Wednesday, September 26, 2007

WAR archetypes

Warhammer Online video podcast #10 presents the classes and archetypes of WAR. There are 6 races in WAR, and each race has the same 4 archetypes: tank, melee dps, ranged dps, and healer. But while the archetypes are the same, their implementation is different for the different races, so we get 24 unique classes. That is obviously great from a PvE and replayability point of view. But what about PvP? Knowing human nature, especially that of MMORPG players, there will be endless shouts of "the tank/dps/healer of the other faction is stronger than ours. Nerf! Nerf! Nerf!".

But balance problems aside, I'm wondering whether the classic PvE holy trinity of tank, dps, and healer is optimal for PvP. One of the eternal problems of other games is that tanks have "taunt" abilities of aggro management, which are extremely important in PvE group and raid play, but totally useless in solo PvE and all forms of PvP. DPS classes are king in PvP. Healers are easy to kill and find themselves always at the top of the enemies list of targets. Tanks are simply ignored as long as possible, because they move slowly, deal little damage, and have no way of preventing the enemy to kill the classes that are actually dangerous. Now WAR has collision detection, which is already a big improvement over being able to just walk through the enemy tank, but I doubt that will be enough for the tank to effectively protect the healer or ranged dps.

Taunt abilities are problematic in PvP, because you can't force other players to target the tank without them feeling robbed of their fundamental freedom to play as they want. So how is a tank supposed to protect the less well-armored classes? The best you can implement is a kind of buff that redirects damage from the protected target to the tank, and even that is far from ideal.

On the other hand PvP has a huge advantage regarding archetypes in that it is Rumsfeldian: You go to war with the army you have, not the tank / dps / healer mix you'd want for a group or raid. DPS classes have obvious advantages over tanks and healers in both solo PvE and in PvP, which makes them much more popular. Players won't distribute themselves evenly over the 4 archetypes of WAR. There will be a distinctive lack of healers, as in every other game, and a distinctive surplus of dps classes, especially ranged dps. But for PvP you never have the problem that you can't start because your group doesn't have a tank or healer, you can simply go with a group containing only dps classes and not fare any worse than a balanced group.

Me, I regularly score as ESAK in all Bartle tests I take, meaning I'm primarily an explorer, then a socializer, just a bit of an achiever, and not a killer at all. Which means I'm looking very much forward to playing Warhammer Online through *at least* six times, once for each race. And then I still might play it through another six times or so, trying classes I haven't tried yet. If I understood the earlier video podcasts correctly, each race has their own complete set of zones to level up from 1 to the level cap, there is no "Barrens" where the orcs, trolls and tauren all mix. Six completely different lines of zones and quests to the top, 24 different classes, WAR could turn out to be an absolute dream for replayability.

I'm just wondering whether you ever get to mix with player of other races, or whether somebody playing Empire will never be able to visit the lands of the nominally allied dwarves and high elves. On the maps in the video podcasts WAR nearly looks as if it was three separate one-on-one wars in parallel. Which would be a very interesting approach. Bad for "worldyness", that is for sure. But instead of adding levels at the top, you could expand the game endlessly by creating new areas where a new pair of races fights another one-on-one war. Expanding breadth instead of length. Could that work?

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