Massively Overthinking: Do you play MMO characters you like – or characters that are objectively good?


Earlier this week, some Massively OP writers were hanging out in team chat talking about favorite City of Heroes powersets from back in the day. I found myself talking about my favorite (and least favorite) Controller and Defender sets in particular. I got to Poison, and… I was very mean to Poison. My memory of it was that it sucked and I advised folks to dodge it and play something good.

But I immediately hated the words coming out of my mouth. I don’t want to be one of those minmaxers on a forum telling people something sucks and scaring off newbies from being creative. Who cares if it sucks outside of a few types of encounters? This is not really that kind of game anyway. Really, is being marginally less potent than an overpowered set actually a problem? Sure, you might have to work slightly harder on your Alchemist Poisoner Supervillain Concept Toon, but you can literally put eight of anything on a team and steamroll. If you like it, it’ll be fun, so just ignore the number-crunching and do it.

So this is the topic I’ve presented to the writers for this round of Massively Overthinking. Do you play MMO characters you actually like – or do you find yourself drawn to characters that are objectively, if marginally, “better”? Is concept more important than power?

Andy McAdams: I play classes I actually like, but min/max culture has driven more towards classes that aren’t measured well by the min/max model. I seek out classes that can’t be easily min/max (if at all). I like support classes for the same reason that developers avoid them — because they aren’t easily boiled down into a numbers game. The value of BRD in FFXIV is only partially determined by DPS – the rest is song-uptime, effective use of buffs that can only be used WHILE my song is up. A huge part of playing BRD is well is how much you elevate your teammates, instead of how much you can elevate yourself in a typical min/max situation.

I think that’s why I also play healers more often. Sure, you can measure HPS, but that’s a pretty moronic metric. It only shows those who heal using a heal-y nuke from orbit when a bandaid and headpat would have served just as well. While there’s a small amount of min/maxing for healers as well (cue a whole slew of “well, actually…’s”), in most cases min/maxing a healer doesn’t have the same impact as min/maxing a tank or DPS.

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): I prefer concept, within reason. If I intend to do something competitive I’ll still use something a little off beat, but specifically to address some kind of niche. However, I won’t do something that could bring down the group. I’ve even stepped out a few times when I knew my class pick was bringing us down or my goofy spec just wouldn’t be able to push us over the finishing line.

But concept is what I like about customizable characters. I hate being a clone or having people immediately be able to guess my play style by seeing my gear or stats. It’s probably why I’m not into esports as a competitor. Winning can be fun, but if you do it without personal style, it just feels like a statistical result.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): This is one of those topics that seems oddly suited to City of Heroes. You’d think it’s a game all about concept toons, but the flexibility in character design coupled with the potential for (generally unnecessary) minmaxing means you’ve got a pretty wide range of player types in there – the folks who run concept petless Masterminds pitted against the guys who sit in Discord or forums arguing over the best way to squeeze out .001% extra damage, with everyone else just trying to make something that please god just works in the middle. So maybe this clash is inevitable.

I guess while I don’t want to tell other people what to do, I personally prefer to run characters that are strong in playability, in concept, and in power for the things that I like to do. I am not usually trying to make my life harder for no reason, and I definitely wouldn’t expect another team to carry me. But especially in City of Heroes it’s pretty easy to make something that works and looks and feels badass, so that’s what I lean toward. And when my astrophysicist husband decides he reaaaaallly wants to roll a Gravity dominator again? I’m gonna find a way to work with him, not against him. This is supposed to be fun, and fun is subjective. After all…

Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): This is a far more loaded question than I thought. My first instinct was to leap on top of the desk and shout “No! I don’t follow the meta and forge my own destiny!” as loudly as digitally possible, but then I considered that my tendencies shift from title to title.

In Guild Wars 2, I only ever found enjoyment in playing the game when I found a class that fit my playstyle and a weapon/trait combination that spoke to that style. I’m 100% certain it’s not viable at whatever counts for high-end content, but for my purposes it’s absolutely fun. On the other hand, there’s really only one way to play my Dark Knight in Final Fantasy XIV, with what I assume is an optimal rotation and setup — things that I have stubbornly not explored and am instead trying to sort out myself. So perhaps, then, I’m still fighting against the meta yoke in that regard. Still other MMOs like City of Heroes pretty much let me be as freeform and mad as I want to be, which sees me creating, trying, saving, or balling up and disposing character builds and concepts for hours. Literal hours, guys.

