How the changes to Axe and Falchion ruin both the weapons feeling and its identity
I’ve already commented a few things here and there. But Axe and Falchion has a special place in my heart. I wanted to put a lot more detail in it, while also getting my important points across. This will be long to be able to explain where my opinion is coming from. Everything I say being tested by myself and supported by both my experience and a lot of numbers. I kept the the latter one (almost fully) outside of the text itself though, so people can skip scary math as a whole if they want to. There’s also a short TLDR at the end for those who understandably don’t want to read multiple pages of text. Thanks to Guny for helping me a lot with the following text. While my English is not wrong, it certainly isn’t always a pleasure to read.
I’m currently sitting at 1,200+ hours in Vermintide II (with easily another 100 or so on Betas or the modded realm) and regularly play on cataclysm difficulty with 2 to 4 players in the team. My Saltzpyre is at level 35+210, at least 200 of those are just from playing Zealot. Axe and Falchion (A&F) is my absolute favorite weapon by far. Sitting at over 130.000 kills according to the weapon kill counter. I also play Flail and Billhook from time to time, although I like them a lot less. Especially the Billhook is something I only touch if I absolutely have to, because it’s without a doubt the strongest of all of the Zealot’s weapons, but I dislike the clunky feeling of it at all (fast strikes, followed up by delays with every light attack), even after around 10 hours of forcing myself to try it.
What is the Axe and Falchion’s feeling I’m talking about?
To make it really short: You mindlessly hack and slash with your lights, whatever scenario you face, maybe with a few heavies for a chaos warrior – IF YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG! While it’s true that you still can be pretty successful by simply using your light atatcks and the mix of single target armor dmg and horde clear that is all built right into your light-combo, it is by far not the most effective.
The best way I could describe it would be this: The A&F is a swiss army knife. It has all the tools you need to get everything done. Someone who randomly uses the big straight blade, the small curved one, the saw and the scissors might also get the job done, but the result will be rough and troublesome all the way through. But someone who knows what they’re doing and carefully chooses between every tool in his arsenal does it perfectly better and faster. A&F is able to have a nice flowing rhythm to it, and with every attack you throw out has an own, very specific purpose, able to change into every combo at all times, without losing the flow of it.
What does the weapons kit consist of and why is the push attack so relevant?
- Light 1 is with the axe for no cleave, but good single target/armor dmg.
- Light 2 and 3 are your cleave attacks, who do barely any dmg to armor.
- Light 4 is the overhead with the axe that does what the first light does, but better.
- Heavy 1 and 2 are basically the same and deal a good chunk of armor dmg.
- After heavy 2 comes the quick and powerful light 4 for just a little more dps
- The push attack (pre changes) with the most cleave and stagger, supported by both 20% crit chance and the heavy linesman modifier
- It’s also important to keep up swift slaying (SS), since the 20% bonus crit chance do a lot (math on that later)
- The push attack is followed by light 2
- As for the combos:
- Horde clear: Push - push attack - light 2 - light 3 - repeat until out of stamina
- Horde clear while regaining stamina: Light 1-4
- Highest armor dmg: Heavy 1 – heavy 2 – light 4
- Horde clear: Push - push attack - light 2 - light 3 - repeat until out of stamina
Before (pre changes), the push attack was by far the most powerful and important attack. It provided not only a helping hand to keep up SS for pretty much 100% of the time for the horde clear combo, but was also the highest cleave and stagger by far. Supported by the horde clear and was able to stagger most elite enemies with a crit (these happened more or less reliably because of the bonus 20%). With all that, it enabled A&F to effectively clear hordes even at cataclysm.
What does the BBB change?
The changes remove both the 20% extra crit chance and the heavy linesman modifier.
- The heavy linesman modifier made the attack both cleave through and stagger more enemies. On its own, this usually helped controlling the horde and makes the clearspeed a little higher. With the help of a crit the stagger was huge, being able to stagger multiple stormvermin or plague monks mid frenzy. With this gone, dealing with berserkers will ultimately be harder. But even just the regular mix of stronger enemies in the horde will be more difficult, as about one or two elites could be killed by a push attack crit that staggers both them and the horde followed by one to three heavies.
