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EverQuest Next - The Power of Class Imbalances

Posted Mon, May 27, 2013 by Dalmarus

EverQuest Next and Class Imbalances

EverQuest Next is quickly coming around the corner and with it, the chance to reclaim the glory days of our youth. OK... it's not really coming right around the corner, and nothing is ever going to give me my youth back at this point, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t old-school aspects of EverQuest that could see a comeback. There are quite a few concepts that can be modified and brought forward from our original EverQuest days that could drastically change the way players interact with each other and with the community at large. We've been talking about them for a while now, but today I'm going to explain why we need to do away with this continual obsession with class balance.

Whoa! Whoa! Wow. After the past few weeks, I would have thought you'd give me a chance to explain my position and thoughts before grabbing the torches and pitchforks. Before anyone has an aneurism, let me be clear that this does not refer to the PvP of any game. Even EverQuest recognized this back in the day so spells and abilities were treated differently on PvP servers so they wouldn't interfere with PvE content. In fact, why more companies don't go down this route these days, I have no idea. Nothing drives players crazier than having their abilities nerfed because of the way it affects gameplay in either PvE or PvP. As a PvE player, I couldn’t possibly care any less about what happens in PvP and you'll find those players generally feel the same way about my PvE content. Anyway, back to the main topic at hand…

EverQuest Dark Elf

Back in the day, classes were not created equally. Not even close. If you wanted to have a soloing powerhouse, you chose a Necromancer, Magician, Wizard, or Bard. If you wanted to get out of virtually any situation the game could throw at you, you chose a Monk. Tanks were tanks, healers were healers, and Enchanters were the undisputed masters of crowd control. None of the classes were balanced in terms of being equally viable for solo or group play and quite frankly, the idea was ridiculous. Each class had a very specific role in groups (keep in mind group play was the overwhelming norm at the time) and as a result, each played very differently. By today's standards, all the classes were horribly imbalanced and not remotely equal. Rather than detract from gameplay though, it gave each player a clear sense of focus.

Main tank, off tank, healer, DPS, crowd control - these were all various roles that were filled by players depending directly on which class they chose at character creation. A Warrior made for a horrible DPS addition, but could take more damage and keep the attention of even the most flighty beast. The Ranger could pull a mob off the edge of a cluster from an incomprehensible amount of distance since no one could match its ranged ability with a bow. Monks and Necromancers were also masters of dangerous pulling situations thanks to their ability to feign death. And when a pull did go badly, it was the Enchanter that kept all the mobs frozen and in check while the party went to work taking targets down. The Cleric would keep the main tank alive as the DPS classes slowly started to build up their damage. Yes, I said slowly - the person that pulled aggro off a tank quickly found themselves without a heal since the game was about playing your role well, not trying to do the most damage as quickly as possible. Again, everyone had their roles.

EverQuest Shadowknight

While we don't need to go back to the days of losing XP for dying, sitting for 30 minutes to gain enough mana to make it through the next 3 battles, or camping a specific location for hours just grinding, we do need to take a look at some of these aspects the original EverQuest. Class imbalance was the norm and it clearly served a specific purpose. We need a game to come along and enforce various class roles to help steer the community into a more cooperative and self-regulating force. Clear class separation won't matter at all without the consequences (both good and bad) of a reputation that follows your character forever... but that's next week's topic!

Class seperation is crucial to a good game in my opinion. In so many games, pretty much every class can fill every role. Healers are welcome but not needed. Tanks too.

But you really need to have a balance. I've seen games fail too for relying too heavily on 'the perfect party'.

Final Fantasy XI only really had White Mages for healing. Sure, Red Mages can heal, but they were more the Shaman of the game. They could work early game, but weren't really healers in late game. Likewise, you needed a Warrior. Or a Paladin with Warrior as a subjob. You needed someone who could taunt and gain agro. Not getting it would cause a wipe. And FF11's penalties were often more evil than EQs!

There needs to be a huge advantage to having a well built party doing their jobs well, but there also needs to be scope for clever solutions and weird parties.

I once took part in one of the best groups I'd ever been in, in the Plane of Innovation. It was me (a Shaman), a Druid, a Monk, and a Ranger. We had no tank. We had no Cleric. We had no real crowd control. But we ruled. Nobody wanted to leave that group as it was an efficient mob clearing force. And the ranger didn't die once!

