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its over nine thousand

March 18, 2009

As you’re aware (hopefully) the winners of our recent poll are in. First place was a tie, with ‘Hybrids classes’ and ‘Balance between mirrors’ both getting 13 votes. Second place was ‘Using shields versus greatweapons’ with a very close 12 votes. It was a pretty surprising result to me because early on our second place winner was at 9 votes and was tied with ‘Balance between mirrors’ before ‘Hybrid classes’ shot up in the standings to tie for first place. For some time yesterday the three were all tied for first, which lead me to make an alteration to the winning conditions. Instead of posting two of the subjects, I will be covering all three topics. However, because of the additional workload I will be postponing the ‘Balance between mirrors’ article until tomorrow. This was chosen because it is the longest article as well as being the easiest article to expand. It will cover the following pairings: Engineer / Magus, Swordmaster / Black Orc, White Lion / Marauder and Bright Wizard / Sorceress. Bright Wizard / Sorceress has been added to expand the post and was chosen completely at random. Today’s article will contain ‘Using shields versus greatweapons’ and ‘Hybrid classes’ in that order.

The portion on greatweapons and shields is going to cover tanks roles in PVP and RVR. It will include discussion of abilities that are only accessible when using a shield, or a greatweapon and the impact these abilities have on your effectiveness. This will cover all six tanking classes and their respective abilities, but it will not be a comprehensive analysis of each class. PVE is left out for a very simple reason; If you are PVE tanking any notable monster a shield is going to reduce the spike damage you take and increase your durability, but if you are not tanking, or are tanking something that deals trivial damage, any increase in output is preferable. I will however be going over the positive and negative aspects of both greatweapons and shields in general, which does have some impact on PVE. As mentioned above this topic came in second in our poll, but will be listed first in this article.

The second portion of this article will be about hybrid classes. It will contain information on hybrids in general and what it takes to be a hybrid class. This will cover all hybrid classes within the game in a somewhat loose manner, but it will cover those hybrid archetypes in more detail. The available roles within WAR are: healer, tank, ranged DPS, melee DPS, melee support and ranged support. For a class to be hybrid they must have at least two of these options available. This means that the article will not be covering the following classes: Marauder, White Lion, Witch Hunter, Witch Elf, Choppa, Slayer, Bright Wizard, Sorceress, Engineer, Magus. All other classes have at least two roles they can perform. I’ll discuss the success, or failure of classes as hybrids and how to learn from the successes when dealing with the failures. Beyond this I intend to go over the impact hybrid classes have on leveling and ‘pick-up’ gameplay as well as trying to dispel some myths about ‘true hybrids’ and their place in the game.

If you’re more interested in one topic than the other I recommend that you scroll down and find that portion of the article. I’ll try to make this as easy as possible by dividing this in a coherent manner. If you’d like to jump ahead please look at the table of contents below and search for either the section title, or the annotation before it (IE: I.a, II.c).

Contents
I. Shields vs. Greatweapons
-I.a Tanking Roles
–I.a1 The Offensive Tank
–I.a2 The Defensive Tank
-I.b Mechanical Comparison
–I.b1 Pros and Cons of Shields
–I.b2 Shield-Only Abilities
–I.b3 Pros and Cons of Greatweapons
–I.b4 Greatweapon-Only Abilities
–I.b5 Greatweapon Tactics
-I.c Skill Level
-I.d Final Thoughts, Shields versus Greatweapons
II. Hybrid Classes
-II.a Class Roles
-II.b ‘True’ Hybrids
-II.c The Reality of Hybrids
–II.c1 Successful Hybrids
–II.c2 Failed Hybrids
–II.c3 Learning From Success
-II.d Hybrid Focus and Impact
-II.e Conclusions, Hybrid Classes

I. Shields vs. Greatweapons

There has been a great deal of debate over the usage of two-handed weapons, dubbed ‘greatweapons’ in WAR, by the tanking classes. The primary reason for this discussion is that Mythic has put forth a great deal of effort to expand a tanks role in PVP when compared to other MMOs on the market. Mythic has also converted the ‘block’ that shields produce from a form of mitigation into universal avoidance and thereby greatly increasing its worth against large bursts of damage. Another concern is the damage system in place within WAR, which unlike many more familiar games is less reliant on the weapon which you use to attack and much more reliant on your characters statistical values. This divergence creates a situation where the increase in output you receive from switching to the use of a large two-handed weapon is greatly diminished. This is particularly apparent when dealing with the ability system in WAR, which normalizes all weapon speeds regardless of weapon type. While mechanically it would seem that shields are the clear winner it is shortsighted to end this argument there. To do so would ignore the other systems within the game, such as tactic slots, which may grant additional benefits when using two-handed weapons. There are also abilities which may only be performed while only equipping one of these mutually exclusive item types. To fully understand and weigh the worth of greatweapons you first have to understand the roles that the tanking archetypes can perform.

I.a Tanking Roles

The tanking archetypes in WAR are not ‘pure’ classes. They are in fact hybrid classes, which have the option to devote themselves to either a role as a tank, or as melee DPS. However, because of their nature as hybrids they will always retain a portion of both roles in their gameplay. For instance all tanking classes can utilize the abilities ‘Taunt’ and ‘Guard’ which allow them to absorb a portion of the damage that a friendly player takes as well as greatly increasing the damage you deal to an opponent. While it may not seem like much, these abilities when properly used define the archetype and separate it from the ‘pure’ melee classes, which almost universally deal more damage. The secondary aspect to this is the ‘heavy armor’ equipment type given to all tanks, which has an inherently higher armor value than other classes receive. While this higher armor does not help against magical attacks, it does make all tanking classes more resilient against physical attacks than melee DPS.

