Is Your Class Critical?

Posted: April 2, 2008 by Kendricke in Everquest 2, General Game Concepts, World of Warcraft

A discussion I’ve started within my guild’s ranks addresses the idea of criticality, specifically in dealing with various classes for raids.  Which classes are “critical” to success and which ones are merely useful.  The question is important in class based raid content, but it’s still relevant within the larger context of class based games altogether.

To many players, this can be as much a serious discussion topic based purely on the emotional attachment many of us apply to our preferred classes.  No one likes to feel left out or less important, and the idea that class X is more highly desired on in a raid (or group) setting can set off a firestorm of commentary regarding game design and developers themselves.

After all, it’s not as if there’s a document in any MMO I’m aware of that states clearly at character creation which classes are going to be considered more critical to grouping or raiding success.  This seems to be a question that developers are more than happy to avoid answering, leaving it up to players to figure it out for themselves.  The obvious problem with this is that most players aren’t going to figure it out till they’ve gained enough levels to start worrying about grouping or raiding, and in lower level content…the differences between classes aren’t typically as important.

No, the real difficulty comes in the later levels, with the content designed after the initial release, where players (and developers) began to really get a feel for the boundaries of skilled play.  Far too often, however, that skill comes in the form of optimizing numbers – “min/maxing” if you will: the specialization of roles, designed to maximize effectiveness with the minimum of effort.

If you’re playing one of those hallowed classes that can bring quite a bit to a raidforce, you’re more likely to be desired when groups start to form up.  If, however, you chose to play a class that doesn’t necessarily bring quite a much to the table as another class, you’re more likely to be left out in the cold when the loot starts to drop.

This is even worse in games such as Everquest II, which maintains a maximum raid size that’s equal to the total number of classes available.  This immediately sets the stage for some classes being left out altogether, because it’s inevitable that some classes will be seen important enough to bring two or three along.  For every class that doubles up, that’s another class altogether that can’t be present – due to the game mechanics.

This, in turn, only exacerbates the normal game balance discussions, because instead of having spare slots available for less immediately desired classes to fill, the competition of finding the right classes only heats up all the more.

I don’t have a solution for the EQ2 developers at SOE.  I don’t envy the corner they’ve painted themselves in regarding the legacy of the archetype system they inherited from designers before them.  That said, I think it’s a good lesson for developers in the future to learn from.

If a game is to include a raid type system, then serious consideration needs to be given to the maximum number of raiders allowed.  Intentionally create some buffer slots to allow less desired classes more opportunity to shine.  Sure, top end raid forces will still stack the deck heavily toward overspecialization, but that’s more to do with personal preference and less to do with restrictive game mechanics.

In the meantime, anyone interested in raiding within games such as Everquest II will continue to ask:  Is my class critical?  Is yours?

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Comments
  1. Illuminator says:

    You can force those buffer slots even in this game by easing up on the encounter difficulty and not requiring every slot to be min/maxed in order to defeat it.

  2. Illuminator says:

    ….then you’ll be more inclined to take that great player who refuses to betray his class, instead of holding out for the lesser player who technically fits your min/max slot.

  3. Pantheros says:

    Personally, I know, and knew at the time of my character’s creation, that I chose a “fluff” class. Not in that its useless, but just that its not a required class, it is replaceable by a number of similar classes. But yes, there’s many a new player that will pick a class that sounds good to them, is likely to even have a lot of fun learning and leveling that character, only to find out that they are not necessarily always desired.

    Not having played EQ1, I’ve not known a raiding system other than what I’m working with right now. The system is not perfect, as stated, but what system really is? Would it be nice to have a raid force of say, thirty? Probably. It would be nice to have those extra spots to make sure that you could include most any class that your guild has at its disposal. However, that would also mean that you need to have another 6 bodies to fill a raid roster. From my point of view, that’s sometimes hard enough without adding more spots.

