I’ve been discussing the problems with character balance in EverQuest with a few people recently, and I think we finally nailed down the problem with why the pure melees have fallen behind and more importantly why the perception of pure melees of themselves is so bad.
It boils down to the “Natural Progression” of a character through his life in game from level 1 to 65 (currently).
Let’s take the pure casters first. They start with spells. Intelligence casters get new ones every 4 levels until 24, then every 5 levels after that until 49. For wisdom casters, the priests, its spells every 5 levels from the beginning. In this progression to 49 they also gain specialization (20 for intelligence, 30 for wisdom), and through items they gain focus effects that can change the power, duration and cost of their spells. At 50 they begin to get new spells every level, 50 itself holds very little, but 51 to 65 ranges from 3 to 8 or so new spells per level, some more usefull that others, but they gain spells none-the-less. They also gain more items, and with those items can gain focus effects to further enhance their spells.
The Hybrids experience the same progression as their caster parent, only to a lesser and slower degree, with spells being at levels 9, 15, 22, 30, 39, 44 and 49. But at 50 they start to gain spells at every level up through 65 just like their caster parent. The penatly they suffer here is that they do not get all the spells of the parent class, but they also gain a few speciallized spells that they alone have. They gain also through items and focus effects, although sometimes to get these effects they will have to sacrifice other stats… but that is as it should be. They also gain melee skills as they level. Most of them get their last melee skill at level 40 (rangers get their last at 35) and those skill cap out slightly lower than their parent melee class. Above 50, hybrids get disciplines – 2 each, one damage dealing, one damage avoiding or recovering.
Pure melees get melee skills and items. Their melee skills stop at 30 or 35. Their items possess no focus effects (currently their are items in the Plane of Time that have melee focus effects, however, after strenuous testing, where caster focus effects return an average 6% increase in power per effect, melee effects return an average 0.5% increase in power, and these are not available to everyone). Above 50, pure melees get disciplines – one per level although not totalling 10 because some levels are skipped on the way to 60. Beyond this, a pure melees only method of advancing themselves is through items and pure level mathematics of the game (a level 55 monk will take less damage than a 54 monk during a fight all other things equal due to the small effect that level has in all game calculations), and their items don’t yield to them as much as the same items yield to the hybrid (wisdom, intelligence, mana, and spell focus effects).
What’s missing here is that beyond disciplines (most of which are situational, short duration, long reuse skills) a pure melee has little to look forward to as he levels except for the pursuit of more and better items. This has the effect of making playing a pure melee feel extremely one dimensional.
Pure melees, in my opinion, need to get more special attacks. I’ve written before about combat styles, and while I still think that idea has alot of merit, in my mind more special attacks would actually go much further to alter not only the game, but the perception of those who play it.
As it is now, a warrior gets Kick, Bash (if he uses a shield), and Taunt. One of the current issues with warriors is that while they numerically should be the superior choice for all a group’s tanking needs, they lack the most important feature that is truely required, that of being able to reliably hold and control aggro (the attention of the mob). At first, not being able to as reliably hold aggro seems like a decent trade off for the up to one thousand hit points he may have over the other plate tanks, however, upon playing in actual environments it becomes apparent that maintaining agro is actually more important than hit points as long as the hit points of the tank are high enough to survive a few rounds of combat without healing. With 70-75% slows available to high level groups, attaining a point of survivability is almost trivial, and being able to maintain aggro (or more importantly to pull aggro back off the slower) far outdistances the other factors of tanking.
To that end, what I would suggest for warriors would be a series of special attacks along the lines of kicks, slams, slaps, pushes. There would be two lines within the warrior attacks, the first would be aimed at helping resolve the aggro issues with a low damage high taunt attack. This would allow for the warrior to juggle his taunt key with this attack for a more readily available aggro increase. The second attack would be higher damage, but lower taunt. This would allow a warrior to increase his damage in situations where he is not tanking, or does not need the additional aggro of the high taunt attack.
The only problem I see with rogues is one similar to clerics. A cleric gets complete heal at level 39 and will use it forever. A rogue gets backstab at level 10 and uses it forever.
There isn’t really a problem with this except in that rogues have little to look forward to as I described above. So what I would propose is giving rogues a series of attacks similar to backstab in that they need to be executed from behind the target, but of increasing damage as the rogue levels. Similar to the warrior, I would give rogues two lines of attacks. The first would be extremely high damage line. Every new attack in this line would be stronger with a higher minimum hit and higher maximum hit. The second line would be half the power of the first line, but have a built in “evade” that lowers them on the aggro list, a distracting blow if you will. This would allow rogues to choose between the evading attack when they need to reduce aggro, but go for the high damage when aggro isn’t a concern.
Monk are supposed to be martial artists. As such, for them I see a simple continuation of the series of skills they already have. These upgraded attacks however would have various attributes, pushes, 0 second stun, a crippling attack that would through melee debuff the ATK of the mob, and other similar things.
In all these cases, it would allow all pure melees to have actual class related skills to look forward to as they levelled in addition to their gear, so in that respect it would allieviate the problem that pure melees don’t benefit from levels as much as other classes.