I regularly grouped with a somewhat non-standard party like that too. I played a necro, and then there was always a shaman and druid in the group, with other people rotating in here and there. A cleric meant we could mess around with having my pet tank for us, or tossing in a bard let us pull some pretty zany kiting antics that just the druid and myself might not otherwise be able to pull off.

Not saying your wrong, because yes in ffxi you needed certain jobs to have a well balanced party. But...

RDM was one of the best healers for certain groups especially in end game, and WAR cannot tank at all, even PLD wasn't very good, NIN's were tanks. Of course some things depended on what your party was doing. But the strength that FFXI had for it was that almost everything required a group, and in grouping you could easily make friends from across the world that when you decided to level a class that wasn't so great they could help you along. Some of the best parties I've been in were unorthodox as well, but they usually consisted of friends, most of which i had made from just playing the game.

Also in ffxi all that happened when you died was a loss of xp and a possible kick from the party if you were a bad, or didn't set your home point somewhere close. While in EQ i remember you had no gear when you died, and had to run to your corpse as well.

The entire notion of the "holy trinity" stemmed from classes each having more specialized roles. Even when two classes could serve a similar function - necro / monk FD pulling for example - there were endless debates on which one did it better.

As you noted, even filling a DPS role was somewhat of an art form. Sure, mages loved to brag about massive damage during boss fights, but they also didn't have lazy gaming tools like threat or DPS meters baked into the UI so it really did take a bit of skill to balance the two.

Now we basically have the equivalent of "dummy lights" on car dashboards. A "Check your oil, dumbass" warning light isn't all that different from "Stop pulling aggro from the tank, dumbass" meters. Don't even get me started on things like Spell Alert...

Long story short, classes should have specialized abilities and roles if we ever hope to see a return to actual social gameplay in MMOs. I personally prefer a scenario where classes don't need to be balanced to the point of sameness as a general rule though, but sadly the nasty word "normalization" came into existence and individual classes have lost a lot of their coolness-factor as a result.

"Even when two classes could serve a similar function - necro / monk FD pulling for example - there were endless debates on which one did it better."

The answer is Necromancer. Always a Necromancer. At least until a Monk comes along to join the argument, haha. This really was one of the epic class-role battles back in the day.

Bah, Monks where the masters at FD ;)

but I am biased I played an Iksar Monk on Vallon Zek forever. EQ monk was my favorite class type I have ever played in all my years of gaming. Iksar Lore was awesome what a great race

Iksar Death Knights and Necros where also great. Death Touch was scary

I really envied the Bard Class they where almost impossible to kill in PvP, as a Monk I couldn't even touch him, that damn fear song.

I understand bias completely. As you can probably guess, I was a dark elf necromancer on Morell Thule for years. You are also correct about the Iksar being a very cool race with cool lore. This is also something I'd like to see more of a comeback - lore that matters and with it, Kill On Site factions... another topic for later, hehe.

kill on site factions oh ya. I remember a journey I went on to trick the Dark Elves into liking me working on Neriak faction. LoL I had to sneak into Neriak very carefully since Iksars where Kill on site and then take like 10 stacks of wine and get this dark elf drunk in the library of Neriak to gain favor. Good times

It's hard to figure out what to expect from EverQuest Next. I know that a lot of the player base in MMOs have changed, and companies are trying to market their games to new people, but boy did EQ get so many things right. The classes are definitely one of those things, and I am really hoping they don't let them fall by the wayside in favor of easier/more accessible classes.

In EQ, those little details, unique abilities, and special weapons were implemented in so many ways that it really made me feel like I had a sense of purpose and identity. An example: From a combat point of view, an Enchanter was able to excel in crowd control in ways that no other class could. From an immersion point of view, they were able to acquire illusion spells that allowed them to take on the form of other races. Not only did that allow you to gain access to other racial cities that might have killed you on sight, it let you change your character identity to suit your mood. There was an added layer of excitement when your illusion buff was about to wear off while you were in an enemy city. All of this meant you were challenged in combat, and engrossed in your character's advancement because of your ability to change how you interacted with the game.

