How Ashes of Creation Can Succeed Where Others Have Failed
Part IV – Unsung Heroes
Intro: A Supportive Start
Support classes come in a few different forms in massive multiplayer online games. Anyone that’s played a MMO is definitely familiar with the healer. The staple of what is considered the party “trinity” (tank, healer and damage classes), the healer is often the focus of many support class discussions. Anyone who has partaken of this genre has heard the meme “blame the healer” more often than not. Whether this comes up in conversation as a meme or actual perception, the reality is the success or failure of a group is primarily determined by the collective performance of the players as a whole versus the difficulty of the content they are engaging in. That is not to say that the lack of skill of one player couldn’t lead to failure, but I find that to be more exception than rule. However, that particular topic is not what I’d like to discuss at the moment. In this article in the series, I’d like to cover non-healer support classes as I do feel they should be an important part of the modern MMO that don’t get as much recognition as they should. Just to be clear on what type of abilities I’m referring to for non-healer support, they are: crowd control and force multiplication. What I’ll be exploring in this article today is a bit about my history as a non-healing support player as well as some design feedback on what I feel is important to consider when designing the non-healing support class.
Controlling the Narrative
It’s been a minute since I’ve played Dark Age of Camelot, so do keep that in mind. Regardless, this game was my first reference point playing a true support class. In the past, my main class of choice was damage caster, which was summarily beaten out of me as a main as a result of my EverQuest days. I did also dabble in melee damage which has been my primary go to in most games since EQ. So, after some deliberation and class testing in DAoC, I created my first non-healer support class and decided to main that for a decent amount of time. It was through that experimentation that I began to truly appreciate the role these types of characters play. While this experience was the catalyst, where I invested much of my non-healer support gaming was my next MMO after Dark Age – City of Heroes. If you’ve read my previous articles in this series, you’ll find I refer to City of Heroes quite often. The reason for this is simple – it was a major part of my life at the time and helped me learn a lot about myself and what is important to me as a MMO player. For this subject matter specifically, I played a few different flavors of the Controller in CoH. This role choice in this game, like Ashes of Creation, is referred to as archetype. In City of Heroes, you selected primary and secondary set of ability pools to progress. This provided horizontal options to fine tune your build right from the start. My first controller leaned primarily on crowd control in both my primary and secondary power set choices. This gave me a very broad array of effects to play with – stuns, roots, knockdowns, and knock-backs. What was also important about this build is the primary set had some de-buff effects built in. Obviously, this was a very group focused set up as my damage viability wasn’t great, but the fun factor was turned up to 11. My next controller was a crowd control/force multiplier hybrid. If I had to simply define what a force multiplier is, I’d describe it as a role that improves the overall team effectiveness. They could do this by providing beneficial enhancements to allies and detrimental effects to enemies. I can tell you one of the most satisfying things about my 2nd controller was my ultimate ability to turn the tide in a large-scale battle. The ability would siphon effectiveness from big groups of enemies and give all sorts of buffs to my team. One thing I also liked about this particular build was that I was able to do more damage when I wasn’t able to
group. All in all, City of Heroes allowed me to expand my thinking on what I was passionate about in my MMO gaming. So much so that I invested my time to become a controller “advocate” during the Alpha and Beta testing processes.