I.a1 The Offensive Tank

The offensive tanking role is what is commonly known as a shock trooper. Shock troops must be able to rush into enemy lines and sustain a great deal of damage, while causing as much damage as possible to the opponents rear line. In large scale battles the amount of damage sustained by this type of tactic is extreme, while the size of the back line is very large. In these situations your primary goal is not to cause literal damage, but instead to confuse and disrupt the enemy, while being able to sustain as much damage as possible. However, the opposite is true of skirmishes, which may present little to no threat to someone built to tank in large scale battles. In this case the battle will likely be more spread out limiting your ability to interfere with group mobility; Therefore, it is more important to cause as much disruption to important individual units as possible, while the importance of defense is greatly diminished. This creates a duality when dealing with the role of shields and greatweapons in PVP combat.

In large scale combat, or what the player base calls RVR, an offensive tank needs to be geared defensively. This may sound counter-intuitive, but it’s very sound strategy. When dealing with a very good defense, the best offense is typically to be better defensively. This allows you to subvert their strength and gradually press your advantage. In WAR this allows tanks to penetrate enemy lines more deeply with the use of abilities like ‘Hold The Line’ which roughly halves incoming ranged damage, but may only be used with a shield. The tanks are then expected to utilize various crowd control and AOE abilities to distract the enemies back line, as well as potentially forcing the enemies front line to collapse. In the case of sieges this also allows tanks to man battering rams with a higher success rate while the defending army pours oil down from above. Furthermore due to the inherent PVE nature of the conclusion of such sieges it allows these tanks to easily handle the keep lord waiting within.

This is not the case in skirmishes, scenarios, or what can be referred to as normal PVP, where an offensive tank should be geared to deal as much damage as possible. Here the tank is not the only one capable of pressing the front lines and as an extremely durable unit it is also very unlikely that it will be given high priority for attack. This is compounded by the higher freedom of movement in these battles limiting the potential of a tanks ability to disrupt groups. As mentioned earlier this diminished reliance on disruption and hardiness results in the increased importance of dealing damage. In many ways because people will be less likely to attack a tank in small scale PVP, it follows that a tank should concentrate on becoming a larger threat. By producing a larger threat you may force the opponent into attacking you and while this may seem dangerous even when built offensively a tank is much more durable than the other archetypes within the game. A tank with the opponents attention is a tank which is performing its duty.

I.a2 The Defensive Tank

Unlike the offensive tanking role, the defensive role is fairly straightforward. The role of a defensive tank, often called a guardian, is to react to the opponents attack and defend the other units in its group. To do this a tank much be quick and attentive, while also being able control opponents and support their comrades. This consists of creating separation between the attackers and their targets and ultimately killing them. This is done with the use of snares, knock-downs, knock-backs and of course the ability to guard friendly units and taunt opposing units to reduce their output. While performing this role the guardian is considered an extremely low priority target and almost all damage taken will be due to AOE attacks, or the shared damage which is received while guarding another player. The sole exception to this is during sieges, where defensive tanks are used to block passages by forming a wall.

In normal PVP situations it is very unlikely that a tank that is built defensively will be able to quickly deal with threats to healers and other vulnerable units. Instead it is best to strengthen your offensive potential, which will reduce the amount of time you are required to focus on individual targets. This will be enhanced by the fact that the opponent is unlikely to attack the tank directly coupled with the inability to remove taunt without attacking the user. The fact is that personal defense is such a low priority when playing this role that any sacrifice is worth making as long as it increases your offensive potential as long as defending is your only goal. Flexibility will suffer though, so many tanks opt to maintain some defenses so as to not cripple themselves if the battle should shift.

The exception to this is sieges. In sieges a defensive tanks role is to put on a shield. The reason is that like sieges on the offensive, this is not PVP, but RVR. The goal here is to stop shock troops. The only way to do this is to assemble a defensive wall to block their path. As with most walls your strength is gauged in how much wear and tear you can sustain while still standing. Limiting your personal defenses in any way is not a good idea as you will present a weak link for the opposing group to concentrate on. This is not a normal PVP situation however and should not be treated as such, siege defense and group defense are completely different concepts.

I.b Mechanical Comparison

With strategic precedence covered a comparison of the mechanics of shields and weapons should be made. In WAR the shield is not a source of mitigation. It offers no reduction to damage taken such as armor, or a flat reduction to incoming damage. Instead shields allow you to occasionally avoid incoming attacks. The move from mitigation to avoidance shifts the value and importance of block in PVP. This is enhanced by its universal nature allowing a tank with a shield to avoid any type of incoming attack, as long as it strikes the tank from the front. Meanwhile, the reliance on weapon damage is diminished, particularly due to normalization of special attacks. Normalization in this context is the removal of a weapons speed from the damage equation of special attacks. This means that slow hard hitting weapons don’t cause any more damage when using special attacks than quick weapons which cause less damage per hit. The primary concern here is that there is not a separate normalization for one-handed and two-handed weapons, which makes the difference in game between these weapons much lower than would be expected.

I.b1 Pros and Cons of Shields

The advantages of shields in WAR are almost purely defensive. Shields in WAR provide avoidance from magical attacks and physical attacks, regardless of range. To be precise they provide [Block rating / ( level * 7.5 + 50 ) * 20]% avoidance, or [Block rating / 17.5]% at rank 40. This avoidance reduces incoming spike damage and is compounded by the other type avoidance for that type of attack (Parry, Disrupt, or Dodge). It also allows access to various abilities depending on class, as well as some core abilities such as the rank 2 tank archetype morale ‘Shield Wall’ and the ability ‘Hold The Line’ which greatly increases your avoidance against ranged attacks.

