This is one of a series called “30 Days of Video Games“, an exercise on daily writing.
Follow the link for the full list.
Oh I’ve been waiting for this one. Like a fine wine, I want to savor this, because there are so many enjoyable choices that stand out in my mind. The whole concept of RPG class is amazing to me – an archetype refined via thematic flavor, limited by the constraints of the system, game balance and said thematics that produces, hopefully, a unique team role that inspires the imagination while providing a rewarding game experience through unique efficiencies and weakness. Of course, the key word in that previous sentence is “hopefully” – in many RPGs there have been classes that just have not fit the bill: D&D 3.5’s Fighter is a prime example – generic, uninspired, and ultimately passed over by every other class in the game. But we’re not here to dwell on the failures. No, we want the classes par excellence – at least those in the opinion of this particular author.
Which are those? Well they are…
EQ’s ‘jack of all trades’ class, the Bard specialized in not having a specialty. EQ Bards could replicate nearly every spell effect in the game, though often to a lesser degree and always for a shortened duration. Bards could weave any combination of 4-5 “songs” together to create a constant set of buffs tailored to the situation, or, create a completely different effect at a moment’s notice in response to a changing situation. Unlike other spell casters in EQ, Bards did not have a resource to manage for most of their songs, only time. The limit on a Bard’s power is that their effects would only last a few seconds, creating the need to ‘twist’ several effects to achieve constant effect. A good bard had to know which effects to drop in order to provide a new ability to a changing fight.
SHAMAN (World of Warcraft)
WOW’s original utility hybrid, the Shaman was a unique unit to the Horde until The Burning Crusade introduced Draenai shaman to the Alliance. The Shaman has undergone several design changes throughout WOW’s life, but the underpinnings of the class have remained the same; the Shaman is an offensive hybrid with area-affecting buffs in the form of ‘totems’. Totems could also heal others, deal damage, or provide utility such as snaring enemies or curing allies. While the Shaman ultimately had to specialize in either hand-to-hand combat, ranged combat or healing, specialization did not lock out other functions,unlike the Druid, whose specialization came with a form change that would lock out other abilities. The Shaman had unbridled freedom in ability but was limited by specialization, making their unspecialized functions ineffective. A good Shaman was always situationally aware, and ready to drop the right totem for the right situation.
DEFENDER (City of Heroes)
Mislabeled the “healer” for all of its career, the Defender is one of the most misunderstood classes in any MMO. The Defender was never just a “healer”, the Defender was a force multiplier. The Defender was an archetype that offered a variety of playstyles based on the powersets you chose for your character. Only a few powersets offered direct healing ability, but all of the powersets offered differing ways to tilt the odds in favor of their allies, and against their enemies. For example, the Empathy defender, considered the game’s only “healer” focused on providing superior buffs, and yes, direct restoration. The Kinetics defender did much the same, providing buffs and heals, but did so by draining enemies, and focused on speed. Darkness defenders would debilitate enemies much like Kinetics, but focused on making their enemies less accurate and do less damage. A good defender didn’t try to shoehorn themselves into the ‘whack-a-mole’ healer role, but rather always looked for ways to tilt the board.
One might notice a common theme in my favorite classes: versatility. This is a no-brainer for me when picking a class in a new game – can I tailor my gameplay to the situation on the fly? Can I adapt? And most importantly, can I be rewarded for quick thinking, for being forced to use all the tools in my box? My least favorite classes are the single-minded classes, aka, the 3.5 Fighter. You might also notice that all three are in some measure, support classes – this is also a major gameplay draw for me, can I make my friends the best they can be?
So which of these three are the best? Well you know how we do around here, we’re just going to have to break this down…. Dr. Jack style.
Jumping right into it, then, let’s see what tickles the versatile bone the most. The defender jumps to an early lead here, by virtue that it was like, 8 different classes (much more when you consider the combinations of primary/secondary, which did make a difference). On its own, though, COH had a pretty limited number of abilities available for each powerset, so your very first choice was definitely limiting. Some powersets had a bit more utility than others – Darkness and Radiation both had some pretty nifty tricks but nothing on the aptly named Trick Arrow.
Still, at the end of the day, the Bard is the clear winner here. Being able to replicate nearly every spell effect in the game made the Bard nearly overpowered in some senses, and certainly the group member everyone wanted for that final slot. While everyone could do something better than the Bard, nobody did as much and nobody did it with as much style.
Ease of Play
Let’s throw the scent off here – playing a bard was TOUGH! Before the introduction of the /melody command (kids these days…) a Bard had to “twist” 4-5 songs by starting one up, letting it pulse once, stopping it and immediately starting another, and repeat. This led to the joke that Bard was the “carpal-tunnel” class, and it wasn’t too inaccurate. However, you could tell a good bard when they’re twisting three songs and keeping two mobs mezzed, and being able to take a few pokes at the current target. It took timing, almost musically, which just felt right. Still, not easy.
