Part 2: The Problems
- Issue 1: Ranged Dominance (Stun)
What is the issue?
Ranged stun overwhelms all player options but disengaging and sharpshooting.
Instances of ranged damage deal a significant amount of stun and knockback to players, which can stack and force players into immobility. Not only can shots from multiple enemies stack repeated instances of stun, but singular enemies can as well with burst or automatic fire. As difficulty increases, so does enemy density, and the frequency with which a player can and will be struck by multiple sources of ranged damage at once. Unless a player is outright immune to stagger or damage, they become inert almost instantly when shot, regardless of whatever they were doing.
Why is this an issue?
Players do not have adequate tools to deal with this mechanic, and breaking line of sight and bottlenecking/sniping them has become a dominant strategy to cope with this. Once a player has been toughness broken or struck by a full volley, they are completely at the mercy of the ranged units attacking them; and it is often the case that a small number of shooters is more disruptive to players than an equivalent number of Specialists.
Ranged Stun is overwhelmingly dominant over player options, especially those intended to be used to engage ranged enemies. It knocks players out of Ogryn and Zealot charges, it rips players out of chained dashes and slides, and it stops charged attacks dead in their tracks.
- Issue 2: Ranged Dominance (Damage)
What is the issue?
Ranged attacks are too dangerous, to the point that most gameplay is focused on them.
Ranged attacks are an exceptionally large source of damage, especially on Heresy+. This damage is often far greater than the damage typically received from melee threats, which these ranged enemies can apply more consistently and in more situations.
Players also have a very limited number of tools to deal with ranged attackers, and none as useful as simply breaking line-of-sight and picking them off. This is made worse by the fact that ranged attacks are not only high damage but are also remarkably consistent: They are hitscan, almost perfectly accurate, can reliably target through miniscule gaps and some surfaces, can be delayed or indefinitely repeated if evaded, and can only be dodged when a player has their melee weapon equipped and is not occupied by another animation like a chainweapon rip, ability, or damage stun.
Why is this an issue?
Ranged damage is an overwhelming threat; in fact, it is the single most important threat in the game to the detriment of all other priorities. There is no combination of bosses, melee patrols, or hordes that can compare to the threat a single Elite ranged unit poses. This is not an exaggeration.
Because ranged enemies are so disproportionately dangerous, they become the focus of all combat to the exclusion of almost any other consideration. Every single high-level player must play the game with their character, weapon selection, and playstyle choices warped around preparing to deal with the high amounts of damage that even small groups of ranged units can produce; and if a player does not engage in this behavior they put themselves and their team at risk by not being able to contribute to ranged engagements and must spend the vast majority of level progression waiting in safety or acting as a buffer for trashmobs while their shootout-competent allies take care of the threats that would immediately cripple and kill them.
You should also notice that Toughness Breaks exacerbated the previous problem with stuns as well—this becomes an immediate negative feedback loop in Heresy+, where a single close-range burst will immediately break the Toughness of all characters except the Veteran (who has mitigation against ranged attacks that no other character possesses).
- Issue 3: Melee Locking (Or a lack thereof)
What is the issue?
Melee Locking is not reliable and is therefore dangerous to attempt and frustrating when you do.
Melee Locking, defined here as the act of engaging ranged units in close-quarters combat to ‘lock’ them into using melee weapons, is tied to Threat level: It becomes more unreliable and takes longer to intimidate an enemy as the player increases in difficulty. In Heresy+ enemies are so aggressive, mobile, and resistant to melee intimidation that attempting melee locking is incredibly dangerous if the scene does not have a pre-placed flank route.
Even if a player is successful in engaging in melee combat with a group of ranged enemies, on higher difficulties their area of intimidation is so low and weak that they must frequently alternate blows between nearby shooters and chase down stragglers to keep them from using their ranged weapons to immediately stunlock or outright kill them.
On Heresy+, Ranged Elites seem to outright require manually striking each of them to Melee Lock them, and in the case of Gunner Elites they can only be pseudo-suppressed. These Elites are so resilient to Melee Locking on Damnation that they will frequently continue shooting at a player with a melee weapon out even after being attacked, until staggered out of their prepared/active attack or evaded until they finish executing it.
Why is this an issue?
Melee Locking is unreliable on higher difficulties, where enemies are inexplicably more resistant to Melee Locking in addition to being much more numerous, turning what should be a potent countermeasure against the game’s most prominent threat into something that is that will result in being downed or taking huge chunks of damage if not executed perfectly or in the safest of circumstances.
Failing to capture even one or two shooters in a pack, or Emperor forbid an Elite, will reliably lead to a Toughness Break and usually a down. Enemies are so aggressive and so resilient to both damage and intimidation that slow, immobile, or weak weapons that cannot quickly strike or kill multiple shooters in succession are difficult justifying the presence of in higher difficulties.
