Specialization Vs versatility

This idea is something close to the old debate about SWG, where I was saying that one of the biggest delusions was that you were somewhat locked into a certain role, instead of taking advantage of all the game had to offer (combat, crafting, trading, social professions and so on).

That debate was also near the release of Jump to Lightspeed, where the characters gained a new pool of points and career so that they could play both the game on “the ground” and the other part in the space. Wouldn’t have been a very bad idea if the players were forced to choose between the planets or the space? So why it is a good idea to force the players to specialize into just one role?

The ideal is that if your game has cool things to offer, then it makes sense to make all of them available to everyone. Like it’s a bad idea to develop a game where the players can only access half of the whole content.

All this while I was thinking again that the best part of Dungeon Siege was the very beginning. Some of the best fun. Monsters pop out all around you and you grab your bow and start to take down some of them, but they are too many and they arrive close to you, so you switch to your sword and finish them off.

So what you would like to play?

– The character that specializes into just one type of attack and have to stick with it throughout the whole game.

– The character that has access at the same time to multiple possibilities, like ranged attacks when the enemies are away from you, melee for when they are close and magic spells to blow them up with spiffy Area of Effect attacks.

The “all around” character is DEFINITELY more fun to play. The game would offer more variation and different kinds of strategies would be possible instead of being forced to repeat the exact same cycle of moves. Having different tricks available is fun, being able to hit something in ten different ways less so.

Then, going back to the example of Dungeon Siege, you notice that the game doesn’t really support the constant switch between melee, range and magic. In fact all three have about the same use of efficiency and their purpose overlaps. You can still use the bow even at melee range with the same effectivity, so what’s the difference between the three? I’m not sure but from what I’ve seen the melee obviously works only in melee range but deals more damage and it’s faster, ranged weapons are a bit slower and weaker and the magic is the slowest between the other two but it should never “miss”. Sure, you could still use all three evenly, but you would have to do it just for “fun” (since there are no actual advantages doing so) and you’ll even risk to gimp your character in the later game.

It’s interesting to notice that in Dungon Siege the quick switch between the three modes isn’t even supported. So that’s the impression I got, what I found “fun” in that game was a way of play that the game didn’t actually encourage. How could have been the game instead if the design was really aimed at giving each of those three “modes” three different roles that complete each other? For example being hit in melee could have delayed the use of the bow, which would have encouraged the player not to switch only because it’s “cool”, but also because it would lead to a better strategy, where using a ranged weapon even in melee wouldn’t be convenient at all. And the same about the magic, instead of developing a “wizard” class, the idea would be about finding a special role for the spells to accompany and complete the melee and ranged attacks, instead of directly replace them.

Then compare those two models. The standard one, directly supported in both DS1 and sequel, that requires you to specialize, and the other one I “guessed” and hypothesized, where your character is required to switch between melee, ranged and magic, where all three fit specific situations and purposes and where you develop a versatile character that has access to multiple styles that you can (and you have) to mix all at once depending on the situation, the environment and the types of monsters you face. That’s what I think would have been much more exciting and involving to play. A mix of situations and gameplay, a mix of different types of attacks to use to plan the best strategy and a “1 Vs Many” type of combat that thanks to the variation could be even more fun to play than Diablo 2.

The next step is to examine the other side of the problem, though. The group play. Dungeon Siege is a game based on a group. Being able to develop a character that can master just every area means that you don’t need other characters in the team who can complete you. So this is a problem to solve, retaining the versatility of the single character, while allowing for character progress and specialization that can be also varied and deep.

WoW could be taken as an example here. The “talents” are a design idea that doesn’t usually remove or add skills, but just directs certains types of patterns you use. In DAoC, as a contraposition, the specialization paths give you directly skills and spells to use. A fire wizard won’t have access at all to ice spells. In WoW instead all the skills and spells are “open”, while the talent system still allow you to define your character into a more specific role.

In the case of my dream mmorpg I’ve fiddled with all of these ideas without never finding a definitive solution that I felt satisfying. But the overall idea was about giving each character a lot of variation, while specializing in a “fighting style”, more than a role or class as we currently consider them (give a look to this). In the case of Dungeon Siege this would be about specializing with a certain type of melee weapon, developing particular attacks, and the same about the magic, only having access to certain types of spells. But still having access to melee, ranged and magic all at once. So you retain the access to different “roles”, while you specialize into the way these roles behave.

A small detail? Not really, because it would completely overturn the group gameplay in a mmorpg. So that’s something to consider and figure out if the idea could open to interesting new way to conceive the “combat”, or if it would just cripple that part of the game.

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