 2.728448276 rating
  • "Expanded Ammo Bags"
  • +40 Max Ammo
  • 45.05% pickrate
  • 3.103896104 rating
Shotgun Tier 2
  • "Expanded Ammo Bags"
  • +40 Max Ammo
  • 30.28% pickrate
  • 3.255230126 rating
  • "Loaded Shells"
  • +2 Pellets per Shot
  • 58.72% pickrate
  • 3.302521008 rating
  • "Choke"
  • x0.5 Base Spread
  • 11.01% pickrate
  • 2.663865546 rating
Revolver Tier 2
  • "Increased Caliber Rounds"
  • +15 Direct Damage
  • 48.15% pickrate
  • 3.232876712 rating
  • "Floating Barrel"
  • -80% Spread per Shot, x0.75 Recoil
  • 11.11% pickrate
  • 2.706422018 rating
  • "Expanded Ammo Bags"
  • +12 Max Ammo
  • 40.74% pickrate
  • 3.22972973 rating

These three mod tiers are the best examples of this effect in action, so I chose them to be representatives of the issue. However, this kind of pickrate and rating disparity is seen almost everywhere that accuracy competes with damage. For example, here's a list of Overclocks that have accuracy and damage tradeoffs in various forms:

  Effects Pickrate in U32 Average Balance Rating
Shotgun OC "Magnetic Pellet Alignment"
  • x0.5 Base Spread
  • +30% Weakpoint Bonus
  • x0.75 Rate of Fire
23.81% 3.256097561
Shotgun OC "Cycle Overload"
  • +1 Damage per Pellet
  • +2 Rate of Fire
  • +0.5 Reload Time
  • x1.5 Base Spread
21% 2.864978903
SMG OC "Super-Slim Rounds"
  • +5 Magazine Size
  • x0.8 Base Spread
9.57% 2.628440367
SMG OC "EM Refire Booster"
  • +2 Direct Damage (Electric element)
  • +4 Rate of Fire
  • x1.5 Base Spread
50% 3.328888889
Minigun OC "Exhaust Vectoring"
  • +2 Direct Damage
  • x2.5 Base Spread
11.21% 2.769585253
Revolver OC "Six Shooter"
  • +2 Magazine Size
  • +8 Max Ammo
  • +4 Rate of Fire
  • x1.5 Base Spread
  • +0.5 Reload Time
39.29% 3.402654867
Revolver OC "Elephant Rounds"
  • x2 Direct Damage
  • x0.5 Base Spread
  • -1 Magazine Size
  • -13 Max Ammo
  • +0.5 Reload Time
  • +71% Spread per Shot
  • x1.5 Max Bloom
  • x1.5 Recoil
  • +3.5 Mass
20.54% 3.147826087
BRT OC "Micro Flechettes"
  • +30 Magazine Size
  • x2 Max Ammo
  • x0.5 Spread per Shot
  • x0.5 Recoil
  • x0.5 Direct Damage
5.88% 2.261904762
BRT OC "Lead Spray"
  • x1.5 Direct Damage
  • x4 Base Spread
27.06% 3.141509434
GK2 OC "AI Stability Engine"
  • +40% Weakpoint Bonus
  • x2.11 Spread Recovery Speed
  • -2 Direct Damage
  • -2 Rate of Fire
23.53% 3.275555556
Boomstick OC "Shaped Shells"
  • -35% Base Spread
  • -2 Pellets per Shot
2.08% 2.050925926
Zhukovs OC "Gas Recycling"
  • +5 Direct Damage
  • x1.5 Base Spread
  • -50% movespeed while firing
  • No longer benefits from Weakpoint multipliers
9.09% 2.325123153

From my perspective, it seems like players value damage boosts over accuracy boosts for one major reason: it's easy to get closer to what you're trying to shoot. Enemies in DRG generally rush at the players, trying to kill them. The only exceptions are Web Spitters, Acid Spitters, Menaces, and Wardens. The three ranged Glyphids all live along the tops of walls and the ceiling to bombard from a distance, and Wardens generally stay about midrange because they have no way to attack players directly. However, those 4 enemy types only comprise 4.6% of all the enemies spawned in missions -- you'll likely see 10 Grunts for every 1 of those long-range enemies. Beyond the fact that 95.4% of the enemies are trying to get closer to you to kill you, they don't bother seeking cover or using terrain to their advantage, so you don't need to be exremely precise with where your bullets fly. Even when you're getting swarmed by enemies, the vast majority of them have to be in melee range to attack you. All of these things in combination lead to the result that more damage in exchange for less accuracy is generally a good tradeoff. When enemies are close to you, not only do you need accuracy less but you also need DPS more. I think the only enemies in the game right now that force players to keep their distance are Bulk Detonators and the Dreadnought minibosses, but even then you just need to stay at about midrange and have extremely large targets to shoot.

