My golden rule for balance in Dead Man Walking is this: every mistake should cost willpower. This is the whole reason to even have two hit point systems I think. If the player makes a fairly serious error and doesn't lose willpower, why should willpower even exist? And that's the ultimate question - the game should not reach a state where willpower is essentially meaningless.
So, where do we go from there? We have an essential standard for balance so let's work on some other rules. I have two other significant goals in mind for balance:
- An outstanding player that makes no mistakes should not take willpower damage.
- It should always be clear to a player what their mistake was when they take willpower damage.
The first "sub rule" mentioned will reward players for learning the game and becoming better at it. This should ideally be in a tangible metric. The game has a rudimentary scoring system based on your willpower - I'd like to expand upon that some.
The second rule mentioned above basically means that players should never feel like it was the game's fault that they lost willpower. One thing I'd like to do to work towards this goal is remove/alter some of the damaging effects spawning on top of the player. These effects force the player to take at least one turn of high damage, which is sometimes enough to dip into willpower and that isn't really acceptable in my mind. The game should be hard but fair. It's become an almost cliche phrase when it comes to the difficulty of certain games (especially indie games), but it's true and it should most certainly be true within a roguelike.
Overall balance in 1.3a is a little wonky. Since 1.0 I've been trying to speed up the combat and haven't always altered enemy (or player) stats in the best ways possible to accomplish that. I don't think having extremely long combat benefits Dead Man Walking - it's meant to be a relatively quick and almost arcade style experience. Having to invest a dozen turns to take down a windshield monster does not fit either of those descriptions. On that note, I've tried to reduce the proportion of windshield monsters compared to other enemies. This version has some interesting threats like Tormentors and Revenants that can be problematic if a player just charges them.
Another issue that is quite relevant to the balance of the game is the subject of bosses. I like boss fights myself, but I'm not sure if the way they work right now is ideal. There's little reason to kill the majority of bosses and giving every boss a unique drop (this only happens in branch levels) will likely lead to some loot overload. Loot overload isn't necessarily a bad thing though.
On the subject of loot: the game is pretty bad about filling your inventory with crap that you don't need just to see if its special. I've considered making it so you can't actually carry other weapons and armor - you can only put it on or leave it on the ground. I'd probably allow players to continue to collect trinkets in their inventory, partially just because every trinket is only meant to spawn once. This would mean the inventory is essentially dedicated to trinkets and consumables, which is pretty cool I think. Your inventory would never have true junk in it then. Nobody needs to carry around four plain Sabers or Rapiers.
Alright, I think that's most of the balance issues I'm planning on tackling in a more deliberate post. Peace!