Massively Overthinking: Disentangling MMO classes and races
Last week, a guildie of mine mentioned that he’d been interested in Crowfall until he realized he couldn’t be a gerbil (Guineacean) of the class of his choosing. It was a total coincidence that the Crowfall devs had literally that same week announced they were nuking their race/class-locked archetype system and disentangling races and classes, so I got to tell him his wish had been granted.
I think this pushes the game more solidly into MMORPG territory, so I’m happy to see it: More customization and choice and variety is what I’m all about. But I was going to play it before, too. For this week’s Massively Overthinking, I’m presenting the idea of locked vs. unlocked archetypes to our staff to mull over. How important is it to you to be able to play any race/class combo in a game? Is it something you see as critical to MMORPGs? Is archetype-locking more the domain of MOBAs and ARPGs? When do you let it slide to play a fun game?
Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): I have mixed feelings about archetype locking. For one, it does help with roleplay immersion if you’re into that. Dark Elf Paladins are “cool” because they’re not the norm, right? But if a game has racials that give bonuses to, say, Dark Elf Dread Knights, that feels like it pigeonholes the race for min-maxers who are also RPers.
What I’m more comfortable with is skill-based systems and making certain skills quest rewards. That way, if you want to be a Dark Elf Paladin, you’ll have to go out and earn that, rather than just being one from the get go. Not only does that help make them a little more rare, but also helps the player build a journey to earn that right. While it’s slightly different, I remember spending about a year on a sword quest in Asheron’s Call, and every time I’d come back to the game, I’d just sit in wonder of it. I have so many stories about getting that sword, in and out of character, and it matched my RP style, even if the stats were garbage. It was mostly for looks, but seeing my black-clad character walking around with a black blade dripping blood sent a message to other players. Customization is cool, but we’re playing in persistent worlds for an experience, not instant gratification, right?
Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I let it slide in some games. For example, I remember the uproar when Marvel Universe Online became Marvel Heroes and the playable toons were no longer going to be customizable. That was the point at which it stopped being a true MMORPG and became an ARPG or MMOARPG. I’m OK with that as long as it’s being honest about what it is. I don’t really think there’d be much benefit to, for example, creating a zillion body type models for every class in Diablo III. It adds a tremendous amount of meshing work for no appreciable gain in a game that isn’t really about that.
MMORPGs, however, are about that. So I expect a full variety of gender, class, bodies, everything options when I’m rolling the character I choose to roleplay. And locking up certain classes and genders or even factions usually earns a side-eye from me – two side-eyes when there’s a weak lore justification made for what is actually a budget reason. There are surely games where I’ve looked the other way on the topic, but there are a few more recent ones (Black Desert comes to mind) where it was too big a turn-off.
So good on Crowfall. To butcher the quote: You had my curiosity, as well as my idle Kickstarter money, but now you have my attention.
Eliot Lefebvre (@Eliot_Lefebvre, blog): You know, I liked Crowfall’s whole race/class archetype split. I thought it had some distinct character. But I’m much happier to hear that I can make every single class into a centaur because why would you make things other than centaurs? You can play some designated cute race in tons of games. You can’t usually play a centaur.
Frankly, I’m always of the mind that fewer restrictions here is a good thing. I’m usually more forgiving of race restrictions than I am of gender restrictions, which is something that I hit up against hard with Warhammer Online. It endlessly bothered me, for example, that Chaos – the universal, corrupting, inimical force of disorder – would never choose a woman as a champion to wear the ominous black armor because that would just be… too unpredictable? But I’m generally not in favor of having locked classes at all.
Yes, I can totally see the point being made that according to lore, some of these configurations should be rare as heck. But player characters are already supposed to be at least somewhat outside of the norm. Look at Final Fantasy XIV; Ishgard might be the source of all Dragoons, but the story makes it perfectly clear that being a Dragoon isn’t a matter of being an Elezen or a Hyur. All of the major NPC Warriors are Roegadyn, and that’s the source of the job, but there are plenty of non-Roegadyn characters who can learn the same art.
It’s one of those perpetual things that bothers me about World of Warcraft. Yes, I totally understand that Blood Elves are not Druids as a rule, but even in The Burning Crusade it was clear that this was not a law. There was a whole dungeon about fighting Blood Elf Druids. Making them uncommonly seen among NPCs sends the message clearly enough. You can’t convince me that, say, Trolls just can’t grow a Paladin Gland to play the class.
There are a very small number of cases where the lore argument can be made convincingly; I totally will believe that yes, only Night Elves and Blood Elves can be Demon Hunters. But even that should be a limited-time thing. Next expansion, let everyone be Demon Hunters, now they’re established. There! Problem solved.
Crowfall had its reasons for the split, and I understand and respect them. But I also respect the fact that the designers ditched that split as soon as they could. Now, it’s time for me to make an army of horses. Just think of a centaur galloping across the battlefield to heal someone, shouting, “They think we shall fall, but I say neigh!” And then I’ll get kicked off the servers. It’ll be great.
Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): Honestly, unlocked archetypes should be the baseline, the bare minimum for the start of character customization. We really need more! MMORPGs have such limited creation options (and I’m not talking visually, although those too) in comparison with many computer and pen-and-paper RPGs. What about picking a background? Perks? Advantages and disadvantages? Roleplaying flavor options?
But back to the question at hand, RPG-ish games that feature locked archetypes are harder (but not impossible) for me to get into and get invested with my character. I am more the type of player who wants to pour a lot of time into molding one character the way I see fit instead of collecting a few dozen pre-built characters to use as disposable tools on the battlefield.
MJ Guthrie (@MJ_Guthrie, blog): I really, really, really, really hate when classes are race- or gender-locked. I myself tend to be a bit quirky and not fit a standard mold, so why should I be forced to play a standard mold? There are variations in life, from decisions to mutations to circumstances to desires, that would mold and shape a person/character, so why place arbitrary restrictions on gameplay? It’s very frustrating to me. I like diversity. Why can’t someone have a personal story that’s a bit different than the norm? The only time this practice gets a pass from me is when a game is built on pre-existing lore which has specific things as canon, such as a known IP. I am not especially fond when games create their lore to support gender- or race-locking, but a rich lore is definitely better than “just because is easier to only make armor for a since mesh.” And hopefully doing such is used sparingly, not for every playable race/class.
I am a stickler for agency and choice, both from the perspective of what a player wants to experience in gameplay as well as the life of the character itself. I appreciated how EverQuest II allowed for characters of a race to choose a different life path from what was taught in their home city. Even though some races were locked to a specific alignment when starting the game (and therefore locked into specific classes), players could utilize the betrayal system to pursue a class tied to the other alignment, such as trading life as a necromancer to become a conjuror or switching from a swashbuckler to an assassin. You didn’t necessarily see tons of this in the beginning because the betrayal quest was a doozy, but the option was there for those who didn’t want to fit into a forced mold. If lore dictates that there is a need for a restriction, make a system that will allow for those who really want to be different. It’s OK to make them really work for it! It can be tough to do and have real consequences (like being banished, or kill on sight to your kind, etc.), but it should be possible.