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MMOWTF: One Shot Wonders: The Art of Stealth

This week, Dan Fortier takes a hard look at stealth in MMORPGs in the most recent incarnation of his weekly column, MMOWTF.

One Shot Wonders: The Art of Stealth

Stealth has been a very important yet decried part of MMOs and RPGs in general since the beginning. From the snooping and pickpocketing Thieves to the Assassin Striking rogues of Everquest, stealth has always had a volatile place in MMORPG history.  Proponents of stealth claim that it is vital to a well rounded system and that the many disadvantages heaped on most of the sneaking classes/archetypes offsets the power of their chosen professions. Those opposed to it claim it’s unrealistic, unnecessary and general used by gankers and greifers to have fun at the expense of others. This week’s text blob will shine a light on the ongoing debate about it’s place in the MMO genre. Grab your eye drops get ready for more heretical gimcrackery!

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One of the greatest thrills from playing a stealth class is the ability to pick your fights. Even in games that have a well designed counter to the Rogue classes, a smart player can use stealth to commit himself to combats that he can win and escape those that he can’t. While all classes can be dangerous if played correctly, (or if you’re a healer, incorrectly) the ability to move around unseen is an incredibly powerful ability. This makes them one of the hardest classes/skill sets to balance despite the simplistic mechanics currently used to simulate stealth.  This is further complicated by the wide disparity between their use in PvE vs PvP.

A typical Stealth class has at least decent damage potential, but is usually very restricted in the armor they may wear while using most of their skills. This tends to make them exceptionally poor at PvE where Mobs are never surprised and typically attack in groups. On the opposite side of the spectrum, they are generally incredibly effective against other players because the element of surprise allows the Rogue the ability to pick the perfect moment to attack. That moment typically will mean the other player is resting, fighting another player or Mob or just AFK. This type of behavior leads to stealth users being stereotyped as griefers. There are a lot of people who play those types of classes because they make it easy to gank players, but there is also an equal measure who enjoy the voyeurism and spying aspects among others.

Many gamers are unhappy with the way in which stealth is presented in modern MMOs. The ‘Press a button and vanish completely’ is a much maligned system, but is simple and less vulnerable to exploits than other, more complex, stealth systems. For example: A system that would only make your character less visible could be overcome by simply altering your display settings. If a stealth system was based on the idea of camouflage, (ie that provided bonuses or penalties to your chance to remain hidden based on how bright it was or how much cover there is where you are standing) areas would have to be carefully designed to neither overly benefit or punish stealth characters. While the “*poof* I’m gone” approach is far from ideal, the simple approach hasn’t done the genre any harm so I doubt anyone will be in a hurry to change it.

While Stealth classes seem to be a lightning rod for complaints about class imbalance, the real power of these characters is in the skill of the user. It is generally very easy to spot players who don’t have the skill to play a stealth class properly as opposed to most of the special spamming tanks that require as much guile as a sewer worker. When you come right down to it, stealth requires more skill to be effective, not less. As a fan of this play style I certainly hope that future games make it hard to be a great assassin so we can weed out the nubs who are looking for an I WIN button.


I would go on, but I’ve said too much already. If the others find out I’ve been spilling the beans it will be curtains for me. As always I can’t wait to see what creative expletives my gentle readers will hurl at me next. Type it, post it and it will magically appear for all to read! (Hmm that’s not realistic...perhaps we should make a hand appear to write it slowly for every person who reads it. Nerf Instant Posts!) Till next week, I bid you adieu.