Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

24 November, 2009

Interesting Mechanics: Multi-role classes
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 3:56 AM

The multi-role (aka “hybrid”) class is often looked at as an aberration in MMOs. One character able to fill multiple roles has the problem of being properly balanced against other classes. Make a hybrid class too strong and specialists feel left out. Make the hybrid class too weak and the hybrids feel like they have no place in the game. Trying to balance things properly is very difficult for an average designer to do.

Let’s take a look at some hybrid class designs and how they have worked out in games.

A stumble

My preferred class in WoW was a Druid, a class with a confused heritage. At launch, the class was billed as a hybrid class or a secondary healing class, depending on the web page you found on the official site. The inclusion of the combat-focused feral forms (bear and cat) indicated that the class was intended to be something more than simply a caster; these alternate forms were vastly inferior to the primary tanking and melee DPS classes. To be fair, the druid was inferior to primary caster DPS and healer classes, too, but the animal forms were very hard to play well and most people didn’t understand the limitations. My group of friends knew what I could do well, so I would sometimes off-tank an encounter that required it. The “jack of all trades master of none” description was very appropriate for Druids.

However, the class had one saving grace: an ability called innervate. The only reason druids were invited along to early raids was to provide some minor healing and to use innervate to replenish the mana of the “real” healer class: Priests.

To be fair, it wasn’t all bleak. Druids had an instant cast spell, Moonfire, that could do a lot of damage in a short period of time at the cost of a lot of mana. It was a dominant spell in early PvP. Despite not being a fan of WoW’s PVP, I did find the class pretty fun as I worked to try to do my best to overcome the seemingly intentional shortcomings. But, few people respected the fact that it took a lot of effort to be slightly less second-rate.

A reprieve

A lot of improvements were made to the Druid class over time. Additional forms that specialized in caster DPS (Moonkin, aka “BOOMkin”) or healing (Tree of Life) were introduced. Feral forms were enhanced to the point that a competent player could fill a vital tank or melee DPS role easily, and good players would switch between these roles between encounters.

To my mind as a game designer, I think the Burning Crusade era was one of the better ones for multi-role characters. The system offered balanced but not equal options for characters. Warrior, Paladin, and Druid tanks had different strengths and weaknesses for different encounters. A flexible Druid added to a raid by being able to swap between a few roles and contribute almost as well as a dedicated class. One class couldn’t do it all, but the options were fairly well balanced to the point where a good tank was a good tank regardless of the specific class. This took a tremendous amount of great design to pull this off.

Overpowered next step

With the next expansion, Blizzard introduced a new hybrid class that was one of the long-expected (and overhyped) “hero classes” – the Death Knight. Being a feature of the new expansion, the class had to be spectacular out of the gate, so it suffered from the opposite problem Druids originally did: it was supremely overpowered. While most DPS classes were relatively fragile, the heavy plate wearing Death Knight could grab aggro and not die instantly. Even in a tank role, the Death Knight was encouraged to use a 2-handed weapon to do high damage and keep aggro. The new class was super over-powered, likely intended to get people who might be wary about buying the expansion eager to share in the power fantasy.

The design philosophy for different roles also turned toward making them more similar: “bring the player, not the class” became the matra so different classes were equalized. Gone were the unique advantages previously enjoyed by the different classes. A lot of players (including me as a Druid fan) grumbled about losing identity and how much better the new class was at multiple roles.

Interlude for skill-based systems

As I’ve mentioned before, I think Meridian 59‘s design did well in this area. Given that you can learn different schools of abilities (basically like classes), you could mix and match them to create an interesting hybrid. You can heal as well as anyone else who takes the Shal’ille school of spells. You don’t have to master the school and get all the spells, either, if you just want a few spells. Picking other schools helps round out your character. Want to take Weaponcraft to use heavy weapons? Faren to fling fireballs and other damaging spells? Perhaps both if you have enough intellect….

I believe the trick to balancing a skill-based system is to restrict selection. If you want the highest level healing spells, you need to master Shal’ille. Doing so restricts what other schools you can master, since you can only learn a limited number of abilities. Almost every school has some benefit, so there is no “master build” that everyone must copy or fail. It all depends on the individual playstyle and what abilities work best for what the player wants to do.

Multi-role class done right

In my experience, there is one multi-role class that was designed very well: LotRO’s Captain.

