Eric over at Elder Game put up a good post about why skill based systems are bad (or at least, not to be undertaken lightly or by fledgling designers… like me). Dig through my archive here and you’ll see me go back and forth on the subject of skills versus classes.
In Eric’s post, he uses EVE as an example, and the game is mentioned in most of the comments there. And it got me thinking…
EVE looks like a skill based game. It has all the markers of one. You have a list of skills and you can train any skill you want, making powerful combinations or gimping yourself by choosing things that don’t work together, as long as you have the prerequisites for that skill. But, as I’ve noted on a number of occasions, what I like most about the design of EVE is that ultimately your character matters less than your ship.
In EVE, if you have level 5 in Frigates and level 5 in missiles and a slew of other skills, those don’t matter at all if you are currently flying a mining rig outfitted with only mining lasers. Despite being able to choose and learn any skill, EVE is actually a class based game with talent trees. Your ship is your class, and the modules you can outfit it with are your talent trees. Certain ships are designed for certain types of play. You wouldn’t take a giant hauling/mining rig into a dogfight even if you did load it with weapons because the ship isn’t designed for fighting. It would be like trying to play a priest as a tank in most MMOs. Doable? Sure, with the right items, plan and situation, but it isn’t the best option by far.
At best, EVE is a highly templated skill based game, but if you play the game entirely as skill based without ship considerations it quickly becomes unsustainable from a character stand point as you are gaining skills willy nilly that aren’t improving your ability to either a) fly the ship you have better or b) progress you toward flying a different ship that fits your play style better.
Even after reading follow ups by Ysharros and Psychochild and the comments on all three posts, I still think that EVE’s sort of gear controlled skill based system is the way I would go if I were to make my own MMO, largely because I really dislike permanent decisions in games that force me to create alternate character to experience new play styles. Rift by Trion is attempting to bridge a gap here by allowing archetypes of warrior, rogue, mage and priest to build and maintain several sets of souls (skills, talents, etc) that actually can radically change the way the archetype plays. If that works, it might open the door for someone to try fantasy version of EVE where you can have any skills you want but are constrained in what matter by what gear you are wearing when you leave town. And that’s a game I definitely want to play.
Update: Another voice in the wilderness, Rampant Coyote.