Massively Overthinking: Picking the ‘wrong’ MMORPG class

    
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Last month, the MMORPG subreddit slept on a good thread about picking classes in MMOs. Let’s wake this sucker up. “Am I the only one who is afraid of picking a class and said class ending as the ‘wrong’ class and get rejected from guild/raid groups just because I picked the weak class to play?” MortalHades wrote.

Heck no you’re not the only one. I can get straight-up decision paralysis from this. And I suspect it’s something that afflicts MMO vets more than newbies because newbies are just gonna pick something that looks awesome or feels like their favorite Star Wars/Marvel character and run with it, completely ignorant of the way MMO metas work. Vets are over here like, OK, so is this game’s meta gonna make clothies suck? Is tanking even viable in endgame? Does my guild have too many rangers? Ahhhhhhhh!

Let’s discuss this for this week’s Massively Overthinking. Do you worry endlessly over picking the “wrong” class in your MMOs? Does it cause you to reroll incessantly? Or do you just play whatever you want without any thought about how you’ll fit in if you even get to endgame?

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): I’m going to brag here for a moment: I was a Shadow Priest in Vanilla WoW recruited into a top-three raiding guild on my server, and no one knew it until one of the Priests asked how I never missed my Mind Control on the Rezuvious encounter. My brother and I, on a different server, were once called out by leadership for being among the most on-point raiders and a reason why people needed to download mods for raiding, at which point we had to kindly inform them that we played mod-free.

A good player can really stand out no matter what class/character she plays if she understands how to play. At the same time, though, you are not that player until others recognize you as such. You need to put in the time, effort, and research into understanding how or why something works. In fact, I am rarely that player now. I do worry about making a “bad” character, so choosing a class does worry me a bit, but besides more forgiving respec options in the games I play, I also try to look at what the character can do vs. my playstyle.

A really good example I think was the Dominator class in RIFT. Almost no one played it, and when they did, it was a side class. It was my main class, along with Stormcaller. It gave me access to a lot of weird mechanical curses, such as a combo that involved a spell that dealt high damage unless you moved paired with spell that, if you moved, it’d trigger an AoE snare. Paired with the ability to drain mana/stamina/energy, I tortured the other side in Warfronts. Most people didn’t see me coming. In MMOs, most people talk about DPS, tanks, and healers, but I know my specialty is nullification, and if I see those tools and they seem sufficient, I’ll grab them. I was clearly on the right track because one of the early patches nerfed some of my crueler tricks.

The nerf didn’t make me reroll, but I know that’s a major deal for some people. However, nerfs come and go if you play long enough. If you’re patient, know what your personal endgame is, and play to your personal strengths instead of what’s hot, you can make it work, but it does require dedication.

Andy McAdams: I agree with Tyler here – I don’t worry about picking the “suboptimal” class for the game but about picking a class I won’t enjoy as much as another class. The way I view it, if I’m going to get excluded from a raid or guild because I’m not running the class/spec/whatever du jour, those aren’t the kinds of people I want to play with anyway. I also have issues with the “suboptimal” classes as a meta because it leans heavily into the theorycrafting and min/maxing, which I think is an anathema to MMOs (or any RPG). You shouldn’t play a class because it’s best; you should play a class because you enjoy it.

In some games, I even deliberately run a “sub-optimal” build or class because I want to be successful when I don’t have a hold full of aces, metaphorically speaking. For me, it’s a lot more fun to be successful when you are starting from an underdog position than it is to be like, “I have the absolute best of the best of the best of every advantage the game will let me and look! I won when the result so skewed in my favor that my success was almost guaranteed!” Now obviously that’s not a universal statement or absolutist; being consistently underpowered and/or dying for missing the smallest thing (I’m looking at you Guild Wars 2 in anything beyond vanilla) is not super fun either. There’s a balance between challenge and feeling strong/empowered.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): Listen, I’ve stressed myself out over this plenty over the years. I remember what it was like in the Middle Ages of MMOs like WoW and EverQuest, when it was possible to get shut out of cutting-edge game content because you were playing a class that simply wasn’t in demand, either because it was terrible, because it didn’t offer anything useful to the current meta, or because there were simply way too many of them.

