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The Secret World Column: The Classy Classless System

By William Murphy on March 17, 2011

Say that three times fast. 

Classless systems are something that many MMO veterans clamor for as each new game launches and maintains the same old tried and true system.  The promise freedom to raise one’s character however you like, without regard for some pigeonholed roles or class-bound restrictions. 

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In theory a classless system will allow players to match and blend different traditional skills like healing, melee fighting, stealth, and the like.  Basically, you can be whatever you want to be without having to rigidly force yourself into a predetermined class.  It’s the promised land of character development and with 500 skills at launch Funcom’s The Secret World is looking to do what no one’s done since the Asheron’s Call days.

But will it work?

First, let’s take a look at some of the perceived plus-sides of the system as we know it so far.

  • Freedom – With over 500 skills to choose from, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll run into a clone of yourself.  Play what you want, as you want. 
  • Utility – The goal is to allow players learn lots of skills, but only use a specific number at a time.  The idea is for everyone to be able to swap skills as needed in situations (out of combat I assume).
  • Replayability – I assume, and I could be wrong, that one character will not be able to learn every skill.  There’s also only going to be 7 active and 7 passive skills per load-out on a character.  I suppose you could infer that to get the most of the system, you’ll want to play more than one character.

These are just a few of the wondrous aspects that a classless system might entail, but as a player there are a couple things I’m a little more wary of.

  • Flavor of the Month – This can be “not a problem” to some, since everyone will have access to the same skills.  But I still see it being a large and ongoing problem the team will have to address, especially in PvP.
  • Balance – Forget about it.  It’s not going to happen.  With 500 skills and near limitless combinations, this is going to be a nightmare unless skills are just re-skins of one another.  And in that case, what’s the point?
  • Archetypes – The team mentioned at GDC that they’ll be giving players archetypes which will take away some of the difficulty in building your own set of skills, so that players can and will play pre-defined “roles” or classes if need be.  Again, I wonder what’s the point?  I’d rather see these offered as suggestions in the manual or on the site, than as part of the game’s feature set.  But maybe that’s just me.

In reality, I may be worrying needlessly about the problems facing a classless system.  It worked out fine with AC, UO, and others and there’s no reason it won’t work out fine here.  Archetypes might be a grand thing for some players, while those who want to mix and match will be free to.  Either way, I’m just glad to see something different being tried in the genre and The Secret World seems to be chock full of individuality in a genre that’s often plagued with lookalikes. 

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