The class has best described as “backup everything”. A Captain wears heavy armor and can tank; the halberd weapons available only to the Captain class have the special ability of increasing threat. A Captain can heal. A Captain can do good damage as well. However, the captain does not excel in any of these areas. You wouldn’t ask a Captain to tank a raid. You wouldn’t bring a Captain as your only healer in a difficult instance. But, this relative weakness doesn’t keep Captains from being one of the favored group and raid classes.

There are two elements that make Captains useful. First, Captains can preform multiple roles at the same time. For example, a healer Captain still wields heavy weapons and armor, allowing them to DPS and tank in a pinch. Some of the Captain’s healing abilities are tied to attacks, so the Captain can heal and do damage with just one ability. A healing captain will also gain healing aggro, but since they have heavy armor they can take the hits rather than the fragile Minstrel or Runekeeper healers.

Second, Captains get unique abilities that enhance others. Captains are known for their buffs; a Captain’s critical strike buff increases my Champion’s chance to crit from 10.5% to 14.5%. They can give a parry bonus to tanks, or a power regen buff on casters. Captains also get a banner ability which gives a bonus to all members in a group, usually an increase in morale (health) or power regeneration. In addition, Captains have two in-combat rezes they can use to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. These bonuses mean that taking a healing Captain along is worth more than taking another specialized healer in that position. Captains are a good class to solo because they also get a squire pet to help them and provide the group bonuses at lower levels.

The drawback is that Captains are complex to play. Balancing different roles, even shifting roles in the middle of a single encounter, is tough for some people. It takes a very talented player to balance all the aspects. But, I think most people who are drawn to this type of class don’t mind the challenge. (Despite enjoying the challenges on my Druid, the Captain is one of the two classes I haven’t played extensively, ironically. My better half played a Captain paired with my Champion, though)

Multi-role done less well

LotRO also has an example of a multi-role class that has problems. The Runekeeper can heal or nuke, but usually only one or the other in a given encounter. The class has an attunement system restricts spells of the opposite attunement from being cast while giving bonuses to similarly attuned spells. Switching from one attunement to another is difficult in most cases.

Runekeepers are also not very well balanced with other classes. They do a lot of damage and are perhaps the best single-target DPS class in the game currently. On the other hand, they have a limited selection of healing spells and the focus on heal over time (HOT) spells means the Runekeeper is more of a proactive healer instead of a reactive one. As a result, most Runekeepers prefer the DPS role and shun the healing role, although a talented Runekeeper can be the primary healer for a group and do the task well.

Why a multi-role class works

The trick is to let the multi-role class be less powerful, but let them combine abilities with ease. The early Druid in WoW was a mediocre hybrid class because it couldn’t do as well as other classes and shifting into another form instantly limited your options. You couldn’t tank and DPS at the same time like the later Death Knight could. Even as a focused tank you were crippled because you couldn’t use items like potions (or even trinkets originally). Runekeepers also have to select one role or the other in a combat, limiting their usefulness in a shifting situation. Compare this to the Captain where different abilities allow the characters to act in multiple roles at once by design: healing and DPS, etc.

The other trick is to give the hybrid class some unique aspect. Early Druids had the innervate ability which helped other classes out tremendously, and made the class worth bringing along to a raid even if they couldn’t heal as well as a Priest. This probably works better with abilities that wouldn’t be a focus for a single class. For example, the Captain’s buffs are the best in LotRO, but having a pure buffer class would probably not be interesting for most players. Brining a captain along to provide buffs and bonuses helps the whole group, even if Captain isn’t as powerful in any one area as a dedicated class. Runekeepers are the counter-example, where their few minor unique features don’t come into play to help others in the group.

Obviously, there are a lot of other examples out there. I could talk about my healing Necromancer in EQ2, for example. But, these examples are ones I have a lot of personal experience with and think they illustrate my points well.

What do you think? Do you think hybrid classes can fit well into a game? Or are they so hard to do right that they’re more of a pain than a benefit?

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  1. There are really two types of hybrids, depending on their “per encounter” role.

    The first type, the WoW Druid, is a “single role” class. It can tank, heal, or dps, but it can only do one of those at a time. It can change roles (particularly now with dual specs) between encounters, but within one it’s options are extremely limited. If you are geared and specced for DPS, your tanking or healing is worthless (at raid levels), and so on for each other role.

    So, in this model, the player has the option of fulfilling many different raid slots throughout an evening, but at any given time has to fill a specific role, and is stuck in that role throughout the encounter. His other abilities are either locked out or simply useless otherwise.