My inclination is to say that modern MMOs aren’t quite as bad, but in truth, for most endgame content, they still are. It’s just that I care much less now about that style of content (and the games that privilege it) than I did then. I care much more about having myself a good time, which means classes that appeal the most to me. That doesn’t mean I won’t worry myself to death over the right combination of powersets in (for example) City of Heroes because I definitely will. But it’s more because I don’t want to waste my time leveling up something the experts have already tried and found wanting – not because I’m afraid an endgame I don’t want to play anyway will have no place for me.

Carlo Lacsina (@UltraMudkipEX, YouTube, Twitch): Any character class I pick is going to be the best character because I am the meta. Any class I personally choose will be a good pick because I’m not afraid to admit that I’m good MMOs. (As if that carries any sort of prestige.) And I also believe that skill trumps meta. A well-practiced player can do a lot with what he has to work with.

Here’s something I learned in the last few years: Stop reading tier lists, min/max guides, and “what should I play” Reddit threads. They’re all a waste of time for the average player. Just play the darn game, learn the class, and become a specialist at that chosen class. I’d rather not overthink it and have faith in my own abilities and judgment calls. It usually works out in the end.

At the end of the day, it boils down to player mindset. If a player thinks he’ll fail if he’s not running a meta build 100% of the time, then that’s his problem. On the other hand, if someone runs an unorthodox build but can keep up with the best of them, then it’s pretty clear who the winner is.

Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): I used to, but then there are a small number of MMOs that have held my interest long enough that I start caring about endgame. Now, I have a few preferred playstyles that I care for and seek out in a class choice first, with group or raid utility being a secondary consideration.

Of course, that does mean where I fit in when playing with others is still on my mind — I would still like to play with other people — but following an overarching meta pays lip service to the sorts of people I don’t want to interact with anyway. I’ll play my way, adapt as best as I can in groups, and seek out folks in-game who are OK with both of those things.

Colin Henry (@ChaosConstant): This is why I just play all of the classes. I love making alts, and if a game sticks with me for any sufficiently long period of time, sooner or later I will likely end up making at least one of everything. This is partly because I tend to enjoy the newbie experience more than the endgame experience — creating a look for my character, getting new skills, building up a rotation with them, tinkering with build options — but partly as insurance against just this kind of thing. I don’t ever have to feel like I picked the wrong class because I picked them all. I may have favorites, but if I show up for dungeon night and we need a healer or have too many DPS, I like being the person who can just switch characters and fill the role that’s needed.

Nerfs and buffs don’t faze me because if one class gets nerfed into the ground, I will be fine just not playing that character until it gets fixed. Sure, you could say I’m a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none, but I’m OK with that because I get to come at fights from a variety of perspectives, and that’s what’s fun about MMOs for me.

MJ Guthrie (@MJ_Guthrie, blog): To be quite honest I never put a single moment’s thought into whether or not a class will be the best, will work efficiently at endgame, or any other of those fun-sucking traps. The only consideration I put in is whether or not I like it and if I think I will have fun playing it. Bonus if it has pets and heals! If it isn’t optimal for raids later, then I really don’t give a flying — or a walking, crawling, or even stationary — fig about it. I end up having fun endgame just the same, in the way I like to have fun.

Sam Kash (@thesamkash): I wouldn’t say I let the class choice bog me down too much, but I definitely think about builds to an extreme. I will play my Paladin in every game no matter what, but I’ll research to the nines how I’ll build it from there. I absolutely get nervous if I realize the game doesn’t have an easy method for resetting your stats and skill choices too. That always gets me annoyed. There’s few things more disheartening for me than to build up a character over several evenings only to discover I built it like trash and I need to start over. That’s a surefire way to get me to log off for the night and not return.

Now, if I realize that the choices aren’t locked in and there’s going to be a reasonable path down the road to get those skills reset, then I’m mostly OK. Although I still find myself over-analyzing each option.

Tyler Edwards (blog): I’m not really concerned about picking a “suboptimal” class. I very rarely play any excessively challenging content in MMOs, and even when I do, I’m happy to power through in an off-meta build. As Carlo points out, for the large majority of players improving your own skills will matter far more than what the “meta” choice is. Except in the most extreme cases, class balance issues really only exist for the top few percentage points of players.

I do have a bit of anxiety around picking the “wrong” class for me, though. How much you enjoy your class can have an enormous impact on your impression of a game. I’m always worried about picking a class I don’t like and either being turned off a game as a result or needing to reroll and redo a whole bunch of content.

I find you can’t always stick to the same archetypes because design can vary so wildly from game to game. Sure, rogues and assassins are something I enjoy in most games, but it doesn’t always work. In Neverwinter, for instance, I didn’t enjoy the rogue class at all.