Every step of attempting a Melee Lock becomes more difficult and less consistent as difficulty level rises. Just approaching to try to initiate melee with ranged enemies is much more dangerous because of the increased density of enemies producing more opportunities for overlapping Ranged Stun. Capturing all enemies in the Melee Lock is also much harder to do not just because of their intimidation resistance, but also because you are required to do it to more enemies that have much more survivability. Even if you make no mistakes during this process, you can still be instantly Toughness broken or downed by one stubborn Elite.
These issues are all greatly worsened when attempting to Melee Lock alone, which is becoming much more common as more players become comfortable retreating and shooting/holding from safety.
Right now, there is almost no reason to attempt a Melee Lock other than pure desperation; which is usually caused by an uncoordinated team not adhering to one of the dominant strategies in the first place.
- Issue 4: Suppression (Or a lack thereof)
What is the issue?
Suppression is weak and inconsistent, often serving to the detriment of the team by rapidly scattering ranged enemies.
Suppression is unclear in impact, self-defeating at best, and actively harmful to the team at worst. Even if an enemy is successfully Suppressed, they will quickly retreat to cover, break line of sight, or retreat into monster closets. Not only is this a highly ineffective method of controlling enemies, but the effects of Suppression are typically so weak that by the time an enemy has reached cover they will shortly have recovered from Suppression and be ready to fire. There is no way to tell if an enemy is still Suppressed at a glance until they prepare to fire, if they are still visible at all, and several ranged enemies (Shotgunner Elites, Dreg Shooters) appear to be completely immune to the effects of Suppression.
Suppression is not only ineffective, but self-defeating. By spreading out ranged enemies to different pieces of cover you render any following ranged attacks, and the Suppression generated by them, less accessible and easy to group. As enemy density increases the consequences of scattering them become more dangerous, as it results in them pulling additional packs of enemies, more enemies being encouraged to flank you through monster closets, and enemies controlling more space and potential flank routes.
Suppression can be applied in such an overwhelming amount that enemies will cower instead of fleeing in a problematic manner, but this is typically only accessible to specific close-combat Blessings and weaponry.
Why is it an issue?
As it stands, there is almost never a situation where one would want to Suppress ranged enemies despite this being introduced as a clear counter against them. Even if players would want to Suppress enemies, there is almost no way to communicate the level of Suppression the enemies are suffering from. Even if an enemy is Suppressed, they become more of a liability than if they were simply Unsuppressed and fighting back because they will often flee the scene to draw more ambient spawns and re-engage with reinforcements from catwalks, monster closets, and other enemy-exclusive vantage points. This often results in enemies controlling more space than if they had been left unsuppressed, and with new angles of attack that frequently make flanking routes and cover unusable.
Even shooting at ranged enemies or Specialists to assist a coordinated push and Melee Lock with Suppression is entirely antithetical to those tasks, as enemies will spread out at a faster speed than players (some even outrunning the fastest speeds available, such as Zealot’s Chastise the Wicked) can approach them. All Suppression succeeds in doing is forcing those players attempting to engage in melee to retreat or rapidly overextend chasing highly dangerous ranged enemies. If the player approaching was the source of the Suppression, such as using a Braced weapon in hopes of covering their advance, they will almost always immediately be vaporized where they stand by returning fire, as only melee weapons capable of evading ranged attacks and most weapons have very limited scopes of suppression.
- Issue 5: Cover (Or the illusion of such)
What is the issue?
Enemies can not only frequently hit players consistently behind most forms of cover (Ogryn is especially vulnerable to this), but they will also repeatedly fire at a protected position. Leaving a pre-fired position threatens immediate punishment via ranged stun and damage unless the targeted player disengages completely and breaks line-of-sight completely.
Even if a player can utilize cover adequately in an encounter, the Player-Suppression system results in non-Veterans’ returning fire being highly inaccurate and further risking punishment for leaving cover. Player-Suppression is also not specific to targeted individual but affects all of those in the path of the shot, meaning that other players can unintentionally grief their teammates’ accuracy, especially if they are trying to make shorter-ranged, less accurate weaponry work or are trying to approach shooters without a safe, preset flanking route.
Why is this an issue?
The limited functionality of cover makes the most intuitive countermeasure against ranged attacks a trap option at best and an active detriment to the team at worst, as only specific Blessings and Veterans can adequately cope with the Player-Suppression generated while in cover. It is often preferable for a player that cannot contribute to a proper firefight to go stand behind a corner or wall swinging into oncoming trash than to try to utilize cover and risk more stray shots and Player-Suppression against their teammates.
