Thursday, April 17, 2008

Classless Talent

Traditional Class roles for fantasy adventure stories have been stagnant for almost seventy years. The old class standbys of Healer, Magic User and Warrior along with racial templates for Elves, Dwarves and Humans have been adopted by RPG’s with almost religious devotion. With little exception have these basic ideas been changed, and familiarity breeds intuitive understanding. While the differences between D&D and WoW exist, most players who have never played WoW but have some D&D table-top experience would be able to recognize the class divisions with ease.

As WoW has shown, traditional use of class and race can work, but the vast complexities of modern video games are making balancing these multiple classes much harder. While I personally disagree with change for change’s sake, the current use of classes, and their respective talents in regards to balance issues, makes me wonder if there is a better way.

The current system seems to perpetually nerf and buff specific class talents with each update, hoping for the illusion of balance by continuous change. One solution to this constant need to tweak is to remove talents from a game, leaving only core class abilities. I understand that removing all talents from a game would not be as apocalyptic as it appears, as very few games offer all available class talent trees in such a balanced way as to see all branches used in the same frequency. Often, these talent tree paths are instead min-maxed to death, and you simply choose the best PvE or PvP talent tree available to your class based on your preference of PvE or PvP.

The removal of talents would not really solve this illusion of choice though. Even without talents, traditional class roles would still force players to adopt a specific role central to group play, with the only real choice being PvE or PvP speced.

What has intrigued me is the idea of retaining talents, but removing classes from a game. If talents were comparable to weapons, meaning they were created and balanced based on each other as opposed to their intended class roles, we would add some real choices into character progression. Limiting how deep or wide each character explores the different talent trees would become a completely personal choice for each gamer, without artificially limiting their access to talent tree content with class barriers.

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