50% Armor absorption : Is belt or armor better?

As of writing the Unreal Tournament 4 armor system has been 50% absorption for about a year. This has some interesting and potentially unintended flow on effects that are worth looking at.  These are not specifically bad or good and this is not an attempt to paint the system in a bad light (that is reserved for another post) however the consequences of 50% absorption are worth looking at.

50% causes health to be sought out more often and raises its value. This is because any time a player has even health to armor ratio and damage occurs they will seek out health as it the only thing (besides belt) that increases their effective health pool. Health is the easier to get because is more abundant on maps and is on a shorter respawn than armor. With 50% absorbtion any armor above your health will not be used before you die.

If you have 100h 100a and take 100 damage you will be at 50h 50a. In order to raise your effective health you must take health packs, mega, vials or the belt. Of these health is the primary method as it has the shortest respawn and maps usually have a decent amount scattered throughout. This is not too different to higher absorption, 66% or 75% as players want to heal up with this armor as well, however there are other options. With 66% when a player at 100h100a takes 100 damage they will have 66/33 – allowing them to take armor in order to stack up as well as health. Historically the player with 100/100 is usually in control.

*something about health being ooc players resource in higher %s as the in control player can get armor to “stack”.

The flow on from here is interesting in macro duel dynamics. 50% weakens in control as the player has to spend time getting health when in the past they could potentially get by with armor only. This pushes players to health more often which has some flow on to look at shortly.

However before that we will go back and compare 50% and 66% absorption and while we are at it lets look at belt from earlier ut4/ut99 perspective with 150 points of 100% absorption armor.

Is armor or belt better historically?

Been wanting to write this for a while.

Belt offers 100% absorption for 150 points of armor. Armor offers less than 100% in smaller amounts. In arena fps games popular absorption numbers are 66% or 75% – probably because these translate to 2:1 and 3:1 damage to armor:health. When ut4 development started there were massive misconceptions involving armor. Players believed that belt was significantly stronger purely because of its 100% absorption. Some of the math posted early on was cringeworthy, to be completely honest up until overwatch release players still did not have an understanding of how health/armor interacted.

For a single pickup and time spend the belt is better, it nets the player more resources than the 100a or 50a. Belt is superior to armor is when player health is very low and picks it up – it instantly translates to remaining health (lets say sub 20 to be super low) plus 150. Quite the effective health boost to 170. This scenario was a main gripe from the “nerf belt” camp. Going back to the hilarious math one common-ish suggestion for belt was to “lower the absorption a little bit below 100%”. If we lower absorption to 95% players need around 5 health to service 100 points of belt. This manages to do nothing to address the perceived problem as the low health player can still use a decent amount of the belt.

Low health pickups of belt did not happen frequently, however it could easily be considered “annoying” as it would occur when the out of control player takes the pickup from the in control player. This annoyance and skewed perception of the problem is due to cognitive bias. Players losing control to sheer luck of not getting off quite enough damage then their opponent resetting their health with a belt grab.

However for most other situations armor is better. We will use the current armorware settings (66% absorption) vs belt (150@100%) as the example here as it is the simplest to demonstrate with. For this example players will take 100 points of damage. Comparing a player with 100h/150a(66%) vs 100h/150b(100%)

After 100 damage the armor player (100h150a) will be left on 67h84a. This player can take health – a readily available pickup, that is included on maps quite freely on a 20s respawn. By taking two health packs they are back to 100h84a – 184 effective health. They are also able to stack on armor which the game has them contesting anyway.

The belt player (100h150b) will be left on 100h50b, the same total as the armor player. In order to increase their effective health they need to take armor or belt. They are unable to heal with health packs as they have taken no health damage. This means that if an armor is coming up soon they are forced to contest with 150 effective health. This is a disadvantage.

Health packs spawn faster and there are usually more of them on a map than armor. Likewise players are not fighting over health packs in the same way as belt/100a and armor is rarely left up like health. In a “normal” duel where players are contesting the belt/100a the previously mentioned damage has a good chance to have occurred during a fight over one of these two items. This actually segues into an interesting subject – when is the best time to damage a player who is taking a pickup? Before or after pickup? Consider it.

This is where armor becomes better than belt for the same amounts, and this scenario of backing off before dying and healing occurs frequently in high level play. This is why armor is generally superior to belt for most situations. If the above scenario played out ten times over the course of a duel the player with armor who consistently heals ends up with a ~350hp benefit over their opponent. 350 additional damage needed to be dealt out by their enemy. This is not to say that players have a great deal of control over how this occurs, or that players would leave the belt up because they think armor is better, but in some ways belt is more limiting for the in control player.

This is one of the side benefits from lower absorption armor. If you take a fight at 100h100a, suffer 100 damage you are now on 50h50a. Healing with health packs to 100h50a give you an effective health pool of 150hp. If armor is 66% you will have  100/34a. In some ways this benefits the player in control by making armor last longer than it would otherwise, while also making the in control player need to use health at a faster rate than higher absorption values. It also skews things towards the in control play by virtue of them having more armor. If you are 100h/50a@50% and take 100 damage you end up with no armor. If you are 100/50a@25% and take 100 damage you have 25h/25a. This is a potential benefit of lower absorption on the thighpads in ut99.

Back to 50%, how does this affect the overall macro of duel

Because 50% causes health to be sought out more often players will gravitate towards health packs more than in the past. This allows players to setup ambushes on health. Health ambushes have always been an option and a clever way to convert kills, however with the higher importance of health they occur much more frequently at 50%. This is because health, not armor, becomes the go to, even for the in control player.

This is where problems arise. The game in its current state is skewed more towards setting up fights on health packs than in the past. This in and of itself is not a problem, however maps are designed to have fights around the belt or the 100a. Most maps are not designed to have fights at their health pickups. Health packs are shuffled off in corners, generally not setup in interesting ways.

So mappers could make ut maps more interesting, but currently they are not. This is the biggest problem from the current armor system.

Also overall macro game flow of healing for large item spawns, contesting and fighting is lessened, instead replaced with scrappy fights over +25 bubbles by injured players. But these fights are not assured as players can simply go their own way and heal up from different health locations. In non-serious games this might be more fun, but when winning is important taking the risk to pursue a low health opponent when you are also on low health is rolling the dice. In general better to go and heal. The difference with other, larger, more important pickups (100a/belt in ut and mega/ra in ql) is that skipping them is only an option at times when they clash – and in comparison both lots of health being up is likely.

In older titles with higher absorption the more stacked player could continue going for armors while their weaker opponent restacked on health. Splitting of resources in a manner of speaking. With 50% both players require it at roughly the same rate and this could be considered a nerf to out of controls ability to stay alive as the in control player also wants health as a primary resource. 


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