A smaller issue that arises with accuracy buffs is that it's rare to have to shoot something much further than 20m away, so mega-boosting accuracy has diminishing returns past a certain point. I think my record was sniping a Cave Leech 110m away on an Egg Hunt with BRT build BABCA + Full Chamber Seal, but that's the most extreme case of long-range combat I've ever encountered in 1400 hours.

Individual Mods

Flamethrower T3.B "Sticky Flame Slowdown"

  • Pickrate: 42.4%
  • Rating: 3.557377049

This mod increases the movespeed slow of Sticky Flames from 10% to 55% by multiplying the x0.9 movespeed times x0.5 for a total x0.45 movespeed debuff for enemies in contact with Sticky Flames. This effect has a powerful synergy with the rest of the Flamethrower's kit: it holds the enemies in contact with the Sticky Flames longer which makes them take more damage from them, keeps enemies further away from Driller, helps prolong the duration of the Burn DoT, and makes them easy to clean up with area damage from the Flamethrower's direct stream, his C4, EPC charged shots, HE Grenades, or even other teammates. This one mod single-handedly defines the "Sticky Flame" style of builds for the Flamethrower, and is a good mod to pick up even if you're making a DPS build for flamethrower. I think most of its value comes from increasing a negligible slow (-10%) into a powerful slow (-55%), which makes everything about the weapon better. Its competition on T3.C "More Fuel" is pretty solid, but T3.A "Oversized Valves" is a weaker mod.

Flamethrower T4.A "It Burns!"

  • Pickrate: 21.43%
  • Rating: 2.258474576

Despite what it says in-game, this mod actually applies a 13% Base Fear Chance to every ammo consumed by the Flamethrower. On paper that sounds great -- 13% chance to make enemies run away with 6 chances per second or better. However, in practice it feels much weaker because a lot of enemies have Fear Resistance. Grunts, Slashers, Guards, and Praetorians all have 50%, which means that this mod is only 6.5% Fear Chance per ammo. If you've ever tried to make a Grunt run away with this mod, then you know the Grunt usually dies before it has Fear inflicted. I've found this mod helpful vs Guards and Praetorians because they have a lot of effective health vs the Flamethrower, but there's no denying that it needs a buff.

EPC T5.A "Flying Nightmare"

  • Pickrate: 5.26%
  • Rating: 2.082926829

Flying Nightmare changes the Charged Shots of the EPC to no longer explode upon impacting enemies, and instead pass right through them. As a result, it can no longer do the Area Damage portion of the Charged Shot. Under the hood this also changes some of the damage flags so that this behaves like the Flamethrower or Cryo Cannon, where it ignores Armor, Weakpoints, and the Frozen status effect for its damage. On top of all that, there's also a x0.55 AoE radius penalty and a x0.8 Charge Speed penalty attached to this mod. There's also the niche case where OC "Persistent Plasma" will only activate when Flying Nightmare impacts terrain, which is quite often nowhere near the enemies you're trying to shoot.

All in all, this is a pretty weak mod in a vacuum. Unless paired with OC "Overcharger", Flying Nightmare is only able to do a maximum of 90 damage which is less than what's needed to one-shot kill a Grunt at Haz4+. The design is interesting and worth keeping in my opinion, but I think a lot of number changes are going to be needed across the EPC in order for Flying Nightmare to be viable.

EPC T5.B "Thin Containment Field"

  • Pickrate: 72.37%
  • Rating: 4.083333333

Thin Containment Field ("TCF") is probably the most divisive upgrade in DRG as of Update 33. From what I've seen and heard, there seem to be two major camps: some people think that it's well-balanced and is the proper reward for taking the time to practice and learn how to use TCF effectively, and others think that it's overtuned and does too much by providing large bursts of damage as well as terrain carving. Even in the survey itself, 6 people rated it "1", 6 others rated it as "2", 55 voted for "3", 46 voted "4", and 103 rated TCF as a "5".

Personally, I fall into the second camp. In my opinion, TCF is currently too strong. It boasts 240 Area Damage with no damage falloff and terrain carving in a 3m radius in exchange for one more ammo cost (the Regular Shot used to detonate the Charged Shot). In addition, Regular Shots only generate 80% as much Heat, and Charged Shots have their heat reduced from 100% of the Heat Meter to only 25%. A skilled Driller is able to chain multiple TCF detonations in a row during combat without overheating the EPC, which lets them do significantly more damage while also ignoring the intended cooldowns between Charged Shots. As if that wasn't enough, the Heat reductions from TCF make this the best mod at the tier for regular Charged Shot builds as well as Regular Shot builds, because that 80% Heat per Regular Shot functionally extends the "magazine size" when shooting Regular Shots.