- The 20% crit chance is where I see an even bigger problem though. Not only is a crit needed for the stagger power for dense, mixed hordes, but without the additional 20% crit chance, the horde clearing combo is lacking the crit chance to reliably keep up SS. As a result of SS not being active constantly, it makes it even harder to reset the decaying timer, since you get less attacks per second. The difference in uptime for the horde clear combo just from this change alone is about 27%. With an average uptime of about 89% with the 20% additional crit chance on one attack, but only 70% uptime without it (as explained in the math section below)! As a result, instead of these numbers I admit that those numbers by itself might be hard to judge and I agree that the game should be more balanced around the gameplay feeling. So let me explain to you what this changes. Let’s say, if you spent 20 minutes in a game using this combo, you will be having SS active for almost 4 minutes less than you would’ve had with the extra 20%. What makes this worse though, is that those 4 minutes are spread across the middle of every single attack and combo in every single fight. So you have to permanently adjust for 20% attack speed going up and down, making the weapon feel a lot more clunky and way less satisfying, instead for example heavies coming out as lights since you didn’t charge them long enough on the one side. While wasting time between attacks on the other side, losing not only effectiveness but also leading to full on mistakes. I have played enough on the BBB patch to be able to tell you that 20% attack speed is easily enough so I was able to recognize my SS wasn’t active every single time and my weapons felt sluggish, slow and just “not right” for the whole time. It was a really big hindrance to my muscle memory and therefore effecting my whole gameplay way more than by just having 20% less attack speed.
Why should this push attack be strong
In summary: It is what gives Axe and Falcion its identity.
With how this weapon has been for the longest time now, the push attack was undeniably really strong. As already explained in detail before, it does horde clear, stagger and crits a lot. But when compared to Zealots other weapons, I think that’s what makes playing A&F unique in the first place.
- Axe is also fast, but has way higher single target dps, with no cleave at all
- Flail has immense stagger and ignores shields with a long build up for the heavies
- Greatsword has the best horde clear with very linear combos
- Rapier has fast attacks that are easy to headshot with and also the addition of a pistol
- Falcion has decent cleaving attacks that struggles with armor and extra overhead/easy headshot attacks mixed in in order to compensate
- Billhook is the safest and most popular of the Zealots weapons for the highest level of gameplay. By allowing you to stay at a further range, having a weapon special stagger that makes A&Fs push attack look bad and both diverse and very strong combo attacks (making me honestly wonder why Billhook barely got nerfed)
- Axe and Falchion now has… okay defensive options I guess. With basic all-rounder attacks, that work okay against everything, but not especially good against anything. Even for a defensive option, with still only regular/low stamina it isn’t anywhere near as defensive as to the Billhook in just this regard anyway.
Before that, A&F had the identity of being the all-rounder that was able to compensate for everything and was held together nicely by that push attack. It helped controlling the horde with stagger, cleave. The lacking horde clear got heavily supported with the attack itself and the higher attack speed (via SS). It allowed focusing and picking out elites from the mix and kept SS up, so that everything is smooth instead of sluggish. By removing the push attack, this all falls apart, leaving just a hastefully thrown together mix of the Axe and the Falchion, with the downsides of both.
Why the nerf hits the wrong people entirely
As stated, the nerf was because of “Axe and Falchion had some of the highest occurance rate for Saltzpyres weapons" (from the original BBB announcement). This means the goal was to make A&F less attractive, so people use other weapons instead. (I will not make any further comment on how the goal should be to make less used weapons more attractive instead of nerfing more used ones, as I wouldn’t be able to add more to what was already said. I do note that I agree on that statement though, only by not forgetting the limit set to keep power creep healthy.) The other goal that should have been set, is that people who don’t have a strong attachment to the weapon in the first place are the ones that should feel the need to change to another. Not those who love the weapon (and usually spent hours upon hours with it, knowing the weapon inside out).
