Oct 102011
 
My love of rangers is no secret, and neither is my opinion that the essence of what I liked about them has been removed from the class in Guild Wars 2.  In various other MMOs I’ve played, I usually try the equivalent ranger class (followed by their cleric class) and after trying to mentally dice up how the ranger can be sorted out, I’ve noticed something common to nearly all incarnations of bow wielders. They are plagued by imbalance and lack the epic feeling of their counterparts.

The original Guild Wars ranger isn’t a stranger to this. Nature rituals were to blame for a horrible meta in the early days of the game, then there was the bunny thumper causing havoc everywhere. Disrupting Shot was catapulted to the skill hall of fame, being picked by The Last Pride [EviL] to be made into a skill pin. Over the years, the nerf bat has chipped away at various aspects of the ranger so that the profession has relatively few teeth left in its mouth and little benefit to the team as a whole. Even playing solo in PvE, its hard to see the impact you have on a battle – mesmers interrupt better, necromancers apply conditions better and various classes deal more damage.

Rift has to be applauded for the flexible nature of its class construction, but it feels like the rogue gets a lot more sweeping changes than other classes. This could be related to Trion’s insistence on rolling out updates like it’s the morning newspaper but my rogue’s roles (which I tend to play as a Marksman) seem to get reset a lot more than my cleric’s do indicating significant changes were made. It’s a bit of a mystery really. The bow-wielding NPC rogues hit hard, but when I’m the one aiming the arrow it feels like my character is throwing a pebble. Maybe I’m a bad ranger, but the repeated skill changes make me think that maybe it’s not entirely my fault.

Age of Conan’s take on the class was enjoyable, but was lacking variety and the feeling of epicness, due in part to the overpowered nature of the class at the release of the game. Finishing moves are a big deal in that game and while my husband’s Bear Shaman was ripping off heads and smashing skulls, my Ranger was limited to crouching down with my bow and shooting my killer blow. Fierce…

Overall it feels like a very hard class concept to action. And looking at the the variety of concepts above, is it much wonder? Warriors, mages and clerics don’t change much from MMO to MMO, but that fourth archetype does. Perhaps it’s a symptom of being the fourth wheel in the holy trinity, trying desperately to be the Swiss army knife for all situations that ultimately it fails in all of them.

Oddly the incarnation I enjoyed the most was found in Aion. Rangers were given silences, stuns, poisons, stealth and traps to play with. I maintain that traps are pretty useless in a PvP(vE) world and never used them in my gameplay. Still, I felt like I was doing something in a team. If someone needed killing, I could combo a damaging chain. If we overaggroed, I could provide another stun or silence. If we needed to pressure a team, I could spread poison or unleash a range of shots. There were no pets, but you could shapeshift into various animal forms if you had enough DP. I really enjoyed playing Aion’s ranger, it’s just a shame about server balance and a number of other game problems that drove me away. Also those few months of alpha & beta I burnt out on the game.

I think part of the reason that I’m looking forward to Guild Wars 2 as much is because I like the concept of being able to switch up my gameplay as the situation requires it. Clearly it is possible to achieve but, if anything’s to be said for classes that do this in other games, it feels like a very very tall order to execute 8 times over.

If you’re expecting a great revelation or arrogant claim to have a solution, prepare to be disappointed. I don’t have one. It’s hard enough getting a group of rangers to define the class itself, let alone work out how to execute the profession.

So, who’s up for a bit of amateur game design? If you’ve noticed any patterns or have any insight, drop your thoughts below please!

  4 Responses to “Jack Of All Trades, Master Of None”

  1. No epic solutions here from me either, but I’m always willing to throw my hat into any discussion!

    We’ve discussed my feelings about the gw2 ranger before and, interestingly, I think your opinion on the Aion ranger mirrors mine too. I enjoyed mastering the “jump shot” which allowed you to skip the animation and unleash about 5k worth of damage within about 3seconds! Lotsa fun.

    Although, having played it at eurogamer I might be warming to the ranger. It did feel fun and dynamic, and switching between the shortbow and sword/horn combo was a lot of fun. Although, if they’re going to convince me on the class they’re going to have to work on the pet – considering it is supposed to be THE feature of the class it does feel a bit like a dead leg atm.

  2. I’m in the same boat with you as regards rangers. My first character in GW was a ranger, and in every game since until Aion, where I found playing the ranger a quick way to being constantly broke. I can appreciate why arrows could conceviably be a consumable, but unless every other class has a similar cost it leads to further imbalance. I’ve since stopped playing rangers as I only get frustrated by them – although after levelling my cleric to 50 in Rift I have started up a rogue and I’m kind of enjoying the archetype again. As far as getting the ranger to feel epic, I would like to see a step away from the Jack of all trades – master of none approach and give them a real specialism that no other class has. My suggestion for this is a “1 hit kill mechanism”. To avoid the OP calls, this would need to involve a chain of several skills that don’t do very much damage, but are used as primers for the supreme head shot. These skills would take as long to use as it would take a warrior class to dps the enemy down, so ultimately would be the same dps as other classes but I feel it would be very satisfying. Alternatively, and not so epic, but making the ranger class more useful would be to remove the whole aggro mechanic and instead use CC more so the ranger uses traps and pin down abilities more to snare mobs so that melee can hit them reliably. Finally, give us epic looking bows and big explosions, nothing says epic more to me than great graphical effects. As for pets, well one of the things that disappointed me in the original GW was that we only got 1 pet. Necros get to have lots of minions, so why shouldn’t we have lots too? Beastmaster rangers should have rubbish ranged/melee dps, but they should be able to summon entire packs of animals that surround the enemy/enemies snaring them from movement and ripping them to shreds. 🙂 Epic enough for you?

  3. Thanks for your thoughts Malachai and welcome!

    I agree with you on the arrows as consumables aspect of Aion’s gameplay, but I can’t say I ever had much problem making money. I am one for getting involved in the economy side of games so maybe that’s little surprise. Interesting you moved to cleric in Rift as mine has just overtaken my rogue and I’m enjoying it far more than I ever did the rogue.

    The “1 hit kill mechanism” you suggest sounds interesting, but I wonder how often a ranger would get to finish their chain in a group. There’s something similar to this in rift with the charges that build up to power an end shot, but I get the feeling you’re looking for that end shot to be devastating. Would be interesting to play around with that kind of mechanic for sure. In my opinion the big downfall of balance in persistent mmos is the need for classes to be strong enough to get through content solo and still be interesting in a pair or group and I get the feeling that removing the damage element from the ranger and opting for more CC would make solo play un-viable. Combining it with the pet swarm idea however would work well. There’s a few issues in there like multiple targets to kill, body blocking and alike, but I really like the concept.

    Here’s hoping for that big breakthrough in pet AI to make them feel less like that dead leg.

    PS: I ran into the company in your email address a couple of weeks ago at Eurogamer. Small world.

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