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.