Zero Class Diversity These Days

DAOC Theurgist
DAOC's Theurgist class summons temporary pets that fulfill various roles and utilities.

If you stop and think for a moment about the classes in MMO’s these days, none of them are really unique anymore.  Roles are no longer class based.  Instead, roles are being defined in archetypes and classes are being lumped into those categories.  World of Warcraft is, once again, a great example of the dumbing-down effect.  Each WoW patch feels like it brings all the tanks closer to being exactly alike.

The MMO community is seeing less and less in the way of unique mechanics because diversity is being viewed as a hassle; Everyone has to feel special and loved in the same way.  Heaven forbid a class do something that another class can’t — bloodlust, anyone?

Vanguard had(has) some cool classes.

  • The Bard could compose his or her own songs adding different elements to customize them.  Bards could attack from range, dual wield dps, or sit back using an instrument to improve their songs.

Dark Age of Camelot (king of diversity and, I admit, balance issues) – It felt like DAOC did a great job working in class mirroring while maintaining uniqueness.  All three archer classes felt different from one another.

  • Animist – Summoned fungal turrets.  Spam’d them.  It was crazy.
  • Theurgist – pet class that summoned temporary pets that would run at the target. Had a unique feel and ability to solo that I haven’t seen replicated.
  • Shadowblade – Even the rogue-like class could use a two handed axe.
  • Friar – A healing version of the EQ Monk with great buffs and utility that could still whip out the staff and go to town.

EverQuest was (is?) a great example of truly unique classes.  For years and years (maybe even still the case today) classes filled very specific roles that did not overlap.

  • Bards that could twist songs together (still unique to EQ Bards).  The class in general feels way different than any other MMO bards.
  • Monks.  A class that has, sadly, been ignored in almost every way.  A martial arts class that does roundhouse kicks, jump kicks, dragon punches, and crazy monk stuff.
  • Enchanters – They could change their form to any other race to enter cities that were KoS.   Provided crack (mana regen), Mez/CC’d on a level we haven’t seen again, had pets, and could even nuke.

There are a lot of older games that did classes very well.

Today it all boils down to needing X amount of tanks, Y amount of DPS, and Z amount of heals.  The classes rarely matter.   Few are known for being good warriors; They are known for being good tanks.   All DPS feels the same.  I can’t even count how many DPS classes Rift has, but having tried most of them I feel comfortable saying they all feel the same to me.  In my opinion, different spell effects (in a general sense, not aimed at any one game) do not constitute diversity.

A class being “cool” or “fun” is subjective.  You may think today’s MMO’s offer you plenty of cool and original ideas and that’s fine.   You can’t, however, deny the homogenization of classes and their roles.  I’d love to see this trend stop, more unique and original classes release, and the design revert back to the days when someone could be good at their class and have it mean something.

  • Agree, especially the last paragraph. I said the same thing around Rift’s launch–the system would lead to homogeneity–and I was largely told I was wrong. Either way, the role system is extremely useful for quick creation of group play, but it also leads to no one feeling special (and other things) because everyone is easily replaceable.

  • You mean bring back the days unbalanced days where you needed one (1) Shadow Priest for mana battery purposes; five (5) shaman so you could rotate them into your four (4) rogue group for chain-Bloodlusts; bring one (1) mage for Arcane Intellect and mage food to fuel the warlocks that filled out the rest of the caster roster; have four (4) paladins to buff the raid, leaving two outside the raid entrance never to zone it; oh, and only allowing Blood Elf Ret paladins to be anywhere remotely competitive with their unique (!) Seal of Blood whereas all Alliance paladins are inexplicably screwed out of ~40% DPS; and the ultra-fun decision that warrior tanks are the only legitimate tanks to the point where raid boss mechanics rely entirely on moves only they have access to. But hey, it’s fun being the 5-man/raid trash tank class… especially since that is what I signed up for on the character select screen, amirite?

    The “dumbing down” you see taking place is something called “balance.” Which encompasses the idea that decisions you made on the character select screen should NOT impact your ability to do endgame raiding content 300+ hours later.

  • Azuriel’s examples for the most part seem more a min/maxer or elitist made problem than a systemic one. In my guild we’ve played the classes we wanted (within the restriction of needing a tank and a healer for each dungeon group of course) regardless of abilities or which class was OP. I personally would much rather live with some classes being more ‘desirable’ than have everything so horribly homogenised as it is now in WoW.

