Monday, February 23, 2009

Choosing Classes and The Perils of Blog Focus

This blog has a focus - incentive structures in online games. That doesn't necessarily mean that every single thing I post is incentive-related. Sometimes I post stuff related to business models, which generally have an indirect effect on game design (though there is an increasing official market - both in free to play and subscription games - for paying real cash to bypass timesinks). Sometimes I post about stuff that I've personally been doing in game, perhaps with some reference to what incentive it is that's motivating whatever it is that I'm up to. In general, though, incentives (intentional or otherwise on the part of the devs) are a broad enough focus that they tie in somehow to whatever I'm writing about.

Some days, though, I just can't seem to make something fit. I've been kicking around a draft of a post about picking which classes to play in EQ2 for about two weeks now. For whatever reason, I've redrafted it half a dozen times and couldn't come up with a good way to combine my thoughts, the actual character classes I'm trying out, my playtest experiences, etc, much less to tie it in with incentives.

Anyway, the part that I found most interesting was a pair of observations, so I'm going to toss them out there now to get this thing out of my draft queue. Hopefully I'll have better narrative luck next time.

How many buttons do you need?
WoW, LOTRO, and Warhammer (to the rank that I played it anyway) combat tends to focus on reusing the same handful of abilities. These abilities generally don't have a cooldown per se (though they might be limited by available of energy/runes/pips/combo points/etc), cooldowns are saved for more special moves, like a Paladin going invulnerable, a mage freezing all the local mobs into place so he can back up and nuke them, etc. Because the bread and butter abilities are not on a cooldown, my mage sometimes mows down non-elite mobs with Frostfire bolts alone.

EQ2, on the other hand, goes in the opposite direction. By level 20, I'm routinely using a good 10 abilities per fight, and I'm literally forced to change it up because almost all of them have cooldowns in the 15-30 second range.

How tough are the mobs?
The relative toughness of the player versus the mob can have a tremendous effect on how a class feels. My WoW mage now stands a decent chance of killing mobs with 2-4 hits, which means that he really doesn't need to mess around much with rooting, kiting, etc (though I have a ton of tools to do so when needed). The ability to kill things so quickly makes the class feel powerful compared to classes that trade killing speed for durability (which isn't that necessary for most classes, other than the healing specs, in solo combat).

The same exact ability set, in the context of a game where the average fight is supposed to run for more than 10 seconds, feels weaker. It seems like a lot more work to use strategies like root->nuke->kite when the mobs aren't actually going down very quickly, and suddenly standing and fighting seems like a better option.

(This point may be why I have such a hard time predicting what class I'm going to want to play in a new game. I thought I'd go with a solo-friendly caster in EQ2, but I ended up playing a not-very solo-friendly rogue-like Dirge because I felt that all the buffs made up for the time it takes to kill stuff, in a way that having more outright damage, but still way less as a proportion of mob health bars than WoW DPS characters do, did not.)


Klepsacovic said...

Sometimes you just have to give up and hope your readers don't hate you for breaking your focus. I've been lucky, my blog was always deceptive: a troll shaman title, but mostly about paladins. So it's perfectly okay for me to break the rules because I never followed any in the first place. :)

Pangoria Fallstar said...

It doesn't bother me to change it up unless you get "stuck" on it. What I mean is, just label it as "fun" or whatever, post it, and move on.

Besides you exploring EQ2, talking about how the classes play, and different features, means more, and talks more about incentives than you know.

The one where you talked about sprinting, and the blog about basing your wow time on whether we have wintergrasp or not, are some of my favorites I've read (I have not gone through your archive).

I've been reading you for a couple of months, and you've yet to disappoint.

Anonymous said...

I'd be interested in your thoughts on the classes and how different games try to balance them.

I know one of the reasons EQ2 didn't grab me is because I liked the idea of a CC type caster with some damage. But when I tried it (coercer I think?) the CC was very weak/unpredictable and the damage was too. So I'm like 'OK, I gave up decent damage in return for unpredictable CC? Not a good bargain.'

I think it was one of the rogue classes that I ended up preferring for soloing there.

Green Armadillo said...

@Klep: I was wondering how your title happened, and now I know. :)

@Pan: Thanks for the kind words. There are definitely ways to tie stuff into topics I normally talk about, I was just having trouble with this post for some reason. Too open ended, perhaps.

@Spinks: I will definitely take another crack at a class writeup at some point, but I'd like to get some more classes up to higher levels before I do. Because they all get so many abilities (and because healers, tanks, and CC-focused characters get abilities that they don't use solo), and because mobs are relatively weak at low levels, I'm not sure how well I trust my early impressions.

I'm actually having a decent time with the Coercer's good counterpart, the Illusionist (see today's post). From what I've heard, the Coercer is a very late bloomer since it's mind control ability is too dangerous to rely on and it doesn't get key pet-less solo abilities until higher levels. Without the pet, you're left with a CC that breaks on damage and relatively few tools to actually kill things yourself. Not a great plan for a class.

I really should take another crack at an actual pure DPS class. I tried the Swashbuckler very early on and hated it because it can't keep pace with a WoW rogue (plus I somehow died in a fair 1 on 1 fight with a level 3 solo enemy, guess I just got some epic unlucky hit rolls). It's possible that I'd be more open to a real DPS class now that I'm more used to about what EQ2 classes are capable of relative to mobs.