The Packmaster: How to improve the challenge it presents

Hello fellow players!

Since the game is moving steadily but slowly ahead and things are getting fixed and tweaked, it’s a fitting occasion to talk about some things that, at least in my oppinion, need some tweaking when it comes to the game’s challenge. In this thread, I want to discuss our favourite and certainly most “catchy” of all the specials, the packmaster.

To get things out of the way first: No, I do NOT want to make the game any easier, I don’t want to be able to steamroll through Legend and whatnot. But if you take a look at the packmaster, it presents a jarring spike in difficulty in certain situations to the point where you are almost guaranteed to at least get downed, while in other situations he is just a minor nuisance that requires almost no attention at all.

If you take a look at the rather recent changes made to the globadier with how the gas damage and its area works, while you could argue it made the game “easier”, it also made the challenge it presents more skill-based. As in: if you are aware of the threat and know your surroundings, you can avoid the damage or at least most of it. The game doesn’t sucker punch you anymore because, let’s face it, globadiers, as any other special, don’t always spawn in places where you can reach them, especially during hordes. That is a good thing, as it gives control to the players over the situation, they can react rather then just getting hit with unavoidable damage.

Control is the key word here. The packmaster, as it stands, is essentially L4D2’s jockey, they work almost identical and fit the same roll: to draw the team apart, to disable one of the teammates and to distract by announcing their presence. The question is: Why is the jockey in L4D2 balanced better than the packmaster, at least in my books, when he does almost exactly the same and the game’s mechanics are, by and large, identical in most regards?

To give you my personal gripe and input, I’d want to start with what I like about the packmaster:

The packmaster does require ALOT of your attention when it spawns during a tight spot. When you hear his audio-cue, you are immediately on your toes, because you need to take him out, he is one of the most potentially dangerous specials out there. The grabbing mechanic and disabling, all that works well with the flow of the game, you can’t stray away from the group too much and then, even without other enemies around, he can be rather hard to combat if you don’t have the right tools at your disposal. It makes for very intense play if you KNOW the packmaster is somewhere, but can’t see him right now, but your attention is focused on a horde, a group of CW or even a boss.

But not being able to see him properly is, again in my oppinion, one of the things that make his challenge alot more uneven when compared to the jockey. I mean, the jockey was also alot smaller than the common infected, so he could every easily blend into a horde of commons. He was also very sturdy, much like the packmaster is, so again, this isn’t the issue. But even though he was of diminutive stature and could cover in commons, his overall design made him VERY distuinquishable from other enemies. His high health pool allowed him to pull people away a certain distance before being able to get cleared in a horde: If you can’t reach it with your bash, you had to shoot it, and the time that took was probably enough to be dangerous.

But that is one of the points: The jockey can be cleared in a single melee bash (or at least it could when I played the last time ^^) and you could fight back against being ridden - and when it grabbd you, it was very exposed, riding on your shoulders and head. Also, L4D2 is by any means not a melee focused game, whereas the packmaster is one of the hardest counters against melee CC-characters I could imagine: He is incredibly sturdy, he has high resistance against some ranged attacks, he is very quick, he has very good reach with his grab attack that is not THAT easy to avoid (yes yes git gud, you know what I mean) and when it grabbed you, it’s almos completely covered by your character if you’re not Bardin and during a horde when there’s music playing and dozens of regular enemies screaming and putting out their voicelines, you cannot always hear his audio cue and at least during Skaven hordes, he is VERY hard to distinquish from other enemies. Pair that with the fact that he is almost impossible to stagger and you get the recipe of something that we’ve all experienced: You get surprise-yoinked during a horde while you are CCing, pulled for 1 second and downed immediately - and on squishier classes, probably killed in less than 2 seconds.

In those situations, if you don’t have teammates that react immediately AND have certain active abilities read (like FK charge), you are almost certain to be doomed. Hitting the packmaster with ranged through the crowd is almost impossible, even with piercing weapons, and since he is so durable, anything but a headshot will do you now good. Getting to it in melee is very hard even without a horde, but with it, it becomes a task of herculean proportions - ignoring the fact that, again, he has alot of hit points and it usually takes several hits to get downed.