    The second type is the lotro Captain you mention. He can actually fulfill all those roles simultaneously, fluidly changing from one act to another.

    Given these two types, there are two separate implementations. In the first case, the wow-druid-esque implementation, the character needs to be comparably powerful to a single-class character or he serves no real place in a raid. I played a druid in WoW from release through early WotLK, and dispite many cries that “there was no reason to take a pure class when the hybrids could do just as well” the end result was in fact that raids brought “the player, not the class”. Need a tank? You brought your tank. He may be a bear, a warrior, or what have you, but you brought him as a tank. He rolled on/bid on/whatever gear as a tank. Likewise with any other class.

    Not once in all that playing time did I *ever* see, or even hear, of any player actually getting pushed out because a raid wanted more hybrids *because* they could change roles between encounters. It just wasn’t that important.

    If these characters are not as powerful as “pures” (note in warcraft, there are only 4 pure classes, the dps-only ones) then they serve no purpose at all. The flexibility they offer is useful for a small fledgeling guild, but once on is established they offer little – particularly considering the effort and time that goes into constructing multiple gear sets.

    On the other hand, the Captain implementation needs to be less powerful in any given role. If he’s just as good, then there’s no reason to take anything *other* than captains. This implementation, however, makes for much more interesting play. I always wanted my wow druid(release through early wotlk) to play this way, actually, being able to switch roles mid encounter and be viable at (but not quite as good) any given role. It creates much more involved play – do you keep dpsing in cat form, or shift and heal?

    To have hybrids of this sort, though – the second sort – the encounters need to be designed to need that flexibility. High damage portions where extra healing is needed, and times where more DPS is required.

    If encounters are not designed for that, then ultimately hybrids get marginalized (see: vanilla wow). If a raid knows it needs X tanks, Y healers, and Z dps for a successful raid, you don’t need flexibility, you need specialists to provide the best possible performance in each catagory.

    In summary, both types are valid, but enounters need to be designed with the available hybrid types in mind, to make the sacrifices they typically pay (decreased performance in any given role) worthwhile.

    Noone likes to be brought along as a (whatever role) but be a poor substitute because you’re able to fill other roles… when those other roles are not actually needed.

    I know in my entire WoW experience, while my character was a hybrid in serious high end endgame raiding I was always only one specific role, be it healing, dpsing, or tanking. I always wanted to do more, but was never able to. Couldn’t justify giving me twice the gear anyone else got, but then I was either unable to keep pace in gearing for my particular role, or had to entirely neglect every other rendering them useless at that level.

    Comment by Derrick — 24 November, 2009 @ 5:52 AM

  2. Thank you for a insightful comparison of hybrids in different games. As someone who leans towards the hybrid-side of things, it’s a topic close to my heart.

    What struck me when you laid out the different hybrids (in particular the Captain as an example of a jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none which is perhaps a unspoken ideal of hybrids) was that not only are the games different, but the playerbase and their ideal might be too.

    My belief is that this is largely tied in to how the WoW community have developed. While other MMOs such as LOTRO have a strong sense or lore and adventure, the ideals of WoW is continiouly growing more powergamer-like with a strong focus on numbers and effciency.

    While the idea of a hybrid who can help out where needed depending on the situation sounded great – in a situation where 0,2% more dmg or healing done would tip the scale – WoW players chose to leave the hybrids home, and bring someone who could pump out that extra damage/healing/mitigation. Specialization and brute force trumphed flexibility and finesse. Now, this can be put down to “bad” game design, but we got to remember that WoW players chose to 1) Rate encounters in terms of numbers 2) Continues to check performance through meters and logs, and 3)have a huge drive from the theorycrafting community.
    In WoW its not enough to know that “he provides some buffs and can step in when needed”. Its quantified in numbers and percentiles, not to mention graphs and paicharts :)
    Perhaps in such a gameenvironment, there is simply not room for the flexibility of a “true” hybrid. Maybe we need other ways of measuring success and failure then total damage/healing/mitigation done in order to make interesting hybrids.

    Comment by Kristine — 24 November, 2009 @ 5:55 AM

  3. I’m familiar with the games you mention (play some) and liked your article. I was really hoping you would bring up the method in which Guild Wars does multi-classing. It was originally done really well, although the method in which they multi-class led to problems with too many skills and balancing.

