Introduction and Stuff
Around 2005 I began playing Ragnarok Online, and aside from the light dabblings into Everquest2 and Dark Age of Camelot, it was my first time investing real time into an MMO. Immediately I fell in love with it, mostly because my machine could actually handle it with some grace, unlike the previous two. From there, I went on to experience Fly for Fun, and eventually as my hardware got better, so did my range of games.
Shadowbane became the first game besides RO that I sank my teeth into fully. For those not familiar, SB was not a friendly game in the sense of learning curve, forgiveness, or community. Where RO was a classic grinder with interesting and unique classes, Shadowbane was an open sandbox, no-holds-barred PvP/GvG game. My experience gaming amounted to nothing in Shadowbane, and that was an intimidating thing to admit to. The stat and proficiency system were not entirely unlike RO, but the consequences were immediate, and their reverberations could be felt the moment you were thrown into a hostile world.
We all remember being new, investing the wrong stats or skills or choosing a class for a role it wasn't intended to play. Everyone who played early generation games with actual customization of characters has made at least one gimp. That is not what I'm looking to revisit, just to say as an advance note. While I love customization and openness, the lack of available information was what made early generation games difficult, not the flexibility itself. Often times you were blindly making permanent investments because ingame, necessary information was withheld except through trial and infinite error. Also parsing.
From there, I have tried many of the more contemporary western games such as Rift, The Old Republic, and even the infamous titan that is WoW. Eastern games have always held a draw on me, and thus I have spent plenty of time on Corum, Eden Eternal, and Dragon Nest. Winner of the decade's biggest blunder has to go to Dragon Nest, for taking one of the best potential MMOs of all time and letting the cash shop dictate its fate.
While this is not an exhaustive list, the games listed would accurately reflect my time invested and the influence on my feelings toward game design and direction, some positively, some much more negatively. But in regards to how a game plays, there is a relatively new contender to the scene in the form of Defense of the Ancients and the knockoffs it has inspired. ARTS, MOBAs, whatever strange acronym you prefer, have become one of the strongest parallels to draw to the interface of RO and TOS.
For this reason, I feel they are more than necessary to list for the sake of how I will be integrating them into this post. Interface in a game has an enormous part in the overall quality and enjoyment of it. Poorly thought out interface and interaction, especially during combat, has been the death of many games. How best does the methodology match your boss and level design, and more importantly class involvement? Overall, I believe that Tree of Savior chose the right direction to go in. The interface lends itself very well to fast pace, situational awareness demanding combat. It lends itself well to multi-target fights and high stress mechanics in boss encounters. It also leaves room for a more "arcade feel" distribution of skills, such as the amazing Diev statue carving.
But without going too far into the meat of the post, allow me to say that the popularity of DotA-like games is not an accident. Having an increased field of awareness, and more centrism on the group rather than on your character that comes from this playstyle leads to very powerful group elements. Boss encounters and GvG, which is the primary reason I have come to this game, is vastly improved with the interface focuses more on the field than the player.
Throughout this post will be multiple references and leanings toward this top-down point-and-click centric gaming, which mostly will come from DotA, the Diablo franchise, and of course; RO.
Rather, we are going to see a return to niche gaming, which to anyone not aware essentially means that each class is both as strong and as balanced as the overall situation. Such factors as party composition, boss mechanics, number and diversity of enemies, and previous rank skills will all determine the efficacy of each class, and what role it will play.
This system breeds massive need for a diverse and well structured guild. While some classes have obvious solo potential, the true strength of any MMO is the openness of the door for player creativity. And in this case, ToS' door is more like a broad, decorative archway. Boss difficulty and mechanics are going to be, from videos released currently, interesting and highly subject to effective group compositions. But that isn't what truly intrigues me, what I find the most exciting is the GvG potential.
Anyone who has played seriously in a GvG/RvR/NvN game (Guild/Realm/Nation) understands that one of the most crucial aspects of a successful video game war is class composition. In some game, specific rosters exist to cover as many factors as evenly as possible. Others fold into the groove of playing specialty groups, often times in a way that involves advanced planning and coordination by a guild to follow a specific battleplan around specific combinations.
Spec group GvG is one of the most exciting forms of MMO combat, because your guild often times will plan weeks in advance for a particular strategy, which brings in the element of guild spies and subterfuge. Interruption of guild leveling, disruption of supplies or boss denial, and even countering a specific spec group with another. These are aspects which keep players invested, using creative endeavor, and more importantly is a sandbox-style form of gaming that keeps players contributing the most valuable currency a MMO can generate; time.
Considering the above, I am absolutely thrilled to start playing ToS, because it promises something that many modern games are absolutely terrified of. It is my honest desire that the buzzwords "OP", "broken", and "imbalanced" are taken with a fistful of salt by the developers, because there will be some absolutely absurd interactions between classes. Some combinations are going to be seen as outright ridiculous until counter strategies are formed, and unless something sees weeks of uncontested dominance, it is my hope that balance patches are subtle and infrequent.
PS: Chokepoints in GvG maps are going to be bloodbaths.
However, what I'm learning recently about the way class advancement will work is, to put it mildly, distressful. For the most part, this distress comes from the way each class will retain, or drop its skillset as it advances, and what that means for the overall potential for roster diversity and individual character specialization. With the current system, there are several options in how skill carryover can work, and more importantly in how the lore/flavor of your character will be affected.