All of these things may not have mattered too much in the first VT: Hordes were smaller, pace was slower. They do, however, become ALOT more prominent in this game and at least to me, it provides a challenge that is too often not countered by skill, but by pure chance (namely, if you have a knockdown-skill in your party AND available at the moment). The price you pay for not being able to see and hit the packmaster in a horde is just too high: getting grabbed on Legend has a very high chance to be your death sentence, and one that is executed VERY swiftly. To me, that means we need to find a way to keep the reachy-grabby one a legit threat, but like the globadier, make him less of a sucker punch.

So, do summarize, the issue is:

  1. The packmaster is too indistuingishable from other rats.
  2. The packmaster is very sturdy. This is fine, but being forced to run after him and wail on him without it doing anything to get your teammate out of its grab is tedious and counter-intuitive.
  3. When pulling the grabbed teammate, the packmaster is coverd almost completely, not only making it incredibly hard to hit it, but also increasing the damage the grabbed receives because of friendly-fire.
  4. Getting grabbed during a horde is almost guaranteed to get you downed because suddenly, 10 enemies hit you all at once. This issue persists independend from difficulty, but becomes very prominent on Legend and also Champion.

Solutions have been presented by other players here to these things, the most prominent being to make the packmaster visually more distuinquishable and a bit taller than it is right now. That would be an easy fix for issue 1 and at least a bit for issue 4. It is still very hard to get rid of it during a horde, since it has so much health, which lore-wise, is perfectly fine. Packmaster are supposed to be very tough.

So instead of making it less tough, there should be mechanics that prevent you from being insta-downed when it grabs you in a horde. My suggestion would stray from the rather obvious “take only half damage while grabbed” thing L4D had going, but that getting grabbed by the packmaster dropped all aggro on you and made you “invisible” to other enemies for maybe 3 to 5 seconds. The rational behind it could be explained that the packmaster is a lead and just took its own prey and doesn’t allow the other rats to claim it before he could. Or simply that there is no need to immediately wail on someone that is incapacitated, so rather than ganging up one someone that isn’t a threat anymore, the rats could just try to overwhelm the remaining heroes before focusing the grabbed.

Looking back at the jockey again, it did have that mechanic where you could “fight back” against getting pulled into a certain direction. I don’t think something like that could work in VT2 with the packmaster, but another solution could be that after getting grabbed, your hero automatically “fights back” for a short amount of time, maybe a second, before actually being yoinked away.

Last but not least, I don’t see any reason why the packmaster’s mancatcher shouldn’t be breakable. After getting grabbed, a number of hits on the packmaster could break the mancatcher, he gets knocked back and may try to reatreat to get a new one.

These are just my 2 cents on the whole issue. Discuss!

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The idea of having a single chance to stop it from pulling you further for 1-2 seconds I like, but then I say after that you kind of deserve to be pulled along further. This small window of opportunity would be more than enough to give teammates a chance.

The packmaster isn’t too difficult for close-knit groups and more of an issue for roaming teammates I’ve noticed. And I say this as someone that’s been caught while slightly roaming. A bigger concern is the instability of the sound system in the game, cues now work 80% of the time but the footsteps in this game compared to vt1 barely seem to work at all.

This means you can turn around at times and suddenly face a wall of rats or a hookrat, since there’s still many silent hookrats that just grab you from around a corner which they may well just spawned behind.

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Creeps do chip damage in L4D. Here, one creep can do between something like 15 and 35 % of your hp, depending on which attack they use.

I have two points about the hookrat. First is that a notification of its spawning needs to be presented front and centre to the player when it spawns, and it needs to be heard. This is a problem for VT specials as a whole but the hookrat is just too stealthy sometimes for how dangerous it is.

Second is that given how beefy some of the new enemies are in this game, I once thought that the hookrat seemed more tanky than it should be judging by its appearance. It’d be nice if it looked a little tougher. Not necessarily really armoured, but a little more of the “mean bastard” aesthetic they’re going for. He’s been a little diminished by some of the new enemies and their fancy gear.

As the people above have mentioned. The sound que’s are the only issue here. Everything else can be worked around with skillfull play and clever positioning.

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