    In answer to Keen’s OP though some games do have class uniqueness still. DDO has plenty of unique flavour to its classes and the multiclassing system allows for aruably more ‘builds’ than even Rifts soul system. I’d suggest a couple of the classes in LoTRO are probably fairly unique, the Warden’s gambit system is pretty unusal for a tanking mechanism – not just in the how the combos build but also that the class is a medium armour, mitigation-based tank with self-healing.

    So I would say zero class diversity is a WoW and WoW-clone problem, not an industry-wide one. I can’t say I’ve paid enough attention to SWTOR to know for that game but I think GW2 will aim at more class diversity rather than less. Finally it’s notable that the two examples I give from personal experience (DDO and LoTRO) both lack a ‘serious’ PVP component – PVP balancing attempts by developers is a great way to destroy class flavour.

  • I generally agree, Keen. I also preferred the class-based diversity with limited overlap or roles that I learned in Everquest and DAoC.

    At the top raid level, as Azuriel points out, it did hit game design issues, but the problem, then and now, is player inflexibility. Players would rather sit in a city doing /lfg calls for an hour until they got the exact set of classes they believed they needed to do a dungeon than to take whichever classes were available and improvise.

    Taking Everquest as an example, I watched countless people trying to make groups over the years, refusing to move out until they’d got a Cleric, and Enchanter and a Warrior. When LdoN was hot, it could be next to impossible to get a group without you had a bard.In most cases people were actually trying to do content that was manageable by almost any bunch of classes that included some healing, some crowd control and some agro management. In Everquest, you could pretty much pull six classes out of a hat and get that.

    But people didn’t want to improvise, or take longer than the minimum time to complete whatever it was they were doing. They wanted optimum efficiency and by god they were prepared to wait for it. Until eventually they decided it was just impossible to get groups and quit. Even in Rift, where anyone can be anything at the flick of a switch, pretty much, you still see people doing lfg calls for very specific classes/builds.

    I believe game design changed in response to how unwilling the average players were to use the toolset they’d been given. The result was, we all got a much blander set of tools.

  • This is actually one of the reasons GW2 is now on my radar: they are claiming a breakaway from the “Holy Trinity” (though there’s blatantly a tank class) and I’d love to see how and if that can work in practice.

    Then again there’s no raids so guess they don’t have to balance around 1-2 tanks, x healers and the rest as DPS.

  • Everquest had very unique classes. When grouped up, you really felt like you had an important role to play, which made it a lot of fun.

  • Sitting on my ass in EQ’s PoK/PoT all evening trying to get a group and failing as a druid wasnt fun for me (even tho I loved soloing with my druid it was not something I wanted to be limited to). I finally gave up on it and started a mage (which I loved btw).

    Encounters shouldnt be made impossible if you don’t have a certain class/talent tree with you.
    (I will admit to not having had the chance to try some WoW encounters without those classes, people just refused to do them)

    So for the sake of actually playing the game “I” want, I can see why they “dumb it down”. Whether the group has a Paladin, Warrior, Shadowknight, Deathknight, whateveryouwannacallit as a tank, should not matter for progress, but hopefully plays completely different for the person behind the controls.

    EQ did a wonderful thing, with classes having unique abilities (I was young, it was a new concept). Most modern games classes to me feel like they are all (almost) the same,the same abilities, just different animations/names. (maybe im just more experienced at spotting it nowadays)

    Balancing is a PAIN!

  • I couldn’t agree with this more. I tried Rift and liked it but by the end of the beta I was like…. man, these spells all feel way too similar, like it’s the same spell with a different effect. In the end, that’s all any of these are, but some do a better job with the illusion than others.

  • WoW is indeed a great example of homogenization. Not sure if people remember why this is though. Vanilla had some issues (*cough* Tranq shot, Suppression Room *cough*) that required specific class abilities to even have a chance to progress. You didn’t have that class and spec? No group for you. BC made it even worse what with Shamans and Bloodlust. Wanted to tank? Warrior. Needed a tank healer? Paladin. You wanted to raid (arguably all you had to do at max level) you needed a specific set of abilities to even have a chance to win. The game was balanced under the assumption that you had X abilities and if you didn’t, too bad for you. Reducing group size just made this problem worse. Remember Sarth-3D that was impossible without a bear tank? They spread the abilities around so that you could play with anyone and get the job done. Not have to re-roll a new character to provide that 1 ability that was needed to progress.

    EQ had classes with specific abilities that made them much better than any other class. If the group already had a bard, what was that second one going to do? Was it possible to progress without Clarity or level without SoW? My shaman made thousands just standing in town selling SoW.

    Rift is an interesting example as well – tanking. Warriors absorb it (or deal damage, it’s complicated), Clerics will self-heal and absorb while Rogues will avoid it completely. They do it all differently yet they all tank.

