Navigating the MMORPG Blender

June 6th, 2012

I was looking back at some of my more critical comments on Tera and I started thinking to myself: do I suffer from MMORPG design bias? The more I play Tera, the more I think "Oh, I wish such-and-such a feature from that other MMORPG was here." I wonder how much of a bad thing that actually is.

For example, in Tera, only one class, the Lancer, is officially considered to fill the "Tank" role, and that class can ONLY fill that role. Thus, Lancer and Tank are synonymous in Tera. This means that every party must have one Lancer. Then, every party must also have a healer, either a Priest or a Mystic. This leaves three spaces, which, according to the auto dungeon tool, must be DPS classes, of which there are five. Of course, Tera suffers the same class distribution in almost every game: no one wants to play Tank. The result is "insta-queue" for anyone who does play Lancer and excessively long queue times for everyone else. Contrast this with Rift, where three of the four classes can fill the Tank role, or WoW, where 4/10 classes can tank.

My bias says to me: "there should be more tanks." Or, specifically, it says that more classes should be able to tank. As many classes as possible. My bias is that I've found tank limitations to prevent having fun in MMORPGs, and that making more players be able to tank has tended to make other games more fun, therefore Tera should do the same.

Perhaps this bias emerges because of a different contrast with Tera and other MMORPGs: Tera offers far less character customization. WoW had three talent trees for each class which could, in certain cases (especially Druid and Paladin) radically alter the role the class would fill in a party. Rift took things a step further with eight souls per class, giving players tremendous freedom in customizing what they would be doing on a moment-to-moment basis. Tera harkens back to much stricter concepts of class, such that every player of a certain class is basically the same as every other player of that class. Within this framework, a much stricter party role for each class makes sense.

It's also simpler for players to grasp when taking that class. You pick Archer and you are "ranged dps." You never have to start tanking or healing partway through your career. But here's the crux: what if you WANT to tank. What if you NEED to. In Tera, your only option is to roll a completely new character, an alt; specifically, a Lancer. One of the wonderful things about Rift is that, after playing through the whole game in a certain way, if you found you needed to do something different, there was a good opportunity to do that. You may have thought "I'm a Ranger" all the way from level 1 to 50, but at 50 discovered you wanted to and needed to be a tank. In Rift, you could make that change without having to level up from 1 to 50 again as a Riftstalker.

I suppose there's something to be said about actually leveling up in a role rather than just coasting by on the "easy" role and hopping in to the "tough" one later on. But players also grow attached to their characters; many don't want to create an alt on principle of having to split their identity among different characters. In this context, I find FFXI's job system a refreshing compromise: you still have to level up each class, but you can do them all on the same character.

Given that Tera doesn't have any class/race restrictions, I wonder if the same thing could happen there. Could Tera work where each character could swap into each class, leveling each one up without having to make alts? I suppose it wouldn't really matter if there weren't some cross-class tie-in, much like FFXI's sub-job system. And then you still face the agonizing prospect of the level grind, which isn't exactly a thrill-a-minute in Tera.

I guess my bias is that Tera should just feel more like the other MMORPGs I like, in terms of core system design. For all the fun I have actually fighting monsters, when combat ends and I look at the rest of the game I can't help but cringe.

Posted by: Soulrift

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