[SWTOR] Let’s talk about class, and role, and faction, and morality, and story

Latest news on SWTOR pre-orders is that they are through the roof and analysts are now predicting 3 million box sales in the first year with 2 million steady subscribers and I’d like some of whatever they are smoking. 2 million subs, huh?

Still, it’s great news for Bioware, and I cannot be the only person eyeing the various classes and thinking about what I might want to play. These are the types of factors you may be weighing up:

  • What faction?
  • What race?
  • What role (ie. heal/ tank/ ranged dps/ melee)?
  • What look do I prefer? (robes vs plate)
  • What theme and feel? Other roleplaying considerations? (Do I like the idea of being a sith warrior, a smuggler, etc.)
  • What will fit in best with my friends?

In addition to this, because of the heavy Bioware emphasis on story, companions and voice acting, there are other variables too.

  • Which companion do I like the look of? (Some companions seem to be class specific.)
  • Which romance option do I like, if any? (Jedi get darkside points for romance, you have been warned.)
  • Which voice actor do I prefer?
  • What type of storyline do I want? Jedi are likely to be heavier on moral choices, the imperial agent looks to be like James Bond, etc.

This information is not all available yet but expect to read more about the game as we get into September and people try out the beta weekends. Meanwhile, MMO Gamer Chick has a post showing the intro videos to all the different classes which may help a bit with getting the look/ feel and some of the voice acting out there.

The interesting thing for me with the differing class storylines is that you may get a completely different genre of RPG depending on which class you choose. The sneaky agent is going to tell stories in a very different style to the monastic, high fantasy jedi knight. In that sense, this game is a very true descendent of DAO where the starting preludes genuinely felt like different styles of story.

It also becomes increasingly clear that Bioware would like to make the dark side/ light side choices very important in play. For example, some of the crafted and dropped gear will only be wearable by light side/ dark side characters. I think this will be controversial but I hope that they stick with it, because it’s a really interesting way to drive the storytelling into the gear acquisition game. My only concern is that if you are mad enough to play a light side sith inquisitor, do you really want everyone else to be able to see it?

To do more research, I went to the official forums to see what types of conversation players who had already picked their class were having. At least it will show what the player expectation is. Here’s a roundup of each.

Jedi Knight: These guys are clearly interested in discussing moral dilemmas. My favourite thread on the front page is called “Is it wrong to use the force to make money?” which practically inspires character concepts all on it’s own. The goblin jedi!

Jedi Consular: Consulars seem more interested in social issues, such as whether they like their companion and how they feel about romance leading to the dark side. I’m not saying these are more likely to be female players but …

Smuggler: Smugglers have two full threads about what to name their ships (the first one capped at 1000 posts), so clearly of great interest. I still want to name a ship “Justifiable Homicide” since that had too many letters for STO.

Trooper: Some discussion about whether dps specced Troopers will get groups, and a long thread asking for a Jedi companion ‘to boss around.’ I’m sensing control issues, you can tell this is a tank class.

Sith Warrior: Some threads discussing the various advanced trees, and one asking if anyone is nuts enough to consider playing a light side sith warrior. I found a thread a few pages back asking if it was possible to play a non-outrageously evil looking sith warrior also (not in this genre, I suspect.)

Sith Inquisitor: Like their counterparts, sith inquisitors spawn a few romance threads. There’s a large poll on whether sith purebloods should be able to be inquisitors (controversial because Bioware have said that this would not fit with the sith inquisitor plotline because they start as force sensitive slaves, which would not be appropriate for that race.)

They also have my favourite thread so far, which is advice from a SI to their apprentice:

Alright Darth Noobster. Starting today you get to be my apprentice. Congratulations. But, before you get too excited and start planning any shenanigans, like trying to push me over a cliff, I think we should have an open and honest discussion – put all the Pazaak cards on the table as they say in Nar Shaddaa.

So, it’s like this. One of these days, you’re going to get it into your head to kill me and take over, probably while I’m in the bathroom with my robes around my ankles.

Imperial Agent: There are some complaints at not seeing enough footage of the IA in action, and some discussion of whether people like the idea of playing a Chiss Agent (I’d think the name Mystique will be gone fairly quickly given that they are blue skinned and red eyed.) I see a few threads about PvP also.

Bounty Hunter: Wide ranging discussions on specs, as well as more RP type issues like names and inspirations. There’s an active thread discussing player bounties (and the lack of same) in game.

Still not sure yet? Me either. I can’t help feeling that I’d like to know more about the storylines before I decide. For example, I really like characters who start out fairly seedy rather than heroic from the get-go, which is one of the things I liked about my uncaste dwarf in DAO and Hawke in DA2. It looks as though the smuggler and sith inquisitor (!) both come from that side of the tracks, so that’s another thing for me to bear in mind.