As a result, I tend to do quite a bit of research to settle on a class/build before I play. Reading up beforehand doesn’t guarantee I’ll pick the most fun class off the bat, but it improves my odds a lot.

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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MurderHobo
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MurderHobo

I’m a serial monogamist when it comes to playing characters, and it takes a lot to make me abandon my investment for something new, so I’ll stick with a ‘bad’ thing long past the point where the devs have nerfed my choice of class or even spec into sub-optimal hell.

I loved the heyday of the bubble-priest in WoW, and simply refused to go back to the reactionary healing of Restoration, though doing so cost me my ‘elite’ status as a top-tier healer. I still hold a grudge over that design change, and it’s what eventually killed the last shred of pride I had in being a successful raider.

In hindsight it was a good thing. I was an insufferable elitist for years, and had little regard for those who refused to work the numbers and choose what was ‘best’ to get the job done.

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Ken from Chicago

There were “bad” classes in CITY OF HEROES? I recall it was fairly well-balanced so that any class could play with any other class or team and still do well on missions. I personally recall being a mid-20s level Defender joining a PUG of 2 other 20ish Defenders and we had fun adventuring for an hour or so and none of were healers. or tankish or DPSish.

Or was it some guilds pressuring players to have the “It” class of the moment?

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Pheeb Hello

Remember when EQ2 came out and you had to get to level 20 to work out if you like your class? Everyone worked out they hated it, then they quit the game. It had such an issue with this SOE did make it so you pick your class at the very start. Their ideas was to make the game easier for new players, but it just made it worse.

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Anstalt

I care about the role and how useful it might be at endgame. Not whether the class itself is the best or sub-optimal, but whether the role is likely to be needed or not.

This is why I rarely play a DPS class, even though they can be fun. There’s just too many other people playing DPS that it makes it hard to find groups, so its in my interest to play something else.

When it comes to meta or not, well, if success or failure is dependent on being meta, then the endgame has been badly designed so I won’t be playing it for long anyway.

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David Goodman

It doesn’t bother me at all. But, things have changed: I’m 40 now. I’m not ever going to do “end-game” content; I don’t WANT to do end-game content. I don’t have the TIME for end-game content, so I never EVER have to worry about being shut out of it. The Mythic +40 crowd, the Mythic Raid groups in WoW, whatever horsecrap Final Fantasy has (friendly wink! Don’t @ me) — all irrelevant compared to me just looking for something that sounds like it will be fun.

So i’ll find the first ranger/beast master type class and roll with that :)

I also find that I can generally form my own groups for content without much trouble. It’s all about advertising.

“Looking for a casual group who doesn’t mind meeting their demise in gruesome, hideously painful and hilarious ways. Bring your own eulogy.” – ya make it funny, and you’ll attract the kind of people you want to hang out with.

If your group request always looks like you’re trying to use the least amount of characters possible, “LFTank 4 ST” (look i’m just coming up with examples from memory, get off my back.) then you’re going to get the kind of people who value …. efficiency over charisma.

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styopa

Another reason I like FF14s meta.
Pick the “wrong class” for the moment? Switch. You lose NOTHING of your accumulated efforts developing that character in terms of rep, rewards, etc. Nor do you even lose progress in what you were doing, and you can switch back and forth as you like. Tank for the guild? Sure! But I like soloing as a dps. Sure! PVP as a healer? Sure!

FFXIVs model = no regrets.

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Bruno Brito

If only they had two things different, i would be all over that game:

– Builds. I really don’t like being forced to play one way. Even if it’s an illusion.

– The color palette is so dull, it makes me sleep. It reminds me of my ex’s obsession with french cult movies.

MilitiaMasterV
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MilitiaMasterV

The ‘dull color pallette’ was a good thing to me. I can’t stand most brightly colored games. Stuff like No Man’s Sky makes my brain want to cry.

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Jo Watt

Yea I’ve never liked how you have absolutely no control over your characters job kit. Even though most the time there is a meta it’s still nice to be able to have some way of playing a class somewhat different from others.

Or even the fact that you have to be a tank as say the Warrior or DK… When I wouldn’t mind them having a dps role.

And the color scheme is rather pale but the abilities are so flashy it’s hard to see what’s going on most the time unless you turn it off or down…

EmberStar
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EmberStar

I like to make alts. FF14 seems to actively punish this. It’s not the main reason I’ll never play, but it’s definitely on The List.