The disadvantages are a bit harder to place. One of the primary downfalls of avoidance is its unreliability. Unlike mitigation, avoidance relies on the random number generator within the game to determine whether or not something takes place. For instance with an avoidance percentage of 50%, you still have a 1.5% chance of being hit six times sequentially. This may not seem like a large percentage, but as many experienced tanks will attest it is often events with tiny fractions of a percent chance of happening which result in death. A problem more specific to PVP is the facing mechanic. Since avoidance only applies to attacks which come from in front of you, attackers will concentrate their effort on getting behind you. If you are dealing with multiple attackers of sufficient skill you will be unable to keep all of them in front of you, which will greatly diminish the value of your avoidance.

I.b2 Shield-Only Abilities

Besides the normal positive and negative aspects of shields, individual classes also must consider their class abilities which require them to use shields. This is a brief overview of those abilities.

Ironbreaker: The Ironbreaker only has three class abilities which require the use of a shield: Shield of Reprisal, Shield Sweep, and Oathstone. Shield of Reprisal is a knock-down which has very limited use. This is due to it requiring a block to occur before it can be used. This greatly limits its use in PVP, though it will get use in RVR where tanks are likely to be hit often. Shield Sweep is a three-target cone AOE which does decent damage. Oathstone is a defensive ability which greatly increases your block rate and deals damage to any target who attacks you and has their attack blocked.
Swordmaster: Swordmaster’s have a single ability which requires a shield, which is Crushing Advance. This functions as both a spell interupt as well as a self-buff which increases both block rate and armor value, making it useful in almost any situation.
Knight of the Blazing Sun: The Knight also only has a single ability which requires a shield: Shield Rush. This is purely defensive increasing the Knight’s block value.
Blackguard: Blackguard’s have two abilities that requires shields, which are Spiteful Slam and None Shall Pass. Spiteful Slam is their mirror of Ironbreaker’s Shield of Reprisal, however it is also the classes’ only knock-down ability making it much more notable. None Shall Pass is another defensive ability which increases the tanks block rate while dealing damage back to attackers. The difference here is that None Shall Pass is a channeled ability and while the tank can move, jumping or taking any other action will cancel the effect.
Black Orc: Black Orc’s also have two abilities that require shields: Can’t Hit Me! and Tuffer ‘n Nails. Can’t Hit Me! is the same as Blackguard’s None Shall Pass, but it has the secondary side effect of reducing run speed as well. Tuffer ‘n Nails is a simple defensive tool which increases armor.
Chosen: The Chosen is unique in having no abilities that directly require the use of a shield.

I.b3 Pros and Cons of Greatweapons

With greatweapons the advantages are again straightforward, this time they are purely offensive. While the damage increase is not as apparent as in most games, it is still a damage increase. One of the best arguments for the use of greatweapons is that being a very durable archetype the opposing group is much less likely to attack you. This allows you to take that small increase in damage and apply it to a very large space of time, thus producing very substantial damage. However because this increase in damage is smaller, there is a higher reliance on abilities which requires the use of greatweapons. While shields usually offer defensive abilities, greatweapons usually offer unique offensive options. Because of this the marginal increase in damage often becomes much more substantial.

The disadvantage of course is that you are losing avoidance. This is particularly true against ranged attacks, where you are giving up Hold The Line which greatly reduces incoming damage when advancing on a group of ranged units. You will also be taking greater spike damage from targets, which is again tied to the loss of avoidance. In one-versus-one situations this is also a disadvantage as you will be able to keep targets in front of you more consistently, increasing the worth of the avoidance you are sacrificing.

I.b4 Greatweapon-Only Abilities

Ironbreaker: Here Ironbreaker’s are given two abilities: Cave-In and Grudge-Born Fury. Cave-In is long knock-down ability which also does high damage and can be used at any time, making it very useful in PVP. Grudge-Born Fury is a channeled multi-hit attack attack with a very high critical hit rate depending on Grudge level. Again this is an asset in PVP allowing you to deal higher burst damage.
Swordmaster: Swordmaster has three attacks that require a greatweapon, these are Phoenix Wing, Ether Dance and Wall of Darting Steel. Phoenix Wing is a frontal-cone AOE attack which is useful for causing disruption to large groups of enemies. Ether Dance is another high damage channeled attack, this time dealing magical damage, but again mainly used to increase burst damage for pressure. Wall of Darting Steel is fairly unique in that it’s a defensive ability. In fact this ability is a mirror of None Shall Pass and Can’t Hit Me!, only instead of a shield it requires a greatweapon and causes Parry, rather than Block. This makes it useless against ranged attacks, but is still excellent against melee. *Wall of Darting Steel also increases dodge and disrupt, mimicing the effect of increase shield block, making statements regarding use against ranged misleading. This was due to clerical error.
Knight of the Blazing Sun: The Knight again only gains a single ability in Arcing Swing. This is another frontal cone AOE attack, but this time it comes with an attached effect which reduces the Wounds of those hit. Again this is great for causing disruption to large groups of enemies, though the decreased Wounds makes it more useful against single targets as well.
Blackguard: Blacguard surprisingly only has a single ability as well: Crimson Death. This is a player-based AOE attack with a 30 foot range that also increases the chance that those hit will be critically hit by future attacks by up to 10%. As with other AOE attacks this is great for disruption.
Black Orc: Black Orc’s also have two abilities that require greatweapons, these are Down Ya Go and Da Big ‘Un. Down Ya Go is, like Cave-In a long knock-down which also causes decent damage. This is the only knock-down that Black Orc has access to, making it a very important ability. Da Big ‘Un is another frontal cone AOE attack that again is very good for pressure.
Chosen: Chosen has a single ability which requires a greatweapon. They make up for it by having the best ability that requires a greatweapon in Rending Blade. This attack can be used as much as a player likes and deals magical damage in a 30 foot radius around the tank, the same range at which they can reduce targets magical resistance. This is as of 1.2 for future reference as many in the community believe this ability has thrown off game balance in favor of the Chosen class.