Then, after considering all that TCF does in comparison to just the EPC, consider Engineer's PGL: it's balanced to do around 100-150 Area Damage per grenade and has an ammo pool of between 9-15 for most builds. Without any ammo upgrades or Charged Shot ammo cost reductions, TCF's 240 damage can be done 13 times. With ammo upgrades and cost reductions, it's possible to use TCF up to 33 times!

Next up: the terrain carving. A Satchel Charge without the T4.C upgrade carves in a 6.2m diameter and has 2-4 uses. TCF carves in a 6m diameter at range and has 13-33 uses. On top of that, by letting Driller mine eggs and mineral veins from high up on walls or in the ceiling, he effectively removes the need for Engineers to place platforms that Scouts can grapple up to. This issue in particular is divisive -- some people see that as a good thing, because it lets people play more combinations of classes on teams and teams are less reliant on Engie/Scout combos at the core to sustain the economy during a mission. Others see that removal as just another strike against needing Scout as a class in the game, with low max damage weapons, moderate DPS, a Grappling Hook that only he benefits from, and a Flare Gun that becomes convenient more than required with experienced players. Truth be told I'm kind of in the middle of these two positions. I don't think that one upgrade Driller should negate a major reason that Scouts provide value to a team, but I also recognize the value in not forcing teams to run Engie/Scout and letting Scout players do something other than mine all mission.

I'm not sure what the right course of action is regarding TCF. I think it for sure deserves some numerical nerfs, either in the form of reduced radius or increased ammo cost, but I'm worried about what divisions would be created within the community if TCF does get nerfed. At the very least Flying Nightmare has to be buffed enough to be a viable competitor at Tier 5, and Plasma Burn may need a small buff too.

PGL T2.C "High Velocity Grenades"

  • Pickrate: 5.17%
  • Rating: 2.135371179

A much easier mod to discuss than TCF, this raises the projectile velocity of PGL's grenades from 30 m/sec to 84 m/sec (+180%). This is strictly a "Quality of Life" (QoL) mod that competes against a precious +3 ammo or +20 Area Damage. It seems that players will always choose more damage over any other kind of upgrade, whether it's Armor Breaking, Accuracy, or QoL.

Breach Cutter T4.B "Disruptive Frequency Tuning"

  • Pickrate: 67.06%
  • Rating: 3.14479638

This is one of the more interesting imbalances in the Breach Cutter. The effect itself (100% chance to stun for 3 seconds) is fine overall, only moderately increases the damage dealt to enemies by holding them still, and the survey indicates that it's perceived to be decently balanced. However, it dominates in pickrate at Tier 4 almost by a factor of two! I think it boils down to the fact that Breach Cutter already ignores Armor, so there's not as much value in Armor Breaking if a shot or two from BC will already kill most enemies. So, strong crowd control that provides a small damage boost flat-out outcompetes Armor Breaking on a weapon that ignors Armor anyway.

Breach Cutter T5.A "Explosive Goodbye"

  • Pickrate: 4.71%
  • Rating: 2.009009009

After firing a line and a 0.4 second delay, the player can press the fire button again to manually detonate the line to do 40 Explosive element Area Damage in a 3m radius and leave behind a 3m radius sphere of Persistent Plasma that does 20 Fire DPS for 4.6 seconds. If the player doesn't detonate it manually, the line explodes at the end of its lifetime. That sounds like it does a lot of stuff, but it's still perceived to be very weak and rarely picked at all. I think there are a few reasons for that:

  1. 40 damage isn't very much of a burst in comparison to leaving the line alive for its full lifetime. If the line hits even just one more target, it will already do 50 Fire element Area Damage upon impact and then 11.5+ Damage per Tick at 50 ticks/sec for as long as it's in contact with its hitbox. So, the burst of damage you get for detonating the line early is already surpassed by just letting the line stay alive and hit another target.
  2. By tying Explosive Goodbye into the Breach Cutter's trigger to let the player manually detonate the line, it artificially lowers the Rate of Fire of the Breach Cutter even lower than its baseline 1.5. Now if the player wants to fire a second line in quick succession, they have to pull the trigger twice: once to detonate the first line, and the second time to fire the next line. If the player lets the line go for its full duration then picking up T1.A's lifetime duration boost reduces the RoF even further.
  3. The Persistent Plasma field left behind by Explosive Goodbye is arguably worse than the Persistent Plasma field left behind by T5.B Plasma Trail. Because it's a 3m radius sphere, at best it will only occupy a circle on the ground of maximum area 28.27 square meters. In contrast, Plasma Trail leaves behind a rectangle that covers [projectile width times projectile velocity times projectile lifetime] square meters, which ranges from 22.5 to 90 depending on whether or not you pick up the lifetime at T1.A and width at T2.C. Both Persistent Plasma fields do the same DPS and have the same duration, but Plasma Trail is consistent, doesn't artificially reduce the RoF, and synergizes with the lifetime mod instead of conflicting with it like Explosive Goodbye does.

