Apr 13, 2011

Posted by in News, Officially Speaking | 6 Comments

Officially Speaking: The Advanced Class Debate

Welcome to Officially Speaking, a weekly column focused on the most hotly debated  topics ever to grace the official Star Wars: The Old Republic forums. Do you have something to add? Feel like it gets lost in the shuffle over there? Join in the extended discussion right here on Ask A Jedi.


Whether or not you’ve taken the time to read them all, a large number of the longer-running forum topics tend to focus on the Advanced Class (AC) system of The Old Republic. Specifically, forum users tend to wonder two things: will the ACs be permanent, and will some ACs possess more inherent utility than others?

With the latest Friday Update providing much clarification on the subject, new worries and discussions have already sprung up. In the latest iteration, “Pure DPS Advanced Classes are a pipe dream,” Endorn notes:

“Snipers, Marauders, and their republic counterparts are going to be denied membership to decent raiding guilds. I’m not talking about only hardcore guilds either. If a juggernaut can dps just as well as a marauder, but can also quickly switch spec to take on a tanking role, that is huge.

Having a raid full of people who can become backup tanks and backup healers in case a primary tank or healer would disconnect, [have a] power outage, emergency [or] something, etc… is too valuable for any guild leader to ignore. Especially if there is no downside to taking them over a Pure DPS AC. You really need to give every AC the ability to take on 2 roles.” [emphasis added]

To frame the discussion a bit, let’s reiterate the point Georg Zoeller made in response to some concern regarding the announcement of new available class roles (e.g. Sith Inquisitor tanking and Trooper healing) as opposed to the “pure” dps of, say, the Marauder. Zoeller affirms:

“By having some Advanced Classes dedicated to pure damage, we are creating options for these players to experience different gameplay variations of damage dealing gameplay and mechanics within their class.

The Marauder / Sentinel skill trees allow for some great variation in gameplay (tactical vs. in your face, burst vs. sustained, different levels of mobility, Area of Effect vs single target) to give players that have a strong preference for the damage dealer role more variation that what is possible on ACs that fill multiple roles already.

So we really don’t look at this as ‘The Marauder only has one role available, therefore it must be significantly better at it than other ACs that have a DPS option’, we look at this as ‘The Marauder has one role available to it, and several very different (and full) ways of putting it to effect’. Plus, you get to wield dual blades – I hear some players really like that too.”

Many responses to Endorn tended to echo Zoeller’s sentiments. E-Argos points out:

“[Endorn] you are exaggerating the point quite a bit. Sure, it’s great having someone who can tank or heal if someone leaves, but first off, they probably won’t be as good as the main healer, and second, they might not have the gear. Compare that to having a few of those DPS classes, and say that each of them has their “single target sustained damage” tree maxed out. OH NO, we’re being zerged by a million small mobs? Send the backup tanks and the backup healers in! Oh, they lasted 4 seconds. Hey, good thing all these DPS classes have numerous AoE options to save us. Boy howdy, that sure beats having a whole bunch of DPS Juggernauts and nothing else!”

While E-Argos and others’ points are understood, I think they are missing the big picture. The dual arguments regarding the permanence of Advanced Classes and their respective utility are interrelated.

Here’s my take: I believe that in the beginning of development, the idea was to have ACs stay permanent. This has been an oft-repeated mantra throughout the numerous developer interviews and Q&A sessions from the past year or so. When they began testing the game, however, they noticed an increased desire to have more classes homogenized (i.e. able to fulfill the same roles); most likely this was due to a shortage of tanking and healing players, and perhaps a too similar feeling in DPS roles between classes. Instead of allowing for players to simply respec into the alternative AC, thus allowing them to gain the roles they were previously locked out of, BioWare decided to just give more ACs the ability to fulfill more roles. As a result, we now have ACs performing tasks that make little sense to some, such a healing Bounty Hunter. Such drastic changes lead me to believe that we will not see Advanced Class respec at launch.

Talent Trees

On the issue of Advanced Class utility, I have to agree with Endorn’s main point. If ACs like the Marauder (my personal planned main) stay “pure” DPS, without the ability to repec, they will find themselves quickly less valuable than classes with the ability to fulfill multiple roles, with respect to raids. The main issue is not whether or not there will be enough “pure” DPS classes in the game, but whether or not they will matter at all. To make a pure dps spec even worthwhile in the game, it must do significantly higher damage than something like a DPS/offtank hybrid Guardian. It’s very simple: if you take any 2 classes, and class A can both tank and DPS and class B can only DPS, serious raids/flashpoints are going to require that you pick the class with the greater utility to the group. That’s the main reason that either:

  1. Pure DPS specs must do significantly higher damage than hybrids, or…
  2. Pure DPS specs need some abilities than greatly distinguish itself from other hybrid classes, and make it more useful in the end.