I.b5 Greatweapon Tactics

As mentioned previously, the normal damage gain from a greatweapon is not that substantial. For certain classes however there is another layer to this, which are tactics which give you a static increase when using a greatweapon. Those classes are: Ironbreaker, Swordmaster, Black Orc and Chosen. These either grant an increase in critical hit rate, or a flat increase in damage done. In either case this produces better throughput for these classes when using two-handed weapons. All four of these classes also have excellent abilities that require two-handed weapons, which makes the addition of these tactics very useful. It is also important to point out that there are tactics for shield use as well. All tanks have at least a tactic to increase block, with the exception of Black Orc which has two and Chosen and Knight which have none. These must also be considered, but are less routinely taken for PVP than their greatweapon counterparts. In any decision between greatweapons and shields these tactics should be considered in your overall tactic layout as they all have a large impact on utility.

I.c Skill Level

The tanking classes diverge greatly on what they can do with greatweapons, or with shields. Some of the classes gain a great deal with one, some gain almost nothing. When these very mechanical issues of tanking roles and shield block rates and normalization formulas are ruled out all you’re left with is the player behind the controls. Now the discussion has to take into account technical gameplay aspects, such as circle-strafing which has been talked about a great deal previously, or even how to apply pressure against an opposing team. It even has to look at why tanks being attacked last plays such a big role in the outcome of this debate. This isn’t only about the tanks personal skill level, but also the skill level of the opponents that tank is going to fight. Disorganized opposition will often attack low priority targets. Highly skilled opponents will often focus crowd control on tanks with shields and deal with them later, knowing they have no small-scale impact. This change in skill level alters much of what happens within the game.

Opponent skill can be summed up into three main categories: Movement and positioning, gameplay knowledge and priority. Movement and positioning is important here because as mentioned before you can not block attacks made from behind your character. It is even more important because when facing multiple enemies you can not keep all of them in front of you. If you are able to it means that they are not skilled with their movement. Gameplay knowledge isn’t nearly as important as it mostly deals with their personal knowledge of their own class and yours and what abilities they and you should be using. If someone is simply horrible, they’re not a threat, if they have any sense of gameplay knowledge they are a threat. Priority is notable as was detailed earlier in dealing with skilled players attacking tanks last. Even an offensively geared tank takes longer to kill than the other archetypes in the game. Having lower priority functions as a defensive buffer, while switching to a greatweapon can often increase your priority and thereby decrease the priority of those around you. Lower skill-level players often completely ignore priority and randomly attack targets, often making shields much more useful in small scale battles, particularly low-level scenarios.

In regard to personal skill, this can be summed up in a similar way. The same three categories apply, though here gameplay knowledge is more important. You can not control your opponents skill-level, but you certainly can improve your own. The simple knowledge of where to be to fulfil your role in the battle is often the difference between a great mage and a glass cannon. The same is true of any tank. A defensively geared tank is going to be almost useless guarding the back lines. At the same time an offensively geared tank is going to be destroyed when rushing the front line in a massive RVR battle. Movement and positioning is still very important as your shield is only as good as your are at keeping opponents in front of you. Your shield does nothing if someone is behind you, it doesn’t even add armor usually. Priority here is also just as vital as your opponents priority skill. You need to be able to quickly pick up high damage targets and peel them off your groups support when on the defense and you need to be able to pick out healers and ranged DPS when on the offensive.

Someone can be a good defensive tank and a horrible offensive tank, or vice versa. This can change a lot of how they will effect the battle, or if they will have any meaningful impact. Someone with poor movement skills is not going to have the same efficiency with a shield as another play who has excellent movement skills. If a player does not know how and when to use some their classes’ abilities properly their productivity is going to drop. An opposing team attacks tanks before healers is going to increase the significance of donning a shield. There are a lot of factors that a player must weigh to determine if they should use a shield or a greatweapon. Their knowledge of how to use each is a fundamental part of this choice.

I.d Final Thoughts, Shields versus Greatweapons

The question posed in the poll resulting in this was this: Are tanks with two-handed weapons ‘loldps’ and useless in PVP? The answer is no. The fact is there is so much debate because both options are viable. In what can be viewed as pure PVP WAR follows suits with past MMOs in favoring tanks with an offensive focus. Where the divergance occurs is during RVR, which is a mix of PVE, tank walls and armies large enough that tanks become acceptable targets. Here is where the game actually favors shields. When you begin participating in pure PVP, such as scenarios, there is higher demand for tanks which can adequately perform a DPS role. Some classes are presented options when using greatweapons that makes the normally minimal increase in damage turn out to be a lot more useful. The only tank that does not follow this pattern is the Blackguard, whose single greatweapon-only ability is vastly inferior to those given to the other classes. Some other classes are actually rewarded with not only more damage, but also defensive and crowd-control abilities. These are the Black Orc, Swordmaster and Ironbreaker, two of which gain accessable knock-down abilities and the other gains a potent defensive shield. On the even more extreme side we have Chosen’s Rending Blade, which until it is adjusted in one way or another will keep Chosen ranked above the DPS classes as DPS. Not quite ‘loldps’ when you’re more durable than DPS and outputting more damage than them.

Still, having a shield is not useless. Putting on a shield does not mean that you must switch your gearing focus to be defensive. In many cases you may not even have to specialize your mastery tree in a defensive way. This can provide a great deal of flexibility to a tank, especially those who don’t gain many abilities with greatweapons. It allows that tank to switch roles while still providing decent damage and having access to their shield based abilities. This can be a boon to a class like Blackguard whose only knock-down requires them to have a shield on and block attacks. It may not be much, but at least the option is there, particularly when there is AOE around to provide you with attacks to block.

