Archetypes. For gaming purposes, and we're mainly talking about Fantasy based games here, we've somehow been thrown into a specific template of unoriginality for the last 20 or 30 years.
Waxing intellectual on the subject, Archetypes are basically an example or stereotype of a certain type of person or personality. These have appeared throughout history in literary works; for example, Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet (Star-crossed lovers Archetype) or Falstaff (bawdy, comic knight Archetype).
Welcome to the 21st Century Gaming Industry, where we'll bastardize anything or just use "what works" because it earns money.
This has become more and more apparent in recent days, with two big upcoming MMOG releases in the next year in Age of Conan and Warhammer Online. It's bad luck that these are both Fantasy-based MMO's, that's for sure. Even just shy of 30, I've honestly seen enough Orcs and Elves to never want to see them again. Oh well, we march on as gaming consumers, our brains turned off to originality and creativity, as we migrate to the next unoriginal timesink of a game that helps us engage a primitive hunter-gatherer side of us that modern society mutes.
Anyway: here we have it. Age of Conan. We have 12 Classes here, with *shock* 4 Archetypes. These Archetypes, of course, are: Mage, Rogue, Warrior, Healer.
And over yonder on Mythic's doorstep, we have 24 Classes, 6 Races. Each race has 4 Classes. Archetypes? Check. Mage, Rogue, Warrior, Healer.
Did someone send out a Memo a few decades back that said: Hello, these are now the universal Fantasy Archetypes. There shalt be no other. ?
I can't be the only one that thinks this. I envision countless good game Devs around the world, who offer different solutions to this age-old Archetype system, only to be shot down by corporate assholes who think that gamers will be turned off creativity and originality. No, they say, as if we gamers aren't smart enough to get used to an idea of not seeing our friendly little WRHM (pronounced WRAM) Archetype group in a game. Surely we'd probably just curl into a ball and cry ourselves to sleep if we were presented a game that didn't have these familiar elements.
No criticism filled article would be complete without at least a feeble attempt at suggestions to change these Archetypes. Here are my suggestions:
- The Hit Point system in general is not realistic. Though this is another topic, the "Hit Point" system in general is why games are tied to the WRHM Archetypes.
- Eliminate Healers. Also unrealistic (I know we're in Fantasy here) - and implement more defensive based abilities that allow a character to effectively not die if they choose to.
We're now left with a system that is completely focused on offensive abilities. In turn, all "Archetypes" should have ways of defending themselves to a point where it's very hard to harm them further. For example, if a Knight in full armor and a huge shield decides he doesn't want to die, kneeling behind the shield (and bracing themselves) and only counter-attacking is a huge survivability bonus. True, they can't do much damage, but they are still alive.
This mentality can be taken to any Archetype in a Fantasy based setting. Take a Mage Archetype, for example. In all games, Mages are "squishy" but able to do large amounts of damage usually from range. What if we changed this to be like the Knight? The Mage *could* focus all his/her energy to rain Fire down on their enemies - leaving themselves exposed. What if a Mage focused all of this energy defensively? Say, to melt an enemies sword or blow incoming arrows away? In the end, a "Mage" should be able to "Tank" just as well as a Warrior, if not better, if given the choice. Keep in mind the Mage is completely defensive - just as the Knight was, in his corner with a shield.
I might have been a bit hypocritical for even using the Knight / Mage Archetypes as an example above. Unfortunately, you can't really have a Fantasy based game without being able to run around with Swords and Armor and some magic here and there. There are probably tons of ways to switch it up though - perhaps by modeling combat after modern warfare, where you rely more on direct assault and intelligence. It seems the conclusion that I've reached is that Fantasy based games rely too much on a Healer Archetype to change the way combat is.
So, as I've said before - here we are, the gaming industry - where is the creativity? Why have Fantasy games not evolved out of this simple Archetype?
This article orginally appeared at the r1ft Gaming Blog and is mirrored here with permission of the author(s).