A few weeks ago, I wrote a Staff Blog entry telling everyone why games with no levels weren’t likely to catch on within the industry. Going hand in hand with the idea of a game with no levels is the idea of a game with no classes. Again, there are many down sides to class-based systems. Classes are restrictive; they tend to shoehorn players into gameplay categories, specifically the familiar DPS, Tank, Healer triad. Classes as they are most often presented in MMOs also tend to highly restrict player choices, creating a feeling that every, say, 20th level Paladin is just like every other 20th level Paladin from attacks and abilities to armor and weapons.
Classes though, like levels, are a tried and tested game mechanic, going back all the way into the roots of the RPG genre and while some players will, perhaps rightfully, blame classes for the current woes they see in the industry, classes do play an important role in MMO design. Aside from the obvious and unnecessarily ominous sounding fact that classes allow developers to more easily predict and control player actions, there’s also a little system near and dear to many players’ hearts that would be hurt in the absence of the good ‘ol class-based trinity. Grouping.
In a world where many old time players are asking themselves what ever happened to MMO design that encouraged grouping, removing classes from the equation is going to throw an even bigger monkey wrench in the gears. There are two reasons to group. First, there’s the fun of playing with friends. Second, there’s the statistical and game mechanic advantage. The first is pretty self-explanatory and in an ideal world, the idea of fun and socialization would be what drives players to do anything in an MMO. The reality though is that the bulk of players will fall into the second category. Classes make it easier for players looking for the statistical advantage in group content to know who to invite into their party. You know, for example, that at minimum you’re going to need a tank a healer and a DPS, probably ranged and melee.
In the end, classes exist to create archetypes for players to follow in order to take the maximum advantage of what different role builds have to offer. Sure, you could let players choose their own abilities and build their own characters from the ground up, but in the end you’d wind up with a game that is almost impossible to balance, where rules lawyers and statistical bean counters would hold a distinct advantage.
The irony of this scenario is that in the end, after the best possible build in a classless game had been found and posted on every MMO website online, the game would actually be left with less diversity than classes have to offer as everyone rushes to build the ideal character.