Minigun T4.C "Magnetic Bearings"

  • Pickrate: 4.46%
  • Rating: 2.425438596

Magnetic Bearings suffers from a design flaw, in my opinion. For reference: after the player lets go of the trigger, the Minigun's barrels start decreasing from Max RoF down to stationary across 3 seconds. If the player resumes firing before those 3 seconds of "spindown" have finished, then they don't need to wait for the full 0.7 seconds to "spin up" to max RoF. Instead, the time required to reach Max RoF is inversely proportional to how the current level of spindown. What Magnetic Bearings does is increase the spindown time from 3 seconds to 6. That's it. It doesn't affect how long the Minigun maintains its Accuracy, it doesn't have any hidden effect; it just changes that number from 3 to 6. But, it's in direct competition with T4.B which reduces the Spinup Time from 0.7 seconds to 0.4, which gives about the same amount of benefit as if you equip Magnetic Bearings and let it spin down half way at the 3 second mark and then spin back up. Magnetic Bearings is directly outcompeted by Lighter Barrel Assembly in the same tier, but its benefit only happens after the player stops firing as opposed to LBA which applies both before they start firing as well as after.

Minigun T5.A "Aggressive Venting"

  • Pickrate: 4.35%
  • Rating: 1.792951542

The effect that this mod gives is extremely strong -- 60 Heat and 1000% Base Fear Chance in a 10m radius around the player when the Minigun overheats. That 60 Heat is enough to ignite the vast majority of enemies in the game and make them take a long Burn DoT, and that Fear is strong enough to guarantee that every enemy hit flees in terrror unless they're Fear-immune like Oppressors, Bulk Detonators, and Dreadnoughts. So why is this mod seen in such a poor light? My answer: it doesn't matter how strong of an effect this mod gives, you still have to overheat the Minigun and be without your primary weapon for 10 seconds. Increasing the Cooling Rate via T1.A "Magnetic Refrigeration" or OC "Thinned Drum Walls" only affects how fast it cools down when it doesn't overheat. Right now an overheat always takes 10 seconds to resolve, and there's nothing the player can do but switch to their secondary weapon, kite enemies, and throw down a shield. Almost every player values 10 seconds of their primary weapon over a burst of Heat and Fear which makes enemies run away for about 2 seconds, and that is shown both by its extremely low pickrate and abysmal balance rating (ranked 3rd lowest of 302 Mods/OCs)

Minigun T5.B "Cold as the Grave"

  • Pickrate: 58.26%
  • Rating: 3.729613734

For such a simple effect, this mod is almost as defining for Minigun builds as Sticky Flame Slowdown is for Flamethrower builds. The Minigun's Heat Meter maxes out at 9.5, and the Minigun gains 1 Heat per second of sustained firing (unless OC "Burning Hell" is equipped, which raises it to 1.5 Heat/sec). Functionally this means that the Minigun can fired for 9.5 seconds before overheating, regardless of its Rate of Fire (or 6.33 seconds in Burning Hell's case). Cold as the Grave subtracts 0.8 Heat from the current Heat Meter every time the Minigun scores the killing blow on an enemy, no matter if it's a tiny enemy like Shockers or Swarmers or a massive enemy like a Bulk Detonator. Functionally, as long as the Minigun is scoring killing blows in less than 0.8 seconds, it can fire until it runs out of ammo without overheating. (This firing period extension is effectively changed from 0.8 seconds to 0.533 for Burning Hell). Because Cold as the Grave is the only mod or overclock that's able to extend the Minigun's firing period, it intrinsically has an extremely high value. Not only that, but because this effect happens any time an enemy is killed, its value scales with all DPS boosts and upgrades that let Minigun hit more enemies (like T3.C Blowthrough Rounds, OC Burning Hell, or OC Bullet Hell).

