Georg Zoeller, over at the official forums, is quickly becoming one of our best sources of information for all things concerning The Old Republic. This past week, fans were presented with a fantastic post by him that gave us more details on Bioware’s class design philosophy, and showed us where TOR’s developers stand on issues such as class balance, the advanced class leveling process, and the hybrid tax. Information like this comes at a premium time, when many of us are making our final decisions as to what class we’re leveling first.
One of the parts I found most intriguing about Georg’s post was where he discussed the hybrid tax:
“Ultimately we don’t do hybrid roles. You can do them (by mixing different skill trees), but by design, all our classes are meant to be fully capable in the roles they fill. The ‘hybrid’ tax would be the fact that you won’t be able to get the top tier talents in one skill tree if you spread yourself too thin into others.”
He then went on to answer some theoretically-posed questions, such as:
“Why not go for a ‘this Advanced Class only can DPS and therefore they are the best at it’ approach?”
- “Because we want people to pick the class they want to play and reduce the likelihood of them getting told ‘sorry, can’t participate in this group because we want only the best DPS in game – that is a Gunslinger’.
- Likewise, we don’t want the fact that a specific tank or healer AC is not available at a time from becoming a stopping point for getting on with your group content.”
Now, before I get into the forthcoming nature of this statement and its implications, let me make a definition for the purpose of this article. Far too often it seems, people confuse the two different ways that MMOs define hybrids. I will use the term ‘hybrid class’ to describe character classes that have more than one role available to them– both tank/DPS and healer/DPS types (and tank/healer/DPS where it applies). These classes cannot be all roles at once, and when switching between roles, they must change specs and gear. The other definition refers to hybrid classes that choose to alter their spec so they are capable of performing both roles simultaneously, but in lesser potency. In this article, I won’t get into that type of hybrid (though I may next week!).
This ‘hybrid tax’ that Georg is alluding is a tax, a disadvantage, that some hybrid classes in MMOs have. Historically, World of Warcraft gives us a good example. From the time of the game’s creation to years afterward, WoW’s hybrid classes saw extreme disadvantages when it came to performing other roles besides their primary tanking/healing options. Warriors tanked, Druids, Priests, and Shamans healed, and Paladins, well, tossed buffs around. Their other trees were pretty much useless when it came to endgame content, until eventually, Blizzard realized that people wanted to do more with their characters. They slowly began to lighten up this severe hybrid tax, but to this day, Blizzard tries to state that there is, in fact, a hybrid tax in place. For years, WoW’s pure DPS class players have grumbled and complained about the lifting of the hybrid tax.
And then you have other games out there that attempt to do away with pure DPS classes altogether, like Trion’s RIFT. Every RIFT class can respec at any time to multiple roles, so in essence, you’d think that all classes should perform the same under all roles. But balance isn’t that easy. RIFT players of every class grumble and complain about class A having too much versatility to do as much DPS as class B, and so on and so forth. Gamers are a hard bunch to make happy, it seems.
That brings us back to The Old Republic. The fact that Bioware is explaining SW:TOR’s character design philosophy to their player base before the game’s even released suggests that they want to make sure we’re happy. I applaud that forthcoming attitude. I also applaud their take on the hybrid tax matter, because frankly– choosing a character class should be about what playstyle the player enjoys and what draws them toward the class, and not some illusion about being a certain percentage better than another class.
The Old Republic has some fantastic character classes available to us– classes we’ve all come to know and love in the Star Wars universe– so why shouldn’t we play whatever we think we’d enjoy the most? If a player grew up longing to wield a single lightsaber like Luke or Obi-Wan, yet don’t really enjoy tanking, why shouldn’t they be able to play a Jedi Knight Guardian as DPS during endgame? As long as they have the proper gear and spec, which would also mean they could not tank, I don’t see the problem with it.
The common argument to this philosophy, of course, is the fear that players who play pure DPS classes may have a harder time finding groups, since there is no significant hybrid tax in play. I personally think that with the number of awesome hybrid classes available to us, there won’t be nearly as large a shortage of tanks and healers like we’ve seen in other games, which will make finding groups as any DPS class easier. Bioware made a smart move when they made at least one advanced class from every arch type a hybrid class. The versatility between the hybrid classes will help lessen the tank/healer load, as well. Not all tanks are melee heavy-armor types, and not all healers wear robes and wave their hands around casting spells. Ranged tanks and gun-slinging, stealthy healers are where it’s at! I can almost guarantee that players will try out roles they may be unfamiliar with in The Old Republic, simply because of the cool Star Wars character concepts.
Character design aside, there’s also the fact that pure DPS classes will have more DPS-oriented talents to choose from which may help them during difficult encounters. They may have more cooldowns to utilize, more ways to get in and out of range, more ways to regenerate tech power, or more ways to help crowd control. They may provide crucial buffs or debuffs. We don’t know for sure yet, and I wouldn’t discount anything until we do know for sure. Also, pure DPS classes may still have a 5% DPS advantage that Georg refereed to as “insignificant” during his post.
As the time to make our characters slowly approaches, we should take a step back, and reach out for the class that speaks to us because it’s awesome. It shouldn’t matter whether we play a hybrid class or a pure DPS. What matters is that we have a hell of a time playing.