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The Balancing Act: Multiclassing
by Terminus Zaire, Contributor — Category: Editorials
Posted March 26th 2013 08:12 PM
The Balancing Act will be released prior to the Beta and once the NDA is lifted to discuss issues that will arise if The Elder Scrolls Online is designed with an imbalance in one particular aspect of the game, and how this will ultimately affect the entire game play as a whole. This series will discuss the warning signs of these imbalances, and what Zenimax can do to reverse or minimize the impact of the results of them.
Although I have TONS of information that I'd like to share with you all about my gameplay at PAX East (I'll talk about it later this week, don't worry!), I'd like to center this weeks article of The Balancing Act on an idea that was brought to my attention by @Ewan. On Saturday I talked about it with Nick Konkle, the Lead Gameplay Designer for ESO, who seemed interested in seeing how this concept could fit into the existing game.
The idea itself is relatively simple; once you reach level 50 and have the opportunity to travel to other areas of Tamriel, you're also given the chance to begin training a new class tree. As players continued to level the rest of their weapons in the second and third alliance zones, they would also have the opportunity to level their secondary class abilities by collecting more skill points. Only one class would be active at a time, preventing players from combining special abilities from different classes that could potentially be overpowered and abused in combat. Players wouldn't be able to change their class while in combat, and it would take a significant amount of time for the change to take place (about 15 seconds) to ensure that the system couldn't be abused in PvP. A cooldown would be added lasting anywhere from 12 to 48 hours to prevent "flip-flopping" between classes.
While the details provided above are one of the most effective ways at implementing a multi-class system, there are a variety of other options that need to be discussed before assuming that one system is truly the best. A few factors that require further analysis include the number of classes any one character can access, how to gain skill points past level 50, the ability to combine special abilities between classes, the system itself for switching back and forth between classes, and any other perks that may be tied to possessing multiple class trees.
While the majority of the other aspects in creating a multiclassed system in ESO were chosen out of necessity, I've had a relatively hard time deciding on just how many classes can be unlocked per account. If players are allowed to choose one new class per faction alliance they play, a majority of the community would most likely possess 3 out of the 4 completed faction skill lined, removing some of the individuality that players gain when choosing their own class. One reason that I support possessing only 2 out of 4 classes is because it ultimately results in more possible outcomes for selection (a total of 6 class combinations) that diversify player choices even further. However, some may claim that allowing for players to train a total of 3 classes would still add 3 more potential class combinations and doesn't impact the chance of two players possessing the same character build any more than 2 classes would.
The next problem associated with implementing a multiclass system can be understood when we analyze the pre-existing perk system and how skill points are obtained while playing The Elder Scrolls Online. There are two possible ways to gain a skill point; by gaining a level through experience, or by collecting 3 out of 60 skyshards found throughout your alliance zone. If Zenimax chooses to allow for players to build more than one class skill tree, more skill points are going to be required in the game. This will either result in an increase in the maximum level (not likely at all), or an increase in the number of skyshards found in the 50+ and/or 50++ zones. In order to ensure that players can't easily locate all the skyshards they need to fill a second class tree, it would be a good idea to make some of them quest rewards or in hidden quest-related areas.
When it actually comes to using the second set of class abilities, extremely strict sanctions will need to be put into place to prevent imbalanced builds. The easiest way to prevent this is to only allow access to one class ability tree at a time, preventing mix-matching of special abilities. One example of a problem that may occur if this was allowed might be to use an extremely powerful ability that costs lots of magicka to weaken someone to half health from the Sorcerer class ability tree, and then finish them off with an ability using your stamina from the Dragon Knight class. Zenimax has emphasized that they don't want to add an "insta-kill button" to the game, and prefer to add powerful AoE and summoning spells instead. There is one restriction, however, that Zenimax should NEVER place on a multiclass system of this nature; the ability to max out secondary class trees.
If Zenimax chooses to limit how many abilities you can unlock when multiclassing, such as limiting how many skyshards are available, a system of this nature would lose any purpose of even existing. Multiclassing would prevent players from needing to continually roll alts to find the best class ability tree that suits them. If Zenimax were to implement a SUB-class system, or one in which players could only unlock a small portion of the class abilities, it would be more efficient for players to just rebuild another character to unlock the full class tree. Subclassing would only be able to work if skills from multiple classes could be combined, resulting in balancing issues as discussed earlier. While subclassing works very well in other areas of the game such as crafting, multiclassing is the only way to allow players to obtain more than one class while still maintaining a balanced combat system.
"I would never add content to the game that sacrificed balance."
-A quote that made me want to hug Nick Konkle, the Lead Gameplay Designer for ESO
Once a player has mastered their second class ability tree, what do they do if they want to switch back to their original one? This is where Zenimax can begin to show their creativity with the system, because there are a variety of valid techniques to limit (or promote) how often players utilize a multiclass system. The example I gave above included the inability to switch classes during combat and a cooldown time associated with the switch, but a cooldown could be replaced with another cost such as a large amount of gold. Better yet, both systems could be implemented that would remove excess gold from the economy but would also allow poorer players to switch as well. Changing your class doesn't necessarily need to be done outside of combat, as long as it was extremely obvious that a class change was taking place. In my personal opinion, a 24 hour cooldown time would prevent players from constantly switching back and forth between their classes, and make them think hard about the choice first. Other limitations could be applied such as needing to physically talk to an NPC to change your class, but this may result in complaints about the time it takes to travel to one particular location for a switch.
No matter how much we analyze an addition to the game such as this, there will always be unforeseen results in other areas of gameplay as well. These results aren't always necessarily negative; in fact, sometimes it can have a very positive effect. One of the most obvious results from adding a multiclass system might be that players will spend more time training their primary accounts than creating alternate ones of different classes. While this may result in many players being pleased with the existence of a multiclass system, it may also result in a net loss of expected game play due to the fact that players would no longer need to train their accounts to level from 1 to 50 to master a new second class. This would be further impacted by the quantity of classes that one character can unlock, but would never totally remove the fact that players will want to create new accounts for roleplaying. I could go on for pages coming up with other possible impacts from various designs, but I'll leave that to the community and content developers to explore further.
In conclusion, a multiclass system would encourage players to continue to expand their understanding of Elder Scrolls Online by trying out new build styles that they might have otherwise ignored. Subclasses with partial leveling might be appealing but will ultimately result in disaster, and a large level of balancing will need to go into making sure that changing from one class to another doesn't result in any unfair advantages over other players. We'll definitely hear more about multiclass systems in the future, and hopefully we'll have a similar system available at launch.
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