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Evolution of Classes

Thomas Mortensen Posted:
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"The Evolution of the Player Classs"

Editorial by Thomas Mortensen

The MMORPG genre has changed a lot since the early days of Meridian 59 and Ultima Online, but the games still relies on the basic classes introduced back then. Most MMORPG still use the Fighter, a heavily armoured close combat character that can take lots of damage. Having to rely on short-range weapons and relative low damage his fights may last long. Thus he will need the healer, whose job is to heal the party and make sure they stay alive. A second role of the healer is to buff the party by adding temporary enchantments, which make the party stronger, faster or more resilient. The mage is the most fragile character, but he can deliver large amounts of ranged damage through arcane magic. Though the games do not always use the same names for the character classes they are always build on one of these arch classes or a mix of two of them through hybrids like the Bard, Paladin or Battlemage.

This mix is tried and proven in MMORPGs through the past ten years. The fighter takes the damage, the healer keeps him alive and the mage deals the damage. But will these three classes keep being the blood of MMORPGs in the years ahead?

The lesser classes such as the crafter or the merchant are rare to see as a class for themselves, but are more often integrated as minor skills in the other classes. Most classes can choose to craft items to kill downtime and sell for a little extra profit. But is this really the right way to go? Most games have high-level items drop from monsters and low-level items cheap enough to buy off NPCs making the crafter less useful. Games with a player driven economy like the Ultima Online and the cancelled WISH Online has a very flexible crafting system where the player can be pure crafter and make a profit without killing. To have a working economy and a make the crafter/merchant a viable class you will also need a means to sell your goods to players through either an auction house or player run shops. This is slowly being introduced, but is still far from perfect yet. A relatively new character class is the rogue, a character that relies on stealth and powerful backstabs. The class broke through with World of Warcraft by being able to become invisible to the enemy. Dungeons and Dragons Online took it to the next level and made him an essential part of the game by making him able to complete quests and overcome obstacles through stealth that would otherwise require a high level party. His main purpose though was to act as a scout and disable deadly traps for his party. A lot of people have an interest in the rogue and I am sure he will join the fighter and mage as a common class in future MMORPGs.

The animal handler is a character that comes in many variants. He is a character that uses minions to fight for him, either as a Hunter with a pet or a magic user that conjures creatures to fight for him while he generally uses a long-range attack to support his creatures. Many of the newer games are experimenting with interesting ways of using this class. By letting you charm monsters to do your bidding, or by raising your own pet and watch him evolve.

A few games have a completely different approach by having an open system without classes, but are instead skill based. This system has many advantages because it opens up an entirely new way of gaming; you are not bound by any specific classes but can create your own mix. An open skill system also makes it easier for low level and high-level characters to play together since the level difference is more fluent. But this way it is also hard to balance the game, players can max out all his skills making them near invincible. Limiting the amount of points you can distribute will limit you to much and having the max skill level inhumanly high will be doable but will require a lot of very high level creatures and quests to be continually added to allow the high level characters to experience new things. So it is realistic to make a fully open skill system but it is still far into the future considering the current development of game design. But what is the future of the arch-classes? Will they survive? The three main classes will always be the same no matter what you call them, they work and everyone has his or her own favourite class. There is nothing you can do to change this, nor would you want to. Each new generation invents new ways to make the characters interesting by adding new skills, spells and more amazing graphics to visualize the skills and new adventures and ways to use the character classes’ strength and weaknesses. Dungeons&Dragons Online has taken the most unique approach of this, making each class indispensable and making teamwork essential for the success of the quests.

With the MMORPG industry rapidly growing and the game design and character classes being altered in new and interesting ways each time a new title is released the future will be interesting for the gamer no matter what his favourite class is. The fighters will keep getting more impressive looking armour and the mages even more astounding spells and spell effects. New classes and hybrids of old classes are being introduced all the time, sometimes with good results others are less fortunate, but as to how the main three classes will end up, only time will tell.

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Thomas Mortensen