Even the items players discovered had unique lore and uses. If you weren't one of the few classes who couldn't cast Spirit of the Wolf for increased run speed, then you invested a lot of hours in acquiring a pair of Journeyman's Boots. If you were a melee character looking to do some serious damage, you did everything you could to get a Flowing Black Silk Sash for it's valuable haste buff. Also, classes got their own unique weapons that made them stronger in their areas of expertise. Any Paladin who acquired the Ghoul-bane two-handed sword was able to do more damage against the undead and felt awesome equipping it because of it's flaming blade. You weren't just equipping Berserker Shoulders of the Whale, or some other generic item.

I could list dozens and dozens of examples like that, and I sincerely hope that Sony gets back to this style of gameplay, but I'm concerned that MMOs have changed so much that Sony won't find it worthwhile to invest in the old-school crowd. They've made statements alluding to their desire to get back to what made EQ great, so all I can do is hope and wait with baited breath until SOE Live!

"it really made me feel like I had a sense of purpose and identity" - I really think this is the key to changing the way things are currently done. You're also 100% correct about other classes seeking pieces of equipment specifically to gain an ability others had, such as the Journeyman Boots. I'd like to see companies invest the time to make unique items like this that were less than easy to attain.

I would love to see that too! It was so cool that some of the items had clickable spells that were valuable enough that you kept them forever. My SK never wore his Circlet of Shadows when he was fighting, but I lost track of how many times it's invisibility effect helped get me through a precarious situation. I can't think of any games that give items that kind of value.

I'm really enjoying your articles, Dalmarus, keep 'em coming!

In EQ's day, everyone knew classes were completely unbalanced. If you truly wanted to solo (prior to two-boxing), you would roll a bard, necro or druid. If you wanted a virtual guaranteed group when looking for one you would choose a warrior or cleric. Enchanters were highly sought after for groups as well. Unfortunately, all the other classes may or may not have struggled to find a group depending on your guild or server. My server was a ghost town certain parts of the day. I was a cleric and would sometimes sit 2-3 hours LFG. I couldn't do squat solo so having quests would have helped tremendously. However, you lose out on all the social interaction you have when grouping. Today's MMPORPG's are a joke when it comes to grouping. Most of the time, after an instance or what not, you never even see the same player twice. Any improvement over this would be fantastic.

I think those "rare" spawns that had "rare" items drop were very unique to EQ. These days, 100 mobs could potentially drop that "Sword of 1000 Truths". This makes the item feel somewhat subpar... but if you camped for that item a few hours, it not only made the item more valuable, it also made it more special to it's owner. Do I want to see 4-5 hour camp sessions in EQNext? Not really, but I think it would be nice to see that as option somehow for those interested in that type of gameplay... such as a "classic" rules server that someone mentioned in a previous post.

I couldn't agree more. I would even go further and say, FORGET PVP... that's when people start crying about a class being overpowered. The classic classes in eq1 were the best, you had classes that would complement eachother and you HAD to group.

I agree. I hope they listen to you. I never played a Bard, because I knew I could not play it well. But, one of my partners I played with, was one of the best Bards I have ever seen. There is nothing wrong with some players class outshining yours. But you know what, it always came down to how that person played the class. The Bard my friend played was awesome, if that Bard was my class, I would not of been so awesome, if you know what I mean? I am in no way putting myself down either. I played a Paladin, I played that class because I loved it!!

I was not jealous of my necro, or bard friends skills.I was just glad they came along, and we had a good time. Although, I often ask a Wizard or friendly player for a invisibility buff or a sow when in need. I think the easy ability to get potions ended up hurting the game in the end,no reason to ask for a buff, or communicate with others.

IMHO, Bards were probably the toughest class in EQ to play at max potential. I personally played a Cleric and Druid for years while raiding and I knew them both very well. I eventually had one of every character, just like everyone else but I played my Bard and Ranger a lot as well. I personally loved the Bard, "Jack of all Trades", and what they could bring to any group. They also soloed very well (reason I started playing one initially). You could easily tell the difference between a person playing a bard and someone that's really honed their skill with the class. Knowing what songs to have on your hot bar, twisting 2-3 (some could throw in a 4th) songs at all times, and adapting to each encounter differently made the Bard class an extreme pleasure to play. I enjoyed it so much I started playing one immediately when EQ2 came out... ugh, what a let down in comparison.

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