Do you think story considerations will come into your decision also?

Thought of the Day: Is your judgement of a game based on how powerful your favourite class is?

I noticed during a recent beta that my initial judgement on a game is  affected by how good/ strong/ overpowered my first class turns out to be in the early game.

I’m not saying that it’s right. I’m just saying that if my character is struggling with basic quests where others aren’t and I’m fairly sure it isn’t down to my lack of player skill, there’s a chance I’ll think, “OK, my preferred class isn’t good in this game, maybe I’ll pass.”

Similarly, my judgement on Cataclysm is going to be affected by how well my Arms warrior plays out. Sure, I could switch to an alt if I don’t think it is working out. But the first reaction stays with you.

I think this is part of what Tipa is discussing where she says that she prefers to play MMOs with people who are committed to their game of choice. One of the tests of commitment is what you do if your favourite class seems underpowered. Do you go find a different game, or stick with it and either try a different class or build, or make the best of what you have? (In the vast majority of the MMOs I have played, switching to a different class is a better solution than trying to make the best of a bad thing, incidentally. Don’t bet on devs rebalancing things unless you know they have a track record of doing so.)

This was also brought to mind by a comment in a Cataclysm thread on rpg.net where one poster loves the new WoW expansion, citing as the main factor that his character is top on the damage meters by a significant amount. (*coff* overpowered class *coff* ).

No extra slots, no wardrobe, and plenty of whines: what we learned from Blizzcon Q+A

The question and answer sessions at Blizzcon are one of the great puzzlements of the event. Do people really want to go halfway around the world and get the chance to talk to the developers in real life just so they can repeat endless whines about paladins?

Why yes, yes they do.

WoW Insider liveblog of the Class Q&A panel

WoW Insider liveblog of the General Q&A panel

To me, the class Q&A in particular is a waste of an opportunity. If there’s really nothing new to say, then let the designers talk about class balancing and how they approach the challenge of making a class fun. Maybe we can all learn something (because this is something that Blizzard do very well.)

Larisa commented on Tobold’s blog that when she compared Blizzcon to fan-run SF conventions, the content seemed very weak. I cannot get that thought out of my mind when trying to think what the class Q&A could have been replaced with.

Where are the panels on gender or disability representation in WoW, or roleplaying different races? Where are the theorycrafting nuts talking about how they approach the task of modelling new mechanics? Where are the panels about blogging, about organising raid guilds, about crafting and items? Where are the panels about the economy? Where are the panels on raids and instances? Where are the panels that talk about MMOs in general?

They’re not there. And the reason they aren’t there is the same reason why SF conventions will always be more fun than gaming conventions. It’s because the organisers think we’re thick.

General Q&A hits some points home

I wish they’d monitor the questions better in this session, because half of them are class related and belonged in the other Q&A. Generally still a waste of time but it’s nice to know finally that they didn’t think it was worth adding extra character slots for Cataclysm. Or a wardrobe function.

  • Blizzard aren’t sure how well LFG will work when instances are harder. (They haven’t thought about this? No plans for cross-server friends lists for example?)
  • Jeers for the woman who asked if future female characters could not be dressed in underwear. All they had to say was that they agreed it was an issue and (in fact) that they’d been moving away from that in Wrath anyway. But nope.
  • More jokes for the person who asked for female druid forms. Take a moment, if you will, to imagine the outcry if the standard druid forms had been female …
  • No plans for achievements points to ever be useful (hurrah!).
  • Guild mounts in Cataclysm will be account bound. That means that you could send them cross faction.
  • No immediate plans for a wardrobe (somewhere to store gear that isn’t your general bag space.)
  • No immediate plans for more character slots – wait and see, it’s been discussed. Well, maybe they should have gone a bit further than discussions.

[WoW] How to play your class in the 4.0 world

So it’s patch week, and this patch contains all the Cataclysm class changes. And if you’re wondering how to spec or glyph in this brave new world, plenty of bloggers have chipped in to help out.

Jaded Alt has a compilation of class guides here.

MMO Melting Pot has also gone through a similar exercise and picked out their favourite guides for each class and spec.

There have never really been many active DPS warrior bloggers so it’s not surprising that Arms/ Fury specs are not well represented in the lists. I imagine most Fury warriors will stick with Titan’s Grip (since they already have two 2-handed weapons) for now though.

How much do we really want a class to change between expansions?

So Blizzard have started to dribble out some more talent tree information for druids, rogues, priests and shamans. But I don’t really feel curious to know more about warriors. I’m fine if they don’t change much, because I like mine the way she plays right now. All I really want is for Blizzard to design encounters that play to my class strengths :)

And this is the real sticking point with class redesigns. If a gameplay feature is changed too much, then people who like it right now might find that they can’t get to grips with their favourite class any more in future. I think the ones which look set to change the most in Warcraft are Holy Paladins, and Death Knights in general (just because some spec/role combinations are disappearing).

