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Skill-based games, PVE, and FAQ

Posted by vajuras Thursday February 28 2008 at 11:38PM
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Anofalye and Grimfall brought up some good questions about skill-based games. Basically, they both countered that these systems are weaker for PVE (grouping). I've seen a lot of posts on the message boards allude to this as well.

Grimfall basically stated it simply this way, "If a player has 32 in healing (32%), and I need someone with 100% healing how to communicate this?"

Well this goes back to "Sports" gaming. It's sort of the mentality we see so prominent in many mmorpgs today. Players can only bring a finite amount of players- like 5, 8, 25, 40, etc. It's like Football or Basketball. 

Anyway, "sports games" will always have a set number of players that can be brought to an encounter so players min/max their team distributions to fight against that challenge. We must have so many Meleers, Tankers, nukers-DPS, and Healers to win the encounter (or beat it in record times).

In a Sandbox MMO there is no set limit to how many people you can bring. Thus, you wont stand around in a city looking for someone to fill a 'job' but rather you'd post job requests like so,

"We are going to Dungeon X and we are looking for people to come."

That's pretty much it. You might inquire players to determine if they can survive and not be one shot.  So at the very most, you might inquire how many hitpoints they have or their resistances. Everyone usually has some form of healing so that's not the type of questions you usually bother asking. Maybe you'll ask if someone has Magery and their points in that. You'll probably look around at your group members armor and immediately you'll know if you need to put on Tanking gear. Recall, in skill-based games everyone is a hybrid if you let them. How can teaming suffer if everyone can learn any skill? It's a silly assumption that it wont be way easier to fill spots. Few will debate that. Yeah, perhaps you might have to spend more time speaking to your fellow man to determine what their strengths and weaknesses are.


Oh the horror, lets hit this one again. "Vajuras, I have to actually TALK to my team members and LEARN what they are interested in? NOOOOoooooo vajuras you ask too much!"

Well if that really is too much then this just goes to show the weaknesses of sports gaming. I'm sorry but even in World of Warcraft I was asking our hybrids what their interests were. I made sure if the Shaman didnt playing backup/secondary healer in a crysis. I made sure our Warlocks cound banish. I made sure our Druids knew what their roles were. I dont get it why is talking to other players so bad?

Also, in a Class based title we must remember they take the total XP for a mob and split it up for that group. In a skill-based title, grouping tools are a little less needed because there is no XP but rather you achieve skill gains for actual use of a skill (if it's a Use Based system). So if too many people participate in taking down an epic mob boss then the only griping you might hear is:

1) The mob died too fast, I didnt get the chance to get skill Y to go up, etc....

2) loot rolling, we brought too many people who gets dibs?

But as you see, the issue in this scenario is how to divide up loot in which players can handle by themselves (DKP systems) or with simple little dice rolling user interfaces. The developer doesnt really have to do anything in this scenario but let you roll on who gets what. That's pretty much it.

No raid tools. No grouping tools. Freeform. Skill-based games have 'natural' restrictions. Players are discouraged naturally from bringing too many players because there is less loot for everyone and maybe the mob dies too fast for us to skill-up (if this is a Use based title like Ultima online).

Also, its quite easy for Skill-based games to overlap into Class based titles. If the developer wanted, they could allow players to earn "titles" according to having a certain set of skills. So you could earn a "Warrior" title for having a few Melee skills maxed out. You could earn a "Mage" title for having a few spellbooks maxed out and so forth. These titles would just give players a general idea about each other and totally overlap Tactical Transparency. This is why experienced players will many times say Skill-based systems 'overlap' Class based games. They do.

