Massively Overthinking: The ‘elements’ of MMOs


MOP reader Nibbana recently posed us a fun question: “As I play my Scrapper in Guild Wars 2, I thought to myself, man, I love lightning. I played a Sorcerer in SWTOR because I love the lightning. I…. like lightning. I don’t care for fire, ice, arcane, etc. I gravitate toward classes in games that bring the light. What is your favorite element in games and why?”

Let’s tackle the question for tonight’s Massively Overthinking – we can use a palate cleanser of a topic! What’s your favorite elemental type in an MMO, and as a bonus question, what’s your least favorite – and why do you gravitate toward or away from those specifically? Give us an example of a class or skill where said elements are used to epic effects!

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): So I don’t usually play mages, and as mages generally seem to shoot fire bolts, my obvious least fav element is fire. It’s all about DPS, and that’s the easiest role to find randoms for. I need something less common and more critical to group success.

Some readers may notice that I often talk about tanking or healing, but when I play with a big enough group of friends in the right MMO, I play crowd control. That usually means something like mind/mental/psychic/illusion, or sometimes something like dark/death or occasionally arcane. If we stick to the more traditional “earth, wind, fire” kind of deal, probably water/ice or earth/nature, as they often have snares, attack slows/damage reductions, and a heal or two. I just really love crowd control and support!

Andy McAdams: I love water – there’s a reason my MassivelyOP avatar is a waterbender. I keep finding myself drifting towards Shaman in WoW for no other reason than the water healing spells and those very waterbender-esque animations. I also really like Ice – Frost spec Death Knight, Frost Spec Mage, etc. I can’t say I avoid any particular element, but general “arcane” has always felt generic to me, without a lot of identity. Maybe magic like rot or decay? I have trouble playing Unholy Death Knight because the spells gives me lowkey willies, despite my really liking the “DoT-it-up” gameplay style. Curiously, though, Warlock’s DoT spells don’t bother me, nor do Shadowpriests. But when I think about the knolls and rot magic from WoW right now – yeah hard pass there. I think I might also avoid more earth/rock/stone because those are most often associated with tank-style gameplay, which I can do but isn’t exactly my favorite. So maybe that’s more an avoidance of tanking and less of earth elements?

All that said, I do like my Monk’s force lightning in WoW: It’s virtually useless as an ability, but I have fun remixing the WoW lore with Jedi/Sith lore in my head.

Ben Griggs (@braxwolf): I’m with Nibbana, it’s lighting for me! In Elder Scrolls Online, I would build my Sorcerer for the sparkles and crackles even if it meant taking a DPS hit. My love for the spark only intensified upon seeing Thor Ragnarok a few years back. Who needs a hammer when you’ve got 1.21 gigawatts coursing through your limbs!

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): Tops for me is water, earth, and ghostly – and by ghostly I specifically mean the spooky ancestor ghost stuff from Guild Wars’ Ritualist. But that one’s hard to come by. Air is up there too. That was a mom joke. But yeah, water and earth if I can get it. I really, really loved my Resto Shaman in World of Warcraft; just splooshes and earth shields for days. My Earth/Storm Controller in City of Heroes was probably my all-time favorite take on that combo, so much that I rolled her again on the rogue server.

Fire is just mid for me. Same with ice. I don’t mind them, but they’re a bit boring. Fire especially just winds up being overused because it’s usually overpowered. Like, you can’t really get through City of Heroes without some fire toons. It’s just too good, and fire explosions look good and feel satisfying even in lo-fi games. But then everyone else is doing it too, and pretty soon you feel you have to use it or else be underpowered.

My least favorite is stuff like “arcane” or “spirit” or “blood” or “netherworld” or “light” or “soul” or “shadow” or whatever. Bleh. If it’s holy or green or purple or red, I’m probably not into it. The exception is probably poison, which if it exists usually points to some build creativity inherent in the MMO. But I really prefer the more natural elements; they somehow seem less made-up? I realize this makes no sense, but I’m OK with it. All words are made up, etc.

Carlo Lacsina (@UltraMudkipEX, YouTube, Twitch): When I was a child, it was fire magic. Fire magic will never not be cool. Put fire on your the sword? Instant cool. AoE damage? Awesome.

Teenage years, I was more into the wind element. I liked how its themed as something fast with the capabilities to cut. Good element to go with my xXTwistingFangsXx days.

As I became a young adult, my new favorite became lightning. This was because of Guild Wars 2; the Tempest class was just so fun, and overloading the attunement for that sweet lightning storm and the damage it dealt was the best thing about the Elementalist.

Today, I’m more into Arcane damage, aka raw magic. Its nonelemental because it’s not converted to any of the other elements. Sometimes its considered arcane when all the elements are combined, but I like to go with the fantasy of raw, undiluted magic. Gotta love that power!

Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): Lightning effects have always been a particular draw for me in MMO combat, mostly because it’s just different enough from the typical mage paradigm and also because it’s generally designed to be more crowd control-like while also being offense-minded. To that point, I’ll agree with Nibbana’s callouts of anything Force lightning out of Star Wars: The Old Republic, though I’d maybe put Guild Wars 2 much, much further down the list.

As for least favorite? Ice. Easily. It’s always just boring and one note. Fire could arguably be considered the same as well, but at least burning things never gets old, while tossing ice and slowing foes down always bores me to tears as well as ends up being tactically useless.

Colin Henry (@ChaosConstant): Not to be “that guy,” but I tend to pick my classes based more on mechanics than aesthetics. I like damage over time and health stealing, so even though I roll my eyes at edgy Warlock/Death/Necromancy/Evil Magic window dressing, I typically end up playing those kinds of characters anyway. The next element that usually has those kinds of mechanics is fire, so I guess I’ll go with fire for my favorite. Bonus points if it’s holy fire, like ESO’s Templar or GW2’s Guardian.

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): You know what was a lot of fun to toss around? Radiation. I don’t care whether it’s considered an “element” or not; being a Radiation Emissions defender in City of Heroes had a flavor I haven’t experienced since. Glowing green rays and globs and fields were totally worth the 6,000% increase in cancer risk.

What I hate are fire and ice. Fire and ice. Blah and blah. Boring and overused. Oh, you can make fire? So can this match. Ice is shooting from your fingertips? I can press a lever on my fridge and a chunk of frozen water will exit at about 45 mph. Whoopie.

MJ Guthrie (@MJ_Guthrie, blog): In a word: fire! In more than a word: land fire and sky fire! Fire, fire and more fire, coupled with lightning, lightning and even more lightning just brings me all the happies. And maniacal laughter. Honestly, I am such a pyromaniac in life, it is no surprise that I adore the ability to unleash flames to live their best lives in games. I laugh in glee to burn things to a crisp! But they are bad things — always bad things. And bookshelves in DDO — no books are harmed though, I swear! This combo is one reason why I love EverQuest II’s Fury so stinking much. This class combines fire and lightning with healing (my favorite thing to do, besides burning obviously) and adds in some invisibility. It’s the perfect dream class for me! In fact, it is the Fury that started my spiral into pixeled pyromania; I was always a healer previously, and the Fury let me taste the power of fire and lightning together. I was hooked.

Sam Kash (@thesamkash): I am a total fire boy. It’s not super original, but I don’t care. I’ll make my character use fire or at the very least be sure it’s fire-themed. The Elementalist in GW2 never clicked with me, but the Guardian did, and it has some fire, albeit blue holy flames, so I am able to put on and use various fire moves, and that just hits the right spot for me.

Even though the Guardian’s fire is blue, I just equip as much fire gear as I can get my hands on. Getting the full hellfire set really put me in the right place too.

Tyler Edwards (blog): I feel the need to preface my answer with a bit of a tangential rant. One of my pettiest yet most prevalent pet peeves is how often games will require you to pigeonhole yourself into a single element to have a viable build, especially if you play a mage. It’s so frustrating when all the marketing is about how mages are masters of the elements, and then you can master an element only when you play one. I don’t necessarily need to use every element all the time, but I should at least have the option to pick two or three.

I loved how Wolcen had not just damage types but also damage categories encompassing multiple types. If you wanted to specialize in a single element, you could, but you could also stack damage bonuses for a category to combine a few different types. You could stack fire damage bonuses and be a fire mage, or stack elemental damage bonuses to combine fire, ice, and lightning in a single build. I also have a lot of fondness for my wizard’s Tal Rasha Element’s build in Diablo III, which rewards you for using every damage type available to a wizard.

Something I haven’t seen a game do but would really enjoy is a system of elemental synergy where you can trigger combo effects by combining elements. Maybe hitting enemies with a tidal wave spell leaves them soaking wet, which makes them vulnerable to lightning damage. Maybe a wind spell desiccates enemies, leaving them vulnerable to fire.

Getting a little more back on topic, I agree with Nibbana that lightning is pretty great. Partly just on its own merits, but also partly because it seems weirdly under-utilized by a lot of games compared to the ubiquitous fire and ice. Sometimes a change of pace is welcome. Continuing my pining for combined elements, I really want something not many games allow: to make a storm-themed build that combines lightning, wind, and ice magic. I think I was going for something like this on my Sorceress in Lost Ark, but I didn’t play her that much.

I’m also pretty fond of shadow or necrotic damage. Just love the idea of enemies withering away to nothing. Poison is fun for similar reasons. I’d especially like to see more games give casters access to poison damage. Nothing wrong with giving it to physical classes, but casters deserve some green goodness, too.

As for least favourites, I’ve never really liked holy or arcane damage. I don’t understand how throwing pink or golden sparklies at people hurts them. This is one of the reasons I favour paladins over priests. I like holy magic in a defensive or support role, but not as a damage type. Paladins let me get all that holy goodness while relying on more satisfying physical weapons for damage.

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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