Have you ever played a class which stopped being fun after a redesign?

Class Consciousness: The Cult of the Splat

Last week there was a minor spat between two classes amongst the WoW bloggers. A hunter dissed the mage bloggers on a podcast, and suddenly half the blogs in my reader went up in flames.

But why do people care about their class so much? Surely by this stage, most people who are keen enough to blog will have multiple alts anyway? And are there really enough readers who only want to read hunter blogs to support the 7 zillion hunter blogs out there? What do they all find to write about?

To get to the bottom of this, let’s go back in time. Pen and Paper RPG publishers always struggled with maximising sales, even when RPGs were trendy. The reason was that a group of players could get by with only one set of rulebooks. So the GM bought the books, and the players – well they could buy if they wanted or they could just share. A keen player would probably eventually buy some rulebooks. But they were optional; as long as one person in the group had access to the rules then the whole group could play. Clearly from a publisher standpoint, this was not ideal. It was the old board game model (one person buys the game, lots of people can play it), but with so much player enthusiasm out there, surely they could sell something to the non GM players. The guys who just turn up, play their character, and then go home.

White Wolf revolutionised the way gaming books were sold by producing splat books. A book full of optional rules, lore, colour text, and fun ideas focussed purely around one specific clan/class. (I’m going to keep calling them classes because it serves the same function.) So players who had a character of that clan and loved it would want to buy the book. If you loved your class, that class book was for YOU. The GM could look at the player’s copy if they needed to use the lore or optional rules. And these clan books quickly became known as splat books. Yes, suddenly the title of this post makes sense.

There were also lots of class-centric web pages and support for WW games. What White Wolf had done was to create a class identity for players. People got attached to their warriors or elves or wizards long before this, but there wasn’t much support for class-based lore from publishers aside from the odd scenario here or there.

Warhammer did the same thing for wargaming. Their army books provided not only rules but also background and painting tips for specific factions in their gameworld. (The 4th Edition of Warhammer was the first to publish separate army lists for different factions in separate books – so this was at about the same time that WW was publishing their splat books.)

And after that, the floodgates opened. Just about every tabletop class based RPG will now publish books about splats aimed at players rather than at GMs. And players love them.

Cult of the Hunter, and other splats

So given that background, it’s not surprising that WoW has a very healthy class-based blogosphere. If you want to blog about the game, why not write about your favourite character and join a readymade community of other people who want to read or write about similar things?

Why hunter and druid blogs are quite so overwhelmingly popular, I never will understand. I can see how hybrids potentially offer more subject matter (you can explore more roles) but the huge number of hunter blogs is a mystery to me. They also seem to have the most interesting blogosphere drama. I don’t read any of them regularly though, whereas bizarrely, most of the well known mage blogs are on my reader, despite the fact I don’t play a mage either.

The other surprise about the hunter blogs is that they no longer represent the popularity of the class in the game. There was a time when hunters (and warriors) were so popular that we used to joke that night-elf hunters on our server alone outnumbered the entire horde. That isn’t the case any more.

There are also plenty of readers who are perfectly happy to have lots of blogs telling them things they already know about classes, roles, and games which they already play. As well as newer players who don’t care about the discussions and just want to be told how to play.

And even aside from that, lots of players enjoy reading opinions about the game from the perspective of the same class that they play. So for example, I couldn’t really call this a warrior blog, but my main in WoW is a warrior and a tank and so I’ll tend to come from that perspective. I occasionally put out informative warrior/ tanking type posts (usually when I am poked with a sharp stick).

For many people, class based forums offer a much better way to get information than searching blogs. It’s easier for forum mods to organise the information, stickify useful posts, and gather information from a wide range of posters. But it’s not really an either/ or choice. If people are interested and have enough time, you can read class forums and class blogs.

Selling to the Splats

One of Blizzard’s odder decisions was when they decided to close class forums on the official boards in favour of switching to role based forums. (ie. tank forum, healer forum, damage forum). There was an outcry from the player base. They loved their class forums, even if they did occasionally get used to stir up shit against other classes.

Blizzard relented on that one, and the official boards do still include class based forums. They’ve never really been happy about class based content though, not since vanilla which did feature class questlines, class mounts, class epics, and so on.

To my mind, and in the world of F2P and cash shops, that’s a lost opportunity. Of course people would pay for cool cosmetic items that only their class could equip. Or class based questlines. We want to see more of that type of content, not less. People love their class identity, class lore, and class specific content.

