Thursday, January 5, 2012

How Much Can A Class Change?

Ferrel points out a fundamental issue with Cleric DPS in Rift: any DPS soul can currently pick up a set of abilities that causes a percentage of their DPS to be turned into passive healing for their entire group.  This puts a ceiling on how good Cleric DPS can be for obvious reasons - no one would want a pure DPS if clerics dealt as much damage AND provided free healing - and Trion has apparently recently attempted to add a new stance that increases DPS and reduces healing to help work around the issue.

Dr. Ferrel's prescription: Nerf the "broken" Justicar soul (which provides the passive cross-role healing), to clear the way for "unique" fixes to increase the DPS of the four DPS souls (rather than the non-unique buff), so that once the dust has settled Trion can remedy a lack of love for the three healers (in particular the Purifier, which Ferrel claims "needs a redesign" due to a "terrible" signature mechanic/"gimmick"). 

Personally, I haven't spent enough time with Rift to conclude whether any - or all eight - of the Cleric souls are in need of such dramatic changes.  That said, the discussion raises a design question that goes beyond the current state of one class in one game - how much is it fair to change the way classes play and feel in a live MMO? 

Changing the game
My limited experience suggests that Ferrel is absolutely right about the constraints the passive healing builds (called *-icar because you're tacking some Justicar onto whatever soul you're actually playing) place on the design for the rest of the class, or even the entire game.  One of my comments from the game's launch was that the sheer amount of passive healing generated by solo DPS builds - including Clerics - appeared to be harming the challenge of the non-instanced group content.  (There was a nerf along these lines in the game's first major patch, but Ferrel's post would suggest that the problem persists.)  Meanwhile, the value of free-form customization is greatly diminished when every Cleric build that will ever solo or DPS must spend most of its off-tree points in a specific soul. 

That said, my character is a Cleric because I actually like the current playstyle.  The types of changes Ferrel proposes - such as moving key abilities deeper into the tree - would have a huge effect on the leveling experience for all clerics.  Moreover, the philosophy behind the adjustments would dramatically alter the way the class feels - from a slow DPS'er with zero downtime due to a constantly regenerating health bar to hopefully a higher DPS class that is more dependent on active healing to survive. 

My opinion as someone who hasn't been a fulltime player of Rift since its first month doesn't really matter all that much, but how many others who are still in game chose the current Cleric class because they preferred its slower pacing?  If there are significant numbers who would be dissatisfied with the change even if it results in a mathematically superior (better exp/hour or whatever) class that loses the current feel, how do their needs balance against the arguably more severe consequences being suffered by players who would trade the survivability for DPS?  (To what extent did the current abundance of disgruntled Cleric DPS directly result from the ease of leveling the current Justicar splash builds?) 

Parting Caution
Two parting caveats to this discussion:
  1. In my experience with class balance as an MMO player since 2004, this is not the first time I've seen players of a specific class argue that one mechanic of their class should be nerfed to clear the way for future buffs.  The nerfs that even players of that class agree are needed generally happen.  The compensatory buffs don't always materialize. 
  2. Speaking more generally, I can think of one big example of a company which believes that classes can and should be radically redesigned every time the team feels that just one more revamp will solve the problems.  I know of relatively few players who are entirely satisified with this aspect of World of Warcraft, even when they agree the the problems with the status quo are legitimate and the proposed changes are objectively superior. 


  1. I haven't played Rift in a bout a month now due to some other game in a galaxy far far away sucking all the oxygen out of my play time, but I've played 2 different clerics to 50 in Rift and consider one of them to be my "main."

    For soloing, nothing beats an "icar." Generally the "Shamicar" (melee) or "Inquisicar" (caster) are the most common builds. And in instances they still do ok-ish dps while putting out some really nice AE heals -- not all of it passive, though. I've done many an instance group as pure dps inquisitor/sentinel/warden only to swap to an Inquisicar build for the final boss due to a need for additional AE spam healing at times. In those cases though, you're still dps as much as possible and then spam your AE heal 5x after the big AE hits from the boss, then get back to dps'ing -- you still have your main healer keeping the tank up.

    But, since the ability to spam heal like that only requires 6 points in Justicar, and if you want decent-ish passive heals from damage only needs 11... yeah, there's always been concern that if the clerics do too much dps, then those passive heals would simply be too good also. That's why the bandaid current fix with the Mien of Aggression reduces any haling done by 20% (on top of also losing a 50% healing increase from the Mien of Honor for a total loss of 70% of the passive healing done).

    So far as bandaids go, it's not bad, and if you're running an -icar to heal you won't be using MoA anyway, so overall it seemed decent as a bandaid, but I'm in total agreement that it would be better to have the soul trees re-worked, rather than a 1-size-fits-all bandaid like MoA.

  2. Ferrel proposes a solution that would be devastating to Cleric PvE buids, in order to make Cleric raiding DPS builds viable...

