Monday, June 1, 2009
It was another busy off-line weekend, and I wound up sinking a fair chunk of time into my fourth attempt at a Sarnak in EQ2.
Giant lizards 2 and 3 failed for straightforward reasons.
The second was a Shadow Knight, a tanking class with life-draining self-healing powers that lingered in mediocrity for ages and suddenly became the flavor of the month after November's expansion. (Counter programming to WoW's Death Knight?) I'm sure it was a big step up from my Dirge in both damage potential and durability, but it "felt" less interesting without the stealth, stunning, and flanking aspects of Dirge combat.
Sarnak number 3 was a Warlock, on the theory that I might as well try one of the game's pure caster classes. The problem, as Araxes' "Warlock or Wizard?" post points out, is that EQ2 Warlocks are focused on AOE attacks in a game that is mostly focused on single targets. EQ2 features many otherwise nonhostile mobs that wander around in the vicinity of hostiles, where they are likely to be struck and enraged by true AOE attacks, which are the Warlock's specialty. I could have tried being a Wizard, I suppose, but somehow the Warlock felt more appropriate to the Sarnak race than the Wizard did.
The really interesting contrast, though, was between the first and the current Sarnaks.... both of whom are druids.
Contrasting Sides of a Class
My very first EQ2 character was a Fury, a druid that relies on casting spells for soloing and DPS. Furies are widely regarded as an excellent solo class due to reasonable damage capacity along with roots and speed enhancements (for easier kiting) and self-healing abilities. Unfortunately, I didn't like the class at all.
Part of the problem was a day-one learning curve issue. Low-level Furies have two damage spells, one of which does damage over time and therefore is not well suited for repeated blasting of a foe. That damage is supplemented significantly by a system called "heroic opportunities", which allows characters to chain together certain types of abilities for a bonus, in this case, a significant additional chunk of damage. Unfortunately, I didn't figure this out on day one in Norrath, thinking that the Heroic Opportunity system sounded like LOTRO Fellowship Manuvers and whatever the group combos were called in FFXI. This meant miserably low damage at a very early level, which I took to be a bad sign.
The other problem is that my view of how DPS casters should work is influenced by four years of playing a WoW mage. Casters in WoW rarely, if ever, have any reason to actually swing a weapon. There is no reason to waste a global cooldown hitting something with your spell power staff for trivial damage when you could be casting another spell, or kiting to some range from which to cast another spell. By contrast, the EQ2 autoattack can be toggled on during spellcasting, and the character will simply take a swing between each spellcast each time their swing delay permits.
As a result of this system, EQ2 has developed an interesting little niche for melee DPS healing classes. Half of the healing classes are focused on spellcasting DPS, while the other half specialize in physical attacks. The melee healers get to use good weapons and armor and, at higher levels, receive large passive bonuses to their attack stats (some can hit 100% crit). On top of that, they get the ability to convert their ranged damage spells, which take several seconds to cast and can be delayed by damage, into melee attacks with practically no casting time.
Enter the Fourth Sarnak, a Warden (the other flavor of Druid) named Kreejak. (As in "Jaffa, Kree!" and Jack O'Neill of Stargate SG-1 fame, but we won't tell people that in general chat since it's technically an RP server.) I have the same two damage spells that my ill-fated Fury had, but now they're melee attacks that are accompanied by hits from a 2-handed battle hammer. I still have access to a root spell and the ranged versions of the attacks, which allows me to soften up foes as needed, and I can top off my health with some quick-casting heals as needed. On top of all of this, the character is still a druid, granting access to perks like water breathing, running at speeds greater than your average mount, and teleportation. Oh, and he breathes fire, since I opted to pick that racial tradition at level 10 so that I'd have an extra attack (actually a pretty good one at that level).
Overall, it's a very interesting take on a healing class. The other two melee healer types have other interesting tricks. The Inquisitor (evil-only) wears plate armor and has both regular heals and "reactive" heals that heal a target after it takes damage (but does NOT have a fast runspeed buff). The Mystic (good-only, I would have tried this one, but Sarnaks are technically evil-aligned) has a 2-handed spear and a spirit wolf companion, and casts "ward" heal spells that prevent damage before it occurs. (I might try one of these sometime down the line, perhaps as a Wood Elf or a Barbarian, but I wanted to play a Sarnak and figured I might as well wait on the next expansion's new good-aligned city to try another good character.)
Regardless of which exact type you choose, the melee healer is a very interesting change of pace from trying to level a healing class as a slightly less effective caster with the option of healing oneself after battle. Also, players can switch sub-classes by betraying their home cities, allowing you to level a healer as the melee flavor of the class and then switch over to the other version if you prefer for raiding etc. Anything that makes healing classes more interesting is a win in my book.