Proposed Brutal+ Changes

Brutal+ is an exciting new mode for Co-op. For veteran players who enjoy Co-op but are sometimes looking for something a little more challenging, it has the potential to increase replayability and add variety to the game.

I do see a few changes that could be implemented quickly to increase player enjoyment and engagement with Brutal+. I will focus all of my proposed changes within the existing framework of how Brutal+ works. They can all be accomplished by tuning numbers or removing mutators from a list. Before getting into those, let’s consider some background questions.

Why a new difficulty level?

A large number of Co-op players don’t want to play mutations at all (and may even not play on Brutal most of the time), but there is also a segment of the player base that wants something more challenging than Brutal.

Mutations have always offered greater difficulty, but the weekly mutations have a wide variance in difficulty. And if players want variety, they may grow tired of playing the weekly mutation repeatedly. Brutal+ offers a way to queue for mutations without repeating the same one over and over. Further, the mutator-point system allows Brutal+ difficulty levels to be internally consistent, letting players choose a challenge that is right for them. However, there are issues with RNG and with the difficulty gap between Brutal and Brutal+ that I will go into later. For now, keep in mind that the easiest ⅓ of weekly mutations would be scored as too easy for Brutal+.

Some players have complained that they wanted a more difficult mode without mutators. There’s something to be said for that, but I can understand how Brutal+ is easier to implement than a whole swath of other changes. With that said, I think Brutal+ could also be something these players could enjoy if the difficulty curve were adjusted, as I will suggest.

What does the community enjoy about weekly mutations?

Before delving into suggested changes to Brutal+, it is helpful to consider what Co-op players enjoy about weekly mutations.

First, many community members enjoy easier mutations. Mutations with a positive approval rating average 2.71 difficulty vs 3.62 for those with negative approval.

Thank you to CtG for collecting this data in his Weekly Mutation Database. The chart above is based on 85 mutations for which there is data.

I looked into the outliers in the data and found a few interesting things. For mutations that were more popular than their difficulty would suggest, I theorize that the community perceived them as “tough but fair,” or in some cases thought it was an interesting puzzle.

There was a stronger pattern on the other side -- outliers where the mutation was less popular than expected given its difficulty. The community doesn’t like “annoying” mutators, even if they aren’t that difficult. As an example, Astigmatism was less popular than its difficulty would indicate, and it had three annoying mutators with Long Range, Short-sighted, and We Move Unseen. It also seems that the community doesn’t love Going Nuclear, which can be very unforgiving to a lapse in attention.

Certain mutators show up frequently in mutations that are highly unpopular despite not being extremely difficult. Two mutators that are clearly despised are Afraid of the Dark and Micro Transactions. This makes sense. As players improve their mechanics, their EPM rises, and they can split their attention better. But these two mutators, rather than creating other challenges to overcome, punish a player for using mechanical skills. Afraid of the Dark encourages players to stare at their army. Micro Transactions punishes things such as splitting and using hero abilities. Mutators should add difficulty or encourage different playstyles without penalizing players for using their skills, and these two mutators fall short of that goal.

Another set of outliers was the three Just Die + Polarity mutations in 2019. All would be expected to be somewhat unpopular because they were difficult, but they were rated as extremely unpopular, more so than other mutations with similar difficulty ratings. Players generally dislike Polarity, but they especially disliked it when paired with such a synergistic mutator.

Weekly mutation: player profiles

There are a few different types of players who frequently play the weekly mutation.

Give me my XP.

Many players currently want to beat the weekly mutation just once to get their bounty and XP. These players would prefer that the weekly mutation be on the easier side, leading to the data above. These players might occasionally play Brutal+ for the extra XP, but since they weren’t passionate about mutations, they are unlikely to play Brutal+ often in its current form. After all, Brutal+ is harder than the weekly mutations they most enjoy -- the easy ones.

Give me a challenge.

