Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Good, the Bad, and the Hybrid

So there's an interesting forum discussion right now. While there's a bit of snarkiness from some posters, it is a generally insightful thread. Check it out here.

Come back when you're done.

One of the most interesting things brought up, one that comes up time and again is the role and meaning of a hybrid class.

In and of itself, the term is very very vague, and most attempts to define it in terms of the game either end up excluding one of the traditionally regarded hybrid classes (the Shaman) or including a traditionally regarded specialist class (the Priest or Warrior).

Traditionally, the hybrid classes are the Druid, the Paladin, and the Shaman. The distinction, as we'll see, is largely arbitrary.

So just how do we define a Hybrid class? Technically a hybrid is a composite, typically an amalgamation of two disparate things. But such a definition is easily applied outside the traditional hybrid classes.

If we assume a hybrid is capable of filling multiple roles, the definition immediately breaks down. Warriors are DPS and tanks; Priests are DPS and healers.

Let's try another one. A hybrid class could be considered a class that combines elements of two others. After all, a Shaman is a face-hitter like a Rogue or Warrior but can also cast spells. Well, Warlocks are a similar combination of a spellcaster and a pet class. Priests do ranged magical damage like a Mage and Warlock, but are also outstanding healers.

Depending on how far down you drill, even a Shaman only has damage and healing specs available, just like a Priest...unless you make a further arbitrary division between ranged and melee dps...but Enhancement has some we're further muddying things.

Okay, it a class with a healing button that can wear something more than cloth? That seems to be the only real delineator, but it's still incredibly arbitrary.

Regardless, we'll run with the fiction that Druids, Paladins and Shaman are hybrids, but quite frankly, it's become a term used to marginalize classes that heal but don't bear the title 'Priest.'

But the three classes are not comparable in any honest sense.

Shaman have two broad-scope specs: Damage and healing. Within this, they have two damage specs, one melee and one spelldamage.

Paladins have three broad-scope specs: Damage, healing, and tanking. Some Paladins have even gone so far as to create a secondary damage spec that is very similar to the Class' healing spec.

Druids also have three broad-scope specs identical to those of the Paladin, but when drilled down as far as done with the Shaman to get 3 distinct specs, we get 4 for the Druid. It is at the Druid that things get interesting, too.

Whereas the Paladin and Shaman spec for specialization and gear for the same, never do they lose access to baseline class abilities. A dpsing Paladin does not lose access to her heal buttons nor does a Shaman lose theirs. A Druid, however, can lose up to 3/4 of their class abilities with a simple change of form.

Let's back up just a bit. It is often said that these three classes should never perform as well as a 'parent' class because of the breadth of capability they possess. In practice this was found to be un-viable. A character doing 66%-70% of what a specialist class does won't be included in groups except as a gimmick or because of social networking. Their raw output in a given role was therefore boosted to more equal performance through talent and gear changes.

The resulting cries to nerf them because they can also heal failed to account for the fact that none of the three classes in question possess the same range of capability within the role they choose to specialize in. While a Shaman dps machine can put out amazing damage they trade poisons, status effects, stealth and more for their healing and damage spells. While a Druid might have access to stealth and a gouge-like ability, they get healing rather than Vanish, and a rez instead of a blind. The list is endless and it appears, endlessly debatable. Still, these classes are no more powerful than any other, just more broadly capable, even when specialized.

So back to the Druid losing access.

In spite of a Retribution or Protection Paladin's healing being abysmal in gear for their role, and in spite of an Enhancement Shaman having terrible mana efficiency and so on, these two classes never lose access to their breadth of capability.

When I Paladin, I can often find times to use abilities that are not for the role I'm performing. When I dps in particular, it's easy to toss off an emergency heal without breaking stride. There are issues with any and all of this behavior, to be sure, but it's all still there and highly desirable in certain circumstances.

The Druid, on the other hand, sacrifices much to do what they do.

When in Cat they have no spellcasting, no tanking, no healing; when in Bear they have no spellcasting, no dps, and no healing; Moonkin give up healing and tanking; healers give up all feral abilities but keep their ranged damage; Tree Druids give up not only ranged damage and all feral ability, but some key support abilities (though this last is slowly changing).

Shifting in and out of forms is our only option to get at abilities that are often further diminished (at least for Ferals) by the cost of shifting itself, both in terms of mana, rage or energy, and in terms of time lost.