    Comment by CyberNigma — 24 November, 2009 @ 6:15 AM

  4. I totally agree to your assessment. In terms of balance, the TBC era was probably the best. OK, Mages and Hunters were not happy, but speaking from a general and druid point of view for sure. There were differences between the tank classes, giving each an edge in this or that encounter, but not making all others 2nd class in general.

    I play a Champion, and can also totally agree to your assessment of Captains and really wonder why I don’t play one myself! They are what Paladins should be, but never were in WoW. Right now they are everybodies darling together with DKs, too good to be true. Runekeepers are often undervalued as healers, mainly because they are so much better nukers… they blast stuff in the Ettenmoors, only rivalled by another ranged class, the hunter. Which got the DPS of a primary nuker and invaluable utility skill, group speed buff and fast travel and and and… I would nerf them quite a lot and wonder why they did not tone down some of their abilities and give them to other classes. I have not yet seen another game where a nuker had so many extra abilities besides CC.

    The usual hybrid dilemma is that they are often 2nd class at everything or that they are really good and on top of that can fill multiple roles, which then causes the opposite effect, then they are too good.

    Maybe we will see more hybrid class designs for future MMOs, which might get slowly away from the trinity approach. The advantages is that hybrids are usually very complex and rewarding to play, having a lot of extras, options and roles.
    The thing is, classes are hard to balance. Add new classes and skills and balance is again changed.

    Usually this means hybrid hate. Tigole was known to be a Pally hater in EQ, and blamed (which was probably bullshit) for Paladins having issues in WoW. Now Ghost Crawler came along, and voila, the current version of his mantra “bring the player, not the class” is that the AGE OF THE HYBRID started with WOTLK.

    This is how my Warlock felt in WOTLK: “So I can now keep up with the DK tank in damage when using Firestorm exclusively over and over.” “I can do 5% more damage than hybrids, which can do a lot of other things that I cannot even dream of in any of my specs without respeccing.” Paladins, DKs and Ruids were among the WOTL “winner” classes. Shadowpriests also rocked away my Warlock, which IMO was together with his arch-nemesis, the Rogue, and Mages who got buffed but not to the degree of the Hybrids was among the losing classes. I am not sure about hunters and their situation upon WOTLK release and later, we did Naxx within one month and rarely had a hunter with us.

    Comment by Longasc — 24 November, 2009 @ 7:21 AM

  5. Kristine is right, I was obsessed with my Recount damage scores while playing WoW. And it often rewarded playing rather dumb, e.g. Warlocks rather nuking than fearing when appropriate or Rogues running out of energy in a dps race instead of kicking when needed.

    Comment by Longasc — 24 November, 2009 @ 7:24 AM

  6. I love hybrids. I love choice. I even like that it makes the gameplay more “difficult”, since in my book, that’s more mentally engaging, which I appreciate. I don’t care about being “second in everything” if I’m having fun actually *playing*.

    If I want to play “retlol Paladin faceroll” mode, there’s almost always that option in some class or build, but when I want to really dig into a game and master some skills, hybrids are the place I turn to first. (Which explains why I keep writing about classless progression schemes; I want to build my own hybrid from the ground up.)

    Comment by Tesh — 24 November, 2009 @ 10:46 AM

  7. Of course… I like hybrids for the soloability they offer, what with being able to do nearly anything… I wonder if my tastes would change if I were more of a groupie. Probably not, since I still highly value flexibility, but it probably should be noted that my love of hybrids is firmly rooted in my *solo* playstyle, not so much for what they offer to raids or other group dynamics.

    Comment by Tesh — 24 November, 2009 @ 10:48 AM

  8. Great article and comments, I totally agree with your premise.

    Two of the most fun hybrids I’ve tried are Captains and Loremasters in LoTRO. The reason they work so well is that they can fluidly change roles on the fly (as Derrik pointed out), and also that each brings something to the table that no other class does (as Psychochild points out). Captains are the best buffers in LoTRO. The Loremaster, in addition to being able to heal, cure ailments, and do decent burst DPS, has the best crowd control and power management abilities. A mediocre healer + buffs or a mediocre DPS + power management adds a lot more to your party than another specialist from the holy trinity. The Druid and Runekeeper overlap with a specialist in all of their class roles. The Runekeeper is especially bad off because they lack the ability to change roles on the fly (i.e., during any given fight). They have to pick one role per encounter and stick to it for maximum effect. Due to being forced to gear up for either casting or tanking, Druids are almost as bad off.