Anyway there should be some PVE based skill-based MMOs coming out soon. Also, theres a few indy MMOs out there that employ skill-based (use based) systems. Check those out if you can. Apply for some closed betas who knows maybe you'll get lucky :)



Q. Skill-based games are too grindy!?!

 A. No, you might be referring to Use Based systems which is a 'variant' of skill-based systems. In the original pen and paper games players earned skill points as a reward by the GM after completing objectives and alloted those accordingly. some developers interpret this as Use Based like we saw in Ultima Online and Elder Scrolls. Other developers, like CCP, interpret this as 'Time Based' to reduce the risks of macroing altogether. Others, like what I suspect Cryptic will do with Champions Online, is envision this as 'stat based' system more or less like the HERO system (Pen and paper) was. In this article I covered Use Based systems though. Really, if the developer wants they can award you skill points for completing a Quest. Elder scrolls allows you to outright purchase skill points from trainers (single player RPG though). UO had a bit of that too.


Q. I like for my teammates to have weaknesses!

A. Listen to yourself, you want for your teammates to be limited to one 'job'? What if one of your teammates leave during an encounter? In world of warcraft, city of heroes, etc (insert X MMO here) many times we had lost many, many hours due to this. In skill-based RPGs you have overlap. It's not a machine thats quickly ruptured so easily when one cog breaks. If NASA built space shuttles like this we'd see meteors crashing down into the earth left & right! No, they believe in redundant systems, fail safes. Backups.


Q: What if we need to take like 40 people into a Dungeon what if I want someone with 100% Healing (max)

A. Instead of bringng 1 uber healer why not bring several decent healers? Sandbox mmorgs normally dont have party limits I've never seen one do that. But I havent played everything. Also, there is plenty of overlap in skill-based RPGs. But worse come to worse and if 'labels' are required then this very easy for the developer to introduce. Skill-based games totally and completely overlap Class based titles in every way.


Q: But aren't Skill-based games hard to balance? I've heard many developers say that....

A: EVE Online accomplishes this via ships.There are many, many other ways to create naturally balancing systems. Alas, I'm sort of lost what gamers mean by this when I think about World of Warcraft.... City of Heroes.... Those games are always constantly being tweaked.... Where was the balance in City of Heroes, when only Ice Corrupters were welcomed to VG vs VG back in my day. What balance?


Q: My character won't be unique....

A: I really dont know what's so unique about Classes in the average Class based MMORPG. Usually developers achieve 'uniqueness' simply by disallowing you the ability to respec your avatar anyway. But if uniqueness is the goal, this "might" be achieved via a little refinement to GURPS or HERO PnP systems. Players will always optimize however so instead I think more effort into character uniqueness is better spent on character custimization. Now Cryptic (City of heroes) realized this and scored pretty big for themselves.... They had all kinds of FOTM happening but it was the hero outfits that was truly unique...

 Q: But there is no reason to group in a skill-based title....

A: True, many sandbox mmorpgs are totally freeform. But this is a Developer problem not related to skill-based per se. In the pen and paper, trust me people GROUP. In Ryzom I have heard the pvers had to group for darn near everything. Make things hard to solo, death penalties, and great loot you'll see people grouping. It's a developer issue- they decide on sandbox or linear. Most pen and paper is strongly objective based. For a use based system, there is really easy ways to give gamers many positive incentives for grouping.

Anofalye writes:

First, I LOVE both.


However, class oriented games have a huge advantages for grouping.  Let's me try to explain it.


1- It is CLEAR.  See, talking with other is something I obviously enjoys doing a lot.  But the more I know about my fellow avdenturer before even talking with them, the more I can dig in.  See, even if I talk a LOT...if I know before I even talk with someone he is an able tank, hold aggro well, do little damage.  I already have an overall picture of him, I can then ask him about specific aspects of what he does, doesn't...I can talk about social stuff (believe it or not, something I socialise)...and I will understand better what we still need to complete the group.


2- The player knows what his role is.  This is the flaw of the diversity advantage of a skill based.  How often did you group a druid in EQ and that druid didn't want to heal, he was either nuking, doing damage, or whatever else...but never healing.  Now, in a game about skills, this become a rampant problems.  Peoples switch their gear and roles to adapt non-stop...which in theory might be good, but in practice is usually they stop doing something vital for the group because they "adapt" to another skills they have.