To top it all off, not only is this mod strong and high-value, it also has weak competition in Tier 5. Aggressive Venting is discussed in the section above this one, and Hot Bullets only takes effect when the Heat Meter is red (approximately 3.18 seconds into the 9.5 second firing period, or 2.12 for Burning Hell). Hot Bullets is able to ignite enemies rather quickly once it activates, but that 3 second delay is long enough to kill most targets before Hot Bullets starts lighting them on fire. Even after the 3 second delay and after Hot Bullets finally ignites enemies, it only adds about 13.33 Fire DPS from the Burn DoT. In my opinion T5.C Hot Bullets isn't strong enough competition for Cold as the Grave.

Autocannon T2.C "Lighter Barrel Assembly"

  • Pickrate: 58.16%
  • Rating: 3.212962963

Another anomaly -- mathematically this mod only provides minimal increases to Burst DPS and Sustained DPS, but it still has an extremely high pickrate. It's quite obvious why the the community values this mod -- by adding +1 to the Starting RoF and doubling the scaling rate from 0.3 to 0.6 in the e^x equation that governs how Autocannon's RoF Rampup works, this mod can decrease Rampup time by 66.8% to 100% depending on the build, averaging around 78.67%. Because players don't want to wait 2-3 seconds to reach Max RoF and potentially activate the Tier 5 effects, this mod is highly valued. It also allows players to emulate Minigun's kite-and-shoot bunnyhopping playstyle by reducing the RoF rampup time so drastically. I think that the design and numbers of this mod are fine, but the reason why this is so popular (some people even consider this a "mustpick") is tied to the Autocannon's long RoF rampup time that gets reset every time you stop firing to kite enemies. If Autocannon was somehow allowed to retain its RoF rampup like Minigun retains its barrel spinup time, I think the pickrate of this mod would decrease to a balanced rate because people would still be able to bunnyhop to kite enemies at high hazard levels.

Autocannon T5.C "Damage Resistance at Full RoF"

  • Pickrate: 2.04%
  • Rating: 2.339366516

On paper, 33% less damage taken is a strong effect, but in practice it's perceived as very weak. It has the same activation requirement as T5.A "Feedback Loop", and similarly has very strong synergy with T2.C "Lighter Barrel Assembly". There are two major reasons why I think this mod falls by the wayside:

  1. Players prefer to take more damage over everything else, as already discussed in Armor Breaking, Accuracy, and PGL's T2.C "High Velocity Grenades". As such Feedback Loop will always be preferred at this tier.
  2. Taking 33% less damage requires the player to take damage. If players are playing well and kiting enemies effectively, taking damage should be a somewhat rare occurrence. As such, the better a player performs, the less value this mod will give them. That's literally the opposite of what players want; everyone wants to be rewarded for playing well instead of "unequipping" their Tier 5 mod.

Revolver T2.B "Floating Barrel"

  • Pickrate: 11.11%
  • Rating: 2.706422018

At first glance, this seems like another generic accuracy mod: -80% Spread per Shot and x0.75 Recoil. But, look at how Revolver's accuracy works under the hood:

  • Base Spread: 1.5
  • Spread per Shot: 7
  • Spread Recovery Speed: 6
  • Max Bloom: 8

That -80% SpS boost reduces it from 7 to 1.4. Using the SRS of 6, it's pretty easy to calculate that it takes 0.233 seconds to recover that Spread. At a default RoF of 2, there's a minimum of 0.5 seconds between shots. Floating Barrel literally makes every shot fired use Base Spread, and removes the need to consider Max Bloom at all. In fact, you can even use this mod in combination with OC "Six Shooter", fire at a RoF of 4, and still use Base Spread for every shot. Lastly it helps offset two of Elephant Rounds' four accuracy penalties. Honestly the Recoil reduction is just icing on the cake of this mod; the SpS boost is the real value here. I would argue that this mod is even stronger than T1.B "Perfect Weight Balance" or T5.A "Dead-Eye" in terms of the accuracy boost provided.

Frankly, I'm not sure that this mod deserves such a low perceived balance rating and low pickrate. It's like a baby AI Stability Engine in some ways: making each shot use the Base Spread and ignoring the Bloom system entirely. I hope that people start experimenting with this mod and its perception improves -- I recommend starting with BBCBA + Six Shooter and going from there.