    With unique abilities, comes huge balance issues. If your group is 5 players and you have 10 classes, you can’t assume they have that ability but if they do, does it completely trivialize the content? If they need it to move forward, how do you make sure they have it 100% of the time?

  • To me when you boil down to it aside of what some games like GW2 are promising it is very hard to break away from the trinity mold. I played each class up to 85 in WoW, and working on getting each class to 65 (soon 75) in LOTRO as well as having one of each class mid range in RIFT. The bottom line is that people no longer want to commit to a class if they know they are going to be stuck doing the same thing everytime on that class all the way up to and through end-game.

    The general mechanics are usually the same. Yes some break the mold a bit like the Warden’s Gambit system, Rune-Keeper Attunement or a Death Knights rune system. But in the end it is just getting harder and harder to find people that are willing to stick to one particular role and style. I know I certainly don’t like to be stuck in a particular role, and that was why in WoW my main was always a Druid, so even more so after dual-specs I could do whatever I wanted to do DPS/Tank/Heal for whatever mood I was in. Same goes for Rift allowing you to swap out your class to have a spec for tanking, or healing or DPS depending on said class.

    Part of this comes from the move away from group leveling to solo leveling. I don’t blame MMO makers for wanting to make their MMOs solo friendly. The general age of the majority of the players continues to move upwards. There are a lot of 30/40 year olds like me that love MMOs and seeing others run around and socializing in games, but don’t have the time to waiting around for a group to form. And now LFG tools don’t cut it since they tend to bring out the worst of the worst.

    That is one of the reasons I like to try each class though. Sure in the end they break down to one of the trinity or the occasional hybrid/utility/cc builds, but at least the combat animations and the way a class is played vary slightly from class to class. Some use combo system, some use Attunement , some use rage, or other mechanic but in the end other than some strategy it comes down like most games to button mashing.

    That is one of the good things about GW is that even with GW 1, you are forced to have a very limited skill set at any given time, that being said you have huge selection to pick from before entering the battlefield. While I love getting new moves, skills, spells or whatever for the particular class that I am playing, the majority of the time the skills really don’t differ from one another. 1 button you mash for aggro, one button you mash for single target heal, one button you mash for AOE dps, etc. And largely any new skills are just old ones bundled as a higher rank or maybe a slightly different animation but in the end there even having 50 spells on your hotbar, you are going to pretty much limit yourself to a small fraction of those outside the occasional buff or stance buttons that you may use.

    One thing that LOTRO tried, yet I haven’t really seen used to any real extent is fellowship moves. Grouping of various individual class spells to form a even larger spell. AOC has this on a smaller scale and limited to a individual with combos or spellweaving but still it is never used fully.

    The biggest issue is that a lot of people expect to be able to solo, group, raid, and PVP all with the same build or character. They all want to be the best of the best regardless of their class. As much as I dislike stat building games that require you to grind out various skills, I respect games like Darkfall for doing this. At least that way you can take a character and build it to what you want to focus on the most.

    But in the end the majority of use play MMOs to escape reality and enter a world where we feel powerful and to most that means being able to try to be the best or the best. DPSers spend their time worrying about elite yellow damage numbers, Healers spend their time focused on huge heals and group saves, and Tanks on keeping aggro. But for most people they eventually get burnt out on doing one of those three.

    In the end I just don’t see D/H/T Trinity going anywhere. You are always going to need a meat shield, a person to keep people alive and people with the ability to make noticeable dents in a bosses HP.

    To me the only way to do this is to allow multi specing and let the user decide in the end to decide to play the game they are paying for the way they want to. A person shouldn’t have to spend 300 hours to max out a character and learn all there is to know about that class only to find out that their class isn’t the FOTM or relegated to being stuck for the rest of that characters life to a set position or playstyle. Just as characters evolve over time, so do the people that play them in regards to what they expect from the character.

  • After WoW, casuals dictate to developers what they want. Keen, what you want in regards to classes and the last subject, respecs, you aren’t going to get unfortunately. The casual player wants a class that is self sufficient, jack of all trades, and wants the freedom to change his mind on builds all the time. If you want players to think hard about builds/classes and realize that they NEED to work with other players. . .well if you find a group of developers doing that I’M ALL IN. I’m afraid you are looking for an MMO that just isn’t there, it isn’t even in the pipe somewhere. MMOs don’t like us anymore buddy.

