Wednesday, February 14, 2007
Adding new classes to World of Warcraft
One of the major points of criticism against the Burning Crusade expansion for World of Warcraft was that it didn't add any new classes to the game. I'm not sure that adding new classes to World of Warcraft would be a good idea, because I'm not sure what these new classes are supposed to do. People asking for new classes never get much further than proposing the name of the class, "monk", "bard", or "necromancer", without any consideration what the function of such a class in the game would be.
Of course it would be easy to design a monk or necromancer class. A monk would be a melee fighter, low armor, high damage, using a variety of asian-looking martial arts special moves. He would use no weapons, or fist weapons, or maybe a staff, and he would be wearing cloth armor. But if you look at his *function* in a group, he would work very much like a rogue. Adding a monk to the game would dilute the function of the rogue class, and it is hard to say why a game would really need both. The necromancer would have the same problem against the warlock class; why would you need a skeleton-summoning dot caster if you already have a demon-summoning dot caster?
Fact is that combat in WoW, as in most other MMORPG is very simple. That limits the number of possible functions in a fight. There is damage dealing, damage withstanding, healing, aggro control, and crowd control (taking an enemy out of combat for some time). Every single ability in World of Warcraft performs or modifies one of these 5 functions. A 5-man group needs one tank (damage withstanding and aggro control), one healer, and up to 3 damage dealer. Crowd control is a bonus, and often depends on the type of mob you are fighting, with different classes having crowd control over different types of mobs. Adding new classes to World of Warcraft would either not do anything useful, or destroy the usefulness of another class.
If you create a new character class, like a bard, you'll have to decide which of these functions he is going to perform. He'll probably have songs, which to be logical would be area of effect abilities. But what should these songs do? Should they damage enemies? Heal friends? Perform crowd control by making enemies fall asleep? Or all of the above? But the hardest part would be balancing: how much damage would these songs do? If a new class is less powerful in performing its functions than an old class, there won't be much interest. And if it is more powerful, the players of the old class will complain. If you make a bard whose songs deal more AoE damage than a mage can, plus has AoE crowd control and healing, nobody is going to want to play a mage any more.
If designing a new class is possible at all, you would need to do it in reverse: first decide on the classes function, and then find a name and lore to fit that function.
In the early design stages of World of Warcraft there was talk of "hero classes". Many MMORPG have some sort of system where after a certain level your character can switch to a more specialized class. But WoW already has the talent system for that. We don't need the possibility for a warrior to become a "defender", "sword master", or "berzerker", because he already has the possibility to specialize in protection, arms, or fury. And the talent system has the advantage that for a cost you can respec.
The only way to add more powerful classes to the game would be to make them a reward for playing a lot. Just like a level 60 character in full tier 3 epic gear was a lot more powerful than the average level 60 non-raider, you could open up new job titles and abilities to people who reached the level cap and performed some very hard tasks. The problem in that is that already the "leet" raiders are causing more of a negative backlash than positive attraction to the game. If Blizzard made hero classes available only to the no-lifer hardcore players, the other 95+% of players wouldn't be happy at all. Creating content only for a minority is never a good sales strategy.
So it was probably a wise idea to opt out of making new classes for the Burning Crusade. But Blizzard is probably going to have to add new classes due to popular demand in the next expansion. A new continent and 10 more levels just won't cut it next year. Their best bet is probably to design one new class each for tanking, healing, and damage dealing, and then do their best to balance them with the existing classes. That won't be an easy task, and somebody will always complain about the result.