In recent years, it seems that hybrid classes in MMORPGs have become something of a taboo, developers have intentionally strayed away from them by design but the desire to play them is still there, as is the potential.
In this article I at least hope to defend the idea of hybrid class play in the face of increasing homogenisation and specialisation in the genre if not make an argument for their return to form in WildStar.
Perhaps the biggest problem that hybrids face is that whilst players want the flexibility that they provide, they also want to perform a vital role in group-play. While hybrid classes have a history of excelling in solo and small-group play where specialised roles are less important, their viability drops as group size increases.
In larger groups, hybrids only become as effective as the least represented role. For example, If a raid group has 2 tanks, 6 DPS, 1 healer and 1 hybrid the hybrid player is going to be much more useful as a second healer than a seventh DPS, so why not specialise?
MMOS have been trending towards rewarding specialisation recently in an effort to reduce complexity and limit roles to design and itemise around.
In the rare cases where hybrid play still exists, those who choose to play them have been subject to the phenomenon of “hybrid tax” in that they are forced to be the jack of all trades, master of none and cannot be allowed to perform as well in any specific area as a specialist.
If your hybrid player is healing more than your dedicated healer and doing damage, why bring anything else? But on the flip-side, if they are going to be forced into a specific role where they under-perform, why bring them at all?
Some MMORPGs have handled hybrids very well though:
Chanters in Aion could rarely out-heal a cleric but brought an impressive suite of buffs that made them almost vital to group composition.
The same can be said of Bards in many MMOs, although they have been large required to invest time twisting songs rather than dealing damage and healing.
Captains in LOTRO fulfilled a unique role in that they were incredibly flexible in the way that could heal, support and deal damage.
DPS specced clerics in Aion were a fantastic as a “pure” hybrid done well, largely due to the way that healing in Aion scaled (or more importantly, how it didn't) prior to the introduction of Healing Boost stats
Arguably the best example of a hybrid class in an MMO (or possibly just my favourite) was FFXI's Red Mage, with White Magic, Black Magic and Warrior abilities they were as flexible as any potential hybrid but their ability to use Chainspell and Refresh made them an extremely desirable addition to group composition.
The secret, then, is to give hybrids unique abilities that no-one else can bring to a group composition.
Will Carbine make a return to hybrid play in WildStar? I certainly hope so, with two confirmed classes having the ability to both heal and deal damage there is certianly room for it, after speaking to a couple of people who attended the Arkship events they claim that it was certainly possible from what they had seen.
What this essentially boils down to though is creating a fourth role, outside of the "Holy Trinity" and allowing players to fulfill a support role. But is this a hybrid, or merely a new standard of specialisation?
The answer lies in itemisation and the flexibility of the CBC system, the base abilities that the class would be equipped with and skill choices.
From what we know about WildStar, healing and dealing damage will come from two very distinct stats which gear will almost certainly not share, but if the respective classes have skill tree choices to boost their healing output when in a DPS spec and vice versa it is possible (so too would be off-tanking in a DPS build, but I'll leave the tank-mage for other people to reminisce about).
If, however, they are forced into a choice between damage or healing in addition to unique support abilities then they can't really be considered a hybrid at all, but the potential is there, allowing the archetype to deal damage and heal simultaneously would fill a role that a lot of players crave.
Mike Donatelli let slip (mistakenly, apprently) in an interview that they haven't revealed their "main healing class" but as every class in WildStar so far is able to fulfill two roles it is highly doubtful that it will be a pure support class. Beyond that there are no hard facts to go on so actual speculation is of little use.
But hey, I can dream.
Immediately prior to posting this, a ..volatile patcher leak was brought to my attention (which I won't link to directly out of respect to Carbine and the NDA) which indicates no less that 5 additional classes or specialisations.
At this moment in time, it is effectively impossible to tell what combination they will take, or even if they represent the unrevealed classes at all (as opposed to specialisations of existing classes) or classes that might not make the final cut.
We can, of course, speculate as to what they elude to. It certainly seems that the staff-wielding characters seen in some screenshots appear to be a Caster/Healer class.
The immediate question this raises though is that with Espers already being in WildStar, is there really room for another Caster DPS/Healer hybrid? It doesn't really make sense from a design perspective, but it stands to reason for itemisation as Espers are the only class that currently uses "Magic" as a priamary attribute so there is certainly room for another.
It is possible though, from the datamined information we have seen, that they will be a "pure" Caster DPS but given Carbine's currently demonstrated philosophy of all archetypes being hybrids this seems unlikely.
The files seem to confirm speculation of an Engineer class though, along with a few abilities (some of which just sound plain awesome) . As with the "Magic DPS" argument there is also space for another Strength based DPS spec. This seems at odds with the idea of a rifle wielding engineer that many envisage when thinking about the class, we would expect the class to be Dexterity based for flavour, but the math simply doesn't add up.
It could be that the engineer uses the Technology stat to DPS and Strength to tank as a reversal of the standard (Warriors and Stalkers both use Tech to tank, Espers and Spellslingers use Wisdom to heal so the standard seems solid enough) which certainly stands up to the flavour argument, but would put additional stress on the itemisation system Carbine are employing.
With E3 in a months time, we will probably see more information released in the near future. I would especially expect to see a response from Carbine given the nature of the leak (as with the March patch notes leak) in the coming weeks and look forward to it with great relish.