This nerf especially affects people who are better with the weapon and who utilize everything that the A&F gives and most likely spent time watching YouTube videos or Twitch streams and reading guides, if not testing everything themselves in countless matches, simply because they love the weapon instead of people who spam left click and would happily switch to any other weapon in Saltzpyres inventory as soon as they’re stronger. I can understand how a nerf is needed from time to time. But I do not understand how a nerf intended to reduce the playrate hurts players who love the weapon the most and also destroying its identity.
My key points and suggestions on how to nerf Axe and Falchion in a healthy way
A&F needs the additional crit chance to have the very high average uptime of SS to feel smooth instead of sloppy, especially the horde clear combo which relies heavily on the bonus 20%
- This crit chance can’t simply be put on the axes’ light attacks as I’ve seen suggested elsewhere in the forum, since it would only profit light spamming. Because the axes light attacks are not only by far the least used attacks, but also doesn’t benefit the horde clear combo that needs it most
- By only nerfing it to 10% instead of 0% would at least soften the negative impact, but it doesn’t chance the fact that the nerf is on the wrong end
- The same goes for the removal of the heavy linesman modifier. It nerfs the weapons mediocre (and only with the strong push attack strong) ability to clear the horde, but still on the wrong end of the spectrum
The heavy focus on the push attack is the weapons current identity. Therefore deleting the push attack also deletes the weapons identity
The weapon is an all-rounder. This means if it’s weak, it’s useless and if it’s strong, it’s too strong. To balance this there needs to be a reasonably big difference in effectiveness between a good and a bad player using the weapon. But since
- all combos are easy to access once you know them
- there are no block cancels required for any combo at any point
- all animations are quick, so you barely feel locked into them with any attack
- all attacks used for armored enemies and elites are straight overheads and therefore easy to hit headshots with
- the best handle for the weapon is to lower to defensive capabilities even more. 3 stamina and a dodge count of 3 (that got buffed to 4 in the BBB) are already on the lower limit. So what’s left is the stagger (cleave is also on the low end already, lowering that would basically remove the Falchion from the Axe and Falchion). With lower stagger, controlling the horde is more difficult and puts the Saltzpyre himself at a greater risk.
Either this or the weapon needs to have an other specific playstyle, with clear advantages and weaknesses. As how the weapon is now I can only imagine a few ways this might go.
- Nerfing the cleave to really make A&F struggle with horde clear and buffing the elite, armor and possibly boss dmg. This way it would be like the dual axes, but with less attack speed and still atleast a little cleave.
- Nerfing the elite and armor dmg and buffing the cleave (or letting it stay where it was with the strong push attack). This would feel more like the dual hammers. There less cleave and a little more elite/armor/boss dmg.
- Nerfing dmg overall by quite a bit but giving the weapon more stamina and a dodge count of 4 or 5 with either the current push attack (who would be better with more stamina). This would make it the most defensive weapon option for Saltzpyre with much less offensive power/a harsher reliance on stamina for offensive power (so you have to chose between keeping your stamina to stay defensive or spending it for damage).
- All three variations could potentially keep the push attack, avoiding a lot of the problems that come with nerfing it
- I can imagine the latter one or merging suggestion two and three could be really fun since it would not only let A&F keep the push attack, but also solidify it as the core part of the weapon, somewhat like a reverse version of the dual axes from some time ago where you’d use the push attack to oneshot Stormvermin. I can’t remember why this got nerfed, but I do remember it was a lot of fun while it lasted.
“ The math” of swift slaying
t(s) = 5s = time SS lasts
n = number of attacks
p(n) = crit chance of an attack (average in case of n>1)
n(t(s)) = number of attacks in the duration of SS = 1-(1-p(n))^n -> Chance to crit at least once in n attacks (or “the counter-probability of not getting a crit after n attacks” to be 100% correct)
as = bonus attack speed (eg. as = 1,1 for 10% bonus attack speed)
Average uptime of SS = 1-(1-p(n))^(n*as)
For SS to be activated, you have to have landed a crit.
- For SS to stay active 100% of the time, you’d have to land at least one crit at any time in the last t(s) = 5 seconds
n(t(s)) for every combo (“vanilla weapon”, no extra attack speed):
- (I counted every hit of a specific combo in a period of 5 minutes of attacking, then divided by 300 and multiplied by 5, to get the average number of hits of the duration of the swift slaying buff.)
