Greetings and welcome to part two of our interview with Adam Gershowitz, the Combat and Careers Strike Team Lead on EA Mythic’s highly anticipated upcoming MMORPG, Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning.
In last week’s part one, we discussed the fact that Warhammer Online is taking a unique approach to class design for an MMORPG, choosing to create four unique classes (called careers) for each race rather than using a fixed set of classes that can be applied to multiple races. We also talked about the three major ideas behind EA Mythic’s career design.
Today, we’re going to expand beyond the ideas behind the design and look a little bit at the results of the design and what it takes to balance the game. To start with, I asked Gershowitz why EA Mythic decided to create race specific classes for their MMO.
“Things needed to scream WARHAMMER,” he answered, referencing one of the three ideas mentioned in part one. “And we were not going to give on that.”
He went on to say that while the structure of the classes in Warhammer may seem strange, they are actually designed from “a matrix of choices” created by looking at three specific elements:
“As a result,” he said, “you will always see similarities between two careers that share one or more of the 3 variables above. Careers of the same Race will always have similar visuals. While Careers that share Archetype and Mechanic may play very similar to one another.”
One of the benefits of designing this way allows the team to create more than twenty different classes without having 24 totally separate balancing issues. A good rule of thumb is that each career has an equivalent career on the opposing realm. For example, Order’s Warrior Priest functions similarly to the Disciple of Khaine on the Destruction side of things.
Gershowitz broke things down with percentages, explaining that while there are core similarities, the classes do remain at least in part totally unique:
“In reality,” he said, “about 60 - 75% of the game balance can be broken up into 12 Careers shared across 2 realms (24 total). While the remaining 25 – 30% of the unique items to a specific Career become easier to balance because they add the additional flavor to the career not the core balance.”
In terms of what this means for the game’s careers, it means that players will be given the choice between playing a more traditional style characters, filling the roles that we are accustomed to filling using the same play style that we are accustomed to using. For players who might want to venture out of the traditional mould and learn to fill traditional roles in non-traditional ways, there are a number of options available.
Offering a number of different and varied classes is nothing new for an MMORPG. 24 is certainly not the largest number of available classes that we have seen in the genre, but it is a respectable number. Throw in the fact that Warhammer Online is a PvP-based RvR game and you’re looking at a pretty significant balancing challenge.
When I asked Gershowitz what goes into balancing the classes, he let me in on the secret of their success, “We have a really good staff of designers who like I said work closely with our internal and BETA testers,” he said. “We are constantly adjusting the balance ‘Dials’ on all of our careers. Luckily, we can choose the level we balance on. Frequently dealing with Archetypical issues first (Across all Tanks for example) and then delving down to specific Career issues later.”
He also wanted to be clear that the game’s beta testers, who always feel passionately about their preferred career and that career’s power level in comparison to others. “Luckily,” he said, “our BETA Testers keep us honest, which also means we do balance passes on every Career on a weekly basis.”
Continuing our conversation about balance, I asked what kind of effect the Realm vs. Realm nature of the game has on the way that the game is balanced. After all, it’s one thing to have classes in a non-PvP game that are mostly, but not entirely balanced. An RvR game on the other hand, where success is measured by how well you stack up against your fellow players, balance needs to be very carefully considered. Replied Gershowitz:
“This has been our biggest challenge. Its very difficult making a player seem “Powerful” against monsters while keeping them on fair ground against players. In the end we’ve chosen to focus the majority of our Career Balance around RvR FIRST, and PVE second. This means we are always balancing the dynamics of the career (Damage, Defense, Healing) around their RvR roles. From there we go back and balance the monsters and encounters to the players (Not vice versa). This is the opposite of many PvE focused games.”
“We also work very hard to give players tools that have use and strategies in both RvR and PvE. A great example of this is our Taunt system. Traditionally taunt is used on silly STUPID AI in PvE, but you really have to twist our arm to make an ability only usable in one half of the game. As such Taunt not only snaps a monster’s Aggro onto you, but it also interrupts any currently casting spells, and gives you 20% more damage against that target until they hit you 3 times.”
“This encourages players to “Peel off” and aggro the player who taunted them or else pay the price in Pain! But it’s a choice they make not something they are forced to do.”
The last thing that we talked about revolved not around overall balance, but the ways in which each career balances against the others.
There are a couple of different schools of thought on how this should be accomplished. There are some who say that each class should, when put side by side against another class, stack up equally. In other words, a fight between any two careers should be based entirely upon player performance. Toe to toe, the two careers should be equal.
The other school of thought says that the first simply isn’t realistic. Some classes are going to be stronger than others. It’s a simple fact.
While EA Mythic come down closer to the second idea than the first, their approach is more measured in that every career has opponents that they are strong against, and opponents that they are weaker against. To illustrate this point, Gershowitz has provided us with this list:
Tanks (Black Orc, Chosen, Blackguard, Ironbreaker, Knight, Sword master)
Melee DPS (Choppa, Marauder, Witch Elf, Witch Hunter, White Lion, Hammerer)
Ranged DPS (Shadow Warrior, Bright Wizard, Engineer, Sorceress, Magus, Squig Herder)
Melee Healers (Warrior Priest & Disciple)
Ranged Healers (Archmage, Rune Priest, Shaman, Zealot)
As Warhammer Online moves closer and closer to its Fall 2008 launch date, we expect to see the results of EA Mythic’s unique choices in the Career System. Will the careers be balanced in a way that is both challenging and fair? Will the career diversity pay off for the game? Only time or beta testers could tell, and since the beta testers can’t talk about it, all we can do is wait and speculate. Still, if what Gershowitz had to say is any indication, it’s clear that the developers are doing everything they can to make sure that they have both a widely diverse and properly balanced game.