With a whole lot of nothing on your way to nowhere.

One cannot easily express the joy of discovering that specific class in an MMO which just clicks. After time spent slogging along with the class which you think you ‘ought’ to be playing, or which you think would ‘make a nice change’, you reach that moment of despondency where you consider giving up the game. On a whim, you roll a class that you’d been avoiding, because it’s the flavour of the month perhaps, or a certain type of player is generally associated with the class, and you worry that you’ll be an accessory to that sort of reputation. Regardless of reason, you grudgingly roll a new character of that class. Like conciliatory sex, you’re not quite sure how you got started, and you’re determined not to enjoy yourself, but within five seconds you’re wondering what all the fuss was about, and five seconds after that you’re blissfully unaware of anything at all, utterly enraptured as you are by the endorphins of the event.

In the case of the MMO, you’re transformed in an instant from the unnamed father on Cormac McCarthy’s road, into Julie Andrews cresting a sunlight-dappled hill, grass rippling beneath the breeze’s gentle stroke.

‘And the hills are aliiiiiiiive, with the sound of slaughterrrrrrrr!’

And your partner stares in horror at you from their place on the sofa, as, with arms raised, you unleash this shrill falsetto, which threatens to shatter their teeth and your PC’s monitor, and sets half the cats in the neighbourhood into a frenzy of angry confused copulation.

Such was my pleasure at trying the Slayer class in Tera, where before I’d been busy grinding away with the Lancer, which is the game’s tanking class and, shock of shocks, also in short supply for dungeon runs towards the end-game.

Here’s a tale, tell me if you’ve heard it before:

Tera has issues with players trying to form groups for dungeons; the primary block is the fact that the game’s de facto tanking class, the Lancer, is in short supply. Lancers queue for only a few minutes before they’re assigned to a dungeon group, whereas it’s reported that every other class will face a wait of forty to sixty minutes. Why the shortage of tanks? Well, it doesn’t help that the Lancer is the only classic tank at the moment, whereas the other tanking class, the Warrior, is an evasion tank which is both a lot harder to play and a lot harder to heal, outside of expert hands. This is due to change in a future patch, but for the time being, the Lancer is *the* tank. One class, out of a pool of eight.

I think it’s also fair to say that the levelling game in Tera is an unabashed grind, with fights getting progressively longer as the players rise in level; Darwin’s great theory is alive and well in Tera, as evidenced by natural selection favouring those mobs who evolve extra zeros on the end of their hit points. And in the fine tradition of MMOs, the Lancer is a complete slug when it comes to the inevitable solo levelling grind. No DPS stance is granted because, one assumes, it would be considered unfair on the poor DPS classes, who don’t have an alternative role to switch to. So the Lancer class has the rougher responsibility of trying to be a tank in dungeons, and the tougher time of trying to level as a tank outside of dungeons. I mean, it seems fair to me, that’s why we see so many tanks at the end ga… oh wait, I think I might see a problem. I think I’ve got it… I… no. Wait! Yes. Wait! No. No. Yes. No… Hang on. Ye… Mmm. Yes! Got it! Now I could be wrong, but I think this could be one of those issues that’s been reported –here and elsewhere around the blogosphere– on and off, for the past six or more years.

Next up: Why do players solo in MMOs (when they can’t get a group as a DPS class, and tanking is a thankless tedious grind for ninety percent of the player’s time)? Gee, we’ll have to get our greatest experts of expertness on that one right away, Bob.

To my mind the MMO genre as a whole isn’t dying, but it does seem as though it has been floundering for some time. Pundits keep coming up with reasons as to why: ‘Games cost too much to develop’; ‘MMOs are too complicated’; ‘Players are fickle’; ‘The subscription model is outdated’; ‘The subscription model is the One True way to pay for an MMO and F2P is destroying everything’. And on and on. For me it’s this: for whatever reason, a staggering number of MMOs simply refuse to unlearn old falsehoods.

8 thoughts on “With a whole lot of nothing on your way to nowhere.

  1. Vic Sandman

    YES! You hit the nail on the head in this post. The one reason I don’t play MMORPGs as much as I used to, relegating myself to MMO shooters, is that RPGs end up forcing the player into a constrained DPS-Tank-Heal role. Perhaps if classes were all fairly solo-able, MMOs would be more fun to play. It’s bloody genius. Alert the press, we have a revolutionary idea on our hands.

    In all seriousness, if more classes were soloable, I’d sure be playing MMORPGs a lot more.

  2. darkeye

    If only there was a game on the horizon, where you could test-drive classes at max level right off the mark, with all skills, traits, gear and mods unlocked…

  3. Pardoz

    Ah, if only there were a game releasing in a month or so which threw the pathetic and worn out concept of “character class” onto the dung-heap of history where it so richly belongs (right next to concepts like “crotch floss armour” and “combat pasties”). A game that let you change your build and gear on the fly, tuning it for different encounters and situations, that let you change from a solo build to something designed to mesh with the group you find yourself in…

  4. Melmoth Post author

    @Vic Sandman: Not all games force us into those roles, obviously, but it’s surprising how many still observe the nonsense that the tank shall play like a tank at all times, even outside of a group.

    @darkeye, Pardoz: Be careful, games on the horizon may appear more messianic than they actually are.

    Warhammer Online was going to be a revolution in design too. And many of the MMOs that followed it. They all fell upon the same old traps, in one way or another.

  5. Pardoz

    @Melmoth – Oh, I’m quite aware of the gap between pre-release hype and launch-day delivery. Thing is, I’ve had some hands-on time, and the game really *does* toss “character class” concept into the dungheap of ’70s flashbacks I wish I could forget, and I actually *was* able to switch from a CC-oriented kite-and-shoot solo build to a group healing/support build in two mouse-clicks, then further fine tune by adding some CC back in when the group I was with found itself in need of an extra root or two to make a fight easier. I’m fairly confident that if the weekend had run a day longer I could’ve added a reasonable MMO forum poster* build to my repertoire without much trouble.

    *”Stand around being so annoying that anybody within earshot is drawn to punch you repeatedly in the face and ignore everyone else.”

    That said, I’m quite aware that on launch day lots of people will still be typing “LFG, need [skillset X] tank, [skillset Y] healer, [skillset Z] DPS”, but that’s the nature of the MMO-playing beast. What we need is not so much a Messiah as a new Chosen People…

  6. Anjin

    This! A thousand times this! I would kiss you on the mouth if you were at hand. If you’re even in southern California, drop me a line and I’ll arrange something.

    Of course, the stupidly long development times on MMOs mean that by the time some game has discovered what to do right/wrong, they are already years into building the game.

  7. nugget

    Yes yes yes yes yes! This!

    While it wasn’t exactly about slaughtering, Forsaken World’s bard class was the most recent one to do this for me.

    Once you get past a certain point, once you get into the flow of it, the class just WORKS. And it’s *beautiful*.

    …personally, I always know I’ve achieved my ‘zomg you guys are brilliant I love this class to tiny little battered bits’ in a game once I start writing guides for said class.

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