I guess overall I do come up with characters I like instead of characters that are optimal, shifting in magnitudes of meta disobedience from one title to the next. And the moment that I feel like I’m shoehorned into playing a game a certain way or not at all, I get the heck outta dodge. There’s lots of other fish in this sea, and none of the things behind those gates being kept are worth my attention and distress.

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): I don’t think I’ve ever had min/maxing tendencies — my motto is usually “good enough to level.” As such, I’ll be more susceptible to flashy classes or builds with fun toys even if they’re suboptimal. Give me pets and I almost don’t care if they do damage or gently hug the enemy’s kneecap; I just want the feeling of being in charge of an army.

Convenience is another strong draw, which is why I’ll gladly accept downgraded DPS in exchange for ranged attacks if I had to make the call. It’s more relaxing to fling stuff at bad guys without having to run up into their bad breath zone every time.

MJ Guthrie (@MJ_Guthrie, blog): I could go on and on about this, and I have many times (I just did a 20-minute rant on stream last week!), but I will keep it fairly short and simple here. Do I min/max? My answer, unequivocally, and emphatically is: No! I play for fun.

I do not min/max in any way. I really do not care at all what is “best” by someone else’s definition, what is the most efficient, or whatnot. I play something because it intrigues me and I want to. I play it for fun. Does this mean that I have characters that aren’t the most powerful? Yup — and I don’t care. Do I have to adapt my gameplay sometimes because I don’t have the optimal build? Yes again! And this aspect is even what makes games more fun and interesting to me. Do I sometimes take a bit of advice from friends about a small aspect if I run into something I can’t work around on my own? Sure. But I do not use pre-made builds and do not like games that force me into such. I like building characters that are interesting to me. I know I am quirky, and I like me this way. My characters are unique and often quirky, and I see no need to ever change. My way is fun for me.

Samon Kashani (@thesamkash): I’m in the camp that plays my class my way, optimization be damned. It’s not that I think I know better than everyone else (I do); it’s that I play to have fun.

Granted, I’m not going to play in any way that I think totally ruins team compositions. But I am going to play my way. Usually I lean towards some kind of paladin. I can’t help it. It just feels right.

I know I give myself trouble often for it. It’s likely the reason I struggle to maintain a regular group of guildies. At least, that’s the kindest reason I can think of.

Tyler Edwards: I am much less of a min/maxer than the average MMO player but much more of one than I want to be. On principle I detest the concept. These are roleplaying games. They’re about creating an interesting character concept and living it out. Numerical strength shouldn’t factor into that, at least not to any significant degree.

But the group dynamic of an MMO complicates things. I often have the anxiety of being kicked from groups or dragging them down. It rarely actually changes my choices, as character concept and fun playstyle will always trump all for me, but I feel a vague guilt and unease for being sub-optimal.

“I detest newb traps.” -Tyler Edwards
I do think the ultimate blame should lie with developers. I don’t expect everything to be 100% balanced in all cases, but if one particular build is so bad as to be unplayable, it’s the devs’ fault for implementing it more so than the player’s for picking it. I detest newb traps.

This is yet another way in which the original Secret World got things so right. The ability wheel offered an incredible amount of freedom to create the character you wanted without sacrificing power. It still could have been better, but it did far better than most any other online game. I actually ended up authoring one of the game’s more powerful/popular solo builds (Bloodied Blades), and all I’d set out to accomplish was creating a build I found fun.

This is also why I defend World of Warcraft’s current talent system. It may have its flaws, but at least nowadays there’s actual choice. Even if you pick a sub-optimal build, it’s not going to cripple your character. You can choose the talents you like without worrying that it will hold you back too much. Under the old talent trees, there were only two builds: the right one and the wrong one.

Every week, join the Massively OP staff for Massively Overthinking column, a multi-writer roundtable in which we discuss the MMO industry topics du jour – and then invite you to join the fray in the comments. Overthinking it is literally the whole point. Your turn!
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