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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Fenrir Wolf

It really depends on the degree of customisation available and whether I’m allowed to really pen and craft a character for myself that comes closer to being at least somewhat original. I feel that the game that embodied being able to do that the most was Champions Online in its heydey, though there absolutely were others.

If I’m limited, I’ll succumb and go with whatever. What my consternation usually is, though, is how much a game will let me tie my narrative into both my design and the gameplay of my character. If a game allows me to do this, I’ll become extremely invested in my character. Otherwise, I’ll try out a thing or two, then eventually get bored and find something better to occupy my time with.

As such, I definitely have a strong lean towards concept characters, though I feel most often I’m simply not allowed by MMOs to play the kind of character I want to. I’m constrained, in equal parts, by both balance and the desire to not waste my precious time on soulless grinding.

It’s not that my time is valuable to anyone but me, per se, but rather that everyone’s time is valuable. Each of us has only so much time. When your time is up, it’s up. You might as well get the best out of it that you can. And grinding isn’t getting the best. It’s being tricked into doing something you hate.

If a game simply allows me to concept without having to forsake my life for grind, though, it’ll earn me as a loyal customer and I’ll always extoll that title’s virtues.

Dilly Dolly

Whenever I choose a game the 1st thing I see is the graphics/the way they present their game.

Then, the freedom on creating playable characters(the most important part for me!), that I detest gender specific and race lock on professions/classes. It is loathsome.

The 3rd will be harder, I want to play as a versatile character, while I cannot stop myself thinking about ‘being your inseparable aid’. It could be my nature in an MMO, wanting to defend and protect comrades and strangers.
So almost all the time I start with whichever class is best at being a Support/Healer/Tank, usually the most defensive.
Even if you ask e to play a Warrior, I might play in a supportive and defensive manner.

So it the end I might just want to be ‘me’ in an MMO.


I guess I fall right in to the grey area here.

I usually have multiple characters where one is absolutely META as hell and competes for top DPS/Threat Level/HPS, one character that I make just to enjoy something wacky and off the wall and then one I chose because it’s still good enough to get groups for endgame but is also still something I want to enjoy.

ESO is my current example of this.
Got my META as hell Mage Templar DPS, Jesus beam included.

Got my Nightblade Healer because fuggit.

And then theres my Stamina Sorcerer who’s not the best but still does all the work you could ask for from a DPS class.

All about having options.

Adam Russell

If Im playing the character, then that character is good.


As one of my ideal characteristics is being an obsessively-focused min-maxer, I get to have my cake and annoy everyone else with it too.

Particularly as I often do not min-max in accord with what is commonly perceived as optimal.


Perceived performance of a class/character is usually the least of my concerns.

Gameplay is the first consideration. I prefer to be melee, rather than at range. I prefer complex, deep combat mechanics so I tend to gravitate towards support classes if they exist. If only the trinity exists, I’ll generally choose tank first, then dps, then healer, but if it only has the trinity then chances are the combat will be too shallow for me anyway.

Aesthetics is the next consideration. I have to connect with my character, I’m going to be playing it for months/years after all! I prefer heavy armoured classes and melee classes and I have a fondness for halberds.

Performance…….balance changes too regularly for this to be a priority. Also, if performance between different classes is that pronounced then it generally means the developers aren’t very good, so chances are I’ll be quitting the game anyway.

John Dorian

I prefer more fun and helpful classes. But I can play different classes because try to play many characters is fun too.

Matt Redding

It’s interesting, but different games have different levels of forgiveness for not following meta-builds. Let me use The Secret World and CoH as examples. In TSW (classic) there was this threshold of stats that you had to get over or you would not be functional. I mean like, “you need this much to-hit in your gear or you will never hit anything” type threshold. There were also recs for crit, hit points, and so on. And it took the community a while to figure out what those bare minimums were, and then the “and 6 of this or 4 of this other thing and 2 of a third thing” type secondary stats. But once the community figured out what that floor was, and sometimes that floor was achieved through gear and sometimes by skills in your build, you could then go nuts and play with thematic choices. So you could pick a weapon type (and weapons were linked to the powers available and all of them had a DPS path and a second path of heal/ tank/ or support) that felt like a strange choice and make it work as long as you covered the bases first.

CoH is a bit different because it’s difficult to build a character that can’t fight their way out of a wet paper bag but it is possible. It’s also possible to manage to pick a combination of primary and secondary that just don’t synergize. Also powersets scale in effectiveness depending on if they’re a primary or secondary and which class is using them. Poison, from the lead-in, is a great example. It was originally a secondary for masterminds, and designed as a “this is not a healing set but ok it can actually heal a little” it really quite sucks. It really does! For masterminds. Especially masterminds whose primary (their minion type) is one that needs healing and/or hard defensive buffs. But put it on a corrupter where it’s still a secondary and it’s a lot more potent because that class is better at buff/debuff. Give it to a defender as a primary and it’s much more potent. It’s not as good, I don’t think, as traditional defender powersets like radiation, but it’s “good enough.” The class parameters will carry that powerset along and reduce the problems with it.

But it completely becomes a moot point if you’re teaming with just about anyone else with different buff/debuff powers because they will synergize and reinforce each other. Which is nice because in the end you can play that cray-cray alchemist and the mad scientist with an army of robots and a forcefield generator will pick up the slack.

Now if you’ll excuse me I have to go back to thinking about how to recreate my TSW Blood Magic character in CoH. I’m thinking water blast powers, colored red to look like blood. Possibly paired with force fields, because I could tint the force fields to look red-pink and then they’d look like the blood shields in TSW…. if I could only have the character ALSO use a broadsword I’d be golden…

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Back in the pre-shutdown days of City of Heroes, I was a full-blown concept player. Granted, sometimes those concepts were “I want to play a brute that has dark melee’s soul drain and shield defense’s shield charge back to back” but that’s how I got one of my favorite concept characters, Coultergeist.

My best friend, whom I still get on voice chat with every single night since meeting him in COH in 2005, was a min-maxer extraordinaire. He would make the numbers in Mids’ dance. He had a corruptor that soloed giant monsters. A scrapper that soloed +4×8 Talons missions in DA. He would make builds for all of us Legion of LiveJournal ventrilo crew that would softcap defense and make us almost functionally immortal, even on builds that didn’t have defenses to begin with. It was AMAZING to have such a friend in our back pocket, and I’m trying to get him away from Path of Exile long enough to play some COH again, and maybe the ol’ crew get back together for another try at The Gravy Train™ (His Stone/Fire tanker + 2 Empathy defenders + my AR/Ice blaster + rotating cast of damage dealers = UNPARALLELED FUN).

In the meantime, I’m working on learning PINE’s and how 2 build in his absence. Because I know at least 7 or 8 of the old friends are playing, and it’s always nice to have a casual min-maxer in your back pocket for advice and builds, even if that casual min-maxer is yourself.

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And because my old character is pretty verboten because obvious reasons, I made this one just now. War mace/Willpower scrapper. And yes, that’s a bowling ball with spikes and a handle. It’d be very appropriate to enjoy a White Russian while playing him, too.


I mostly lean towards the former over the latter, but its certainly a mix of both. The only time its “good” ranking comes into play is if the class I enjoy happens to be in the bottom. It would make me disappointed in the game, but part of my enjoyment is how well they do in their roles. However, as long as they’re at least half decent (or even a little less) I’ll be happy with the class.

quick addendum: Forgot to mention, I enjoy designing builds for classes, so I take “bad” classes as a challenge. Still, the above is true for just general enjoyment.