Other players want something more challenging than Brutal and play mutations almost exclusively. Since there has not been a difficulty higher than Brutal that players could queue for, the weekly mutation was the only game in town. Other players play custom mutations with friends, since playing the weekly mutation repeatedly may become monotonous. Many of these players might migrate to frequent Brutal+ play, both in the queue and in parties.

Entertain my viewers.

When it comes to streaming and recording Co-op videos, weekly mutations are the most common subject. Several YouTube content creators publish one or more videos of the weekly mutation. And a few Versus-mode streamers do the mutation each week. Some of these players may enjoy producing content with Brutal+, although I expect that the weekly mutation will retain a special spot as the one shared challenge that the community faces each week.

Mutations aren’t hard enough unless I do it alone.

There is also a very select group of players who enjoy doing mutation solos each week. While these skilled players may also play Brutal+ frequently, I do not expect them to stop doing mutation solos, as the weekly mutation is the “mutation of record” that serves as an official challenge to be completed.

In summary, I expect Brutal+ to be appealing to more serious mutation players, while they will still remain committed to the weekly mutation as the shared challenge of the week. More casual mutation players won’t enjoy it very much as it stands today, but with my suggestions below, they would probably queue for it more often and might meet friends, leading them to play to higher levels of Brutal+ later as they gain more experience with random mutations.

Brutal+ compared to weekly mutations

One of the advantages of Brutal+ is that it should have more replayability than weekly mutations, as it offers endless combinations of mutators and maps. Players want some variety so that the game doesn’t feel stale. Players also want the right amount of challenge so that the game stays interesting. But with some exceptions, most Co-op players want to win the majority of the time -- they aren’t looking for an experience that is too difficult.

With that in mind, a few aspects of Brutal+ look promising. The random queue allows anyone to participate. Higher difficulty levels are there for players looking to really push themselves with their friends. The random set of mutators each game gives variety. Most importantly, each level of Brutal+ should have a fairly consistent difficulty due to the mutator point system.

However, this last point falls down a bit due to RNG. While I have some suggested changes to the mutator difficulty scores, they are fairly accurate as a group. But Brutal+ doesn't account for mutator-mutator or mutator-map synergies, which can lead to extreme and unintended difficulties that take away from the fun.

Further, most players dislike RNG-driven difficulty. They want to feel in control and like they can plan to overcome the obstacles in front of them. When a random mutation hard-counters their commander, or a strong mutator synergy appears, it can feel more like a game of luck. These types of RNG surprises should be minimized in Level 1 of Brutal+. They can still exist in levels 2-6, where players can retry with different commanders.

As an aside, some have said that Brutal+ -- with its random mutators -- is like the extremely unpopular Wheel of Misfortune. However, there is a big difference between having random mutators at the start of the game and having mutators constantly change during the mission (which may invalidate the units built for the previous mutator). Nonetheless, Wheel of Misfortune is another data point showing that the community doesn't enjoy luck-driven challenges.

Some players really enjoy the puzzle aspect of weekly mutations, trying to figure out the best commander to use and so forth. It can be gratifying to face a hard challenge and overcome it. The queue in Brutal+ unfortunately doesn’t allow for this, due to the random mutators. This also means that the Brutal+ queue is more difficult than mutator points would suggest, and neither ally has had time to plan and neither one has chosen an optimized commander -- both differences from the weekly mutation experience.

However, with parties on Levels 2-6, players can retry and switch commanders. This is a great feature even if players go into it knowing that they will need to retry -- they can take their time, strategize, pick their commander, and keep trying until they beat that mutation. Then they can repeat with a fresh challenge.

I believe the weekly mutation will remain valuable as a shared challenge each week. Players will still find it interesting to see videos of it and see different strategies that can be used. And it will still lead to a social aspect, driving conversation around the topic of the week.

Adjusting the difficulty curve

As it stands today, there is a large gap in difficulty between Brutal and Brutal+ -- too much of one to encourage players to try it and keep playing. I established earlier that players generally enjoy easier mutations more than harder ones. However, the easiest ⅓ of weekly mutations is too easy to appear in Brutal+.