Now Shaman, there’s a winner right there. Early Shaman just had to hit Frost Shock every 4 seconds and instantl… okay, okay. Frost Shock was an over-abused and over-powered ability that would do considerable damage and prevent something from running away. Further redesigns to the class would introduce more complex rotations and choices to the class for offense and make it a much more interesting class to play.
Defenders, again, had a limited powerset but the complexity and nuances of COH’s system of ‘gear’ (enhancements) made the base game somewhat daunting to pick up. Not to mention, to an early player of the game, the lack of ability to solo early on as a Defender is rough.
Where the Defender did shine was in the area of support, which is a good thing since that was the primary focus of the class. However, support in other MMOs traditionally means some “boring ass buffs and reduced dps”. But the COH Defender made supporting a team a rewarding and interesting task, more so than any other class that I’ve ever played. What was more enjoyable were the different ways each powerset could deliver this goal. For example;
Empathy: The traditional “healer” was more of an uber buffer, making their teammates better versions of themselves. Enhanced regen of stamina & health led to less downtime, more in-combat longevity, more damage and more control.
Radiation: Buffed teammates to be able to use their powers faster (the insanely wonderful Accelerate Metabolism) and weakened enemies to be slower and take more damage.
Darkness: Radiation’s cousin, blinded enemies, snared them in inky blackness and increased the damage done to enemies. Darkness could actually ‘tank’ by reducing enemies and keeping them afraid and snared.
Storm: Introduced “controlled chaos” to the battlefield by herding enemies around with a personal hurricane & gusts of wind, not letting enemies get many attacks off.
And that’s just four subsets.
Wait, what’s going on here? What’s that music? Who’s that heavily armored red haired woman coming down the walkway with the oversized weapon? Why is everyone naked? THIS IS PANDEMONIUM …
“Oooooh, I’m the greatest. I’m the greatest of all time. I’m bad, I’m the baddest Paladin ever. I’m a baaaaaaaad ma… wooooman. Oh yeah. I bubble like a butterfly, hearth like a bee. Better watch out for Jest Lightbring… er, ee.”
Okay, okay, I get it already, Jest. I left one class out of the favorites discussion, World of Warcraft’s Paladin, AND EVERY DEFENSIVE SELF-HEALING CLASS EVER. It’s my go-to class option when the hybrid option isn’t to my liking (read: shapeshifting druid where you can’t see your fancy new loot.) And I played a lot of WOW’s Paladin, far more than I did my Shaman (but don’t tell Jest, I liked the Shaman better.) Still, when it came to outlasting the competition, nothing, and I do mean NOTHING, outlasted WOW’s Paladin. The early version with two bubbles (aka, total immunity) and an instant full heal, and built-in full powered healing ability, the Paladin was the king (or Queen, yesssth) of being able to soak up oodles of damage while not really being able to do much herself. Basically, the Paladin is the turn-off-your-brain, alt-tab in the middle of the fight and watch porn class. Jest liked that, the pervert she was.
Winner: god, okay, fine. PALADIN (“Woot!”)
Let’s not pretend that it’s all X’s and O’s here, kids. A huge part of a class is the aesthetics, the theme, the lore-based definition that transforms the stale “force multiplying buffer/de-buffer” into “the Kinetics Defender is a master of physics, bending Newton’s rules to his whims. Foes of Paragon City aren’t wrong or right when they stop a step short of engaging a team with a Kinetics Defender, the Defender just took that step from them.” And maybe it’s three years of addiction rising here, but no class did it better than EQ’s Bard. The Bard was a rockstar, a diva, the Bard was capable of heroics that the other classes really couldn’t muster. Oh sure, the rogue just got an insane crit backstab, and the cleric can full heal the warrior with clock-like precision, but the Bard was the class that stepped up with just a flute in hand said, “Don’t worry, I got this.”
The music-based focus of the Bard was ever-present, too, and none better than in the class-specific epic weapon, the Singing Short Sword. The particle effect of music notes coming off the blade made for a great aesthetic, not to mention EQ’s limited animation meant that the Bard would strum his or her sword like a guitar. (Okay, that sentence seems really naughty.)
Perhaps what really tied into the rockstar theme of Bards were their particle effects for their songs, most specifically the song that made them and their party invisible. There were a few, but the best of them all also made the entire party levitate and run really fast. Selo’s Song of Travel, it was by far the best way to travel overland. While the game would make you completely invisible, it would not hide the spell effect, which would happen every three seconds. So instead of being invisible, you would be a bunch of sparkles popping up out of nowhere. Turning off the song and cancelling the effect right as you would glow was the best entrance ever. David Bowie couldn’t be more sparkly.
What’s more rockstar than that?
ULTIMATE WINNER: BARD