3- Casuals are better with classes.  This is right, they ain't gimped by bad choices.  See, to tank maybe you need many skills, then hold aggro and so on.  Believe it or not, I see many tanks never take any aggro-holding power in order to focus on tanking/doing damage more...this doesn't happens with classes.  If the tank can't hold aggro, he is not a tank, he is DPS (and maybe quite gimped because he thinks he is a tank).


Have no doubts, I would try a skill-oriented MMO.  I would never turn away a MMO because it is skills, or because it is classes.  I prefer classes for grouping, for the reasons above.  Skills-based MMOs doesn't make grouping impossible, not at all, they make it more versatile.  If you group the right peoples, you will usually be a LOT stronger in a skill-based MMO.  But if you enjoys doing PUG all the times and grouping newbies in order to face challenges...well, the challenge is definitely a LOT harder...and the newbies are not resilient to failure.


Again...I LOOOOOOVE both.  But you won't be able to convince me on that one.  I am firmly convinced that class-based MMOs are a LOT better for grouping and socialising.  Which has the best Min/Maxer potential, skill-based definitely, both for soloing and grouping...however, a class-based favor grouping all the time, you can't do someone else role anywhere as good as the right class, and they are well-designed to fullfill it.

Fri Feb 29 2008 12:41AM Report
vajuras writes:

  • Anofalyfe you can get all that in a skill-based system via Constraints (like we saw in eVE Online). Granted, the developer of EVE choose Sandbox over Objective based but they have Classes (via ships)

    The current ship you pilot in EVE Online constrans you to a role. In EVE, I know a healer ship by sight. No communication necessary. Casuals can pilot these ships just fne because they only have like what- a few buttons to press? Way less then City of Heroes / World fo Warcraft. #2, they know their role because the ship binds them

    Skill-based systems completely overlap Class based systems in every way. But it is the developer decision whether or not to bind players to a role. This is still preferred to 'Static Classes' because in EVE Online I can change my ship depending on the needs of my Guild.

    It's a win/win. Skill-based games completely encapsulate Class based games. Class based games are not nearly as flexible as this

  • Fri Feb 29 2008 1:36AM Report
    vajuras writes:

    Btw, for the doubters that think this cant work for a Fantasy MMORPG it can. Just use "loadouts"-> you are what you wear. I think SOE might experiment with this paradigm in "The Agency". This is how FPS games work as well, you are constrained by your current loadout (like Battlefield 2142)

    Fri Feb 29 2008 1:38AM Report
    goemoe writes:

    Class based systems are way easier for the masses. They form PUGs, everyone knows what to do and they play. Skillbased games tend to get people angry, either because they don't talk to each other and don't work well with each other, or because they can't agree who will do what. Using fixed groups in skillbased games is easy and fun, but PUGs can be horrible.

    One problem of any MMO is balancing. In a system with classes the dev knows well what to expect and even then most games are struggling to find the balance. Skillbased games will be overhauled after each change, because players will adapt and fight the balance each time.

    Skill based is more for people who like to act. Classes are well liked by people who prefer to react. I believe most people prefer to do classes...

    Fri Feb 29 2008 8:07AM Report
    Spirer writes:

    Classes make itemization easier, loot distribution too. People know what to expect more and creates a feeling of dependency, you depend on other classes to do certain things.

    I really like the idea of say unlocking things and then creating templates. Kind of like the way Fury works. Things cost points, you can have whatever you want, within the budget.

    Fri Feb 29 2008 11:38AM Report
    Meltdown writes:

    I find most of my time in a skill based time worrying about that 1 point in healing I spent before I decided on concentrating on melee. Even class based system have choices like this and without a way out (UO's skill point diminish or WoW's respec) or not having a cap (which I am strongly against) people would spend too much time rerolling just to find out what they want to do.

