Class-based systems are one of those holdovers from tabletop RPGs that work surprisingly well in MMOs. I basically put up with class systems in exactly one tabletop game simply because Dungeons & Dragons is likely to abandon classes around the same time that the Earth crashes into the sun and Fifth Edition is pretty good, and the debate over whether MMOs work better with classes and levels or freeform character development systems will still be raging even then.
Even though I’m wholly on board with classes, a surprising number of games wind up trotting out the same basic groups time and again. Here’s the warrior with a two-hander and a big weapon, here’s the caster flinging fireballs, there’s the stealthy guy with paired weapons who stabs things. A lot of those can be really fun to play, too. But my affection always goes toward the odd, the unusual, the classes that you can’t find in many games. Like these classes, basically.
1. Corsair (Final Fantasy XI)
The other day I was speaking with my roommate about how Corsair could work in Final Fantasy XIV, not because there’s any hint that it will be in FFXIV but because it’s one of my absolute favorite classes. Period. Not just in Final Fantasy XI, anywhere. There are very few things about this class that I don’t love.
Normally I find the whole pirate thing to be painfully overdone, but in this case, the sheer amount of style associated with Corsair makes it come across as charming. I love the gameplay mechanics, the bit of randomness mixed with damage and reliability. I love how it’s possible to build the job several ways and still have it work correctly. Above all else, I love the fact that it manages to execute randomness so that it doesn’t feel painful.
Some of the flavor of this got baked into Astrologian and Machinist, obviously, but I still miss Corsair. I probably always will.
2. Dervish (Guild Wars: Nightfall)
I like Guild Wars a lot to begin with, and Nightfall is easily my favorite part of the game. Beyond even that, the Dervish is easily my favorite class. I’ve always been fond of the game’s willingness to let you build a character out of varied building blocks, and Dervish is basically designed to change how you interact with those building blocks while providing some new tools on top of that. Add in the cool whirling scythes, and the class becomes almost painfully cool to watch and play.
3. Revenant (Guild Wars 2)
Oh, look; it’s the Dervish’s younger, gothier sibling in heavy armor.
Really, Revenants aren’t all that much like Dervishes beyond the most basic level, but I still like them quite a bit for several reasons, not the least of which being that the class turns the usual “dark knight of some kind” trope on its ear. Revenants are channeling something other than death and destruction, using the lessons of history to produce something new and engaging.
One of the big advantages that Guild Wars 2 has is the fact that it has a rich history to draw upon from the original game, and sometimes it feels a bit too lax with that. For the characters, this is all ancient history; for players, it’s just a few years, and it has resonance. Revenants do exactly that, and I appreciate it. And the fact that I like playing as one helps, too.
4. Shaman (World of Warcraft)
By now you’ve probably noticed a bit of a theme for me: I like classes that don’t run down a swift split of “physical class” vs. “magical class.” Shaman is one of my favorite classes in World of Warcraft for that exact reason, a class that’s equally at home hanging back and weaving magic or running up and smashing things in the face with a pair of axes. It’s a sort of directness that you don’t get a lot of.
Even beyond that, I like Shaman quite a bit because it’s a class that has slowly settled on an identity that’s bigger than a faction, a nation, or even a landmass. Draenei were the first time the class crossed faction lines, but even before then there was a sense that Shamans as a whole didn’t much care about wars. Wars were temporary struggles over land that had its own will and desires. A Shaman sees bigger things going on and works around those.
5. Spiders (City of Heroes)
I really liked Crab Spiders particularly, but the fact of the matter is that the villainous Epic Archetype from City of Heroes was just plain brilliant in many ways. It wasn’t crazy overpowered, but it was powerful; it didn’t make a lot of sense, but it also made perfect sense. Instead of bringing in something completely out of left field, it presented you with the same mooks that you’ve been facing from the very beginning and showed how great they could be if they were put in the hands of someone who could really use all those toys effectively.
That’s not even getting into the bizarre cool of swapping sides and suddenly being a visible minion of the Big Bad… marching into battle with heroes. I enjoyed it, that’s the point here.
6. Kinetic (Skyforge)
Generally speaking, mages are pretty darn boring. You throw a fireball, it hurts things, great, I’ve seen this a million times before. So I like the Kinetic just for putting an interesting twist on an old formula. No fire, no shocks, just good old-fashioned gravity ripping you to shreds. Far more effective and precise than just setting everything on fire.
There’s something just plain visceral about this class, and that’s part of what I like about it. You’re not simply standing back and waving your hands around, you are manipulating fundamental atomic forces to destroy people. And on that note…
7. Chaos Mage (The Secret World)
“Wait a second,” you say, “The Secret World doesn’t have classes! You aren’t locked into using Chaos Magic skills by class at all!” And to that I say: Hush up, we’re talking about why punching people in the face with chaotic energy is the best magic.
I love that the game as a whole doesn’t feel constrained to a pedestrian view of what magic is capable of doing, especially when it’s in the hands of a bee like the player character. There are lots of cool interactions between Chaos Magic skills and other skills, obviously, but the core element that still appeals to me is just the idea that this is magic delivered at high velocity via close contact. It’s every bit as magical as anything else in the game, but it doesn’t constrain itself to reading in a book and considering possibilities.
8. Warden (Lord of the Rings Online)
A lot of these classes, obviously, are ones that I find particularly keen thematically and mechanically, but I have to admit that Wardens tickle me purely on a mechanical level. I could not tell you how well they fit into the game’s lore or what their overall feel is compared to other classes; I can tell you that playing one was really fun despite my general lack of care when it comes to the source material.
Those of you who are familiar with me as a Ninja in Final Fantasy XIV will probably be unsurprised, but I really liked the combo-building aspect of Wardens and still think it adds a lot of depth to the gameplay. You have a toolbox that you can only access one way, and smart play is all about choosing the right tools with only a few moments of consideration. Fun times.
9. Medic (WildStar)
On a whole, WildStar‘s classes have lots of personality without being very distinct. There’s a very clear set of abilities for Stalkers, yeah, and they have understandable coolness to them – but at the same time, they’re not really all that different from your generic stealthy-backstabby sort, just slightly more defined in that niche. And then there’s the Medic, a pseudo-melee healer and damage dealer with the ability to drop effect fields all over the place, completely resisting any attempts to slot the class into a pre-existing framework.
I will admit that I always got a kick out of how the stowed shock paddles for the class always looked a little bit like wings, to boot. That was just a cool design element.
10. Great Weapon Fighter (Neverwinter)
I know what it means, yes. That’s not the point.