    Comment by Yeebo — 24 November, 2009 @ 12:36 PM

  9. I’ve always been a huge fan of the hybrid classes in MMOs and it has certainly been a challenge. As you stated they’re a really hard thing to balance well. EverQuest was a pretty good example of this. Initially most of the hybrids were equal to warriors and had spells but paid a severe experience penalty. Warriors didn’t care for this and were upgraded. Over time the hybrids became worse and worse but still paid the penalty. Eventually it went away all together.

    The biggest key (in my eye) to making a hybrid work is ensuring they’re slightly worse than the specialist but also offer something unique that nobody else can do. Lets look at the generic paladin as an example.

    Before WoW turned paladins into a main healer they were 75% warrior and 25% cleric. The cleric portion was just a nice little extra to add some utility. Frequently though the 25% would be so far behind the cleric it wasn’t viewed as worthwhile. This is taking it too far. I imagine if a hybrid can do two main roles about 85% as well as the specialist I can see that. Then you bring in the unique abilities.

    From a raid leader perspective if you give each class one buff, debuff or ability that is unique and worthwhile they’ll have a place. In EverQuest SOE added an HP buff to paladins that stacked with every other buff. That was instant value. They also started to push them as solid group healers but not very amazing single target ones. This let them do their warrior role and heal. It ended up working well. So well at one point that the class was a bit over powered.

    At any rate, I’d say you can bring a hybrid class into demand with a unique ability. The real trick is then ensuring it is “fun.” Nobody wants to be included just because they can cast one buff.

    Comment by Ferrel — 24 November, 2009 @ 2:06 PM

  10. Great article :)

    I can appreciate the problems with hybrid balance now more than ever, probably because I think I’m becoming more aware of the design of games and more involved with the background behind them.

    I wonder if the future of MMORPGs will see a lot more dual class systems in which every class fills at least two roles, thus reducing the problems with tank/healer shortages and stopping the whole hybrid thing in it’s tracks.

    Comment by We Fly Spitfires — 24 November, 2009 @ 3:51 PM

  11. I also liked the Guild Wars multi-class approach. Essentially every character is a hybrid, and you can change your role by changing your spec. My elementalist-monk could act as a healer or damage dealer as necessary.

    I’ve often wondered why more MMOs don’t use multi-class systems. They seem to be a nice middle ground in terms of balance and flexibility; i.e. they’re more flexible than a pure class system but easier to balance than a completely open-ended skill system.

    Comment by Tolthir — 24 November, 2009 @ 11:01 PM

  12. Derrick wrote:
    Not once in all that playing time did I *ever* see, or even hear, of any player actually getting pushed out because a raid wanted more hybrids *because* they could change roles between encounters. It just wasn’t that important.

    Personally, I used my flexibility as an advantage. If one encounter in a dungeon required an extra tank, I usually pointed out that they didn’t have to give that spot to a dedicated tank; I could DPS in other encounters. I think some people might have favored hybrid classes for this reason. I think this is mostly tanks trying to stake out territory because there are only so many dedicated tank slots needed in a typical raid, so losing one to a Druid hurts the “real” tanking classes.

    To have hybrids of this sort, though – the second sort – the encounters need to be designed to need that flexibility.

    I don’t think this is what makes the Captain work so well. I think the big advantage is that while Captains aren’t the main in any role, they can fill in and they enhance everyone else with buffs. A Captain’s buffs make the tanks better tanks, DPS do more damage, and casters have more resources. So, they add more to the raid even if a “pure” class could add more.

    Kristine wrote:
    My belief is that this is largely tied in to how the WoW community have developed.

    Possibly a chicken-and-egg situation here. Did the community develop in response to the gameplay, or did player behavior conform to general community standards? As Longasc points out, some people focus on the meters and brag about big burst DPS despite dying early to attracting aggro, or letting the raid wipe because they didn’t use interrupts, fears, etc.

    CyberNigma wrote:
    I was really hoping you would bring up the method in which Guild Wars does multi-classing.

    I have to admit that I never played Guild Wars. By the time I had some interest, the expansions weren’t explained very well so I didn’t know what I should have bought.

    From what I’ve read and seen, it looks like it’s close to what Meridian 59 offers with the ability to select skills from a number of “classes”; M59 is limited by a stat, whereas GW is limited to just two. As I said in the skill-based systems interlude, I think this works well because it allows players to develop what they think is interesting. Another example of this type of system outside of MMOs is Titan Quest.