  • I love DAoC’s classes.. Theurgist and Animist were really original ones yeah, the idea of the Heretic too was awesome. Even the Minstrel isn’t something i’ve really seen in other games. It seems more and more with each patch that DAoC will be heading f2p in the near future too, which I’m actually pretty excited about…

  • @Azuriel

    You stated “The “dumbing down” you see taking place is something called “balance.” Which encompasses the idea that decisions you made on the character select screen should NOT impact your ability to do endgame raiding content 300+ hours later.”

    The crux of this issue is that Raiding is the issue that causes this balanced game approach. “IF” a game was designed around a myriad of other activities instead of raiding as the sole source of development inspired content then the class identities that Keen espouses would be a moot point.

    Ohh how I long for the days when raiding was something you did when you were bored (like in DAoC) or if you wanted a 100% dropped specific item (like in Asherons Call)and the majority of your time is spent in RvR, grinding for gold and items, dungeon running with friends, crafting, killing mobs because they drop phat stuff, exploring far off corners of the map, aquiring that next piece of gear to complete your matched suit of armor, etc. etc.

    Raiding is the core issue that I see time and time again in why MMO’s of today are shit.

  • @iLkRehp: I agree that the big AAA MMO’s are going to cater to casual inclusion if not their primary focus, which does lead to “dumbed-downed” mediocrity. On the other hand I am not sure that the casual player wants a jack-of-all-trades toon at the expense of loss of uniqueness. Even if they think they want to be able to do it all they will find over time that it sucks to just be another toon in the crowd; after all I would think that a major appeal of such games is the ability of a rl loser to be The Jenkins in vr (

    I am willing to sacrifice some class balance for variety so long as my scissors aren’t consistently brittle in comparison to everyone else’s boulder sized rocks; I am fine being owned by one class build so long as I can own another in an ongoing chain of karmic retribution…

  • Azuriel, none of those over-the-top procedures you mentioned were necessary for progression.

    They were for Sunwell, more or less. And if it worked in there, it worked all the way down.

    As for homogenization, I think the issue is really, really overblown. Classes have similar tools or similar functions, but they play completely differently. An Arms warrior plays nothing like a Ret paladin play nothing like an Assassination rogue plays nothing like an Enhancement shaman. Even the tank classes play radically different. So I am not sure I buy the argument that classes need 100% unique utility to not be considered homogenized.

    Rather, it seems like people want to be considered valuable based on the character select screen, rather than how they are capable of performing.

  • The issue is, stuff might not be strictly “needed” for progression and objectively, only relevant to “crazy min-maxers” – but still people will think *they* will need it and rather wait 30 minutes for the last elusive class-build combo to show up than instead pick another generic dps and run on 98% perceived efficiency…

  • Allods Online, while being somewhat a generic MMO, has some nice diversities among the classes imo.
    Look at the two tanks for instance, Paladins are great single target tanks due to their ability to selfheal and mitigate damage, but they lack the tools to AoE tank. This is where the Warrior class fills the gap, they AoE tank like nothing else, but has a harder time with single hardhitting targets. (well thats what I’ve read so far, haven’t played either of them in endgame so can’t vouch for this).

    GW2 seems to have a solid base for class diversity, since every class is practically a dps class and nothing else (some have added support abilities).

    @Intruder313: Afaik there’s no tank class in GW2. Both the Warrior and the Guardian has plate armor and the ability to wear a shield, which makes them harder to kill. But neither of them have abilities to help them keep the attention of the mob and nor will they be able to single handedly tank a boss from start to finish. If they try, they will most likely die as boss fights will require you to move away from taking damage and regenerate health (using your own heal, stepping into ground targeted heals etc).
    This is how the Devs have described it at least, and also how people at game demos have said they experienced it.

  • A persons perception of MMOs really has a lot more to do with their own mental state than anything else. If you’re into it, you can overlook all kinds of huge, glaring flaws. Or even think the flaws are positives. Once burnout sets in, everything seems to be awful and stupid.

    Basically Keen’s got the blues cause he’s bored and he doesn’t know what the hell to do with his time.

  • FFXI is a good example of unique feeling classes for the most part. Each has its own mechanics and feels like a unique experience…

    WoW certainly tried to make its classes feel different; with the Holy Power mechanic of Paladins; every spec having a different set of procs and such; but it does all feel like the same crap. There are still distinctions between tanking classes, but it is a closing gap.

  • Proximo – “GW2 seems to have a solid base for class diversity, since every class is practically a dps class and nothing else”

    Come again?

    GW2 is going to be one of the worst offenders all-time in regards to lack of class diversity. No tank class, no main healer, just a bunch of self-contained DPS hybrids. GW2 is on my watchlist but c’mon class diversity will be it’s weakest point.