What I find troubling is that, as Zoeller notes, BioWare said they were trying to balance all ACs to do about the same damage, only now the Guardian can do the same 100% damage as the Marauder, and still off-tank effectively at the same time. This would be a huge problem, because again, pure roles will always be secondary to a multi-role class, everything else being equal.

Furthermore, I think BioWare will have a difficult time justifying the reason that a single-saber Juggernaut can do as much damage as a dual-wielding Marauder. It just doesn’t make sense, from a practical gear/stat perspective. How will they balance the crystals used to augment lightsabers when some players will only hold one, and some will use two (effectively doubling their weapon-gained stats). The addition of viable single-saber specs in the game seems to point to the conclusion that the difference between sabers will be purely cosmetic.

In the end, the primary concern to heavy raid-focused DPS players will be the inevitable “damage meter” type add-ons, and how well they stack up against others. If the abilities given to the pure DPS specs are really that diverse and effective, as Zoeller claims, then by default they will have more utility in some situations than others (e.g. an AOE-focused boss encounter might require a Marauder more than a Juggernaut DPS).

Hopefully, BioWare will balance the encounters to make these differences as apparent as possible, so each individual class feels included, and especially needed, in different but equal circumstances.

  1. Chronium says:

    Well for one thing if a pure DPS is such a problem then Warlocks, Hunters, and Mages would never get into raids in WoW. Pure DPS will not have a problem getting into raids because DPS is a important role to fill. Even if a tank or healer leaves a new DPSer would need to be added to make up for the person who switches to tanking or healing.

    The DPS Offtank hybrid spec won’t ever be as good as a pure tank or pure dps spec because you have to split your points to be decent at both. That’s why they would only be delegated to offtank not main tank.

    Yes in a gear stat system it doesn’t make sense but in a practical system it doesn’t matter because lightsabers are supposed to cut through everything like butter whether you have 1 or 2. You will have to put the vast majority of your points into the DPS tree in order to keep up with the damage of a pure DPS AC.

    • “Even if a tank or healer leaves a new DPSer would need to be added to make up for the person who switches to tanking or healing.”

      This wasn’t often true in WoW, as I found raiding 25-mans on my rogue. The most usual scenario would be a healer/tank dropping, and someone filling his place. However, at that point we’d just try to make do with the dps we had, since it wasn’t always a huge loss to lose 1 dps’er. This obviously depends on the size of TOR raids, as losing a dps player in an 8-man raid would mean a lot more than in a 25-man.

  2. I posted in the update thread about this and rather extensively on DH.

    http://www.swtor.com/community/showthread.php?p=6017759#post6017759 is the forum post.

    I’m very worried about Sentinels now. While diversifying damage is definitely a plus and needed to make a DPS AC make more sense, in the end, the DPS is the same as a DPS-spec’d Guardian. Who would even want to choose Sentinels over Guardians? After a discussion on DH, I believe that giving Sentinels / Marauders the chance to fill a buffer role could off-set their lack of versatility at the moment.

    My experience comes primarily from LOTRO, so the melee DPS class that is most analogous to the Sentinel is the Champion. The Champion is primarily DPS, with the ability to trait a little for tanking, but definitely not as effective as a true tank (Guardian or Warden). Champs have quite a bit of AoE damage too. My main is a Champ, and I’ve primarily filled the DPS / off-tank role. I can tank in really bad situations (primary tank dies), but not for a long time usually. As far as we know, the Sentinel is only good at DPS and diversifying it. While Champs in LOTRO get heavy armor, there are hints that Sentinels will be wearing something equivalent to medium armor, making them even more of a glass cannon. The buffer class in LOTRO, the Captain, is able to complement a fellowship / raid exceptionally well. The buffs in general can be tailored specifically to a class type (defensive buff / crit buff etc.) in addition to overall buffs to stats and morale. I don’t know, story-wise, if the Sentinel would make the most sense to have buffs, but it certainly would off-set its lack of diversity right now. Since we have healing BHs, why not! :P

  3. I think Ajay makes a good point, but I think it should a little further to include situational bonuses. In WoW, the “pure” classes had the best forms of crowd control. Yes other classes had forms of crowd control too, but they were never as good or reliable as the pure classes.