Without cover serving a reasonable purpose the threat of ranged combat is almost completely unrestrained unless you break line-of-sight completely. This also further makes Suppression and Melee Locking less viable, since initiating firefights or chaining aggro to ranged packs causes them to spread out and encourages them to control space, making an approach to alerted ranged enemies via cover suicidal without an obvious flanking route.
- Issue 6: Enemy Aggression & The Damage Race (Players are losing it)
Enemies are highly dangerous, mobile, and not reliant on resources. Players are anything but. The two combined wear down on players, whose lackluster options and reliance on resources hedges them into passive, ranged-dominant strategies.
I do not need to reiterate that ranged enemies are dangerous, but they are also relentless and mobile. By contrast, players are cumbersome and very much at the mercy of ranged enemies if they choose to do anything but apply the dominant strategies. If players choose to engage with enemies ‘honestly’, and not retreat out of sight to feed their foes into a meat grinder, then they must contest with this disparity between themselves and the legions of fearless, crack-shot supersoldiers they intend to face.
Ranged enemies on Heresy+, with the exclusion of Specialists who have forced wind-ups and reloads, are capable of freely moving and aiming/firing continuously without stopping. Enemy mobility is not just limited to during attacks since they run incredibly quickly (faster than most sprint speeds) and can freely jump up and down ledges, sometimes to AI-exclusive cover and vantage points.
Players, however, are constrained by magazine and ammo limitations, are punished for moving while shooting, suffer accuracy penalties when firing repeatedly, and have very limited mobility options. This disparity creates a growing rift in the performance and resource management between teams that choose to progress by remaining in safe, static positions and eliminating all threats with basic ranged weaponry and those that descend into the chaos and suffer its reprisals.
Because of the limited player mobility and enemy high aggression, it is very common to find situations where, despite seemingly playing correctly, enemies have such freedom of movement and act so quickly and fearlessly that they will still wear down players. For example, Shotgunners, Shooters, and Stalkers will casually stroll out of range of sliding/sprinting attacks and immediately whiff-punish the player for potentially hundreds of damage. Another common situation is attempting to engage ambient ranged spawns in melee, only to have some of its members flee vertically and attack from routes players cannot follow.
Adding further to the frustration of trying to openly engage with enemies in an aggressive manner, players will also find that their melee weapons are worse at killing several individual enemies than ranged weapons are. Melee weapons have exceptionally high damage falloff when striking multiple targets (typically not killing a second Poxwalker on a consecutive headshot on Heresy+, let alone multiple shooters with 50% more HP and Flak Armor), often require multiple direct strikes to kill even midgrade enemies, and attack far slower than all but the heaviest of their ranged counterparts.
This all boils combat involving any sort of ranged enemy into being a ‘damage race’ in two ways; first the race to deal damage as soon as possible, since until you are actively landing hits the situation is spiraling further and further out of control, and the race to deal enough damage to wipe the ranged pack, before strays and stragglers wipe someone out. However, as the player advances in Threat it becomes clear that the best way to win the race is the never leave the starting line: Ranged weapons and passive play always give the most damage, in the easiest way, and on the player’s terms instead.
Nothing makes this more obvious than comparing both extremes of playstyle after a successful engagement or event: The players that have played from a safe position or lured the AI into a blind choke have expended a bit of ammunition and perhaps a grenade or two to complete an objective together, while the players that suppressed, melee locked, and hunted down enemies while fending off flanking and chain-aggro’d threats stand stranded apart, with exhausted abilities, far more damage taken, and more resources expended.
Hopefully by expanding on these issues you can see why they are so individually maligned and how they layer on top of one another to create the situations that frequently promote incredibly passive play and discourage melee engagements or aggressively taking control of encounters.
Ranged enemies are highly dangerous and shut down player options, options that are already underwhelming, self-sabotaging, or easily punished by no fault of the player. If players engage despite this, enemies are resistant to disruption and all-too-eager to scatter and pick apart melee combatants with reinforcements, especially as they try to approach. If players do engage and come out on top, they’re also far more exhausted and spread out than if they’d taken the safer option.
Everything mentioned here drives players, especially premade groups with active communication, to write off many of the systems that make the game so fun to play in favor of camping a corner, sitting under a catwalk, or waiting for the team’s lasgun militia to finish mopping up the map. It’s no wonder that so many people are decrying Damnation as so easy and too hard at the same time—players that don’t know or don’t want to play the game like a worse version of Payday 2 are punished with grueling brawls against unyielding, deadly-accurate Ubermensch that will tear into them every step of the way, while the players with a policy of sitting on a ledge for three minutes evaporating every gunman and Elite for the next three rooms is struggling to stay awake at the keyboard.
However, there are ways to address these issues without compromising the gameplay for any of the players involved.