Being a proponent of Sandbox gaming I'm of course not a big fan of being bound by a 'Static' Class in MMORPGs. 'Static' Class Based games are titles like World of Warcraft, City of Heroes, Everquest, and so forth.
EVE Online is not a perfect game we all know this. Time Based Training aside- what was brilliant was the mix of 'Dynamic' Classes and their open skill system. Any player can learn any skill. No boundaries. Sure, it is not possible to learn every skill due to Time Based Training but you can learn any skill you want- if you follow.
Now, I want to say I do like Classes employed in FPS and other genres. Why? Well, they give me the freedom to switch Classes at anytime. This is why Classes are pretty nice in Team Fortress 2, Battlefield 2142, etc. Upon death, I can pick a new role. This allows PVPers to optimize dynamically to confront any situation. Take Savage 2, a Class based title. Is my team missing healers? Cool, at respawn I'll go switch to a Healer. Do we need more Warriors? I can switch to that. Anything to help my team most pvpers will try to cover their 'holes'. Samething with TF2 and Battlefield series
EVE Online was brilliant in that they gain the benefits of Classes via 'Ships'. Every ship has constraints just like Static Classes. They are balanced in regards to other ships. They provide Tactical Transparency (players will know a big huge Mothership on sight!). Also, this constrains players. Not every skill is applicable to the ship you pilot. Constraints.
Let's discuss why Classes are a win in MMORPG space briefly:
- They emulate Sports games. Everyone has a role. Our Healer might be our Quarterback, making major runtime decisions. Our Warriors are our offensive lineman. Our Mages can perhaps be compared to receivers, providing a long range threat to the opposition
That's the #1 benefit we get from Classes. We gain clearly defined roles. For PVE this is AWESOME because all of our challenges are 'known'. We can optimize to take down the raid bosses and NPC mobs. Everything is laid out for us through walkthroughs and previous experiences in an encounter.
But consider PVP. You are a Warrior and you are grinding on a mob. Along comes a Mage and nukes you before you can close range. Ouch, mismatch. Guess what gamers scream for on the forums? PVPers want balance. They think this is unfair. So the Developers listen and tries to 'balance' all the Classes to be equal. They give Warriors a 'Charge' move to close range and so forth. Now as you see we are sort of losing the whole idea of Dependance in the first place. Perhaps originally, the Developers naively thought Warriors should rely on Mages for long range dealing. Now, other Developers have taken notice what happened to MMORPG 'Perfection Online' and decide to fix this in their MMO. FFA PVP, gone. Open pvp, gone too.
You cant blame Developers they are merely trying to get rid of their design flaws.
The ugly problem way worse then "All Classes Are Created Equal" is envy and jealousy. 'Static' Classes bind players to a role they should perform. Let's say a Scout/Rogue and a Mage forms a team and decides to farm some mobs. The Scout notices the Mage is doing way more damage with AOE. It's crazy, he's darn near useless. Using his backstab attack, the rogue is only taking out one NPC. The Mage is taking up scores of them at once. Envy. Abel and Cain. Garden of Eve is aflame. The Scout wants to be more viable. The Developer then gives them Crowd Control abilities, picklocking, and anything they can think of to make them more competent.
We have two problems here:
1) Inability to optimize. The Scout cannot hope to match the Mage without Developer intervention
2) All Classes Are Created Equal. The idea of Classes is to enforce dependence. But players want to be equally viable. Especially nowadays with the heavy solo mentality
Hence we arrived at Developer Evolution #2. Quests. Developers know not all 'Classes Are Equal' so they introduce Quests as a way to make things fair for all to Solo through the game. So now we have Questing which grants XP. Now to make things more fair, they reduce the XP gained from soloing NPCs. This way, you make leveling more competitive between all the Classes
We have also arrived at Developer Evolution #3. With FFA PVP being tossed out and Open PVP also getting tossed (Because it reveals the game flaws with Classes)- we now transition into RvR or Faction versus Faction. PVPers love Faction vs Faction and RvR sounds great to us too.
Classes is the remaining anomaly however. Let's consider Guilds and Instanced combat- like Battlegrounds. PUBs (Noobs not on Ventrillo) get massacred. Why? Well the Guilds are optimizing their team compositions. They will bring the optimal amount of Healers, Mages, and Warriors to bare. The Pubbies cant optimize like this. Remember, we are playing a 'Static' Class based game. So PUBBies lack the freedom to optimize their teams. FPS games dont suffer this problem, they allow you to switch upon respawn. MMORPGs dont do this and they will suffer from a basic design flaw that FPS games have evolved out of a lonnngggg time ago.
Thus we will arrive at a critical point where Classes will either become more hybridized (more versatile), open skill systems (like skill-based), or they will allow gamers to unlock multiple Classes on one avatar (like Battlefield 2142).
Now think about Guild Wars. They are really a 'Static' Class Based game. They suffer from all of these issues. They outright disallow PUBBIES and Veterans from fighting against each other. They know their game flaws and optimized it out. Unfortunately, we sort of lose a certain Massive Multiplayer feeling with this sort of solution. But it works for them.
Ultmately, what I would like to see is a move towards more open systems that allows PVPers to optimize for dynamic situations. PVE is static- all of our challenges are known. PVP isn't this way. Guilds will try anything and min/max. Tossing 40 random people into an Arena with a Guild is simply slaughter. I remember Battlegrounds in World of Warcraft when we saw Guilds tags everyone would darn near AFK and get bounced out of the instance it was soooo bad.
If mmorpg developers want to really employ Instances with 'Static' Class based games they will suffer from these flaws. It is no wonder why a huge population of mmorpg players stick to PVE. Classes work great for Sports. Everyone knows their role and has a great idea of what will happen. Just like Football
Q: Why is EVE Online not a 'Static' Class based game? You just contradicted yourself, they have Classes via Ships!?
A: True, but in EVE Onlne you can always dock and switch ships. Thus, you can switch Classes possibly if your station/mothership is under siege and you want to swtich ships.
Q: Why is Guild Wars Static is very freeform.
A: Agreed I love that title. But during Guild vs Guild you are unable to switch roles. It is still fun game, but you have to hope you have covered every conceivable 'hole' in your defense way ahead of time. Perhaps this is more realistic some could argue. But in real life, I would argue most people are pretty diverse.