  4. Ogrebears says:

    Well i eq2 did an ok job on balance, with the 24 classes i would of been worried that raid would only want the top 3 or 4 dps classes the 1 or 2 tank types, and then the top 3 healer classes. But turn out it more balanced than that.

    But ya with so many classes it hard to make every class a critical class.

  5. Rijacki says:

    Sometimes, though, it is the players who look at thus and so class and compare apples to oranges in order to prove that oranges are decidely better. Granted, the devs sometimes are confused about the apples, too, but…

    What I mean, though, is that some combos of classes excel over other class combos but one part of the combo that excels doesn’t stand as well on its own especially when its apples are compared to another’s oranges and so its part in the combo is discounted.. especially when there are some combos that fill its other roles pretty decently.

    For the most part, I think the EQ2 devs did a good job on balancing.. except for a few subclasses where their counterpart class has -both- more utility and more dps without, seemingly, any negatives to balance.

    I personally don’t think it should be about THE critical classes but there should be choices and combinations of choices that can fulfill the same tasks but in different ways. Maybe there are, though, and the players are too busy looking for THE right set without noticing there isn’t just only one right way. Maybe players are too busy trying to chase and emulate the pathbreakers going down one route to even notice there are other trailheads.

  6. pugnacious priest - A female Players Warcraft Blog says:

    I play a shadow priest and was called a tool once. ( tounge in cheek ) and I would consider a Shadow Priest as a non essential to a raid.
    Anything that we can CC, so can a Mage or hunter.
    Anything we can fear, a Warrior or a Warlock Can
    Anything we can dispell a Pally can.

    Holy priests are fast becomming replaced with Holy Pallys or Shamans, just from that they are more hardy then a Clothy.

    We arent supposed to out Dps similarily geared Mages and Warlocks

    Our Health Regen from Vampiric Embrace causes more agro, and Shadow P’s recommend removing improved VE thus reducing its benefits.

    and then theres our Mana regen from Damage Mana regen from Vampiric Touch – But mages have Mana gems, and Warlocks can Tap down – and even then a Shaman with a mana stream Totem would probably probably do as a replacement.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love playing my class – but probably the most unique thing about Shadow Priests, is that we are the only class that can do ALL of the above hence the tool bit.- its more about educating people abour our talents, and that doesnt become important untill you reach 70.

  7. Kendricke says:

    Rjack,

    My point is that in a system where there’s no room for redundancy, it’s a given that some classes will be left out entirely. This leads to even more of an idea that some classes are simply more critical than others.

    Even then, when the game mechanics are based so heavily around DPS, this makes hate control more important (and to a lesser extent, the ability to pile defensive buffs onto the hate controller).

    This means that classes which help to generate/control hate are considered more important than classes which cannot. It means that classes which have the ability to help increase DPS for a force (and not just themselves) are considered more critical.

    Even then, as Illuminator points out, much of the high end content practically requires min/maxing and specialization of group/raid makeup. Can Maiden’s Chamber be run without an enchanter? Yes, but not without going well above and beyond with the rest of the group – so I’d consider an enchanter a “critical class” for Maiden’s Chamber. Can the berserker fabled epic be completed without similar crowd control? Yes, but it then requires a group capable of putting out more than 12,000 DPS. So again, I’d consider enchanters to be a critical class for that encounter.

    …and those are merely group events. It gets even worse when raid events are taking into account.

    It’s not just the players who have decided that shadowknights and wardens are less “critical” than guardians and templars. To a great extent, current game design dictates much of this.

  8. Laldail says:

    Kendricke makes a very valid point about the raid size limit equaling the total number of classes and the virtual automatic guarantee that some classes will be left behind simply due to that mechanic. This was/is a design flaw, I think, and one that should be avoided in future games where a raiding paradigm is used.

