Defining classes by their weapon in MMOs

Reading the discussion about the latest Massively Neverwinter Online article, which rather predictably derailed to a discussion on the fighter class, I was struck by the more recent games that I’ve played where weapons are predetermined by class.

It’s the opposite extreme of character customisation to DDO’s approach, like traditional D&D, in DDO you have a huge variety of weapon types plus various situational enchants that you might want (so bring a blunt weapon to smash skeletons but a bladed weapon to hack zombies). I’m no min-maxer so if I’d ever made it to DDOs level cap I suspect my characters would have been badly underoptimised (“why can’t I use this greatsword, it looks awesome!”). But at least the variety was there.

DDO: weapons as tools - middle hotbar full of weaponsets

DDO: weapons as tools – middle hotbar full of weaponsets

More recently Guild Wars 2 has the core weapon skill system, which closely links weapons to class. Whether you like having skills tied to weapons or not, at least there is variety available for every class.

Contrast that with Tera – all priests use staves, all lancers use.. erm lances. Somehow I think it’s rather simplistic and bland to define a class by the weapon it uses.

Priests use staves, end of discussion.

Priests use staves, end of discussion.


Neverwinter Online is going this same road to an extent with the fighter subclasses – you have the Guardian Fighter (sword and shield) and the Great Weapon Fighter (great sword, maybe others not yet shown in beta videos?) as separate classes rather than a ‘spec’ of the same class. It’s even stranger that they didn’t simply go with the ultimate D&D stereotype of a great sword (or great axe) warrior – the Barbarian instead, this would have at least differentiated the artwork for the two classes better, while still fulfilling the melee dps role.

In-between these two extremes are all the other games where classes have a variety of weapons to use and that generally has little impact on your character beyond the raw stats the weapon enhances. In most cases this choice is limited more by theorycrafting: if you want to be effective in group content you look for one of the ‘best in slot’ weapons for your class regardless of its actual type.

It is good news that they’ve added a talent tree-style system to Neverwinter to allow more character customisation (all skills were auto-learned in earlier beta versions). The class = weapon choice limitation could be to simplify gear choices, or it could be to save on art assets and limit the item database. Perhaps it’s just the norm for action-oriented combat MMOs?

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