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r1ft Gaming Blog

A mirror of my gaming blog at The jaded game designer turned corporate lackey. Feedback is always welcome.

Author: Daedren

My Kingdom for Different Archetypes

Posted by Daedren Thursday April 17 2008 at 9:39AM
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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).

grimfall writes:

Someone better telll Funcom that they forgot the Orcs and Elves...

Roleplaying involves playinga role.  Go play Horizons if  you don't want to be pidgeon holed into an archetype.

Thu Apr 17 2008 9:55AM Report
Daedren writes:

Hey, I beta tested Horizons. It had quite a fanbase before it sold out to make the publisher happy.

AoC might not have Orcs/Elves, but that's just a Race choice and not a class / character Archetype. It's still Fantasy, beit low-Magic more realistic fantasy. AoC having a Healer Archetype was a horrid decision.

"Roleplaying involves playing a role" - Interesting! And what does playing a role have to do with the fact we've been asked to play the same 4 Archetypes since Everquest?

Thu Apr 17 2008 10:00AM Report
streea writes:

It's called Spellborn. DOMO also has a sub-job feature which lets players customize what they can do.

Also I should bring up that WAR does let players mix and match, such as with a Warrior Priest. I can't speak for Conan because I'm not as familiar with the classes.

The flaw in your argument is that you throw out HP but don't replace it with anything. Every game out there has some sort of health system attached to your character, otherwise you just have a bunch of invincible characters running around.

Thu Apr 17 2008 11:30AM Report
Daedren writes:

@streea: I'll be doing an article on an alternative to the HP system.

I agree wholeheartedly some sort of health system needs to be in place.

Anyway, stay tuned in a week or so, I'll put up what I can (without breaking any NDA's) on a health system. ;)

Thu Apr 17 2008 12:31PM Report
Adrianus writes:

The Archetype's for WAR are wrong. They should be Tanker (Knight or Paladin) / Melee DPS (Warrior or Barby) / Ranged DPS (Mage or Ranger) / Healer (Priest or Cleric).

Thu Apr 17 2008 2:25PM Report
telebreth writes:

I whole-heartedly agree that its time for a change. We have seen and played games with the same basic systems for monitoring health and mana I think its time for us to see other things in the genre.

Even a Covenant system would be awesome. For those who are wondering what that is. Watch the movie Covenant. Instead of Mana for a Mana Bar. the more you use magic...the physically older you appear. I think things like this would be awesome...until one use so much cant do anything but become an NPC and settle down....get visits from the King and royalties for past quests....all kinds of stuff could be done here.


Thu Apr 17 2008 3:53PM Report
Player_420 writes:

Great blog.....but my answer to your last sentence is simple.

People like it? no matter how much innovation you can give me I cant get over the old gen classic templates.

but yes I rly do love ur blog

Thu Apr 17 2008 4:20PM Report
Player_420 writes:

Also games like Shadowbane and Guild wars have really innovated in a sense of a really really custom class template. ;)

Thu Apr 17 2008 4:22PM Report
Tatum writes:

Because, it's much easier to just keep churning out the same stuff...

Personally, I'd prefer to just see a good, deep, balanced skill system.  Sure, many people will still stuff their characters into the same archtypes, but you have a lot more potential for diversity and creativity.

For a class system to really be interesting, you'd have to have some form of multi-classing built in.

Thu Apr 17 2008 5:06PM Report
athandashiva writes:

Your suggestion is even worse.  Your knight and mage are the same character with the same abilities with different "special effects".

The knight damages with a sword and hides behind a physical shield while the mage damages with magic and hides behind a magic bubble or whatever.  Same character, plays exactly the same either way.  Even more boring than the 4 standards that at least have to vary tactics due to differing abilities.

Thu Apr 17 2008 7:24PM Report
grimfall writes:

The point isn't that it's unoiginal, the point is that it's the best way.  I am sure that you're still screaming about all these poeple driving around in these horseless carriages when they could be riding faithful quarter horses to work.

If someone comes up with a better system that allows things like balancing PVP and PVE and also a variety of gameplay experience which encourages replayability (all oif these things are an unarguable absolute must for succesful MMORPG"s nowadays), it will replace the 'archetypes'.  But as Ahandashiva pointed out, your suggestion is pointless, and if it were actually implemented everyone would wind up playing whichever class did those things best.  You'd be back to  your UO tank mages.  Great idea!

Fri Apr 18 2008 2:19AM Report
KaltesHerz writes:

Skill based systems instead of locked down classes are much better. Be what you want, mix and match and go to town. UO and SWG (pre nge) were going in the right direction. With a little tweaking they both had potential.

Fri Apr 18 2008 2:28AM Report
Daedren writes:

Thanks for the feedback everyone.

@athanandashiva / grimfall -- True, true, I see your point. Keep in mind this "idea" was something I came up with on the fly. I agree it's not thought out very well.

I urge you to consider that this idea takes a bit of "outside the box" thinking.

Yes, we basically have the "same" class when we have a Knight and Mage that can tank the same but with different abilities. However - let's take the mage for example. He has 2 abilities for tanking - one that melts a sword (or makes it hot, ala Gandalf) and another one that can send a "shockwave" and knock an enemy back a short distance.

Said Mage has a huge Troll coming at him. It's slow, lumbering and have a giant axe. The mage now has to choose: do I make the weapon hot (Troll drops axe) or do I knock him down to keep him away from me?

Most any player would choose to knock the Troll down. Why? Because even without an axe, he's freaking huge, and he'll smash the mage to pieces.

Take the same situation with a Mage against an enemy "Dark Knight" with a sword. He could knock him down, but as this guy is quick, he'd be back up quickly and in his face with the sword. In this case, it'd be better to make the weapon hot, causing him to drop his weapon.


Now, although I said I thought "Healers" were a bad Archetype that causes more trouble than it's worth - I still think there should be support abilities that are available to all classes.

Anyway, doubt anyone is going to read this anyway. I'll save it for the next article I do on the subject. ;)

Fri Apr 18 2008 2:34AM Report
Daedren writes:

@Player_420: Thanks for the feedback, glad you enjoy.

Mon Apr 21 2008 3:30AM Report
complexiator writes:

Archetypes are called archetypes for a reason. They continue to excist the same purpose over time because they are universaly different. So that means there will allways  be a character that is better at range and a character that is better closeby. The physical fighter and the mental fighter. Nothing  can change those archetypes.

I still follow your point how boring it is to play those character through fixed paths. So I would too advise a mmorpg producer to stop  using archetypes for their character diferentiation. Creative players will choose their own way to play.  A mmorpg doesn't have to emphasize those choices. At least ... if enough players are creative enough to plan their own path.

Mon Apr 21 2008 4:06PM Report
Azmaria writes:

To continue along this whole line of thinking...why not completely remove the class system?  Allow people a limited amount of skill points that a character will have access to over his full progression, then give him access to every skill in the game.  Allow the player to mix and match his skill combinations to make what they want to make rather than being stuck in one or two classes per character.  If they want to stick with the typical archetypes, let them, even give them bonuses.  But bonuses/synergies should also be given for creating a unique and diverse skill set. 

Wed Apr 23 2008 10:08AM Report writes:
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