The real answer here is that both are useful. Shields are more useful in RVR, especially when defending against sieges. Greatweapons are more useful in PVP, where being able to put out offensive pressure against high priority targets is key. In PVE it’s unambiguous: If you are tanking and in danger of dying, you should use a shield; If you are not tanking something substantial, you should probably use a greatweapon. The next time you see a tank with a greatweapon and have an itch to imply that they might be retarded, take a step back and try to think more about how they’re playing and less about what they’re wearing. A bad player really is just a bad player, they might live twenty seconds longer, but they wouldn’t have made a larger impact if they had a shield equipped. Look at the tanks in the back line with shields equipped, they may not be dying needlessly, but they aren’t helping either. The advantages of greatweapons might not be as obvious as they are in other games, but they are enough that good players still find that deciding between greatweapons and shields is a difficult decision. There are some guidelines and it’s an easier choice for some classes, but ultimately this all falls under the weight of player skill. This is something you should put a lot of thinking into when deciding what to do with your tank. Just remember, tanks are hybrid classes. Never limit your own gameplay because of your shortsightedness.

II. Hybrid Classes

Hybrid classes have always been a source of disagreement between players. Some believe that hybrid classes should never perform better at a role than another class which can only perform that role. Others believe that the jack-of-all-trades nature of assuring that hybrids are kept beneath their ‘pure’ counterparts results in their rejection from hardcore gameplay. The second argument definitely holds more weight than the first, but it takes some serious consideration to find exactly where hybrids should fit into a game. There are really three ways to deal with this. The first option is to force a play-style by game design. This can be seen with the Archmage and Shaman classes, which while presented as a mix of ranged DPS and ranged healer are actually the ‘purest’ healers in the game and the least able to perform their secondary role. The second option is to limit gearing. The best example of this is in the pre-expansion release of World of Warcraft, where the different tier sets of class armor progressively limited hybrid classes to a solitary role. The third option is to limit the classes options by reducing how much a character can be customized. This is done by separating roles into different paths and not giving a player enough ‘points’ in character development to specialize in multiple roles. This allows for classes which are hybrids, but making it impossible for a single character to be an effective hybrid at any given time.

The third option leads to an interesting question. What is a hybrid class? A simple dictionary definition of ‘hybrid’ and ‘class’ is not sufficient as all classes are capable of doing more than one thing at once. The most accurate description is as follows: For a class to be a hybrid, it must be able to perform at least two roles. Now to find out who is and who is not a hybrid you have to know the roles available in a particular game. In WAR those roles are as follows: healing, tanking, ranged DPS, melee DPS, melee support and ranged support. The last two roles are specialized rolls, which will be explained later. It is important to remember however that being either melee support, or ranged support does not make a character hybrid by itself. In viewing those roles you’ll find that all healers and tanks are hybrids as are Squig Herder and Shadow Warrior. How effective are they as hybrids? How affective are hybrids in general? What’s the impact of hybrids on a game? Read on.

II.a Class Roles

The first thing that needs to be done is to go over the roles that classes can have within WAR. Some of these roles are fairly simple, like the DPS roles and healing. Some are more complex like the support roles and tanking. They are all singular roles however and the fact is that WAR has taken the third option in dealing with hybrids. Classes are not given enough mastery points to specialize in two roles at once. This is compounded by gear being itemized by stat value and not allowing dual gearing either. These actually both combine to cause the concerns of the third sentence in this article: attempts to create a true hybrid produce a character which is inferior to a ‘pure’ counterpart. So instead a hybrid is defined as above, a character who has the option between more than one role in the game.

Healer: A healer’s job is to keep other players alive. This is a very simple role, which can be fulfilled in several different ways. In WAR you’re presented with three types of healers: pure healers, flex healers and AOE healers. The pure healers are Archmage and Shaman. The flex healers are Rune Priest and Zealot. The AOE healers are Disciple of Khaine and Warrior Priest.

Tank: A tanks job to draw attention and absorb damage. In WAR tanks are also given group support and crowd control abilities to help define them and keep them relevent in PVP. Again there are three types: group support, stance based and warrior tanks. The group support tanks are Chosen and Knight of the Blazing Sun. The stance based tanks are Black Orc and Swordmaster. The ‘warrior’ tanks have nothing in common except a ‘rage’ like meter, they are Blackguard and Ironbreaker and beyond their meters they have nothing in common.

Melee DPS: These are simply damage dealing classes which deal their damage at close range. All of the tanks, Warrior Priest, Disciple of Khaine, Squig Herder and Shadow Warrior can perform this role. All other classes that can perform this role can only perform this role.

Ranged DPS: These again are simply damage dealing classes, but these do it from long range. Archmage, Zealot, Rune Priest, Shaman, Squig Herder and Shadow Warrior can perform this role. Again all other classes that can perform this role are pure classes.

Melee Support: This only applies to Warrior Priest and Disciple of Khaine. This role deals with abilities which convert damage done into healing. I must stress that this does not make a class a hybrid simply because they can deal damage and heal. This is its own unique role, which will be detailed later.

Ranged Support: This can be performed by Archmage, Shaman, Zealot and Rune Priest. This is the same role as Melee Support, only ranged. Again, this will be detailed later.