    That said, I think criticality of any class is very much dependent upon both game mechanics and player skill. The determination of what class is critical in any given situation will be a fluid dynamic that will change as overall power of the group/raid increases. This criticality should not be (but often is) confused with which class might be the absolute best in a given situation, as determined by careful analysis of parses and speadsheets. In my opinion, if you have to resort to parses to figure out which class is better at something then whatever you are trying to determine is not critical. Critical is … with this class win, without it we lose. That does not require spreadsheets to figure out. Win – lose.

    A group that requires a crowd controller to complete an encounter may actually find that same CC slows them down and is unwelcome once their dps improves. Is it better to control the adds and take the extra time or just heal through it and burn them down (if you can)?

    I do think that sometimes players get hung up on class criticality in absolute terms without really considering that they are cancelling raids or not doing instances because they might not have the perfect mix. If you are cancelling events because your optimal class isn’t showing up more than 70% of the time perhaps it is time to work with that less than optimal class player who is showing up 100% of the time.

    Player skill is a huge factor that is often left out or assumed in any discussion of optimal class use. In our guild, the consistently top parser is a Berserker. If one applied spreadsheet tactics to our situation one might draw the conclusion that we would be better off with a raid force of MT group plus three groups of three berserkers with support classes. Our total dps would probably at least double as a raid. The real problem, of course, would be finding eight more players who can push berserker dps to that level at all, much less consistently. In any case, player skill is the prime factor here and not strictly class.

    I’m not saying that a guardian will not always be capable of better mitigation or higher hp than the next plate tank in the current EQ2 game environment. I’m just saying that may not always be critical to success. Succes on some nights might just be the act of raiding with friends and figuring out if something can be done a different way.

  9. Kendricke says:

    Laldail,

    Even then, is the berserker “critical”? Probably not.

    Let’s face it, there are certain fundamental assumptions most developers are going to make when designing encounters. In order to defeat a particular encounter, group makeup must include X, Y, and/or Z. In this example, Y might equate to a more general concept as opposed to a defined and specific class, but the general thought process is still going to be there.

    I call this the X factor. It doesn’t merely apply to class, by the way. Specific gear, numbers, spell levels – all of these can be used as an X factor, the idea that to defeat a particular encounter as designed, X must be present (whatever X may be).

    For many encounters in many games, group or otherwise, there are some classes which are X factors. Include these classes and the content is defeatable. Remove those classes and the gameplay shifts to a much higher standard of play required.

    Is it possible? Sure. In old Everquest, you didn’t require cleric heal chains to win certain encounters, but boy was it harder if you didn’t.

    Realize, I’m a huge proponent of the idea that there’s more than one way to skin a cat. However, generally speaking, I’d consider a skinning knife to be better than a stick.

    Is there any raid force in Everquest II, for example, that would move without a dirge? No dirges at all. Is the class critical to success? Probably not, but I couldn’t name a raid force that would think about moving on any serious target without one.

    What about templars? Absolutely necessary? Probably not. I’m guessing you could still get through several raid zones without a templar at all. Now, care to name a raid force that’s moving without a templar?

    I can name dozens of guilds that raid without a consistent warden, or who move without a troubadour, or without a shadowknight, or bruiser, or paladin, or without rangers. Can these classes add to a raid force? Sure they can. Can skilled players really make a difference with these classes? Absolutely.

    Are these classes critical? Obviously not.

  10. Laldail says:

    Class criticality in the gaming sense, it seems to me, is determined by how much easier a specific class makes content as compared to the next best class that performs the same basic function. If the next best class is only marginally worse or even can shift in relative importance based on gear or player skill, then that class is not critical.

    It is true that the path of least resistance is the path most trod so it isn’t surprising that certain classes take a decidedly commanding lead in raid preference. To a certain extent there is some degree of self-fulfilling prophecy involved, I think. If a guardian is the MT for the guild and all support is built around that guardian, it is very likely that the raid will have issues succeeding if the guardian is absent and some other type tank steps in. It’s not like every raid force has the luxury of a stable of alternate characters that are raid geared and well-played to step in and provide an alternative support strategy on the fly. This of course then reinforces the belief that the guardian is ‘critical’ to success, when in point of fact having the right support for the MT you have is what is critical.