For reference, here are the point totals for Brutal+ levels today.

I would propose changing the difficulty scores for the levels of Brutal+ to improve the difficulty curve for public queue vs party play. Here’s my proposal:

For reference, here’s how weekly mutations would be scored in Brutal+ with the current settings and with my proposed changes. Repeats, Wheel of Misfortune, and holiday mutations have been omitted.

This change seems like a surefire win for popularity and player engagement. The community enjoys easier mutations more. Brutal+ is already harder than weekly mutations of the same difficulty score due to RNG and lack of pre-planning, so this will make Level 1 more of a gateway into random mutations for a wider audience.

Some players who enjoy the current difficulty will be disappointed, but they can form a party and go as high as Brutal+6. The Brutal+ queue should also be a good place to meet partners for higher levels of difficulty. If a player wants more difficulty without a party, they can also play commanders who aren’t great at mutations.

Scoring the mutators

The Brutal+ scoring system is closely correlated with community scores for mutations. To determine this, I summed Brutal+ points for each weekly mutation and converted those point totals into a score from 1-5.

However, community scores are not 100% accurate in ranking mutation difficulty. There are a few reasons for this (including misinformed votes), but part of the problem is that some mutations have received lower difficulty scores because certain commanders trivialize that mutation, even though it would be extremely difficult for other commanders. One example is Double-edged. The difficulty score should be raised, but if you increase the score, the correlation between Brutal+ score and community score actually decreases. However, this is likely because many votes on those mutations were based on using favorable commanders, whereas Double-edged is extremely punishing overall.

Although Brutal+ points are good at predicting a community difficulty score, they could be more accurate for some mutators. Here are the points as they stand today, with suggested changes:

My proposed changes are informed by consulting mutator difficulty scores from two expert community members. I compared CtG’s mutator scores (which he used to let people challenge him to custom mutations) and Aommaster’s mutator scores (used for his tournaments). These two lists are very similar to each other in terms of how they rank mutators.

After my proposed changes, these mutators would never appear in Brutal+ (Level 1) by virtue of being 7 points or above with a requirement of at least 2 mutators.

This would also be a win for the popularity of Brutal+, as many players dislike several of those mutators -- at least with a random ally.

Other improvements

Even with the most accurate mutator scoring system, there will still be unintended difficulty added due to mutator-mutator and mutator-map synergies.

In weekly mutations, there have always been 2 or 3 mutators, with roughly ⅔ of mutations having 3 mutators. Brutal+ introduces a 4th mutator frequently. Since a higher mutator count is more likely to see to synergies (and thus an unintended difficulty spike), it would be better to reduce the number of games with 4 mutators. However, if all levels of Brutal+ are to have the same settings for mutator count, we also don’t want too many games with 2 mutators, as then higher levels will become too monotonous. For example, any Brutal+6 game with 2 mutators is required to have Void Rifts and Heroes from the Storm, as they are the only 2 that will fill the point requirement.

Here is the current breakout of mutator count frequency with proposed changes:

If there were a way to have separate settings for Levels 1-3 vs 4-6, I might suggest a 25-50-25 split at lower levels.

It would also be good to remove some of the most hated mutators from the pool altogether. I already mentioned that the community hates Afraid of the Dark, and it is fortunately excluded already. Three others should be removed:

These changes would make the mode more enjoyable while still leaving a wide variety of mutators to keep the mode fresh.


Brutal+ currently has too large of a difficulty gap vs Brutal. With a lower difficulty floor, it will appeal to more players. Players looking for more extreme difficulty will still have higher levels of Brutal+ in a party, and they can challenge themselves in the queue by playing with less mutation-resistant commanders.

I’ve also proposed a few simple changes to make the difficulty level more consistent and reduce player frustration. A handful of mutators would be re-scored. Three would be removed. And the number of games with four mutators would decrease, reducing the amount of synergy randomness. My proposed changes would lead to more popularity for Brutal+ by making it more accessible and more consistent, while retaining extreme difficulty for players who want it.