- Light combo 1-4: 9,15
- Push - Push Attack – Light 2 – Light 3: 7,5
- Heavy 1 – Heavy 2 – Light 4: 10
- Note for the Heavys: Each heavy hits two times per attack with both hits having an independent crit chance. If only one of those crit, it does apply SS. So one heavy is 2n. I was also able to get 120 full combos in my 5 minute test, so (120*(2+2+1))/(300*5), the ‘number of combos’ multiplied by ‘hits per combo per 5 seconds’.
- These numbers assume that you are able hit an attack the whole time
- This assumes you never miss an attack
- It also assumes there are enemies in front of you at all times
- It ignores the existence of shields. A critical hit on a shield does not activate SS
With basically any build you’ll have more attack speed than that. The usual buffs are
- 20% from SS (Since I want to make calculations on if I can keep SS active instead of how long it takes to activate it. I’ll pretend to have an uptime of 100% to keep everything a lot more simpler. For the my calculations I imagine the outcome to only be altered by less than 5%, being smaller the bigger the average uptime actually is.)
- 5% from your melee weapons properties
- 5% from your charms properties (Note that you quite possibly need to use another property here for important breakpoints.)
On Zealot you usually also have:
- 20% from Castigate
- (Note that Holy Fervour also gives 25% attack speed, but I don’t want to count on an ultimate for a weapon to feel right, so I’ll not be using this for any further calculations)
Witch Hunter Captain posesses a 10% base crit chance instead of the usual 5% and can have either 10% attack speed or 5% crit chance for a situational duration (making both difficult to consider in a calculation, without knowing an average uptime)
Any attack speed can be multiplied to the vanilla n
So with the BBBs current 0% extra crit chance on any A&F attack, all hits have the equal crit chance of your 5% base + 5% from your melee weapon properties, 5% from your charm, meaning that p(n) = 15% = 0,15
n for every relevant combos form my testing:
- Light 1-4; t(300s) = n(550)
- Heavy 1 – Heavy 2 – Light 4; t(300s) (120 full combos)
- Push - Push Attack – Light 2 – Light 3; t(300s) = n(450)
- This is where the 20% extra crit would take effect.
- p(n) with the extra crit is calculated as crit chance+20%*1/3, since the 20% only effect one of the 3 attacks of the combo, so an average extra of 6,67%.
- This is where the 20% extra crit would take effect.
The formula for the calculations to get the average uptime of the build as stated above will be 1-(1-p(n))^(n*as).
Vanilla weapons with crit chance: p(n) = 15% ; as = 0
- Light 1-4: 1-(1-0,15)^9,15 = 77,4%
- Heavy combo: 1-(1-0,15)^10 = 80,3%
- Push Combo 0% bonus crit: 1-(1-0,15)^7,5 = 70,4%
- Push Combo 10% bonus crit: 1-(1-(0,15+0,1*1/3))^7,5 = 78,1%
- Push Combo 20% bonus crit: 1-(1-(0,15+0,2*1/3))^7,5 = 84%
Vanilla weapons with crit chance and SS bonus: p(n) = 15% ; as = SS = 20%
- Light 1-4: 1-(1-0,15)^(9,15*1,2) = 83,2%
- Heavy combo: 1-(1-0,15)^(10*1,2) = 85,8%
- Push Combo 0% bonus crit: 1-(1-0,15)^(7,5*1,2) = 76,8%
- Push Combo 10% bonus crit: 1-(1-(0,15+0,11/3))^(7,51,2) = 83,8%
- Push Combo 20% bonus crit: 1-(1-(0,15+0,21/3))^(7,51,2) = 89%
Max crit chance and as weapons without talents: p(n) = 15% ; as = SS + Properties = 30%
(Note that this is the highest Bounty Hunter can usually go, only with the BBB he got introduced to a 15% attack speed talent, that I’m not sure how often it can be used.)