GK2 T5.B "Battle Cool"

  • Pickrate: 12.09%
  • Rating: 2.4375

Yet another accuracy mod with a low balance rating and low pickrate. Just like Revolver's T2.B "Floating Barrel", let's start with the GK2's baseline accuracy values:

  • Base Spread: 0.9
  • Spread per Shot: 1.4
  • Spread Recovery Speed: 8.1
  • Max Bloom: 4.2

Battle Cool's effect isn't listed in-game, but here's what it does: after the GK2 scores the killing blow on any enemy, its Spread Recovery Speed is increased to 100 for 1.5 seconds. For reference: AI Stability Engine only increases SRS from 8.1 to 17.1 and it's already hailed as one of the best accuracy upgrades in the game. Doing the math: even if every shot started at 4.2 Bloom, it would take 0.042 seconds for Battle Cool to reduce that all the way down to 0 Bloom (which means the next shot would only use Base Spread for its accuracy calculations). In contrast, the GK2's Rate of Fire ranges from 5-14 depending on the build, which means the interval between shots ranges from 0.0714 to 0.2 seconds. As you may have just noticed, even at max RoF (14) Battle Cool is still reducing the entire Max Bloom value before the next bullet gets fired.

Put simply: scoring a kill with Battle Cool equipped makes every bullet fired in the next 1.5 seconds be as accurate as the Base Spread. If the player is able to compensate for Recoil, this mod quite literally outcompetes AI Stability Engine with none of the associated penalties. And because the effect duration is a static 1.5 seconds, the effect of this mod scales with both Magazine Size increases as well as RoF increases, allowing you to chain kills at perfect accuracy for potentially the entire magazine.

Honestly, this is probably the strongest accuracy mod in the entire game, and I think the only reason it's perceived poorly is because the in-game description tells you nothing about how it works and it's very hard to identify what the effect is just by playing the game normally. Just like Revolver T2.B "Floating Barrel", I think this mod is in a fine state and doesn't need to be changed in U34. Give it a try using build BBCAB + Compact Ammo and see if you still think it deserves a 2.44 rating. If you can, try to make the first bullet from the magazine kill a Swarmer or Shocker, and then use the other 39 bullets to kill everything else with 100% accuracy.

Boomstick T3.A "Stun Duration"

  • Pickrate: 6.54%
  • Rating: 2.41509434

There's not much to say about this mod. Its function is face-value, increasing the Stun duration from 2.5 seconds to 5. The main reason for the imbalance is that this competes with +12 Max Ammo and +3 Pellets per Shot, both of which are damage mods. As I've already mentioned a few times, it's virtually impossible for any other type of upgrade to compete with damage mods. There's not a lot that can be changed about this mod; I bet that it could quadruple the stun duration (to 10 seconds) and it would still be picked less than the other two mods on this tier.

Boomstick T5.A "Auto Reload"

  • Pickrate: 2.26%
  • Rating: 2.22972973

Another simple issue to describe: the passive perk "Born Ready" exists. Because both Born Ready and this mod have the same 5 second delay before automatically reloading the weapon, it makes sense to equip Born Ready and either of the other two upgrades at Tier 5 as well as the other Tier 3 upgrades on the Flare Gun. Why choose one or the other when players can easily have both?

Individual Overclocks

Subata OC "Tranquilizer Rounds"

  • Pickrate: 8.14%
  • Rating: 2.252136752

Another upgrade idea that sounds great on paper, but suffers in practice. This is without a doubt the strongest stun available in the weapons: every bullet fired by the Subata has a 50% chance to stun an enemy for 6 seconds. In exchange, you lose 4 Magazine Size and 4 RoF. I can think of two reasons why this OC is perceived poorly:

  1. Subata's DPS is already low, and cutting the max RoF in half makes it even worse.
  2. Driller doesn't need a super-stun. Flamethrower has Slows and Fear, Cryo Cannon Freezes enemies, C4 can Stun for longer than 6 seconds or Fear, HE Grenades can inflict Fear, and the Neurotoxin Grenade slows. Driller already has so much Crowd Control in his kit that a 6 second stun has very little value in comparison due to diminishing returns.

EPC OC "Heat Pipe"

  • Pickrate: 38.78%
  • Rating: 3.470873786

This OC offers two things that Thin Containment Field needs to succeed: -2 ammo per Charged Shot, and x1.3 Charge Speed. In exchange, its penalty is x1.5 Heat per Regular Shot. You don't need to be an expert on DRG weapons to understand why this is a strong Overclock. The two upsides synergize well with each other and any Charged Shot build, and the penalty is functionally negligible for the playstyle encouraged by the OC. I think that this OC by itself is already strong, but it acts like a "force multiplier" to the Thin Containment Field problems highlighted above.

