Last week, I wrote an editorial about the outlook of hybrid classes in Star Wars: The Old Republic. In it, I discussed the stance BioWare is taking with the nature of the hybrid tax, and why I think it’s a good stance to take for a game like SWTOR.
In my many years of enjoying and researching hybrid characters in MMOs, I came to realize that there are two different definitions for the word ‘hybrid’ in these games, and I wasn’t able to touch on that second definition and why it’s important to TOR last week. So, I thought I’d pick that subject up for another round.
In this article, I will be using two definitions of the word ‘hybrid’. The terms ‘hybrid class’ or ‘hybrid character’ will be used to describe those 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). The term ‘hybrid role’ will refer to hybrid classes that choose to alter their spec so they are capable of performing both roles simultaneously, thus decreasing the potency of one or both of their roles. Far too often it seems, people confuse the two different ways that MMOs define hybrids, which leads to confusion overall.
Last week, Georg Zoeller told us BioWare’s stance on hybrid characters that choose to combine their specs to create a hybrid role:
“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.”
To me, this almost implies that they’re discouraging the idea of utilizing a hybrid role. It’s impossible at this point to discern what kind of losses a player would take by say, dipping into both the healing and DPS trees of the Jedi Sage, but the idea in itself is one that opens up an entire new layer in character planning, gameplay creativity, and then of course, the resulting balance issues. Many current MMOs on the market have taken this idea head-on and came up with some interesting results.
All of Final Fantasy XI’s job classes become naturally infused with a hybrid role (another job) of the player’s choosing, once they undergo the subjob quest. Some job combinations are better than others, naturally, and some are seen as fairly useless. Still, the bonus of such a system most certainly lies in the creativity that players can have.
World of Warcraft once used a character tree model that encouraged experimenting with hybrid roles. For years, some of the most popular builds of many different classes were split evenly between two or more trees. Some of the split builds were fantastic for PvP, soloing, and even some group situations. It was fun experimenting with different builds and coming up with something that suited your unique playstyle. The downside to such a free system, is of course, the balance monster. It was incredibly hard for Blizzard to balance some of the unique hybrid role builds, and as a result, the entire system was changed completely and then streamlined.
RIFT is pretty much going through the same process currently. Originally the game was advertised as having thousands of viable playstyle options, but patch by patch, balance rears its ugly head, and now we’re seeing more reasons to use 51-point builds than not. Some builds in RIFT, like the popular Shamincar/Inquisicar Cleric builds, still work well as hybrid roles, but in their current state, the actual builds are closer to 51-point builds than anything else. One of the best Warrior mitigation specs consists of a hybrid role build, as well. But some of the original hybrid role builds have changed completely since their original implementation, and it’s probably only a matter of time before more are changed.
The simple fact is, as much fun as hybrid roles can be, as much fun as being able to heal and DPS is (or tank while still doing lots of damage, etc.), these specs are a bear to balance in any game. You can’t have players performing too well in hybrid roles, otherwise they can become massively overpowered. Lines need to be drawn, and power needs to be reigned in at the expense of more utility. Is it possible to balance such specs? Sure, I think so. Is it easy? Definitely not.
When I first heard about SWTOR’s hybrid classes, I pictured a Smuggler being able to toss out a couple med packs, run for cover, and help DPS down a nasty droid. The thought made me fall in love with the game instantaneously. I’m a huge fan of hybrid classes and roles. Some of my all-time favorite gaming experiences have been when I’m able to tank a bit, heal a bit, and DPS a bit– whatever it takes to help my group through a rough dungeon. The jack-of-all-trades player in me wants to see hybrid roles in The Old Republic. I’m just not sure it’s possible to balance them.
And it seems that’s the same conclusion BioWare to. One thing they’ve done is limit the number of roles advanced classes are able to perform. An advanced character can heal/DPS, or tank/DPS. They can’t heal/tank/DPS, and they can’t heal/tank. I’m sure this decision was made in order to help with achieving a state of balance, and I agree with it, although a part of me wishes they had thought to add a tank/heal advanced class with low DPS across the board. But that may have created balance issues of its own.
I still plan on creating a gun-toting, heal-throwing Smuggler with hopefully a hybrid role. I’m not entirely sure she’ll perform well in endgame, but hey, it’ll be fun to level her at least. I don’t envy the BioWare team that has to sort out all the inevitable balance issues that we will see, but I do have faith in them. I hope they’re able to keep hybrid roles, as well as all roles, balanced. It seems they’re on the right track so far.