    Ferrel wrote:
    Over time the hybrids became worse and worse but still paid the penalty. Eventually it went away all together.

    Penalty doesn’t matter if there’s a max level that’s eventually attainable by all classes. That was a terrible way to try to balance them.

    Also didn’t help that Warriors were boring to level up in the first place in EQ1. At least to me.

    We Fly Spitfires wrote:
    I wonder if the future of MMORPGs will see a lot more dual class systems in which every class fills at least two roles….

    Personally, I would like to see a move toward less strict classes, or more specifically: away from narrowly defined roles like we have. This probably requires a massive retooling of the way game systems are designed, however. The multi-class type system like Meridian 59 or Guild Wars has is likely to provide more interesting characters without having the messiness of a pure skill-based system.

    Comment by Psychochild — 25 November, 2009 @ 1:12 AM

  13. Great post, I too played Druid (among other things) during BC (started wow pre-bc) and I felt feral tanking druids never had enough gear.

    Anyways yes, balancing will always be an art for the class design masters but I think the Hybrid should have a good !SUPPORTING! role in every mmorpg. I have no problem with a hybrid taking on a main ‘role’ but at least make sure that they handle it totally differently (like BC tanking for classes) or are less powerful.

    If Hybrids can be just as good stat wise as someone that is ‘forced’ to be in a role then there is a problem with the hybrid.

    Comment by CodeJustin — 25 November, 2009 @ 4:34 AM

  14. Very nice article and comments, thanks guys. The design we’re working on right now is classless (or should I say rather more role-oriented than class-oriented) so we have to deal with the issue of most role/skill tree combinations creating essentially multi-role or hybrid characters. This was a good read.

    Comment by Julian — 25 November, 2009 @ 11:03 AM

  15. Hmm… so what if everyone is a hybrid, and everyone is “support”?

    Comment by Tesh — 26 November, 2009 @ 8:33 PM

  16. Very good read.

    I think the key to hybrid vs specialization is to keep both useful, and that’s harder than it sounds. If you allow 15 people into an instance, most likely you can bring enough specialists to not have to worry about a hybrid. If you can only bring 5, you might not. The funny thing is, when you can bring 100+ (EVE), hybrids are VERY useful because defining every last persons role becomes far more difficult, and with so many people, things tend to change very quickly.

    Comment by Syncaine — 27 November, 2009 @ 5:30 PM

  17. I’ve heard captains and loremasters described as either overpowered or among the most powerful classes in LOTRO at the moment. That’s bound to affect how fun a hybrid will be to play. (Can’t say from experience, I just go by what I’m told.) An underpowered hybrid can be quite miserable; moreso than a class with a stronger niche. Less good at everything by design, and no special niche either.

    So … do hybrids only work when they’re relatively overpowered? So a hybrid healer might not be as strong as a pure healer but if they can solo heal all the existing content, then their relative weakness is irrelevant. It’s not a true weakness. This is also very very dependent on the content. If a hybrid can cure disease and poison but no mob in the game ever casts disease or poison, then the extra utility is irrelevant too.

    I like classes with a good mix of role ability and utility, enough to keep me busy and thinking during fights. That might be a hybrid, or it might be a nicely designed non-hybrid class. I’m not fond of the design that says ‘X will be a jack of all trades but balanced with uber buffs.’ Buffs aren’t fun. They’re something you cast once as your ticket to the group and then ignore.

    Comment by Spinks — 28 November, 2009 @ 3:35 PM

  18. ps. Tesh, retadins are hybrids ;)

    Comment by Spinks — 28 November, 2009 @ 3:36 PM

  19. I agree with Syncaine that the environment is as important to hybrids as the class design itself. If you never need someone to switch roles in an encounter, then it doesn’t matter how well the class abilities are balanced.

    Comment by Grumpy Badger — 28 November, 2009 @ 3:51 PM

  20. Julian wrote:
    The design we’re working on right now is classless (or should I say rather more role-oriented than class-oriented) so we have to deal with the issue of most role/skill tree combinations creating essentially multi-role or hybrid characters.

    Who is “we” and what game are you working on? Feel free to send me a personal email if you don’t want to talk in the open.

    Spinks wrote:
    So … do hybrids only work when they’re relatively overpowered?