EPC OC "Persistent Plasma"

  • Pickrate: 2.72%
  • Rating: 2.087804878

This OC is cool from a design standpoint, but the current numbers prevent it from being useful. Whenever a Charged Shot explodes (either impacting an enemy or terrain, or just terrain in Flying Nightmare's case), it leaves behind a 3m radius sphere of Persistent Plasma that does 20 Fire DPS for 7.6 seconds. In exchange, the damage of each Charged Shot is reduced by -20 Direct and -20 Area. The way I see it, this OC takes an pre-existing balance problem for the EPC and exacerbates it: it makes Charged Shots do even less damage. In the right circumstances, Persistent Plasma can easily recoup that lost damage during its 7.6 second duration, but then it runs into something that I've come to refer to as the "DoT Dilemma". Namely, DoTs can do a lot of total damage if you let them go for their full duration, but their DPS is so low that waiting for the full duration can be lethal mistake on high difficulties. Players constantly have to balance doing high DPS to kill enemies before the enemies kill them with sometimes not shooting enemies to get value out of DoTs that are currently applied. Persistent Plasma is a fine example of this dilemma -- is losing 40 damage per Charged Shot worth the large Plasma Field left behind? According to pickrates and its average balance rating, the current answer is "no".

Minigun OC "Bullet Hell"

  • Pickrate: 11.21%
  • Rating: 2.051724138

"Alas, poor Bullet Hell! I knew him well." This OC is one of my favorite designs in DRG right now, but its downsides heavily outweigh its benefits. Currently it provides a 50% chance for every bullet to ricochet off of terrain or enemies and hit an enemy within 5m of the bounce location. As with all ricochets, this effect can only happen once per bullet regardless of penetrations. In exchange, -3 Direct Damage and x6 Base Spread. I love the idea that this OC provides an alternative to T3.C Blowthrough Rounds to let the Minigun hit a second target, as well as the fact that the ricochets will auto-aim to kill nearby enemies like Swarmers and Shockers. Unfortunately, the damage penalty alone is enough to make anyone reluctant to use this OC -- it's -30% of the base value, and -25% if you equip T2.B. Although "50%" of the DPS is regained via ricochets onto secondary targets, the fact remains that this OC directly makes it harder for the Minigun to burn through single-target healthbars. Furthermore, that "extra 50%" is still only around the effectiveness of Clean OC "A Little More Oomph!". [7 * 1.5 = 10.5 < 11, 9 * 1.5 = 13.5 > 13]. So, the tiny damage boost provided by Oomph gets distributed between two enemies by this Overclock. Not a very good tradeoff when you can just equip Oomph and T3.C Blowthrough Rounds and have the same number of targets take identical DPS (functionally double what Bullet Hell can do). Yeah, the x6 Base Spread penalty is pretty rough too, but that's not really the problem with this OC. T1.C negates that effect pretty well, bringing it down to x1.2 of default Base Spread.

I've tried several times to find a build with Bullet Hell, and I have yet to find one that feels good. I want this Overclock to be great, but its current numerical values are just too low.

Autocannon OC "Carpet Bomber"

  • Pickrate: 36.56%
  • Rating: 3.704845815

Ah, Carpet Bomber. Ranked #3 according to the survey results, after TCF and CatG. This OC just takes what players value Autocannon for and makes it better at doing those things: +3 Area Damage, +0.7m AoE radius, -6 Direct Damage. Because Grunts and other low-health enemies make up such a large proportion of the enemies fought in missions (Grunts alone are 46%), Autocannon's Area Damage is able to quickly clear through swarms even without an OC equipped. Carpet Bomber then takes that concept, and increases both the damage dealt per shot as well as how many enemies are hit per shot. Additionally: Max Ammo, Area Damage, and AoE radius all multiply together, so this OC provides a massive max damage boost.

This goes slightly outside Carpet Bomber itself, but Autocannon being able to pick up Max Ammo at Tier 1, Area Damage at Tier 3, AoE radius at Tier 4, a damage multiplier at Tier 5, and Carpet Bomber for an overclock is what I like to refer to as "Breach Cutter Syndrome". I coined that term based on the U31 version of Breach Cutter that let players pick up lifetime, ammo, width, and Return to Sender simultaneously which led to absurd amounts of damage dealt. Similarly, the current mod tree and Overclocks of Autocannon allow players to pick upgrades that all multiply each other which leads to one build massively outperforming all other builds. Carpet Bomber is the capstone of that build, and a large offender in its own right, but those 5 mods are already a really strong build even with no OC equipped.

So, in summary, Carpet Bomber provides a multiplicative damage boost to the weapon which accentuates the "Breach Cutter Syndrome" already present in the mod tree and outcompetes the other OCs by a large margin.