    There is no doubt, nor would I ever attempt to argue, that there are some classes that bring capabilities to a raid force that may be critical to the success of that raid force. However, the fact that most raid guilds use a guardian as MT does not, in itself, mean the guardian class is critical. It simply means the path of least resistance has been discovered in the guardian and it does make it easier in most encounters if the MT is a guardian.

    I’ve read some opinions that state it is critical that a raid force have power regen in every group and yet we routinely raid without that. It’s no one’s fault and it can’t be helped since we have to raid with who shows up. It sure makes it a lot harder to win that way but it isn’t a roadblock to winning. It’s just another challenge to overcome.

    The whole idea of class criticality is anethema for some players who grew to hate the ‘holy trinity’ of EQ. For them, if any class is ‘preferred’ to its sister class then there are 1) too many classes for the game mechanics to support or 2) some more work needs to happen in class balancing. Frankly, if a game is built for an end-game force of 24 characters and there are 24 classes in the game, then that raid force should ideally consist of 24 critical classes, unless some of the classes are designed and obvious by their very nature to not be raid classes.

    That said, EQ2 was originally conceived to be realm specific so in reality the design (as I understand it and recall from early days) called for 24-person raids with only 18 total classes available to each realm. If that were still the case today it wouldn’t solve all the problems but it would certainly go a long way toward alleviating the class criticality pressure. This is a good example of how a design strength can be subverted and become an issue if changes are made in implementation with insufficient regard to changes in basic design. Classes that would have still been critical in the original concept are now redundant at best and clearly inferior to the alternative in some cases.

  11. Bowin says:

    K.I.S.S = Keep It Simple Stupid

    With that said: Every class has there job and by the time your level 70 and some 80 you should know what it is. Lets break it down. Healers = Heals and keeps the raid alive not DPS. That is why most Raid Leaders in WoW dont want Showdow Priest. Showdow Priest are ment for PvP and Solo. Thats an easy fix, you just spec. yourself to be a Raid Preist if you want to go on Raids. Back to EQ2 if your a raid healer you dont spec. yourself to do DMG you spec yourself to Heal better. If you are a DPS class you spec. yourself to do DMG and you gear yourself up to do DMG. EASY, commonsence. I feel all classes are usefull if done correctly. This is our task in the game is to get your TOON up to speed. If you want to raid learn what will better yourself and all others on the raid. Raid is a TEAM thing. The Raid Leader is the coach. This is like most games and coach has his players. We can disagree with the coach but the coach has the final say. The Raid Leader also has the say so what classes he needs to make a successful Raid force.

  12. rulez says:

    Sorry the Shadow Priest has been mentioned twice now so can’t resist to comment on that with trying not to derail.

    Those comments are in my opinion a very good example for the power of player perception of what might be critical classes/specs. And that perception can differ quite a bit from reality.

    In short: Shadow Priests bring the most important utility to raids for all damage dealers who use mana. At the same time they put out respectable damage if they know their class well. They can even offer a little healing in emergency situations that can mean the difference between wipe and run back or a successful kill.
    Can you raid without them? Yes of course, especially in lower tiers. But it is less fun and slows your progress considerably in the long term.

    Sorry for the derail 😛

  13. Xeavn says:

    Thanks rulez,

    I thought that was the case for Shadow Priests in Burning Crusade, but it had been a long while since I had played World of Warcraft. If I remember correctly although they are not absolutely critical they are one of those classes that makes a very large difference to a raid force, increasing the power regen for all of the mana based classes in thier group. (Healers and DPS alike)

    While a raid force may not need a ton of shadow priests a couple can be very useful. This is true in EQ2 as well. Even for the most critical of classes, you often times don’t need more than one or two on any given raid. Sure a MT Guardian is awesome for a raid force, and you might even be able to take a 2nd one as an offtank, but more than that would hurt your raid force.

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