    Of course this can be easily avoided and it should. I like both systems and I think both have their benefits and drawbacks. Even the class-based systems have "hybrid" classes though, the Druid in EQ as someone mentioned how he doesn't know whether to heal or nuke. How is it that class-based is able to use "people know what they are supposed to do" at the same time as "my healer is too busy nuking".

    Class based with skills within that class (Feats, Talents, Specializations, whatever) I think is the best form of class based. And I feel that a capped open skill system is also very good... although I like use based instead of time based for this system.

    Fri Feb 29 2008 12:02PM Report
    rc_brooks writes:

    This is an old post I realize, but I have to say that for a casual gamer and an rp fan, skill based MMO's are much more involved in my personal experience.


    Class based MMOs such as WoW are very confining and require too much grouping. While some grouping is definitely good, having to deal with the egotism, squabbling and immaturity is tiring. Further, the gear grinds are also tiresome.

    With regards to uniqueness, class-based are far less unique. Whatever role you are trying to fill, nearly everyone else is looking for the same gear and taking the same refinements (such as talents in WoW)

    There are plenty of class based MMOs out there. For those of us who are older, that seek a more enriching RP MMO environment, I hope that some developer will seek our money with a quality skill-based sandbox MMO (maybe sci-fi?) will invest the money to attract us. While WoW like MMOs do attract a lot of attention, the player flux is testament to the woes of the teen crowd. If a company seeks a more stable player base, seek us out and make a casual game that still has depth and detail. I think we have enough fodder at this point for the people who like devoting 40hrs a week to a game. Make something for the adults with full-time jobs who don't have the time for a second one.

    Sun Aug 03 2008 9:29AM Report
    7seeker writes:

    Many great comments here.  Also the usual confusion about what are mutually exclusive between skill and class/level combo systems.

    First, there is a 'to each their own' like rc_brooks rightly pointed out.  I have been gaming for a long time and I want something with depth and immersion.

    The market now seems IMHO to just pump out cookie cutters in order to temporarily attract superficial followers.  I do not really have an opinion about skill caps as I see enough arguments for as against.

    Can someone enlighten me as to what the alternatives are so that you don't end up with characters who are masters of everything?  You don't see this in real life and I think good ol' life is a good model, afterall it has been working for quite some time and good developers generally model working systems.

    I believe there is a great market for those of us who want immersion and depth, not grinding and killing for its own sake.  I detest the leveling treadmill and see that as an example of how level / class based systems are more simplistic and well, "kiddy".  Note that this is a major boon at times as I have times where i just want simplicity and fun with my wife in a game together.  Driving on, I believe that this market wants realistic economies and again not static cookie cutter systems that make you question whether the dev and design teams were just lazy or not.  Crafting goes on top of this.

    I like skill based systems with 'skills' or feats that you learn.  I like the idea of a tree based system where you do not just automagically gain knowledge and specific skills or abilities when you level up (whether as a class or a (set of) skills).  Quests to learn skills are great and very rewarding.  Having a proficiency and mastery approach to these feats and abilities could go on top of the skill level and intermesh to make a really fun system.

    Now, one big complaint here... this is not skill or level specific but just lazy designing.  I do NOT want to see items like steel weapons and armor easy to make or obtain.  I am tired of the mundane feel this gives to historically powerful items.  This may be seen as a barrier for entry into crafting skills that make these, yet in reality that is once again a design issue.  Looking at history, say in the Highlands of Scotland, many Scots used farming implements, antlers, bones, clubs, or very simple blades that looked like some fan blades.  True quality weapons were rare, expensive, and very powerful.  We all know of the highland claymore but that brings me to another point.

    In combat, many weapons gave tactical advantages outside of just "damage points".  For example, the Scottish Claymore was used very effectively to block blows with two hands spread wide on the blade.  That is because there was normally an unsharpened portion of the blade for about 2 feet.  This doesn't even talk about the fact that the 'sharpened' portion really wasn't (it used brute force from innertia usually, which is why folks would also in a pinch wield it backwards as a pick... granted that was in a deep pinch.  Ook aye!

