I have never liked the idea of mirror classes. It may (sometimes) be better than games where each realm has the same classes, but only slightly. So what is a mirror class? A mirror class system, is where the classes on each realm are just mirrors of each other. That is to say that they have a different name, and may have slight differences, but they effectively just have the same tools as their mirror. The reason I call this a dilemma is because there are actually pros and cons to this type of system. The pros are that it makes for easier balancing and less work for the developer; the cons are that it makes the realm’s classes indistinguishable from each other which, for many reasons, makes for a much less interesting game.
Let’s start with the pros, which tend to outweigh the cons at least from a developer’s point of view in the last few years of MMORPG history. The two main pros are that it takes much less work to create a mirror class system, and the second is that it sort of gives you balance right from the start. It’s really quite simple; all you need to do is make the classes (and their roles) that you think you’re game will need, then you copy each class to the other realm and tweak it just slightly (sometimes only in theme, not mechanics) so that it fulfills the same roles, but has it’s own spin. Do that for each class and you’ve got what you can call different classes for each realm, in a fraction of the time. Then it gives you balance. Since every class is more or less a mirror of each other, you don’t have to worry about balance issues across realms. I can definitely see why this would be appealing, you get a lot done in less time and you get a major head start with balance issues. You even look better (to the untrained eye) than a game where the classes are shared across both realms.
Anyone who played Warhammer Online would know how similar these two classes were.
But then come the cons. And the cons aren’t usually going to crop up in the here and the now, instead they are going to bite you well after you release when players start to get a feel for your game and realize they’ve gotten themselves into something shallow and pathetic. What is the difference between the realm of one game and the realm of another? As much as people will argue, it’s usually not the players. For every server where one side dominates the PvP, there will be another server where the opposite is true. I’m not saying that the theme of each realm might not attract different people, but over the whole there tends to be very little difference. So what really makes each realm different from each other starts with the theme or story of each realm. That’s just the start, and while it’s a good place to start, it needs further development to actually make it distinct. That is where mirror classes look appealing, but end up coming back to haunt you.
A mirror class system gets implemented because the thought is that if we just tweak a class to the theme of the other realm, we’ll cover the same roles and give it some flare from it’s own realm. The problem with this is that over time player’s will realize it’s just the same class, and then the realms don’t seem so different. When realm’s don’t seem different, you stop having realm pride, it stop’s being about an epic battle between realms and just becomes a game about an individual. The individual fights for themselves, for their own benefit and, at the end of the day, does not care where their realm stands. I thought we were playing an MMORPG here? It may be nice for balancing, but so what? Give different realms different tools, or different combination’s of the same tools. Will class A be just as good as class B? Probably not, but it isn’t about a straight comparison between two classes that share in some roles, it’s about creating a unique feel to each realm. We have this to work with, and they have that to work with, and we need to figure out how to use what only we have to counter them. That feeling keeps people playing, and years down the road lets players switch realms for a whole new experience because it isn’t just the same thing bundled up to look like something else.
My favorite example of this comes from Dark Age of Camelot (DAoC). Each realm has a single “speed” class, which offers the highest tier of group movement speed, something critical for RvR (realm vs realm). Let’s take a look at how different each class was:
These images are the property of www.camelotherald.comBard: (Main role as crowd control, interrupts and support)
- Songs (Speed, Endurance, Power)
- Crowd Control
- Weak melee skills, but honestly not worth mentioning.
- 1-handed weapons / Instruments
- Strong melee skills
- Songs (Speed, Power, Damage Add)
- Good Interrupting (damage, damage, snare, single mez)
- 2-handed Weapons
- Medium/Weak melee skills
- Songs (Speed, Pet Charm, Power)
- Good interrupting (damage, damage, stun, song mez)
- Weak crowd control, mostly used to interrupt.
- 1-handed weapons / Instruments
So, in a nutshell, each of these classes was almost always in every group to provide speed, but they covered and supported very different roles. (Those more familiar with Dark Age of Camelot will know I glossed over things to try to give you a general idea of how different these classes are without going into extreme detail.) The point is that most of the classes in DAoC are like this; the abilities are spread around so that each realm has to use different types of classes to cover similar bases.
In summery, we want to play an MMORPG – something social. If I wanted to play by myself and have the same classes and the same abilities I would play an FPS. We want different realms, different enough so that each side has it’s advantages and it’s disadvantages to the other realm(s), and isn’t just the same recycled crap with a different cover. The idea of mirror classes, that you can take one main class role, and flip it across realms isn’t a bad idea in itself. It only becomes a bad idea when the change between realms is only a shallow, insignificant difference which leaves both classes as basically indistinguishable from each other.