Light 1-4: 1-(1-0,15)^(9,15*1,3) = 85,5%
Heavy combo: 1-(1-0,15)^(10*1,3) = 87,9%
Push Combo 0% bonus crit: 1-(1-0,15)^(7,5*1,3) = 79,5%
Push Combo 10% bonus crit: 1-(1-(0,15+0,11/3))^(7,51,3) = 86,1%
Push Combo 20% bonus crit: 1-(1-(0,15+0,21/3))^(7,51,3) = 90,8%
Ideal Witch Hunter Captain build: p(n) = 20% ; as = SS + Properties + Heretic Sighted = 40%
(Note that I use Heretic Sighted instead of Wild Fervour and pretend to have a 100% uptime. Since HS has a duration of 15 seconds and is way easier to activate than WF. So a much higher uptime is more likely. Both could be easily calculated if you knew the average uptime of them. The formula would be: as(HS) = 10%*average uptime (simply added to the other numbers as modifiers) or p(n(WF)) = p(n) + 5%*average uptime. Make sure to use the brackets right.)
Light 1-4: 1-(1-0,20)^(9,15*1,4) = 94,3%
Heavy combo: 1-(1-0,20)^(10*1,4) = 95,6%
Push Combo 0% bonus crit: 1-(1-0,20)^(7,5*1,4) = 90,4%
Push Combo 10% bonus crit: 1-(1-(0,20+0,11/3))^(7,51,4) = 93,9%
Push Combo 20% bonus crit: 1-(1-(0,20+0,21/3))^(7,51,4) = 96,1%
Ideal Zealot build: p(n) = 15% ; as = SS + Properties + Castigate = 50%
- Light 1-4: 1-(1-0,15)^(9,15*1,5) = 89,3%
- Heavy combo: 1-(1-0,15)^(10*1,5) = 91,3%
- Push Combo 0% bonus crit: 1-(1-0,15)^(7,5*1,5) = 83,9%
- Push Combo 10% bonus crit: 1-(1-(0,15+0,11/3))^(7,51,5) = 89,8%
- Push Combo 20% bonus crit: 1-(1-(0,15+0,21/3))^(7,51,5) = 93,6%
Since by a lot I know of testing that the new combo has all the problems described, I assume the average uptime has to be closer to 90%. But obviously the higher the better. This means that Bounty Hunter will definitely struggle with the weapon. Zealot still has a hard time and only Witch Hunter Captain is able to keep SS up the required average amount of time. Although Witch Hunter Captain scales better with crit chance and hits harder by this change for other reasons. I’d furthermore assume that lowering the bonus crit chance to 10% instead of removing it would then only slightly hinder Zealot, however it would still give Bounty Hunter a hard time. But this would require more testing I’m not willing to do since as explained already, a nerf to the push attack is wrong for multiple other reasons. If anyone else would want to test it, it has an average uptime just a little lower than the push combo with Witch Hunter Captain (p(n) = 20%) and only the SS as (as = 20%).
- The nerfs to the push attack keep swift slaying in a permanently switching state of being active and not active, making the weapon feel sluggish and a hindrance to muscle memory according to the experience with the patch
- It also robs A&F its current identity, which is different from every other weapon as a solid all-rounder, able to compensate for the mediocre horde clear and low stagger with the strong push attack
- The push attack is tied to everything and essential to the kit
- Without the current power, this kit falls apart
- The nerf hits harder the better the weapon is used. Therefore people who enjoy and are good with the weapon suffer the most instead of people who’d switch to other weapons if they become stronger
- Giving the bonus crit chance to the light 1 attack instead as suggested in some other comments would benefit mostly braindead light spamming playstyles, while barely benefiting using practiced combos
- My personal way of nerfing A&F if it’s necessary would be to either nerf the stagger to make playing with it less save (not cleave) or to reduce the dmg overall and buffing stamina to make A&F a defensive option. Keeping the identity while weakening it overall so you need to rely on the push attack to be just as effective
My favorite class already suffers from the introduction of yet another forced healing talent/passive and now even my favorite weapon is supposed to get nerfed by taking away the one thing that made it different? I honestly have to say I’d be sad and very disappointed to be forced to use Handmaiden as an overall better version of Zealot just to play optimal in what is supposed to be BY FAR my favorite game.