Forget the Yard Stick
While there are games in the MMO genre that have non-healing support or at least non-healing support skills available to classes, I feel like this style of gameplay is generally downplayed. I find that quite unfortunate since it makes encounters less interesting. I think it also can contribute to group socialization – since the focus is lopsided on big d*ck dps versus strategy – as players tend to coordinate less as dps becomes a primary factor in succeeding in an encounter. I don’t think we’ll ever get to a point at which content can’t be trivialized by player power/damage without some major intervention from the developers of a game, but I hope that Intrepid considers this point. Having the option to play a non-healing support character is one thing but having game constructs that necessitate the usage of that class is even more critical. It’s a PVX game after all so I expect non-healing support will have its place in PvP, so that is not as much of a concern for me as the relevance of the skill-set in PvE gameplay. So is it as simple as beefing up the dynamics of group encounters? That’s a factor, however, there is a lot to unpack with that as there are many choices a developer can make here. The most obvious might be to make the enemies soak up more damage which generally gets answered by players with the aforementioned male appendage damage strategy. I’m not against beefier enemies in more difficult encounters but the success criteria needs to be more fluid than the categorically lazy choice creating hit point sponges ultimately is. What if the enemies were armored and some sort of debuff was required to strip the armor away, or what if some form of crowd control was required to be stacked to create some form of temporary vulnerability that the party could expose? Or how about certain encounters requiring specific or combinations of buffs to give the party a fighting chance? The buffs I have in mind are not just limited to straight damage either – they could be improved resistances, accuracy, resource pool regeneration or efficiency just to name a few. I’m not arguing for non-healing support to be the “I win” button classes here, but the design should not dismiss or minimize the importance of these types of characters.
The other aspect of the non-healing support class I wanted to cover has less to do with group encounters and more to do with the basics of character design. I prioritized talking about grouping situations because Intrepid has reiterated their focus on balancing group content as their priority. While I agree with this approach, I do want to spend a bit of time talking about tuning the individual level. Early on in City of Heroes development, I had some concerns about the controller class’ viability in the damage department. I was not advocating for “god mode” but I did perceive too big of a disparity when leveling my controller. The simple change of just bumping up damage was part of the solution but should not be the whole one. Over-tuning that one aspect along with all the other potential tools a non-healer support could have easily led to the class being “OP.” My preference was to put the player in control of their destiny. Just like I mentioned in group encounters, let the character use their repertoire to take enemies down a notch or boost themselves to achieve success. Give the character a fighting chance in a solo situation by making them think about strategy over just pure damage. One of the things I really liked about the “gear” in City of Heroes is it gave many options to tweak your character to suit your playstyle. You could slot in enhancements to amp up damage, accuracy, recharge, resource gain, buff or debuff effectiveness, and so on. So a power on one character may behave quite differently than on another. While the enhancements granted only generic flat bonuses, it still provided a way to
tune the character build. This is a bit how I envision the augmentation system should work – obviously minimizing the generic nature of the choices. I think it’s even more critical for non-healing support that the augmentation system gets it right. In a game like Ashes, there’s only so much you can do with the base abilities since there is a layer of progression built into the design. However, I do hope there is a good balance of individual as well as group effectiveness choices to keep these types of characters motivated to progress. Before I move on, I do have one other point to make about non-healing support and for that I’ll refer to my Dark Age days again. I know Intrepid is already going in this direction but wanted to reinforce. Please make non-healing support active participants on the battlefield. While I did enjoy my minstrel immensely, there were aspects of the gameplay that were purely passive and relegated me to “mana battery” status. At one point, I was grouping in a open world dungeon and told my party I needed to head to bed. They told me to just leave my character logged in with my mana regeneration “song” playing so they could keep farming the area we were in. It’s great to be needed, I suppose, but not like that. Non-healing support needs to have a reason to be fully engaged in the content – the more passive their role is, the less interesting they become to play.
Outro: Groovy Kind of MMORPG
Looking back, I appreciate my prior experiences with non-healing support very much. Not only did it give me a new appreciation for the more strategic facets of MMO gameplay but it also pushed me out of my comfort zone with the types of characters I chose to invest my time in. It is also very exciting to know that a game I already felt passionate about for other reasons includes this archetype in the mix. I do hope by covering this topic my feedback communicates how important the non-healing support classes should be in the next great MMO. Inclusion alone won’t be noteworthy enough – the role needs to be reinforced with dynamic elements that make the role relevant, customization options that enhance group and solo viability, and active gameplay mechanics that keep the role engaging to play. As always, I encourage you to reply and share your thoughts on this topic. Looking forward to hearing what you have to say about how these unsung heroes of the MMO genre can get their groove back.
This is your Ashen Herald…wishing you the best.
Have an idea for a topic to cover? Add me on Twitter @theashenherald and let me know!