    • Rogues had no crowd control :/ If Marauders/Sentinels have more utility than a rogue, I’ll be happier I suppose, but it doesn’t solve everything.

  4. Yo Rashiva thanks for the shoutout there, and thanks for an interesting article. However, I would like to offer a dissenting opinion, and I think the easiest way to show it is just through one, specific, hypothetical situation that shows how pure DPS classes won’t just be tolerated in raids, they’ll be invited over hybrids just as much as a hybrid could be chosen over them. Here goes:

    You and me both are playing DPS-based Smugglers, you like to have that hybrid class utliity, so you’re a Scoundrel, while I’m a Gunslinger. We put together a group for a Flashpoint, and I’ll arbitrarily say that we have a Shadow tank and a Commando healer, just so we have some specifics, although it shouldn’t make a difference. I’m just repping our new reveals.

    Let me throw down a little background information here. I’m using a smaller, 4-man flashpoint for the sake of creating a simple, succinct example without the complexity of a raid group getting in the way, but everything I’m saying will be equally true on a larger scale, or with different class combinations or specializations. I’m just trying to create the clearest example possible.

    As far as you and me go, let’s assume that your DPS spec (the “Scrapper” tree) focuses mainly on single-target, burst DPS. My gunslinger has two DPS styles available, one tree focusing on improving single-target DPS, the other focusing on adding AoE (area of effect for anyone new to the genre reading this) abilities and utilities. I’m specced for single-target damage, much like yourself. Again, all of these damage types are speculations, but this exercise can be done with any number of DPS types, this is just the most clear example that comes to mind.

    Now, we begin our flashpoint and things are going great. We get through the first few encounters and beat the first boss. In fact, since you and me are both strong single-target DPSers, that first boss falls in 30 seconds flat. We’re on top of the world. We continue on, along the pathway and we see a nest of enemies, let’s say they’re…. spiders. A nest of spiders. And I’m not even going to make it a huge number like “30 spiders.” There are about 8-10 in the group there. All of them fairly weak, but dangerous in large numbers like that, we’re going to want to take them down quick, especially with a lightly-armored tank, where every hit that gets through hurts more. So what can we do?

    I guess we could try working on them one by one, but its risky and inefficient, and very possibly would just guarantee we would wipe. However, remember that I have that second DPS tree, the one with AoE talents. Now, I’m not specced in it, I have few to no points invested in it, but I’ve still gained several AoE abilities leveling up, just like how your DPS-specced Scoundrel gets a few healing abilities no matter how it’s specced. Do you have any AoE abilities? Perhaps one or two, just intrinsically, but your class has nothing to do with AoEs, you have single-target damage and some healing powers. Any AoE abilities I have will outstrip yours, that’s just a fact of our classes.

    Now let’s back up a second. Say that our group had followed the philosophy you have been espousing in your blog. I probably wouldn’t be a part of that group, they would have picked a DPS Guardian over me, or a Sage, or a Vanguard, classes with only a single DPS option. Now you guys will do fine throughout the flashpoint, but what happens when you get to the spiders’ nest? An offtank won’t help much, he’ll be overrun much faster than our fully-outfitted tank, an offhealer won’t be able to outheal the spiders, and the group would slowly perish because they can’t finish off the spiders one by one fast enough.

    Now what does this mean? My class, which could be seen as having less utility than a class that fulfills two distinct roles, has now become the only thing that can beat this cluster of enemies, simply because I have a different form of damage available to me. The spiders’ nest has become a roadblock to the hybrids, while it can be handled easily by my pure DPS options, with the help of you guys of course.

    What if one of the hybrid classes had AoE utility in his single DPS tree? Well, sure he could handle the spiders, but how much use would he have been against that boss earlier, without the abilities dedicated to single-target destruction that my class has?

    Your article claims that I’m missing the big picture, and that a hybrid that can do the same amount of damage as a DPS-centered class is inherently more useful. I say that both have their place, and that the strengths provided by DPS utility can make the difference in a flashpoint or raid situation just as easily as tanking or healing utility. THAT, my friend, is the big picture. Hope to see you in-game!

    –Argos

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