Ask Massively: New hires, HEX, and the problem with rogues

The Massively staff is not made up of Rogues. It turns out that a curiously high percentage of us play Shamans, but that's neither here nor there. The point is today we have questions about Rogue classes in MMOs and the shiny new hires soon to be added to our roster, and there's no good way to smush these topics into a coherent introduction. I maintain that this is entirely your fault.

Soldack asked, Do you cover the HEX TCG that is going to also have a full fledged MMO? And do you have any interest in hiring a writer/streamer to cover it?

Yep, we do cover it as a sort of pseudo-MMO. We got our grubby paws all over it at this past E3 and after the Kickstarter was announced, and we keep track of it in our crowdfunding column as it continues to develop. But we have no plans to hire a new journalist to focus on it or other MMOTCGs/MMOCCGs (like Hearthstone) exclusively right now, nope. If that changes, rest assured that we'll be putting up a hiring notice!

A bunch of people on Twitter and email asked, When are you announcing your new hires for your open columnist positions?!

Right now! We've hired UK writer Tina Lauro and Aussie writer Matthew "Nonsensicles" Gollschewski to flesh out our columnist team. Expect to start seeing their new columns on the site in the next couple of weeks!

Fun facts: We had more applications for this columnist position than for any columnist position in the past and any position on the site ever with the sole exception of a newswriter position we filled a few years back. It took us a few weeks to read the apps thoroughly and whittle them down and then another week of debate over the top candidates as we tried to figure out how to defy space and time and budget to fill our two spots with our hundred favorite candidates. It was damn hard. There are a lot of brilliant folks out there in this industry. Don't let anyone tell you gaming journalism is nothing but hack writing from wannabe game designers. It ain't so.

Holden asked, Why are assassin/scout classes always gimped? [MMOs act as if] being able to turn invisible and walk slowly is somehow superior to having an ungodly number of hitpoints or being able to call down AoE instant-death spells. Adding insult to injury is that they are supposed to be PvP-centric and have no real ability to manage mob packs, but then developers go and give nearly every other class some kind of detection skill so all that stealth is good for is sneaking past mobs.

I'm right there with you in your annoyance. Rogues are my favorite class to play... in single-player games that make a serious effort to reward sneaking and avoiding combat in favor of milking the shadows. I always play thieves and stealth-archers in the Elder Scrolls games, for example. But in MMOs? Forget it. It's the one archetype I skip in nearly every MMO, even my favorites. City of Heroes' Stalkers? World of Warcraft's Rogues? Guild Wars 1 and 2's Sins and Thieves? Star Wars Galaxies' Spies? Lord of the Rings Online's Burglars? Noooooo thank you!

Why is the rogue such a misfit in our genre? Rogues are among those RPG classes traditionally defined as much or more by thiefly skills as by assassination skills -- stealth, yes, but also sensing and disarming traps, pickpocketing, opening doors, donning disguises, and other perceptive and deceptive trickery. It's the rare MMO (Dungeons and Dragons Online comes to mind) that implements these non-combat gameplay elements at all, and those MMOs that do immediately undermine them by making them non-essential in their quest not to force every group to bring along a rogue. Most modern themeparks are designed to be combat simulators rather than worlds; few non-sandboxes include classic thieves (or entertainers or traders or diplomats or detectives or bureaucrats and so on -- and these have all been done!) because these characters require deeper and more time-consuming game design than kill-stuff-and-take-its-loot.

So you're right that it's become almost tropish for MMO designers to revise the thief into a sort of a duelist character, a light melee rogue whose damage mitigation is dodge and stealth. But then they run into problems, in both PvE and PvP, because finding the balance between stealth's being overpowered and the rogue's having no chance of survival if he doesn't win quickly is genuinely hard. That's compounded with some MMOs' tendency (WoW and CoH and GW1, for example) to powercreep encounter difficulty with AoE challenges, which can weaken rogue classes in PvE unless they're revamped to match. And if they're not, then players abandon rogues until they're played only by those annoying jerks who giggle madly while stunlocking you in battlegrounds.

I suppose the answer is that we're shoehorning classes from a different genre into themeparks that just don't suit the playstyle, so it's no surprise it's hard to balance those classes against playstyles that do fit. It can be done, but expecting miracles from games still locked into a dated and limited mentality of levels and raiding is, well, like expecting the endboss not to see through your sneak.

What should you play? Where is the MMO industry headed? How does Massively operate? Has Lord British lost his marbles? Why is the edit button on a timer? Should "monoclegate" be hyphenated? Editor-in-Chief Bree Royce submits to your interrogations right here in Ask Massively every other Thursday. Drop your questions in the comments below or ping us at ask@massively.com. Just ask!

This article was originally published on Massively.