I spent some time this weekend duo leveling with my partner through the Pandaria Horde version of Jade Forest. There are enough story differences from the Alliance side, and it has been long enough since my last journey through the zone, for this to be a fun little side activity.
I had a Troll priest as main for our old Horde-side guild (the twin of our Alliance guild) during the Cataclysm era. Playing the new level 85 content I found myself wondering why I was having to play her Shadow off-spec and not her Holy main. The problem is that damage output is king in WoW’s PVE content. It brought to mind this morning my clueless attempt at leveling a paladin as Holy back in 2007 – it was next to impossible as you barely did any damage as a healer back then.
Nowadays I could duo as Holy certainly but, I suspect, my damage would probably be about 50% of what it is in Shadow. Since it is just me and a paladin tank for this duo, I’m providing the main damage and the odd shield or heal. So to progress with a half decent pace through the content my spec is decided for me, the old dev mantra of “bring the player not the class” doesn’t apply to spec as well. The two specs play pretty differently despite being the same class!
I can contrast this to my cleric in Neverwinter who, even with his powers and feat points focused on healing, can put out respectable damage easy enough. All I have to do is slot a different mix of abilities from those I’ve unlocked while leveling. I can go from having a full buff/heal set to a full on DPS with emergency heal set in a few mouse drags.
MMOs with sub-classes (SWTOR’s advanced classes or WoW’s very distinct talent trees) make players choose between sub-types of the class to play. Sometimes these choices are irreversible by design (SWTOR’s advanced class cannot be reset), many times there are additional costs in-game that hamper the character’s ability to operate in more than one mode equally well (WoW’s reforging system has overcomplicated the gearing system with regards to dual-spec).
I feel this issue will need some more thought when I have more time: many MMO games offer build flexibility options, but the reality isn’t so free when you actually play them. What do you think? Is it important to have the option for multiple character ‘specs’ for role flexibility? Should the options be playable without a complex process of respeccing or regearing the character – e.g. should a healer be able to do enough damage to level / solo dailies while in “healer mode”?