MMORPGs: It’s Always the Hybrids.

I consider myself a veteran gamer, having seen the gaming world evolve from its first tedious steps into the real world back in the late 80’s to the multi-billion industry that it has become today. I’ve also seen the industry evolve itself to take advantage of all the innovations that its fellow industry, namely IT, has brought to the table. The most interesting innovation was the idea of the Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG) which brazenly put for the notion that all interactions would take place online something which back in 1997, when Internet proliferation wasn’t all that high, was definitely out of the box thinking.

I must admit up until 2004 I didn’t really have a suitable connection that could support these kinds of games. I do remember playing quite a lot of Team Fortress Classic and Counter Strike with my 56k modem, although I had to use those special “High Ping Bastards” servers in order to have a chance. My first foray into the genre of MMORPGs came in the same form that the majority of current MMORPG players would have, World of Warcraft. I had heard tales of people playing games like Everquest and Final Fantasy Online to the detriment of other things (namely, their lives) but I had yet to see a game wreck such havok on any of my friends. As it turns out, it was I whom the game would ensnare with its chillingly addictive grip.

So started a long history of the past 5 years of experimentation with this new genre of games that I had never considered before. Since my first contact with World of Warcraft I’ve stumbled my way through many other titles and I have since landed on Aion: Tower of Eternity. Since playing through at least 3 other MMORPGs that have a similar bent to this one I knew what kinds of things to look out for to make my life a bit easier. After levelling 2 characters to 80 (and 2 more to 70 in the previous expansion) from scratch in the latest World of Warcraft expansion I had noticed a trend between the different character archetypes: the hybrids, namely ones that could heal, always had an easier time levelling.

My first ever character in a MMORPG (apart from my paladin in the closed beta) was a rogue in World of Warcraft. Whilst I had no trouble levelling this character there were definitely many occasions when I was incapable of completing a certain task without grouping up to do so. Fast forward a couple months to when I rolled my second character, a paladin, and tasks that were impossible previously were completed with ease. This then carried on to my next characters who were rolled years later, namely a hunter and shaman. With the hunter have the ability to heal their pet they were on the cusp of being able to do almost everything solo, although the shaman with the new talent trees seemed almost unstoppable when it came to the levelling content.

This theory has remained uncontested in the other MMORPGs I’ve been privvy to over the past few years. My foray into Age of Conan had me as a bear shaman and the healing abilities they had made most content (what was there at least) much easier than what other players were experiencing. My Disciple of Khaine in Warhammer Online was probably one of the best examples of this so far, although their intrinsic linking of damage and healing was probably more responsible for them being an exceptional levelling class than the ability to heal.

And so when it came time to choose a class in Aion Online I first decided that I’d step out of my usual hybrid love and try something new, the tank archetype. I’ve played pretty much every other role in MMORPGs so it seemed fitting that I give tanking a go. This was only to be met with the horror that was levelling with this class which was slow and utterly painful. My initial review of Aion saw me sticking through this for the sake of the experience and a good article, but I can’t say I was overly impressed with the amount of downtime the class had to endure. Unfortunately for this class its not like WoW either where you can specialize your character for levelling and then respecialize once you hit end game. It seems that if you choose the Templar in Aion you’re doomed to fighting your way through the levels slowly, something which isn’t great for what could be considered one of the most required archetypes in a MMORPG.

Queue my other experiments with the classes in Aion, namely a priest and scout archetype (that went to chanter and ranger respectively). The scout was indeed a much faster at levelling than the warrior, mostly due to the higher damage the class did. The downtime unfortunately was the same as the warrior, which led me to dislike the class. I finally gave up on the experiment and went for a class with healing, and the difference was like night and day. I don’t think I’ve had to struggle yet with any content with my chanter and whilst I hear tales that they’re slow to level my experience is anything but.

The trade is of course that characters like this who are jack of all trades are masters of none and this is a sticking point for many people. I’m not entirely sure what it is about the MMORPG community but when game developers tried to blur the lines between the traditional DPS/Healer/Tank train of thought they get all confused and try to fit any class into one of those archetypes. When they can’t the class is usually written off or relegated to a single role which they’re not particularly useful for, something which plagued many of the hybrids in World of Warcraft in the early years.

It’s always hard to make character classes work at all levels as you can’t give players everything right at the start of the game. I mean, why would people bother levelling any character if they had all the good bits at level 1? The problem then stems from the requirements that players put on these classes at the end game which, in a game like Aion, relegates some classes to trudge their way through the lower end content using characters that don’t function well in such areas. World of Warcraft alleviated this a lot by allowing people to specialize using talent points and was really an ingenious solution to a problem that has plagued most MMORPGs. The hybrids still came out in front in terms of levelling however.

The phenomena is nothing new and it will continue through all MMORPGs for many years to come solely by virtue of what customers have come to expect from game developers. The 3 archetype model is ingrained in everyone’s minds and few have attempted to break free from this model. It is possible that a future MMO will attempt a paradigm shift and introduce a whole new concept to this genre. For now it seems however that the hybrids will remain the kings of solo and levelling content.

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