    Gankatron – I agree that rock, paper, scissors is a better and easier system of balance but the casual gamer does want the “jack of all trades” class. Their problem is they refuse to accept the 2nd part, the balancing part, the “master of none” component. When casuals want versatility without the sacrifice in power that should be associated with it. . .welcome to dumbed down easy-mode.

  • People shouldn’t be hating on the min-maxers, a group which I count myself as a member. I enjoy playing the fatally flawed superhero as it requires a greater degree of tactical planning and awareness; glass cannon dps is the life for me! Elric may have had a kickass sword and demonically enhanced magical abilities, but catch him on a day without the benefit of his elixir and he was roadkill…

    I like the idea of someone thinking that I am hacking only because they weren’t able to get past the combination of withering dps and CC most likely in a situation where I have the benefit of 1st strike and chosen the tactical position; now catch me at unawares and I had netter hope for a good panic button-based escape plan if I live long enough to be able to press it.

    My WoW frost mage of long ago (5 or 6 years ago maybe?) was my favorite; great dps (not to a fire mage’s degree, but still respectable), slowing effects to hinder their approach and allow for my cool downs to repop, ice block and elemental artillery when the gap was closed, and insta-blink behind them to rinse, wash, and repeat. Good times…

  • The games which offer the most customization remain the “classless” ones though. Ultima Online and Asheron’s Call.
    One class based game to be commended on that topic is Anarchy Online. They have classes, but you distribute skill points like in a skill based MMORPG.

    No class/level based game will ever surpass a pure skill based one when it comes to character customization and uniqueness though.

  • Again, good point. Games have been moving more and more towards this. Rift and (upcoming) Star Wars: The Old Republic seem like the worst offenders though. Every class can do everything, just some are better at it than others.

    WoW is only bad for this in that some classes have access to everything (Druid), others have access to most things (Paladin), others have access to two roles (everything except Hunter, Rogue, Mage and Warlock) and few have access to one. A lot of the ‘class’ feature abilities have been moved around (DKs getting battle rez, Hunters and Mages getting Heroism), this was a necessary move to support 10 man raids and casual raiding.

    I’ve got mixed feelings about this. On one hand I don’t like having to level multiple characters through all the same content (another topic piece for you; lack of starting areas and separate paths) to experience the other roles but on the other, it is nice to experience a significant difference between classes.

  • I think people are making EQ out to be more unique in it’s classes than they really were, at least when I quit playing. The standard for a group was 1 Tank, 1 Healer and 1 Slower.

    If you didn’t have a slower you needed an extra healer or much higher DPS, top end slows reduced damage to 25% – 30% of what a mob put out otherwise. There were three classes that could slow reliably and each brought real bonuses, enough so that doubling up on slowers was good most of the time. Shamans had the best slow, a decent haste, good buffs and poor to mediocre healing. Enchanters had good slow, best haste, mana regen buff, CC and if they were daring charm regular mobs into being pets that were enormously destructive. Beastlords had good slow, some low buffs if memory serves (maybe even a haste) and outstanding DPS from a pet that could off tank and main tank in a pinch.

  • @bhagpuss Yes, some of the issues that those TBC mechanics brought were problematic. Not because of the mechanics themselves, but the simple fact that the developers designed encounters to take for granted that each and every raid had access to every class mechanic available.

    Encounter design is actually better now, and much easier than it was in TBC due to the fact that designers. Mostly because you can not assume a unique encounter mechanic can be negated by a unique class mechanic. (These still exist, see Alysrazor and Fire Mages.) As we moved forward into Wrath we lost the uniqueness of class design. Most notably was the loud and numerous complaints about the design of OS3D and the fact that it was fundamentally easier to complete that encounter with a DK or Druid main tank. This was not the real issue, but it was made out to be. The real issue was that up until that point, Warriors had been kings of the jungle for 4 years. The fundamental assumption that one tank class was best and capable of doing anything was proven false and it was “fixed”.

    In the end, the homogenization of classes in MMOs such as WoW, Rift, etc. is simply a function of the raiding and themepark systems that these games are based upon. As the group size has diminished compared to the available classes, the instance based raid system has moved to a system in which we can no longer count on certain constants. So they homogenized buffs, debuffs, and abilities in order for them to count on them.

    This is the real issue. Most of the other games with unique classes brought with it a large community that allowed for class uniqueness. Or other game mechanics such as FFXI’s ability to easily change your class to fulfill your groups immediate need for a role to be filled. With WoW’s new found “alt centric” gameplay style the developers should be able to actually move away from Homogenization of classes.