II.b ‘True’ Hybrids

Now that the roles are clearer we can move on to the concept of a true hybrid. The true hybrid is a class that can do two things with equal proficiency. This is where much of the debate about hybrid classes falls apart. People do not consider the limiting factors presented above and attempt to use true hybrids as a case for assuring that some classes are inferior at their available roles than other classes. There is an inherent fear of a class which can, for example, deal as much damage as a Bright Wizard while still being able to heal as well as a Rune Priest. This would be detrimental to maintaining balance, but it isn’t a rational fear. Again this is due to the limiting factors within the game. Realistically you would not be looking at something that can perform as well as two classes combined, but one that performs a bit worse than each at their individual roles, while performing both roles. This of course results in the old jack-of-all-trades analogy.

So, what happens if a class doesn’t perform one of its roles competitively? That’s actually a simple question, with a simple answer: the class is weeded out of high-end play. This goes back to the prevalence of high quality players gravitating towards min-max philosophies. The reason is that despite what many think, hybrid gameplay actually reduces your options within the game, rather than increasing them. By trying to increase the type of actions you can perform you wind up reducing the worth of those individual abilities and the situations in which your play set as a whole can be utilized become limited. This means that while a true hybrid character can function in a specific situation very well, a character who is more specialized can apply their tools to a broader array of situations efficiently.

The best example of why this is would be in PVP. When you are added to a group regardless of what you are playing you alter that groups dynamic. If they add another melee DPS they could be weighting their group towards assist-training. If they add another healer they could be weighting their group towards outlasting another group. They might not realize this is taking place, but from a strategic point of view their group is being refocused. Now take a character who is a true hybrid who can deal as much damage as it heals from range. There is a very small number of circumstances where you want a character who is not able to keep up with ranged DPS, while also not able to keep up with healers at healing. Due to healer balance against DPS this means that they will not be able to keep themselves up, nor will they be able to sufficiently help other targets being focused upon. At the same time the lowered damage will not be able to apply the same pressure that other ranged could. The uses become very limited when the group tries to plan an attack coherently, if they had a pure healer they would know they could play an outlast game, while if they had a pure ranged DPS they could go to focused nuking. Instead they don’t have sufficient power to do either and must play very cautiously. It’s important to note that this is not the same as the support roles, which damage and heal at the same time, which has other implications entirely.

II.c The Reality of Hybrids

The fact is these types of true hybrids don’t really have a place in WAR. Performing two roles interchangeably is captivating, but the mitigating factors in place prevent ‘true’ hybridization from becoming a viable objective. Instead the concept being able to switch roles should be weighted properly. WAR has successes and failures with its hybrid designs, but there are fewer hits than there are bombs. Some classes suffer from poorly designed mastery paths, while others simply aren’t given sufficient abilities to properly fulfill one of their classes roles. There are some good successes though, which definitely shed some light on what hybrids in WAR should look like.

II.c1 Successful Hybrids

Whenever there is discussion of hybrid classes, the two poster children always seem to pop up. Sadly, they always pop up for the wrong reason, leading to a lot of misunderstanding and poor assessments of what should be the two highlights of WAR’s class design. Those classes are Disciple of Khaine and Warrior Priest. First the myth of Grace / Sacrifice has to be dispelled: these trees consist of a single role, not two roles in a single ‘hybrid’ tree. This stems from the idea that because the classes produce two types of output that they are somehow a hybrid. Again, it must be reaffirmed that this is not the same as their healing role. Remember that that role as as an AOE healer in their Dark Rites and Salvation trees respectively. That role, much like their role as melee support is a single role and changing from this role requires changes in gear and tactics to switch role. At the same time, these classes have a very good choice of which they would like to perform and they can see a great deal of success at either role. Their role as AOE healers is very solid and while Warrior Priest excels more due to a tactic, which many would argue doesn’t belong in the game, both are very efficient. The same can be said of their melee support role and again while Disciple of Khaine pulls ahead due to a large disparity between Devour Essence and Sigmar’s Shield, it’s not enough to argue that the classes are not well balanced. The downside of course is that neither class can adequately perform their role as pure melee DPS. Two out of three, however, is a lot more than most classes can claim. In fact, most classes don’t have three options to decide from.

Now, a lot of people believe that these are the only two successful hybrids in the game, but it isn’t true. There are actually four more success stories: Ironbreaker, Chosen, Black Orc and Swordmaster. As mentioned previously, all tanks have a secondary role as melee DPS. So it follows that any of the tanks which specialize to do good damage, but are also good tanks are therefore successful hybrids. Ironbreaker is the most obvious case and has a long standing of whining due to their ability to keep up with Witch Hunter damage, but the recent buffs to Witch Hunters seemed to quiet that down substantially. There is some argument about Chosen though, due to the complete reliance on Rending Blade. At the time of writing this ability is outrageously powerful and puts Chosen at the top damage dealing class in the game due to massive AOE with no cool-down. Blac Orc and Swordmaster on the other hand are new players in the whole success story. A lot of Black Orcs were confused by getting DPS boosts in patch 1.2 that they didn’t think they’d ever use. At the same time Swordmasters were brought up to par defensively with their mirror. The result is two tanks which both deal very nice damage, but at the same time function very well as pure tanks. These classes have it right though, they have two roles to chose from and they can perform both roles well.

II.c2 Failed Hybrids

Sadly with only six of the fourteen hybrids down, that means the remaining eight are in fact failures. This is not to say that these classes do not perform well, or do not have a place in the game, but instead that they do not adequately perform as hybrids. This is either because there mastery paths prohibit them from functioning as a hybrid, there aren’t enough abilities given, or the abilities are simply much weaker for one of their roles. Each group has some problem that’s prohibitive to one of their roles and holds them back.