MilitiaMasterV
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MilitiaMasterV

I mean, you don’t really need to make alts with the system they made…since you can be any of the classes on one character (swapping weapon changes it, and you can technically have one of each..the problem comes when you want to save outfits for each…because it didn’t give enough storage for each…and there’s not enough weapon storage either if you want to do all the normal stat weapons plus your legendary or whatever they were called that glowed for every class + a glamour for each…unless they added more after I left.).

But that doesn’t stop people from creating alts. Eliot talks about having multiple alts on there constantly, and so have a few other people. I even almost made another one but the only real thing that changes is your character’s appearance/racial aspect, so it had no real point to it. Not sure it’s ‘punished’ so much as there just isn’t really a need for alts…

Also : There’s no real need for all of that, it’s just if you want to over-do like mad like I did. Just one of those glow weapons is more than most people can handle working on, I was at various stages on ALL of them…

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Holden Nagata

it’s only a punishment if you want multiple species/factions, which yes for most of us who play MMOs having specific characters created for each class is kinda the whole point in having them.

i didn’t see it as a punishment as much as a limitation, though not having to redo main storylines while having every class is a fair trade off.

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Schmidt.Capela

Or do you just play whatever you want without any thought about how you’ll fit in if you even get to endgame?

This. If I have to pick a class I’m not interested in playing, or have to give up on a class I love, just because other people think I should be playing something else, I’ll instead stop playing. Or at least put the people who asked me to change on ignore. If I can’t get into group content due to playing the “wrong” class, I’ll just skip all group content (and then leave the MMO as soon as I’m through the solo content that doesn’t require too much grind).

It’s why I fully support “bring the player, not the class” initiatives; I want groups to be able to accommodate any class of the correct role without losing effectiveness due to that, so players never have to be replaced just because they picked up the “wrong” class. I also really prefer multi-spec systems that allow characters to instantly switch between different roles, preferably coupled with systems to make gearing up alternate roles as easy and fast as possible.

One caveat, though; I use up respecs like candy. On any game where I’m not free to respec as often as I want I tend to get so bad a case of decision paralysis the first time I have to level up that I either just copy a cookie-cutter spec and ignore that the game even offer a way to customize our progression, or else stop playing.

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IronSalamander8 .

I’ve been there, although mostly in WoW, even if I raided in other games too. Now I tend to play tanks and healers more than anything else anyway so that’s likely part of why I don’t run into this kind of thing as much, but people need to be able to play the class they want to play.

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Bruno Brito

You know, this crap would be solved if games started following FF14’s example and just letting us switch classes.

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ghoulas

or the Archeage style let me create a class based on 3 of 15 different skillsets.

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Bruno Brito

Yes. Archeage’s system should be the real staple for MMOs going forward. And considering that AA has global switch ( because it has no classes ), it basically works the same as FF14.

MilitiaMasterV
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MilitiaMasterV

I loved that system. It’s one reason I paid for a year of time on there. Ended up maxing all of them (At the time, updates after.).

There was a few problems with how they did it though, they wouldn’t let you ‘swap roles’ in certain situations because they didn’t want someone stepping in and covering a role in something like a dungeon finder..when they were queued as something else. Essentially they allowed it, but DIDN’T allow it.

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Jo Watt

Was gonna reply to EmberStar but they mentioned something that kind of goes with picking the “wrong” class. (Them mentioning playing a Sorc in swtor and being sent whispers about not having Healer gear even though they are dps spec)

In most the holy trinity mmos you have tank, healer and dps. For tank and healer generally it doesn’t hurt too much on which one you pick they are generally always welcome. (Yes there is still a meta at high-end in which some will outshine the others)

Now for dps you might think eh… They all do damage so it doesn’t matter just choose what you like. However there tends to be a few types of dps. Melee, Magic/Ranged and Support(Hybrid). (The following is based on pure non movement dps). Melee is typically 10% or more over Magic/Ranged simply because Range has more mobility and field of view. (Unless it’s a cast time Mage then they tend to be similar).

Then that leaves Support or sometimes it’s simply a fact of this spec being primarily aimed at healing or buffs but they may also have a few dps specs. Because these classes or specs have access to these types of support abilities(even while in dps spec) they are almost always 30% or more under your top dps classes. Which I think, like in EmberStar’s case, leads you to end up having “Elites” inform you of your “wrong” choice.