    As far as Captains go, I don’t think they’re innately overpowered. They’re a powerful addition to a group, to be sure, but they don’t get an “I Win” button. I think LotRO’s overall class balance is pretty good, really, with few classes seeming useless. (Some are pretty powerful, like a nuking Runekeeper. Some others are being nerfed into submission, such as the Burglar or Champion.)

    I guess it depends on how you defined “overpowered”. It’s not like you see people forming groups of only Captains or that a group of three Captains is able to take down content intended for six players. But, if you considered being desirable in a group then healers and tanks are just as overpowered.

    Grumpy Badger wrote:
    If you never need someone to switch roles in an encounter, then it doesn’t matter how well the class abilities are balanced.

    It’s kind of based on the design goal of of hybrids are. Personally, I tend to like flexibility in characters or taking marginal aspects and elevating them to an art form. I liked the Druid for the ability to cast nukes and heals, as well as go to bear form to keep something offtanked. In Burning Crusade, I enjoyed being DPS or a tank as needed. In EQ2, I focused on the life transfer aspects of my Necromancer and could provide spot healing. (Although, I don’t know if most people would consider the EQ2 Necro to be a hybrid.)

    Ferrel points out that in EQ1, the hybrid was just a beefed up class that took longer to level. In WoW it’s to allow one person to participate in multiple roles as the fancy strikes them. Each game has its own requirements and roles for characters to fill. But, in general, hybrids face a lot of the same problems in different games.

    Comment by Psychochild — 28 November, 2009 @ 8:21 PM

  21. It’s an interesting question as to how you decide if a hybrid is overpowered. Maybe if it can substitute for a pure class in at least two roles and still gets lots of extra utility that the pure classes don’t plus unique buffs (and other much loved utility like being able to port people around the map), and is far better at soloing. These things are relative. But they’ll make people who play pure classes wonder why they can’t get some of those things too because they aren’t inimical to being able to play more than one role in combat.

    I just always wondered why my burglar couldn’t get things that cool. It’s a utility class with average dps and lots of debuffs and some CC. Was it just not hybrid enough to get dev love? Or is stealth supposed to make up for it?

    Comment by Spinks — 29 November, 2009 @ 12:20 AM

  22. /AFK – Jedi, Jedi Everywhere edition

    [...] Psychochild re: Hybrids – “In my experience, there is one multi-role class that was designed very well: LOTRO’s Captains.” [...]

    Pingback by Bio Break — 29 November, 2009 @ 6:43 AM

  23. I would like to think that the two different hybrid systems described are personal, and is based on the player’s play style. Perhaps, a more tactical player would just like the flexibility between fights. Likewise, a more… “reaction-based” player would prefer to have the ability to fluidly switch roles to react to battles if they don’t seem to go like the previous 10 battles.

    In a sense, the Warrior in World of Warcraft seem to fit that bill more, with their ability to switch Stances on the fly.

    In contrast, your average FPS gives the ultimate freedom, allowing players to switch “roles” (weapons), usually in a second, allowing them to fight with the optimal “role” based on the distance they are.

    However, I believe it is much on the design on the enemies and raid system. Opponents are still rather “static” these days, following a rigid set of rules, making most encounters a rigid sequence of button presses to dispatch them. The only thing that tosses this up a little is multiple opponent encounters and perhaps procs.

    World of Warcraft’s raid system almost demands for a specialist character if they are available. Bringing a hybrid character is only justifiable if they had something to put on the table, like Innervate.

    In a sense, I found DDO’s dungeon instances more forgiving. While I understand the scope of the instances are no where near the size of a WoW raid, and it still requiring certain classes (the Holy Trinity) for an optimal run, missing a required class doesn’t make it impossible to complete. DDO’s combat is rather different though, so perhaps, that has more then just a small influence to how it has worked out.

    Comment by CalebG — 11 December, 2009 @ 1:38 AM

  24. Going through older posts and decided to re-read this one. I wanted to add that Dungeons & Dragons Online (DDO) has done multiple roles in a single class pretty well. To be fair, they had help by cribbing the D&D 3rd edition rules, but it works out well. It’s really flexible and a good multi-class can perform very well. The downside is that it’s rather easy to to create a real stinker of a class if you haven’t planned out your character to a high degree. Still, quite a bit of fun despite using the template of the granddaddy of class-based games.

    Comment by Psychochild — 11 January, 2011 @ 3:36 AM

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