Add in the Paladin and Shaman gearing for role issues and suddenly you see that the Druid actually has very little in common with either. Less, at any rate, than is commonly ascribed to them.

Druids, through these mechanics and the vast breadth of role they can assume (never forget that they have two baseline healing specs that require very different gearing schemes...arguably adding a 5th functional element), are often thought of by their community as a collection of discrete classes under the umbrella of a single title. Granted this is somewhat disingenuous as the same character IS technically capable of doing it all without releveling, but the factor of re-leveling is really ALL that is taken out of the equation.

So this link above, like so many other Druid-centric observations, stems directly from the uniqueness of Druid class realities and the fact that we are often more like the specialist classes we ape than we are like the Paladin and Shaman with whom we are commonly grouped.


Troggles said...

I never really considered Shaman as being a hybrid class. As you mentioned, they are just dps and healing, with no taking abilities. I always considered hybrid class to be those that can fill any of the three roles of WoW based on how the user chooses to play them. I never thought a hybrid class should be able to function in all their roles with one set of gear, which is exactly how druids are. Paladins get off way to easy in this in that they can heal decently as a different spec.

All in all, I believe a hybrid class should be something that can perform any role based talent/gear choice, rather than a class than can perform any role with anything on.

Therac-25 said...

The way I look at the hybrid thing -- keep in mind, I may still be stuck in the pre-BC mindset, as that's where I spent most of my time historically:

There are five different roles in WoW, basically:

* Melee Physical DPS
* Ranged Magical DPS
* Ranged Physical DPS
* Healing
* Tanking

You have six "specialist" classes -- the class that is typically the best at a given role.

* Melee Physical - Rogue
* Ranged Magical - Warlock and Mage
* Ranged Physical - Hunter
* Healing - Priest
* Tanking - Warrior

This isn't to say these are the only roles that those classes can do, or that those are the only classes that can do those roles -- only that those classes are typically capable of being the best at the role in question, gear levels being roughly equal.

Now, that leaves the three other classes -- Shaman, Paladin and Druid as the "hybrids".

The Shaman and Paladin, originally faction-specific, were the "can do any of the roles at any time, but have to gear and spec intensely to do them comparable to a specialist". i.e. the Pally could tank, but lacked some of the snap aggro abilities that a Warrior had, but he could heal while tanking if he needed to.

The Druid, OTOH, was a "modal" hybrid -- the Druid could tank, but couldn't heal or DPS while tanking. The Druid could do ranged DPS, but couldn't tank or heal while doing so -- the shapeshifting forms remove the ability to do different things at once.

This probably reflects the original (pre-BC) class design a bit more than the current one -- with the deeper talent trees, spec has become more important, and with Shamans and Pallys no longer faction-specific, it's much more open.

Except for Rogues, Hunters, Mages and Warlocks (who can only ever DPS), each class does have multiple viable things they can do, depending on spec and gear.

I think it's Blizz's intent that there are multiple ways to play given class, and they design encounters such that each class is needed in some capacity. I mean -- if you're going to give a class a Tank spec, then they should reasonably be able to tank things without needing a warrior.

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Wyrmdog said...

Excellent comments. Again, a lot of how each of us view this is inherent in how we define a hybrid and how we classify role.

For me, I'm hesitant to distill it past tanking, healing, and dps. I'd LOVE to see CC as a viable class role. We've seen the emergence of this as a crucial instancing element in the Burning Crusade and while I don't think World of Warcraft will ever fundamentally shift to requiring a full-time CC role, I can easily see a shift in the paradigm of dps classes.

Take, for example, City of Heroes where an entire Archetype was devoted to crowd control. The healing role in that game was anemic to be sure, but crowd control was critical. Crowd control was often considered a suitable replacement for a proper tank. It was a fully-fledged role, much like it sometimes seems in certain instances in Burning Crusade. I realize the mechanics of the two games are vastly different but the point is in the validity and necessity of the role, not how the games themselves compare.

If the trend continues, we could easily see an increase in the necessity of strong CC abilities such that the four dps classes could spec for heavy/primary crowd control at the expense of some dps, in essence allowing even them to fill multiple roles.

Perhaps it will only happen with a few; more likely it will happen with none. But the possibility remains in the ever-changing landscape of an MMO, that the specialists will expand their roles while the 'hybrids' focus theirs, bringing the breadth of capability enjoyed by a few to many.

Until then, Hybrids remain the subject of debate and controversy.