The Balancing Act: Games with Class
I'm a die hard Diablo fan. It was Blizzard's action role-playing game
that led me to make the bold upgrade from Windows 3.1 to Windows 95
back in 1995. I completed Diablo with each of the 3 base classes:
warrior, rogue, and wizard. In the end, my experience with each was
almost identical. Each of the 3 classes could learn any spell if my INT
score was high enough. Each could wear the same heavy armor if I dumped
enough points into STR. In the endgame levels, my strategy was the same
for all 3 classes: turn some succubi into tone and whack them with a
stick or sword.
When playing a game feels the same no matter which class the player
chooses, the developers have created nothing more than a treadmill. Why
do treadmill games exist if the game would have more replay value with
distinct classes that deliver varied game play experiences? Let's
The Balancing Act
Try being the only healer who doesn't have a buff to movement speed. Or
try being the only caster who can't teleport party members all over the
world. It's easy to be jealous of the special abilities other players
get to enjoy. For every signature skill that makes players envious of
Class A, developers must create a skill with equal impact for Class B.
It's a delicate balancing act for sure. This balancing act becomes even
more complicated for games that include player-vs-player (PvP) combat.
That wizard ability to teleport the party might be supremely useful
when in groups, but it's not going to mean much for PvP.
The demands of designing enough balanced skills proves too much for
some companies. Instead of allocating resources to building class, many
developers must opt to go with a more generic system. The benefits of
taking such a "shortcut" include more money to spend on content and
less complaining from gamers that the classes are improperly balanced.
Games with Class
The key to fun game design is to give each class a handful of unique
and useful skills that promote exclusive strategies for each class
without overpowering any of the classes. For a game like EverQuest,
that meant making warriors able to wear the best armor but weak in
damage. Necromancers got undead pets and spells involving the
manipulation of life force. Enchanters could control crowds of enemies
like nobody else. Druids could change shape and call upon natural
forces to heal or do damage.
The class the player chooses does
matter a great deal in EverQuest. The gaming experience for a monk is
vastly different from that of a paladin. Within archetypes, experiences
vary, too. The magician is a very different kind of caster from the
DDO Has Class
Without a doubt, Dungeons & Dragons Online can be counted as a game
where the choice of class (most of them anyway) makes a huge difference
to the game play experience. Rogues are adept at picking locks and
disarming traps. Wizards do quite a bit of crowd control. Rangers dish
out damage. Paladins provide support and slay casters. I could go on.
Let's just say Turbine did a fine job maintaining the balance inherent
to the Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) system. DDO's not perfect,
DDO @ Ten Ton Hammer's Zed
astutely posited that DDO would break from the pattern of the holy
(tank, healer, crowd control). It does, but it just eschews
a tank for a pair (or more) of damage dealers. The cleric is still
there healing. The wizard or bard is still their mesmerizing foes. One
game on the horizon that might be brave enough to completely blur the
lines of the holy trinity is Lord
of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar
. Or would that just lead us
back to feeling like the choice of class doesn't matter? I told you
it's a delicate balancing act! In the meantime, I'll just be glad DDO
is a very different game playing as a fighter or bard.
For me, games that allow players to turn their characters into masters
of some skill (teleportation, trap finding, alchemy) are far more
appealing than games where any character can do any thing. I like to
feel I have a place in my virtual worlds. DDO gives me that feeling.
When my bard joins a party, I know the other players are counting on me
to keep monster crowds under control. When I play my cleric/wizard
combo, I am buff master who makes everyone else in the party better.
Sure, it'd be nice to be able to wade into a group of hill giants and
start whacking like the fighter int he party. It would be gratifying to
know that I am the only one who can save the party from the fire trap
ahead like the rogue. But in the end, the diversity of classes in games
like DDO generate a community that I feel most closely simulates the
world in which we live--everyone has a place, and everyone must depend
on others to be able to slay life's dragons.