“This is a melee-focused game.” That phrase has bee used to describe and advertise this game from the beginning, and developers stick to it. Many players disagree, though, to the point of using the same phrase sarcastically whenever discussion veers to the “ranged meta”, which some claim doesn’t exist and other swear is a thing. Why is this?
The other day I noticed, it’s probably a question of definition. From the players’ point of view, a “melee focused” game is one that encourages the use of melee combat, likely by limiting ranged options and rewarding melee more, up to the point of making melee far more powerful. This isn’t always (or even usually) the case at the moment. From the developers’ point of view, “melee focus” seems to mean a lot of mechanics associated with melee and little with ranged. That is, they have focused on making the melee combat more than ranged.
The latter has led to there being a lot more mechanics to punish melee combat too. Taken by themselves, melee and ranged are roughly equal in power, I think. Similar amounts of damage done, similar range of enemies hit with attacks… Close enough. But melee combat is far more complex. You need to dodge and block to keep safe, and tactically decide when to do what. You need to position yourself well to be able both defend and attack. There’s different knockback on weapons, pushes, two (well, actually three or even four) kinds of attacks and different damage at different points of cleave. On ranged side, we have… Full damage to each enemy in “cleave” (pierce would be a more accurate term), only a few ranged enemies to punish backliners (and most of those serve more to keep melee fighters away than to target ranged combatants), and on most weapons the choice of aiming or not in attack variance. There’s no blocking, and dodging is less effective with ranged weapons out, but ranged combat is also inherently safer. The positioning part is still there tactically, but I think there’s slightly less to consider there too. Bosses also have a few extra methods of punishing melee combatants, and none against ranged.
These points, with the addition of ranged-focused careers (and a few weapons by themselves) being able to generate easily enough ammo to last them the whole map without picking up a single stack (often by using that same resource to generate more) make, for players, ranged combat the far easier and safer option. And when its raw strength is comparable to melee (and actually in some cases, namely Bosses, stronger), it ends up being the better and more used option.
What to do about this, then? Reducing the raw power of ranged is a possibility, but I don’t think that’d be a good idea. It would easily lead to crippling several careers. I think adding a few mechanics from the melee side, namely reduced damage on pierce, could be a start. Another could be to add some mechanics to punish ranged users specifically, be it sniper enemies who target ranged users or something else. There’s probably still more things that could be done, but I have no more ideas.
TL; DR version: There seems to be disparity between what makes a melee focus for players vs. developers. These should be brought more in line with each other.