Really this all could be balanced by simply removing access to certain abilities while in certain specs and allow all of your classes to become viable for most situations. Now I will say some dps tends to balance out due to mechanics like forcing melee to move while allowing Ranged types that extra hit time. But the Support problem leads to:. It’s never enough healing or buffing to matter and too low dps to help push in progression.

As for me I find myself like some others. I tend to take on the tanky role because I know everyone else will likely be dps.

MilitiaMasterV
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MilitiaMasterV

Lightning Sorcs were built to be both a combination of AoE (Chain lightning, and ‘Force Storm’ which fries a whole area..but requires channeling and a animation disruption to your rhythm) and a multi-single target proc lightning bolt..with how the class works…basically if you play it right you’re constantly multi-proc’ing both over and over and over near instantly, and if you know your class well enough, you’re also able to throw in never running out of force points in your rotation. They were built to basically never stop hitting targets. I get why the ‘meta’ was to have them as healers (I played one as that for a bit too…) but people seem to forget that people who ENJOY THE WAY THEIR CLASS PLAYS are often more effective with said class. I always want that person who’s ‘happy’ with their character choice in there, because it means they are likely to play it better than the person who’s being pushed into a role they aren’t happy with…who’s just ‘going through the motions’.

My ‘best’ group I ever played with back on WoW was one where the healer LOVED healing, the DPS loved doing what he did, and I enjoyed keeping them both alive tanking for em….I wasn’t the best at that, and it’s not my normal play-style…but it’s something I’d consider second in my ‘I’m good at’ for me so we had almost half a year of fun before the healer quit playing due to RL issues. The DPS guy ended up going off and joining a raid guild after and server first one of the big boss raids, and left me in the dust.

EmberStar
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EmberStar

Before they changed the compani0ns, back when Khem Val was still a tank and it was still possible to make a hybrid character by picking skills from more than one tree.

There were two different encounters with other players that actually left a good impression. The first was in the corporate area, whose name I can’t remember. There was a flashpoint where you had to go through a bunch of their Mad Science experiments, including one where it was necessary to fight a boss that pretty much had full damage immunity. The only way to hurt it was to bring it near some kind of generator thing, then blow up the generator to remove the immunity.

I was playing late at night, and there was only one other person trying to run it. After waiting a while, we decided to go ahead and try. I was able to manage Khem Val to tank the thing and lead it around, while keeping him healed and doing damage with my own character. When we completed the encounter, the other player said I’d done a better job tanking with a pure DPS character than some of the tanks they’d teamed with. (I’m not sure I believe them, but that’s what they said.)

The other time was during one of the first runs of the Bounty Hunter event, on Alderaan. One of the “kingpin” targets was there, and again it was really hard to reliably find random people willing to try to team for it. I ended up taking turns with a Republic player to fight him. Again, I was managing Khem Val (I had disabled all his AoE attacks because at the time there was still a bug where redside/blueside companions could hit *each other* even if the players weren’t flagged for PVP.) I obviously couldn’t use any healer powers on the Republic player, but I was able to keep the boss focused on Khem Val most of the fight. When we had each gotten credit for the Kingpin, the other player said thank you and then mentioned that it felt kind of weird that a Sith was more willing to be randomly generous and helpful than most of the Republic players on at the moment.

( o.O )

MilitiaMasterV
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MilitiaMasterV

Hah, yeah, that game had some really funky mechanics, especially early on. I’m not a huge fan of the normalized ‘function as anything’/no gearing companions update thing they did. Getting those companions to LISTEN was a task in and of itself. They liked to get stuck on things/refuse to path/ignore your commands, or do weird stuff where they’d get locked in place and then all of a sudden come RUNNING clear across the map in a straight line through objects to you, sometimes dragging so much it killed you. I played both sides and multiple characters, and came across all sorts of situations like you describe. Not everyone can manage the companion commands + their own skills, and some were definitely worse at it than others. I remember some areas where I’d have to depend on a couple people with their companions to go through an area, and often we didn’t even have the right setup of heals/tank/DPS….sometimes it was just us DPS with a tank companion and no heals, and we’d try content that was intended for full groups and still manage it. People working together makes challenging situations do-able.

You should’ve heard some of the people yelling at me for being a healer bounty hunter. Like talk about not following lore ‘meta’…I loved that character because I could randomly target people I ran across and blaster unload on them in the face, and they’d pause and be like ‘Wait, that’s healing me!’ which lead to so many fun conversations…