Autocannon OC "Combat Mobility"

  • Pickrate: 8.6%
  • Rating: 2.339449541

Fundamentally, I think that this OC suffers from a lack of identity. Composite Drums gives extra ammo, Splintering Shells is "Carpet Bomber Lite", Carpet Bomber got its own section above, Big Bertha transforms it into a single-target DPS beast on par with the Minigun, and Neurotoxin will get its own section right below. So what's left for Combat Mobility to claim as its own? Its fundamental appeal is that it lets players move faster while firing the Autocannon (from 50% to 85%), but then it has a bunch of miscellaneous stats added onto it: -1 second of Reload time, x0.7 Base Spread, and x0.5 Magazine Size. It's 3 unrelated boosts and 1 unrelated penalty, and it has some overlap with Big Bertha's x0.7 Base Spread and x0.5 Magazine Size. In Update 31 it was just more movespeed in exchange for -2 Direct Damage, but even then people didn't like it. In my opinion, this OC needs to solve its identity crisis and figure out what role it's supposed to play as an Overclock, and then some meaningful changes can be made.

Autocannon OC "Neurotoxin Payload"

  • Pickrate: 17.2%
  • Rating: 2.470852018

This OC has two main issues: it's an RNG upgrade (talked about above in Homebrew Powder section), and suffers from the DoT Dilemma like EPC's Persistent Plasma. In a perfect world, the amount of damage dealt by the Neurotoxin DoT more than makes up for the -3 Direct Damage and -6 Area Damage penalties, but it eviscerates Autocannon's DPS. I think as long as the DPS lost from equipping this OC is greater than the DPS gained back from Neurotoxin DoT (around 12 Poison DPS), only a few players will enjoy equipping it. Overall I think its 30% chance to inflict the NT DoT is fine numerically, but the DPS loss is towering over the potential max damage gain.

Revolver OC "Six Shooter"

  • Pickrate: 39.29%
  • Rating: 3.402654867

Six Shooter is widely regarded as the best OC for Revolver right now, and it's easy to see why: +2 Magazine Size, +8 Max Ammo, +4 RoF, x1.5 Base Spread, and +0.5 Reload Time. This single-handedly gives Revolver strong Burst DPS, better Sustained DPS, and a free ammo bonus to boot. I think that its penalties are well designed; making you choose which one you want to mitigate in Tier 1 and which one you have to live with. Really what this boils down to is that it's virtually a straight upgrade to OC-less Revolver, outperforms all of its competitors numerically, and gives +8 Ammo for no real reason. It's really good, and unless you have a specific Revolver OC that you prefer (like Volatile Bullets, Elephant Rounds, or Magic Bullets), this is pretty much the default pick.

BRT OC "Electro Minelets"

  • Pickrate: 16.47%
  • Rating: 1.797101449

Ranked 4th lowest, I see Electro Minelets as having two main issues:

  1. The Electrocute DoT inflicted by the minelets is the weakest in the game, with only a 2 second duration and 8 Electric DPS.
  2. The -3 Damage penalty removes more DPS than what gets gained from the Minelet's DoT

The -6 Magazine Size doesn't help either, but that's more of a side issue. There's not a lot more to unpack here; minelets requiring 0.9 seconds before they detonate in 1.5m is just as balanced as Zhukov's Cryo Minelets, so clearly the effect of the minelets is the culprit rather than the timing or radius. This is just a really weak option overall, and it doesn't require much insight to identify why.

Zhukovs OC "Embedded Detonators"

  • Pickrate: 27.27%
  • Rating: 2.951219512

Here's a bit of a curveball for you -- Embedded Detonators have both a decent pickrate as well as an average balance rating, so why are they in this blog post? Simply put, they're currently overtuned both in terms of DPS and total damage: triple the DPS and 25%-50% more max damage depending on the build. Let's start by looking at the balance ratings of all Zhukovs' OCs:

  Minimal Magazines Custom Casings Cryo Minelets Embedded Detonators Gas Recycling
Pickrate 30.91% 9.09% 23.64% 27.27% 9.09%
Rating 2.694581281 2.381909548 2.743961353 2.951219512 2.325123153

Across the board, Zhukovs' OCs have a rating less than 3. Embedded Detonators and Cryo Minelets are the only two that fall within the desired 2.7 - 3.3 range, with Minimal Magazines just barely falling below the threshold. I see this as indicative that the playerbase sees the Zhukovs as weak overall, which is supported by the fact that only 35.93% of all Scout loadouts submitted during U32 used Zhukovs; the other 64.07% used the Boomstick. So, while Embedded Detonators are still outcompeting the other OC options, I think the underlying issue is that the playerbase sees Zhukovs as weak (and hard to justify equipping) unless ED is equipped, at which point it finally feels good to use. I think if GSG could close the distance betwen Zhukovs' balance without ED equipped and their balance while ED is equipped, then this OC would be in a healthier state instead of being "the only reason not to equip Boomstick".