    OK, back to skills.  Templates good.  Helps newcomers and anyone else who wants to be a particular profession or specialty with skill based systems.

    OK, back to economy.  Loot?  Are we talking about the useless loot you get off of monsters like "hairy shoulder of giant" that no one wants or need but for some reason an NPC will buy it off of you?  Plus why would animals or monsters generally have your currency on them?  Have  a 'realistic' system of supply and demand for 'parts' of a critter perhaps based on mystic/magical systems (eye of newt anyone?)  Also, if I am getting hit with a sword for that kind of damage and it is a doosy, plus my blows are deflected by thick steel plate armor then I bloody well get a sword and plate armor as loot, not leather armor and a bow.

    Hope is high!  Expectaions are low :(

    Thu Sep 04 2008 8:44PM Report
    tyrecies writes:

    Some nice posts, but overall I would say skill based is the best and I agree that its nearly an issue of how the developer address the issue as far as PvE goes.

    For those who have played skill based MMOs, I played UO back in the day, it is not very hard to drop weather you can say play a healer or tank, just drop the three main skills(approx) that are mostly needed for that type and other players who are experienced know what you mean.

    Now for new players skill based can be a draw back, because you have not learned the ins and outs and I guess as a gamer you could be scored as a level one gamer in that particular game. However within a couple weeks of grouping and believe me people group, you have it down pat.

    The best part of skill based is that you can have grinders grouped with non grinders in that a non grinder can specialize in a particular set and essentially build a class they want to start out playing and a grinder can have extra skill sets to pick up the slack for when the main healer lags out or the tank goes down from a bunch of crits or the caster has to log for the night etc, gaming will and can continue unlike class based which slows down the pace or stops while waiting for a replacement.

    In a class based game you are restricted to who is online and how competent they are at their role. Note just because there class says warrior or paladin etc does not in anyway mean they can hold that role, even with 'uber' gear they bought on some plat site.

    Overall gaming is great regardless of class or skills based(use based), but since you can build classes with skill systems, I personally see class based systems as limiting and less social games that lead to elitism, in that people will want to group with the same people they know to be effective, which hell I have done plenty, but some will only group with those people period and talk smack about the rest. Where in skill based people of various skills and ability levels can group and learn from each other and all just have fun, except of course the 'loot hors', pardon my slang please, but in a group having fun I find that need before greed is usually an accepted norm.

    I personally would like to see some new big budget games come out with skill trees yet no class association like SWG did.

    PS I appologise for my terrible paragraph structure :P

    Sun Dec 14 2008 9:16PM Report
    Viettmai writes:

    Ok skill based vs class based

         In my opinion, skill based is more fun in the long run, class based gets maxed out and your left with trying to find gear... gear.. gear... what else?, gear. Now if the gear is  basic no stats what so ever like UO back in the day it was a lot more fun, it was based of skills and how you move your toon and attack. It took alot of team work to get the job done, not rather or not if you got the gear to take the hit or do the damage it's what you do after the hit that makes you live or die!.

         So what are you going to do after you get the best gear and all the gear that you want? like in WOW... keep running raids? kill the same things over again?.. for what? gear?... what gear, your maxed out to the "T". You can't level any more cause you maxed level. Lets roll and new toon now...

       To me if they made a new version of UO i would drop WOW the second it comes out. skill based game will make team work, work more. Not to mention the PVP in skill based games!, gear is 90% makes and break you in Class based games the other is how well you can control your toon but even that depends on your gear.

       In UO (skill based) 1 mage can kill 3 warriors if he knows what he's doing. it also goes both ways, 1 warrior can kill 3 mages just depends on how he is skilled and know what he's doing. In WoW, (class based) 1 mage will die vs 3 warriors no ifs and buts. 1 Warrior will die vs 3 mages, no ifs and buts.

    if you think i'm wrong, try it yourself then reply.

    Thu Mar 05 2009 12:31AM Report writes:
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