The first to go over is the pure healers. These are Archmage and Shaman. Regardless of what Mythic, or anyone else has said, these are the pure healers in the game. Warrior Priest and Disciple of Khaine are the next closest to pure healers, but we’ve already talked about them. The issue here gets clouded frequently by discussion of the ‘powering up’ mechanic that these two classes have, which is little more than a gimmick. The issue in all actuality is that these classes are not given the proper tools and a proper mastery tree to fulfill their roles as either ranged DPS, or ranged support. In fact, their role as ranged support is limited to two abilities which unless they’ve been fixed recently, have been bugged since release to only heal for the base amount. These abilities properly scale with intelligence, but are oddly placed and are not core abilities. The ranged DPS roles suffer simply from not being given proper attacks to deal with and being given counter-intuitive skill-sets within their mastery trees. The saving grace of these classes is that they heal exceptionally well.

Second in line are the flex healers. These are Rune Priest and Zealot. This is a different problem entirely, which is closely tied to their mastery tree design. The design of these trees is to give the Zealot and Rune Priest separation between long-duration effects, short term effects, and area effects. While it’s a good idea in thought, it forces specialization into a small niche, rather than specialization into a functional role. On top of this the abilities which allow them to be a healer, ranged DPS, or ranged support are all spread between these three paths. This means that the Rune Priest and Zealot, despite being solid classes, are very limited in what they can do in comparison to the other healers in WAR. Similar to the pure healers these classes are also given inferior offensive options and very few options for one of their prospective roles in group support. They’re still good healers, but they’re played for their slightly better survival compared to the pure healers instead of their ability to heal.

Next up are Squig Herder and Shadow Warrior. For a while Shadow Warrior was a legitimate success story, they were viable as melee and ranged DPS depending on how you chose to play. That’s waned however and with neither class able to contend with the new additions of Choppa and Slayer either offensively of defensively in melee, neither class is in good position to come out favorably. This is compounded by the renewed dominance of the other ranged careers pushing these classes back down further. Not only can they not compete as melee, but they’re finding themselves in a corner where they’re not simply considered poor hybrids, but poor classes in general.

Finally are the two tanks, Blackguard and Knight of the Blazing Sun. It isn’t too surprising that the two tanks which were delayed from release wound up being strengthened too much and subsequently drawn back down too far. This is another case where the classes are not bad, but their ability to be hybrids is poor. Both perform well as tanks and can even put up pressure as offensive tanks. They’re simply so far behind the other tanks in terms of offensive options that its hard to call them successes. Luckily they’re not in the same predicament that has befallen Squig Herder and Shadow Warrior, but there is definitely a short coming in their ability to perform up to par with the other tanks on damage.

II.c3 Learning From Success

There is definitely room for improvement when more than half of the hybrids in game can not fulfill their roles in the game. There are some good starting places to work from, but in some cases it would require a total overhaul from the current game. The most striking case of needing an overhaul is the flex and pure healers who need new abilities and a mastery tree redesign to suitably perform even one of their secondary roles. Some are much easier to deal with, such as Blacguard and Knight who simply need to be brought more in line their their mirrors. Squig Herder and Shadow Warrior are an odd case however. This is one place where the complete scrapping of their place as hybrids could be the best solution. Otherwise they need both more flexibility as melee DPS and increase output as ranged DPS.

II.d Hybrid Focus and Impact

The focus of hybrid classes having their abilities paired off into streamlined trees can often pose a problem for classes intended to have a single role. This was discussed earlier where the ‘hybrid’ Shaman and Archmage have actually transcended the ‘pure’ Zealot and Rune Priest in what is supposedly their specialty of healing. This is a problem that all ‘pure’ non DPS classes face, because of the fact that these classes can not sufficiently level themselves, they must be given some form of DPS as compensation. They are then thrust into game where other classes have the option to concentrate all their character building into a single role, while they are expected to spread their effectiveness across the board, or worse isolate themselves to a single fraction of a niche. It’s simply a bad design decision which never should have gone forward. The same however can be said of the ‘debuff’ tree that the hybrid healing classes were given, instead of the group support tree they should have received and the baseline support abilities that never got fully developed. This type of design is what resulted in all of WAR’s ranged healers being pigeonholed into exactly the opposite of what Mythic set out to do for healers.

The impact of hybrids themselves on gameplay can be detrimental, but when done properly it helps ameliorate a games depth. The best way to see this is to look at the leveling experience of different classes. How many Warrior Priests and Disciples of Khaine had problems leveling? Now, how many Shaman and Archmages had problems leveling? You’ll find almost no Warrior Priests of Disciples of Khaine had issues, while the only route to level quickly for Archmage and Shaman is to group up and become a ‘healbot’ character. Despite how good they are at this, it really does hurt the classes when they simply do not have the options to deal with the issues that other classes find trivial. The other issue that is brought up often is what would happen to pick-up groups if these classes were given the option to properly fulfill the roles they’re designed to adopt. Ultimately what you find is that there’s no reason to punish these classes for healing as well as they do, so all that would happen is those who chose to specialize in another role would now do it better, but they’d still heal just as well as they did before. If healers were given proper ranged support options, it would most likely allow them to enjoy much of the success that Warrior Priest and Disciple of Khaine enjoy. There may be some balance issues brought up by that, but that’s a small price to pay for following through on such good ideas, rather than cutting them short and leaving two-thirds of the healers on the shallow end of the pool.

II.e Conclusions, Hybrid Classes

Hybrid classes, for the most part, have not been done well in WAR. There were many promises as to the use of hybrids within WAR and in particular that healers would be able to have an impact offensively. That only happened for two classes, while the reasoning seems nonexistent. If the support role is too strong to give to all healers, why only allow it to function for the melee support instead of removing it entirely? The fact is that these roles are not overpowered and showing the intent then not following through with it is much worse than accepting that perhaps having non-hybrid healers is acceptable. Instead we are presented with healers which are less able to defend themselves than those found in WoW, which was the primary game that Mythic wished to step above. Regardless of the logistics of topping a game that nearly has a monopoly on the market, there are abilities in the game which show promise for healers as hybrids.

