For the next Guest Editorial here on the ‘Hub, we have another submission from community member Sylvinstar. This time around, he does a bit of nontraditional build theory-crafting. Rather than drilling down into any one Guild Wars 2 profession or build in particular, he discusses some of the behind-the-scenes decision making that goes into worthwhile character builds.
Couch Time for Class Building Junkies
While playing around with the Guild Wars 2 skill tool the other day, I had one of those ‘light-bulb moments’ (that’s epiphany for those of us what like fancy wurds). I came to the realization that, whether I am playing Horizons with its wide open multiclass system, Guild Wars 1 with its slightly more limited multi-classing, World of Warcraft with its more linear tree system, or RIFT and its hybrid tree system, I generally approach the building of my characters’ abilities/traits/skills in almost the same way. After coming to this realization, my terribly analytical brain flooded me with questions like, “what about the rest of the MMO community, do their approaches remain similar from game to game? What approaches do they use and why?”
Before I get into the way I approach class building, I’d like to quickly address something that I feel drives the initial, core decisions I make regarding class selection. What might that be? I am glad you asked.
And the most important thing is…
Once I have decided to play an MMO, I begin eagerly ‘opening up’ each class archetype like a greedy child at Christmas to see what goodness is inside. While I generally stay away from straight-up damage casters, (the only thing I get excited about ‘nuking’ is a chicken patty), I can be lured to archetypes I normally don’t play by one thing: utility.
*Cue golden lights and trumpets*
I am a sucker for utility.
What I value most in a profession is its degree of flexibility, its ability to provide opportunities and respond to needs in a variety of situations. I think part of this is due to the way my personality is wired. Put in a sports context: I don’t know why, but I’ve always gotten more satisfaction from being a part of the assist, verses being the one that actually scored the point.
The Druid class in Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, with its reasonable damage, crowd control, buffs, healing, and pet is a prime example of the class archetype I prefer. I rarely turned heads with my damage in Vanguard, but when a pull went bad, I often managed to DoT mobs, throw out timely heals when the main healer got agro, and drop roots down on adds. I rarely made the finishing blow in an encounter, but I often helped the encounter go more smoothly, pulling many pick-up dungeon groups out of a variety of bad situations.
Generally, it is my preference for utility that will help me make a choice for what archetype and class I’d like to play in a new MMO. Once I’ve picked the archetype for my ‘main’ in any MMO, I’ve only just begun the process; my character still needs a ‘build’.
Building it bigger, faster, stronger – sort of
Creating a class build from any archetype, even a class from an archetype that is typically played in a DPS role, can be rewarding for me if the game allows for variations within the class. RIFT and Guild Wars 1 are good examples of MMOs that handle class building in a way that allows even historically DPS centric classes many different viable and interesting builds.
After picking a class, it is most important to me to try to build that class – through whatever skill or ability system the particular game allows - in a way that I know will keep me interested in playing it for a long time. As an example, let’s take the thief/rogue class. In most games this archetype favors high damage builds, whether burst or DPS, to the exclusion of all other build types for that class. Even when playing a DPS class such as this, it doesn’t matter to me if the damage numbers don’t crunch out to be optimal DPS.
I made and played a stun-lock rogue in World of Warcraft from launch day on, before that build type even earned its moniker. I understand what motivates damage junkies – the quest to pump out optimum damage has its own siren call, but there’s nothing more boring to me than 80 levels of spamming fireball, or repeatedly mashing keys 1-6 in a rogue’s DPS build skill rotation.
I don’t care that I lose 2% efficiency by dropping one skill in favor of another. What matters to me is what I can do with the class. While I also understand some players get a kick out of playing a similar build to most others, and seeing if they can play it more skillfully, I tend to get more fun out of building a character to play in unusual or atypical ways. In short, I enjoy building a character that defies accepted build conventions while still remaining functionally sound for my gameplay style. Now, on to the details…
I realized that I typically start by giving the different types of skills in my chosen class an overview. Most MMO’s with tree based skill systems make it easy to see what build types are available up front. If I am playing a strict, tree-based character build system, I will often look to the tree that has the most utility abilities thrown in with damage. If the MMO is like Horizons, RIFT, EverQuest 2, or Guild Wars 2, where abilities from different branches (or abilities from totally different archetypes in Horizons’ case) can be combined to make a build, this process takes much longer. But therein lies the fun.
Once I have a grasp of what is available, I think about what I would like to do with the class within the confines of what the game allows. In a way it is like searching for a theme or a main idea for my class. Do I want my character to be a master of control and debuffs, or do I want them to be a mixture of group friendly buffs and a little damage?
Sometimes I am heavily influenced by a line of abilities that provide unique and or situational benefits. If I feel their benefits outweigh their lack of efficiency in damage (if I am playing a DPS archetype) I will include those abilities in my character build. I often picture myself playing in-game with the abilities, and thinking of situations where I might use them. I’ll often weigh ability’s cooldowns against its power, or how much it could affect battles, either through control, damage, or benefit to the group. Once I settle on the first few abilities it gets easier. From there, I look for abilities that have synergies with the ones I’ve already chosen, either with the intent of strengthening the strong points of my build, or with the intent of shoring up some weaknesses that any of my previous choices may have left me.
A quick D&D comparison would be creating a Paladin that had a low Charisma stat, but very high intelligence. For most campaigns this would create a bit of a challenge as my Paladin would not be at optimum levels in some of his typical core roles, but it would allow my Paladin to do be more versatile and useful in ways that he normally wouldn’t. For instance, allowing him the ability to use magic rods due to his high intelligence (house-ruled in of course).
Bringing this analogy back full circle, depending on the MMO and its build systems, this approach to building classes has varying rates of success.
I would argue that a key component to long term gamer loyalty in future MMOs will be the ability of that game’s character build system to offer a multitude of viable builds within any and all of its available class archetypes. I haven’t been 100% sold on all of the ability choices for all the classes I have tried in Guild Wars 2, but I feel that the system currently in place has the potential to give players many viable character builds within each archetype.
But enough about me and my approach to character builds. My questions for you, the Guild Wars 2 community, are:
1) What do you value in your favorite class archetypes and why?
2) What is your approach when creating builds for a given class?