Why Mechanics Can Kill A Class’s Atmosphere

At the end of the day, MMORPGs are a fantasy – and we play classes that offer appealing fantasies, not just the best numbers. But can the game developers accidentally kill that fantasy in the course of trying to improve their game?

Cynwise thinks they can. In his ongoing odyssey to the heart of the lack of Warlocks in current WoW, he has washed up on the shores of warlock design changes – and what he discovers is that while the game tells you one story about your class and what it represents, the way you actually end up playing gives brutally conflicting messages

” The Drain Life spec fit Affliction’s theme. It fulfilled fantasy of the spec – a strong but tough vampire-like caster, taking health from their enemy and using it to fuel their own dark magics. It offered a unique reward for mastering the most complicated class in Warcraft. It was interesting and different. But, because Drain Life was a channeled utility spell, it did not fit the intended model for DPS.

It was therefore eliminated.

I don’t know if I can underscore this point enough. The fantasy of the Affliction spec was set aside for general design principles, not balance. It wasn’t that Drain Life was too powerful — it was on par with Shadow Bolt spec — it’s that it was too useful. Raiders don’t really care if a spell is channeled or hard cast, they have to stop moving for both of them.

But it was important to Blizzard that Affliction use Shadow Bolt and not Drain Life.


Why was it so important to force Affliction to use Shadow Bolt, instead of embracing the soul of the spec and going with Drain Life?”

I’ve not made any secret of my enjoyment of Cynwise’s series so far, but I think this may be the best installment yet in his Hunter S. Thompson-like quest for the heart of the Warlockian dream. Between non-obvious killer analysis like the point above and the wonderful synergy he achieves between the theorycraft of Warlock play and the fantasy and lore of it all, this post is required reading for anyone wanting to understand the success or failure of a class in any MMO.

Various game devs have made the point recently that whilst players may obsess on mechanics, mechanics aren’t why we play the game – the fantasy, the offered role, and the escape is. And every game and every designer is groping right now toward the point where mechanics and fiction combine to create an experience that feels satisfying and true. This post is a pretty significant step toward understanding just what can go right and wrong.

What do you think? Does your class – in any game – actually feel right?