There is also promise for the two remaining tanks. Luckily most tanks are actually in a fairly good situation now and able to perform multiple roles as intended. The same can be said of the healers though, if the designers decide to shift there focus to healers outcries for equality with the favored sons. There are a lot of issues with the ranged / melee hybrids as well, but there are ways around that which can be assessed. The hardest workaround is getting people to understand that a players role, not the numbers they provide are what defines a character as a hybrid. Getting players and designers on the same page would result in some very good things in regard to unique and playable classes which have more customization than the current cookie cutters that most classes rely on.

There really are a lot of misunderstandings about hybrids, though. The idea of jack-of-all-trades being viable in gameplay is probably the biggest myth out there about hybrids. The truth of the matter is that even if you produce three-quarters of the output of a true healers and three-quarters of the output of a true DPS, you’re only going to be benefiting the group in a situation where your group needs less than a full healer and less than a full DPS. This has turned into a sort of Holy Grail myth with players seeking out ways to make their healer a hybrid, when the truth is that a character should not be hybrid. It’s instead the class which should be hybrid and allow the player to mold that character into an efficient role. This gets compounded again by the misunderstanding of the give-and-take style gameplay that the melee support classes provide. People get this idea that being a hybrid is this great thing, then they see a successful class that can ‘heal and do damage’ when the truth is actually very different from that. They can’t ‘heal and do damage’ they quite literally have to deal damage to heal with any efficiency, they’re very set in that role and to do it adequately they must be geared and have the tactics specialized in such a way that actually greatly reduces their other heals. Hardly the flexibility touted by hybrid activists.

The reality is that hybrids could be successful in WAR if the effort was made, but so far it’s come halfway. There are some very good prototypes, but there are a lot of failed projects that seem to be getting no attention. It lowers the morale of healers quite a lot, because many players wanted a ranged support class and that option was never completed. It puts a lot of stress on Shadow Warrior and Squig Herder players who have found themselves being shunned by the community as black sheep. Meanwhile the hybrids who are enjoying success are some of the most popular careers in the game. Not because they’re amazing and better than everyone else, but because players are happy with the options they’re presented with. These classes fulfill a promise, they can be customized to do what you wanted to do. It’s something that WoW did very right and WAR could learn from. It’s not about doing two things at once, it’s about having the option to do more than one thing.

pancakez

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. Light permalink
    March 19, 2009 5:00 am

    Good read. Very well thought out too.

  2. tarisai permalink
    March 19, 2009 8:45 am

    nice one.

    one of the best blog posts i’ve read. the subject matter isn’t the most gripping for me personally however your unbiased, logic based reasoning at such depth is refreshing to read.

    food for thought as far as the devs go, and also expells those myths the ‘leet kids hold on to so fervently as ammunition for quasigrillage (oh yeah, that’s a real word alright. look it up. i’m not telling you where to look it up…just do it).

    A-

    marks off for no dancing dots.

  3. theerivs permalink
    March 19, 2009 10:40 am

    Awesome post! Some real thought provoking stuff, that I will have to get back to after I have more caffiene in my system.

  4. gijeremy99 permalink
    March 19, 2009 11:50 am

    All I can say is…wow

    Ok I lied I have more to say, Great Post, this blog just moved into my coveted daily read list..good stuff. I’d love to read more of your thoughts about Min maxing these “Hybrid” classes into viable competitive 1 track characters, i.e. MDPS or Healbot DOKS, MDPS Black Orcs. ANd just how well they could function in there alternative life.

    Thanks again

  5. Blaq permalink
    March 19, 2009 8:18 pm

    A very well thought out article, I just have a few things to add:

    On the offensive/defensive tank part: WoDS (wall of darting steel) a Swordmaster ability that requires a greatweapon increases not only parry as stated in the article but also dodge and disrupt which increases its value greatly. I also believe that Swordmasters are currently the order tank archetype with the most defensive capability while wielding a greatsword (which is also in line with the lore). I cannot comment on destruction tanks as I play order.

    On the hybrid careers part of the article I’d like to remark that I believe that the author places too much significance in the MMO big brother; WoW. Hybridisation was done very bad in the early stages of the game and only started to improve with the first expansion. Hybrids were pigeonholed in certain roles and shunned when tried to perform others. If you take into consideration that Hybrid classes are very hard to balance and the fact that the game is fairly new you cannot really draw lines with the other MMO. But I do agree that hybrid classes could have been done better and I hope that future will bring positive changes to the said careers.

    Keep the articles comming. :)

  6. pancakez permalink*
    March 19, 2009 8:51 pm

    Thank you for the correction on Swordmaster. This was actually a clerical mistake where the notes on other avoidance gains are on the back of my notes, while parry is on the front. It wasn’t taken into considering when further assessing Swordmaster, as it only affected my write-up on skills. I’ll correct the mistake, thanks.

    In regards to the use of WoW this was done for familiarity as it is the closes model for WAR. A model which WAR follows very closely in most aspects of its gameplay, class design and balancing goals. As such, however, it follows that the designers of WAR are also experienced with the positives and negatives of WoW and were just as able as the player base to learn the pros and cons. Another reason WoW is brought up is due to the direct challenge placed by Mythic to confront issues within the game and assure that they didn’t occur in their own game: WAR. Instead, however, the problems are actually more pronounced than they were in WoW at release due to deviation from generic classes producing additional burden on balance and the introduction of new class roles. WoW was taken into consideration as little as possible during the evaluation of the role of hybrid classes within WAR and only used when needed to draw analogy from, or directly confront developer statements.

    @tarisai: quasi-grillage makes me think of a cheese grater for some odd reason.

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