Gameplay Pigeonholing and Class Homogenization

Original post: here.

So most of you I’m sure know of me, I’m somewhat outspoken on these forums so here I am again making a somewhat thought-provoking thread that will hopefully spark some discussion.

I had a similar discussion yesterday with Drakos and cdstephens but I want to broaden it a bit. The subject is how pigeonholing may be affected by little class homogenization; which was, clearly, what we saw yesterday with the new multiplayer video. Basically what we saw yesterday were typical RPG class roles: Tank/Healer/DPS with some very very slight hybridization. Sorry, but the Consular force pushing like twice or the Smuggler AoE healing once isn’t what a hybrid or even semi-hybrid class is. We’ve also received very little information on the subject (other than it may be likely that AC’s will be permanent) so expect a lot of speculation. With that said, lets get started…

The Trinity
This post isn’t about bashing or praising the Trinity. Lets face it: it works. The rock-paper-scissors system inherent to the Trinity is a tired and true MMO system. There was no doubt in my mind that ToR would adopt it. After all, if the trinity would not be used, it would require 100% class homogenization, and we’ll find out later why that’s not a good thing.

The trinity has it’s roots in pen and paper RPGs. In those days, there were four primary archetypes: the tank, the healer, the ranged DPS, and the melee DPS. That’s it. Traditionally, they have been characterized by the warrior, the priest, the mage, and the rogue, respectively. A priest could do no damage. A mage couldn’t heal. A rogue couldn’t tank. You get the idea.

Class homogenization was at 0%. If you were a warrior, you did one thing and one thing only: tank. Now, this was fine and dandy because when you decided for your character to be a rogue, you didn’t have to stick with that choice for months or years. Nobody likes to be pigeonholed… especially in a game. Keep that in mind.

Modern MMOs
With modern MMOs (and some early MUDs) came a necessary trend: class homogenization. All of a sudden a warrior could also do some damage and a mage could sometimes heal. We started seeing class specializations that favored homogenization. A great example is the druid in WoW. Here’s a class that can literally take all four roles and be exceedingly competitive at all four: bear tank, cat DPS, moonkin DPS, and tree healing. They are four distinct play-styles that make gameplay incredibly fun and varied. But WoW hasn’t been as progressive with all classes. Rogues are still rogues. Mages are still mages.

Other MMOs disguise very subtle differences as class specializations. Using a polearm over a two-handed sword doesn’t really warrant having a completely different specialization. I’m “an armsmaster” over “a swordsmaster” doesn’t really hold up. And it straight-up shows developer laziness and lack of creativity. I’m worried that ToR may be on the same track.

Advanced Classes vs. Specializations
Recently, there has been an outcry: “ACs aren’t specs.. they are [B]classes[/B]!!!” Although those people may or may not be correct, the following point still holds. Why would you want to be permanently pigeonholed in an Advanced Class? Or better yet, why would Bioware developers make a game that would pigeonhole you in a specific role for the entirety of your playtime on that particular character?

Actually, it’s the exact opposite. Because ACs are permanent, they have to have hybridized roles, otherwise people would get pissed.

Example, Scoundrel gets healing, shotgun, and stealth. The Scoundrel is more support oriented than the Gunslinger, but he still keeps his attacking powers, and plus he’s got a shotgun, which can kill people.

Example: My prediction is that the JC will have a melee spec and a ranged spec. The melee spec will be focused on melee combat dps and CC, with more focus on the dps. The ranged spec will have ranged dps and support in the form of auras and healing, mainly focused on the support,

Example: The Marauder still has two lightsabers that can block things really well, pretty good armor, etc. He can also bring a tanking companion. On the flip side, the Juggernaut still has a blade that can cut through anything.

Basically, I think the advanced classes are about emphasis, not pigeon holing. The Juggernaut will be more suited to tanking, but he won’t tank and only tank. He’ll be doing some damage as well. Or the Jedi Knight dual wielder for example won’t be a fragile dpser that can die in a few hits; he still has good armor, and will likely be able to off tank (like in the video).

Of course I could be wrong, in which case making advanced classes permanent will be one of the worst moves BW makes ever.

It’s very important that we, as a community, provide important and valid criticism. Pigeonholing is not a good idea. This has been proven time and time again in MMOs. Call it people being lazy, call it developers caving in, call it human nature, but pigeonholing is still not a good idea.

I mean basically the question is: can I competitively DPS as a juggernaut? Or.. can I competitively tank as a marauder?

And by “competitively” I mean as good as the other AC. Because otherwise, it’s sort-of pigeonholing. It would be very cool if marauders just dual wield/evasion tanked just as well as a juggernaut who wears all this heavy armor and tanks via damage mitigation. But they are both “equally” good.

Or maybe the juggernaut gets some more force powers to DPS with whereas the marauder is straight-up melee. But their DPS numbers are very comparable.

As you can see, cdstephens and I both hope that the classes will somewhat be hybridized. I believe it’s a necessary move. With that said, I would like to move one step forward…

What’s the magic number?
As my quote above states, if I go a specific AC, I want to be just as good as the other AC at all roles my “master” class can do. Otherwise, sorry to say, it will be pigeonholing. If I’m an Inquisitor that is specced into the DPS AC but I’m mediocre at healing, I will 99% of the time DPS. Sure, I may throw a heal or two every blue moon, but I will almost always DPS. It’s important to not kid ourselves here.

The magic number is somewhere between full hybridization and pigeonholing. Don’t let a Sith Warrior heal or do ranged DPS. But allow both ACs to melee DPS and tank at similar levels, maybe with a twist:

  • The Juggernaut tanks with a large HP pool and damage mitigation.
  • The Marauder tanks with a medium HP pool and damage avoidance.
  • The Juggernaut does DPS with one sword and some force powers.
  • The Marauder does DPS with two swords and no force powers.

Some of you may say “dvvx, you seem to be promoting 100% hybridization, fuuuuuu.” I’m not. Full hybridization makes classes flavorless and uninteresting. It makes loot distribution a nightmare, and the game much more bland overall.

So can we talk about it yet?
Tumedus seems to have a bleak outlook on the issue. I’m afraid I agree…

Think you are out of luck on that one. There is no point in deliniating one AC’s ability to tank over the other if both can do it equally well. I think the only hope of not pigeon-holing within an AC is if it offers a secondary utility role. Something like a dedicated debuffer. Unfortunately, I have seen no evidence of that sort of gameplay.

Not only that, but I’d like to bring up one final point in this overly-long read: buffs and debuffs. WoW has constantly tried to make class A or spec B viable via providing buffs and debuffs. I’m sorry, but buffing your team or debuffing an enemy is not fun. Lets not go the WoW route on this one. I don’t want to make people spec A or B because our raid needs a specific buff. Most competitive WoW raiding guilds agree with me on this. It’s just a hassle and a party pooper.

Where does this discussion leave us? Hopefully at least pondering some implications Bioware has hinted at. Hopefully willing to provide some smart and insightful comments that may help the developers decide on what exactly to make out of ACs.

Also note that SWTOR already has “only” 4 classes (x2 mirrored). The lack of clever hybridization is only going to aggravate the problem of class variety/distribution and pigeonholing.