Mobhunter: The Myths of Class Balancing

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about five meaningless terms of Everquest. One of these, Class Balance, is so overused that it now defines just about any problem one has with one's class. There is no such thing as class balance and if there were, we'd have no defined classes. There are nuggets of truth within this chaotic topic, however, and once we know what to ask for we can learn how to ask for it.

While there is no class balance, there is class tuning. Many of us focus on a particular class and with the time we've put in, we know bits and pieces of our class that under-perform.

Every class has advantages and disadvantages when compared to other classes. This should always be true. Adventurers depend on each other and always should. If we could all solo our way to 70 with greater efficiency than in a group, we would. Dependency forces us to group to progress and grouping is what makes Everquest different than any other single-player role playing game.

There are four main archetypes that current Everquest classes fall into. Powerful efficient groups require each of these four archetypes in order to battle at the best of their ability. These archetypes include healers, crowd controllers, tanks, and damage dealers.

Groups should not depend on any one of the sixteen classes. At worst, they should only require one from each of the four archetypes in order to group well. For the most part, this exists today. A group can earn excellent experience and a shot at some nice loot without any dependency on one class.

Now it is possible to have an ideal group. It is possible to have a perfect combination of classes that outperform a group of a different makeup. Again, this will probably always be true and even after extensive class tuning, will end up being true in some other configuration. Even if some sort of widespread class evaluation took place, equipment, AAs, and the skills of the players will always create imbalance between two different groups.

Here is one of Loral's Key to Happiness: Forget about the numbers. Throw away your damage per second parser. Ignore the experience per hour you hear people acquiring in Fire. Enjoy your class and your skills and go where you desire to hunt. Constantly worrying about the damage per second of your character and only hunting in the most profitable zones leads to boredom and anger.

This Key to Happiness is superseded by Loral's First Rule of Happiness: Have Fun. If you like delving into the numbers, go ahead. If they lead you to believe your class is worthless and weak and you end up spending days arguing with monks on the class boards, best to leave them aside.

When I brought up the topic of class balance with my editor, we decided we'd take a look at rangers. He plays a wizard and I play a cleric so we had to go to his wife, the only one we know personally who plays a ranger. When we asked what her top five ranger issues were, this is what she came back with:

- Rangers aren't big enough.
- The starting city is too hard.
- Rangers are a mishmosh class.
- After years of playing she is only level 24.
- Rangers get no respect.

I bring these up to show how perception changes our focus. You may think you're the voice of all rangers when you argue that the Epic 1.5 should be a bow, but you really only focus on high-level rangers capable of accomplishing the quest. The more narrow your view, the fewer people you help. While focus is fine, we should not lose sight of the bigger picture.

For the class correspondents I have one piece of advise. Always consider the class at all levels. Don't focus on only the highest level of the game. Classes have problems throughout their life and problems between level 30 and 50 effect more players than those at 65 and above.

So how can we help SOE improve our classes? First, consider what we ask for. If it bleeds into another class consider what impact it may have on them. If the impact is little, perhaps it is a reasonable request. If it impacts a lot, best to think about it further. The best chance for change is to focus on skills that do not dramatically effect the class.

Second, use your class correspondent. Find out who they are and what their issues are. They work with SOE directly to make sure top class issues are known. If your change is really as important as you think it is, you shouldn't have a hard time convincing them about it.

Third, speak in detail. Don't complain about your classes overall grouping benefit. Pick the abilities that require improvement and focus on them. When I read over the class requests on the EQLive forums, I see mixes of specific requests (Turn Undead needs to work better) with general ones (Clerics need a secondary role). Guess which one I'd fix first?

Like every other topic we bring up with SOE, avoid constant negativity, avoid threats, avoid woe-is-me statements about how your class is dead. No class is dead. Every class is still well represented on every server. Every class has use. Every class has advantages over others.

Above all, we should keep the whole game in mind when we consider changes. Vast ranges of players, classes, levels, and zones remind us that we have a huge world. SOE should always consider focusing on big changes first and smaller changes second. While SOE cannot ignore class changes, it is the large changes that improve the game the most. I would sacrifice Turn Undead in a minute if it meant we would see a new corpse recovery option.

Loral Ciriclight
11 October 2004