    It's quite true that DoL builds (aka -icar builds; DoL is Doctrine of Loyalty the semi-spammable Justicar AoE heal) are raiding monsters; many 20 person raids seem to consist of one dedicated healer, with all the rest being Clerics spamming DoL amongst their DPS (or tanking! Justicar is the main Cleric tank soul). However, the single-person version of DoL is the basis of most PvE Cleric builds, in particular most Ember Isle builds, where the mobs have much more health and hit much harder. Nerfing or removing that takes us all the way back to the days of 'healers aren't meant to solo'.

    The problem, as I see it, is not with the souls or the -icar, it's with the expectation that players have that all souls should be able to DPS equally. I know that this is stated in a Trion design document somewhere, but in practice it's not true and shouldn't be taken as true.

    Better to accept that their are four classes/callings (Warrior, Mage, Rogue, Cleric), and three raid tasks (Tanking, Healing, DPS) and all calling can do only TWO of these:

    Warrior - tanking/DPS
    Mage - healing/DPS
    Rogue - tanking/DPS
    Cleric - healing/tanking

    (and yes, I know there's a Support role, but only two specific *souls* can do this; yes, I know we could break things up as melee DPS vs ranged DPS vs ST DPS vs AoE DPS, but that's just extra complexity for the hell of it).

    Four callings, three raid jobs; your calling of choice gets to do any two...

  3. I'm not playing Rift much at the moment thanks to EQ2 being so insanely addictive, but I did play pretty much nothing but Rift for the first six months. When I was playing I didn't pay any attention to any of this theorycrafting. I just put points in whatever I felt like and mixed up whatever souls I fancied.

    As far as I could tell everything could level solo perfectly well. I certainly never managed to find a combination that couldn't level up solo fast and effectively. Unless you're absolutely determined to wring every last drop of efficiency out of every single second of gameplay while you race to 50 I can't see why anyone would need to play anything other than whatever they had a notion to play until they hit max level.

    Exactly the same applies to Rifting and Invasions. No-one but you either knows or cares what you are doing in an ad-hoc open-world rift or invasion group or raid. Stand there and spam your lowest damage ranged attack if you want (we all did that for the first couple of weeks!) or just put your pet on aggressive and have a nap.

    Once you get to instanced solo situations and some of the supposedly challenging max-level solo content you might need to do a bit of tweaking for comfort but I'd still say you could do pretty much hat you liked without needing to follow any set pattern.

    When it comes to instanced group and raid content, I neither know nor care. It would be a very great mistake if any sweeping changes were made to serve that demographic that affected the extreme accessibility and versatility of the rest of the game. I've seen that happen so many times in other MMOs, where changes made to class and game mechanics to fix perceived problems in specific areas have spiraled out of control to affect, usually adversely, other unrelated parts of the game and segments of the playerbase that had no idea the problem being fixed even existed.

    Balance in MMOs is a chimera. It should be ignored. Devs, unfortunately, seem to be like the obsessive do-it-yourself fanatic, sawing a a bit off a leg of a table to try and get it stand even, never getting it quite right and moving on to the next leg to try again until eventually there's no table left, just a board flat on the floor.

  4. Funny you should mention this, but in regards to WoW, quite a bit.

    Case in point; paladins.

    It seems that with every expansion, they change the very class mechanics itself into something completely different, whether it's the Seal/Judge system, to the Cooldown juggling, to now Holy Power.

    More often than not, the changes are poorly thought out and hastily implemented, resulting in bad feelings from the playerbase.

    Take, for example, the latest bit of drama from the WoW forums. A rather popular sword from the Dragon Soul raid, which spawns a pet that does damage and slows, was proccing more for paladins than warriors or death knights. Bear in mind, this sword was the best thing for paladins, since they finally are able to compete with damage from the other DPS classes when they were just in the median.

    However, inexplicably, the developers hotfix the mechanics that summon this pet, which also results in an overall damage decrease across the board from mechanics that haven't been touched in a while.

    The paladin playerbase is understandably upset.

  5. @Bhagpuss: Have you been to Ember Isle? Basic enemies have 13K health. If you don't have an "efficient" solo build, odds are very high that you will have a "subpar gaming experience" there.

    As for me, I've been playing MMOs for twelve years now (started in Asheron's Call). My rule of thumb is, developers have free rein to make massive changes to pretty much everything during the first year. Beyond that point, major changes should be limited to "content" rather than "classes." Add new abilities; consolidate abilities; but please don't make fundamental changes to the way a class plays.

    If people have played a class for a year and are still playing it, odds are they =like= the way the class plays. Logic implies that changing the way a class plays is risky: you're far more likely to annoy current players than you are to address their issues.

    That being said, evolutionary change is fine and expected. Addressing issues (such as Rift Cleric DPS, at least from a raid perspective) is almost certainly necessary. But the developers need to be very careful not to "break" gameplay while doing so.


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