And this is why I haven’t said too much about Bioware’s various SWTOR press releases. Frankly, their killer content is not the gameplay or the storytelling or the companions or the setting. It’s the fact that if you play SWTOR, you’ll have access to the most extensive class based questlines and gameplay of any MMO ever created. Imagine a whole game created entirely for your class. Well, maybe not a whole game, but plenty of content and lore and it’s all about you.

We may never really know why players love their splats so much that they’ll create content for them, create communities around them, or make them so much a part of their lives. But maybe devs don’t need to know why it happens, just to design around it and offer content that feeds that itch.

How do you decide on a class?

So, we’re practically on the starting blocks for Cataclysm. Blizzard have made some tentative class previews and announced plans for raid changes. They finally confirmed yesterday that the Friends and Family Alpha test of the new expansion has begun. And amidst all the intense discussions between raid and guild leaders on how to adapt to the potential changes, people have started to think about which class to play or which alt to pick for the new Cataclysmic era.

But how do YOU go about picking a class?

  • Do you take the pragmatic approach? (What might I want to do? Which class is most likely to let me do it? Which class looks as though it’s going to be stronger/more desirable in PvE/ PvP?)
  • Do you have a list of desired qualities, and just mark off different classes until you end up with the best match? (e.g. must be able to heal, must be mobile, must be able to be a gnome, etc.)
  • Do you like to try something new? (e,g. must be something I haven’t played before? must be able to be the new race/ class? must be the one with the cool new mechanic?)
  • Do you stick with an old favourite?
  • Do you pick that class that always made you jealous? (e.g. if you can’t beat them, join them!)
  • Do you secretly admire a character in your guild/ raid and plan to emulate them? (e.g. I always wanted to be …. a shield tank?)
  • Do you get together with a bunch of friends and pick classes together for a levelling group?
  • Do you like to do a lot of research, or just try a few different classes and see what sticks?
  • Do you just say ‘oh, to hell with it’ and plan on having loads of alts so that you don’t have to choose yet?

Are we too obsessed with choices in games?

Suzina writes at Kill Ten Rats about her disappointment with the crafting system in Star Wars Galaxies. There were lots and lots of different professions to choose from … but many turned out to be mostly disregarded by the rest of the player base.

if you chose to be an crafter, a doctor, or an entertainer, you were completely worthless most of the time. Most of the time, nobody had to interact with you and nobody wanted to. Eventually, someone might want a guild-hall, or a face-lift, or some death-penalty removed and they would be forced to interact with you until they could get back to doing fun stuff.

She goes on to wonder what a game would be like that only had one class. Imagine that everyone could easily switch between every role in game.

The trouble with choices is that on the one side, you get to pick what is more fun for you to play. On the other, there’s a good chance that some choices will be mechanically superior to others. Others might be inconvenient, or so time-consuming to level that they don’t fit with less hardcore playing styles. Eventually, the playerbase drifts towards cookie cutter specs because they actually are better. So the choice is either an illusion, a trap made to catch newbies and anyone else who doesn’t know what the current best specs are — or else it’s not a very meaningful choice because anything you pick will be fine. I don’t believe that the second option really is meaningless though. Choosing how you prefer to play is always meaningful, and if no class is better or worse at anything than any other, they might still play very differently.

We see it with crafting skills also. Some end up being more desirable than others, some are easier for building cash, some may have added bonuses. (We joked in the beginning of Wrath that WoW had turned into World of Jewelcrafting because jewelcrafters got daily quests, lots of extra drops, vast money making potential and bonuses that scaled well — it’s still true.) Yet somehow, they all involve the same ‘click on recipe to craft item’ mechanic. So from the player’s point of view, all that ever can really matter is the profits and any side bonuses. They all play the same.

For many people, choosing what class, spec, or crafting skill to play is heavily dependent on what other people are doing. If you pick a rare (but needed) class/spec combination, you will have an easier time getting into groups. If you pick a rare (but needed) crafting skill, you will be able to fill a niche in the market and may be more sought after. Being rare feels more individual and unique, and being unique is very highly  prized among players.

It can also lead to the situation Oriniwen finds herself in, where she’s just happily levelled a new alt to find … that her co-GM picked exactly the same class and spec for a new alt, and they both hit max level at the same time. Does it matter? Well, yes if they both share a role for which there is limited demand. With the best will in the world, it’s hard not to be gutted when you realise that you have to compete with a friend for groups.

I’d welcome a game where anyone could switch to anything, although I am curious as to how it would affect how we identify with our characters. I also wonder whether facing the very real choice of ‘What would I prefer to do?’ rather than the illusory choice of ‘What do other people on the forums say I should do?’ might be too much for some to bear.

How do you feel about choices in MMOs?